Tagged: Internet

Martha Thomases: Soap

Thomases Art 130111Oh, Pine Valley! I have missed you so!

But my prayers have been answered, and All My Children will soon be back, if only on the Internet. And while it won’t feel real to me unless they get back Erica Kane or Zach, I think this is a real win for those of us who like our entertainment niche.

Soap operas are not new. They were a staple of radio drama and easily made the transition to television. Usually, the focus would be on one or two families, and the drama that resulted when love, greed, hate and intrigue enmeshed them with each other and their neighbors.

Conventional wisdom maintained that this kind of entertainment was for women, especially housewives. They would watch “their stories” as they did the ironing or dusted. Every day, for 30 to 60 minutes (including commercials), they could vicariously experience the lives of beautiful people, with a cliffhanger at the end, ensuring a date with tomorrow’s show. When (white, middle-class) women went into the workforce in large numbers in the 1970s, it was assumed the genre would die.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, the soap opera mutated. It invaded primetime, where shows like Dallas and Dynasty were monster hits. Soap elements – relationship dramas among the characters that couldn’t be solved with a laugh, a gunfight, or magic – invaded cop shows, doctor shows and more. Do you think you’d have The Sopranos without General Hospital? If so, you think wrong.

(My point is not that David Chase is a soap opera fan – although he may be – but that network executives wouldn’t have gone for the pilot without a profitable precedent.)

What ultimately drove the soaps off network television was the cost, and the continued segmentation of the audience. It’s expensive to have daily shows with big casts, big sets, and lots of writers. The talk shows that replaced the soaps are way cheaper, and product placement is much easier (although I will always remember with fondness the month that AMC had Campbell’s Soup as a sponsor, and therefore soup solved everything). They don’t get the same audience as the soaps, but they don’t need to.

The solution? The Internet. It’s taken a while for the producers to get it together with finances, and unions, but now it looks like they have.

It’s an interesting parallel to comics. Hollywood is making a ton of money from superheroes, but sales of floppies appeal to a much, much smaller audience. And, again, the Internet provides a way not only to grow the readership, but to level the playing field for those creators (and readers) who don’t want to limit themselves to one genre, or one business model.

The folks trying to resuscitate All My Children have already signed up Angie. Get Tad, and I’m there.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman


Emily S. Whitten: Another Day, Another…Death Threat?!

We’ve talked about being disrespectful of the dead because you don’t like their creative work. Now let’s talk about being disrespectful to the living.

As has been reported elsewhere, some pages from Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man #700 have been leaked to the Internet prior to its December 26 (tomorrow!) release date, including the big conclusion to the current plotline that fans have been speculating about. Despite this being its own unfortunate situation (of spoiling a story conclusion Slott has spent a slew of issues building up), that’s not what I want to focus on.

As it turns out, the spoilered ending appears to drastically change the status quo of the Spider-Man story. This is not the first time that’s happened in comics or anything (not even the first time in Spider-Man, as I’m sure we all remember (hello, Clone Saga and One More Day!). But this particular change, which Slott knew would bring controversy, has drawn a huge amount of venom, and all of it is being heaped on Slott’s head – in many cases, in the form of death threats.

Death threats. Against a writer of fiction. About a fictional character. Whom he has been writing to great acclaim for quite a while now. People, I think we need to step back and think about our priorities and our behavior for a minute, here.

I can understand disliking the work of a writer who takes on an already beloved character and then does something unexpected with him or her (hello, certain Deadpool writers). I can also understand liking a writer’s work but not liking the turns they decide to have a story take. I can even understand taking to the Internet to discuss your unhappiness with the whole situation. What I can’t understand is threatening to physically harm someone because they wrote some words (or drew some pictures) you didn’t like. That is just not okay, and even if the people making the threats are being facetious (and some of them may not be, which is scary), that sort of behavior encourages an acceptance of a casual attitude towards violence, that, especially with the recent tragedies this year, should certainly be discouraged.

Look, I love comics just as much as anyone out there. I get invested in the characters and the stories too. I might get upset, or even stop reading a series, because they’ve changed the direction and I don’t like the result. And that’s A-OK. As readers, it is our prerogative to stop reading a comic if we no longer enjoy it, and it’s also one good way to show our dislike of the current direction of a story, since the companies pay attention to sales data. And as readers, it’s also fine to express our unhappiness in public forums, and can even influence further changes in direction, as these companies also tend to take note of the aggregate level of satisfaction we the readers are expressing about story direction. We are actually lucky in that way; it’s a pretty special thing to know that our opinions on a work of fiction might actually mean something to the future of that fiction. So hooray for us, consumers of a medium that, uniquely, tends to listen to its consumers sometimes and adjust its story accordingly. That’s cool.

What’s not cool is forgetting that this is a creative medium and a fictional world, produced by real people without whom it would not exist and who deserve our consideration as fellow human beings. What’s also not cool is getting so involved in hatred for a storyline that you forget what comics are – a series of stories that, by their very nature, must change and adjust with the times, and to keep the series from stagnating; a fate which to my view would be worse than a change in the status quo. The plots of ongoing comics will inevitably include some crazy stories like the Punisher turning into Frankenstein, or people making a literal deal with the devil (or demon) which makes them forget they were married and brings other people back to life. That’s actually part of the fun and wonder that is encompassed by the medium – that writers can do that kind of stuff (whether it turns out well or not) and then do something else, and then something else – and the story keeps changing, even when the fundamentals (generally) remain the same.

In this instance, I doubt the current turn of events will remain in place forever… and even if it did, well; would it really be so bad? Maybe it would. Maybe it wouldn’t. We don’t know, because the rest of this story hasn’t been written yet. It may turn out to be an amazing story. And if it doesn’t; well, then in time, it may be replaced by something better. Either way, it’s kind of how comics work, and it’s not worth threatening to harm a real, living, breathing person.

Slott has said that he’s taking the threats to his person seriously, and I’m glad. But I’m sad for the fact that he has to do that. Imagine living in that situation for a minute – being a known entity, with your picture out there for all to see, and knowing that more than one stranger out there has expressed the desire to hurt you, and could possibly do so. That’s a terrible and undeserved thing for someone to have to deal with. He shouldn’t have to be worrying about that, especially in the midst of what is probably some well-deserved time off for the winter holidays.

I didn’t realize when I started writing this piece that it would happen to fall on Christmas, but I find it apropos at a time when we are supposed to be experiencing the joy of the holidays and expressing goodwill towards our fellow people, to be posting this request to comic fans at large, and particularly to those who have been taking their fandom much too seriously lately:

Let’s keep remembering, as a community, that comics are a wonderful thing, created by wonderful people, and that those people deserve our respect and consideration as fellow human beings.

Oh, and one more thing: let’s remember that real people are more important than fiction. And not threaten to harm them, because that is terrible.

Thank you.

And now, all that remains as the year draws to a close is to wish everyone out there a Merry Christmas! Or a Happy Hanukkah! Or a happy holiday of whatever sort you may celebrate!

And until next time, be kind to each other, and Servo Lectio!




John Ostrander: Head Writer

We all tell stories. All the time. To make sense of the stimuli created by our senses, the brain creates narrative. “Minds seeks patterns,” David Eagleman, a neuroscientist, says in his often troubling book, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. What makes it disturbing is that Eagleman is not a philosopher or a psychologist; he’s a scientist working with what the brain actually does. Through tests, through imaging, neuroscientists like Eagleman can see what part of the brain lights up when certain stimuli comes in or certain tasks are performed. Consciousness, as he points out, actually plays a very small part in the brain’s overall functioning.

We make up the stories in order to make sense of the world around us. We crave stories to explain the apparent chaos we find ourselves in. When my late wife, Kimberly Yale, was dying from breast cancer, I could take refuge in the scripts and stories I was creating. Yes, I needed to do that in order to keep money coming in to the household, but it’s where I went where things still made sense. There was a sense of control that certainly was not present in the so-called “real world” for me.

It’s not simply lies we tell ourselves; it is a narrative we need to form in order to have a functioning inner reality. We need story. It gives a “why” to the “what.”

Right now, we’re asking a lot of “why.”

On Friday, twenty-year old Adam Lanza, after first killing his own mother in their home, forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, and shot and killed 26 people, including twenty children. A stunned nation was left with the question, “Why?” We desperately search for a narrative, an explanation, a reason why this man, why anyone, would do such a thing. What is the story here? We need a story. Something to make the event comprehensible. Something that will keep the chaos at bay.

There are plenty of narratives starting to surface that I’ve seen loosed on the Internet. “He was nuts.” (I think that’s a given; killing twenty children is not remotely what one would call normal.) “It’s because God and prayer were forced out of schools.” (Dubious at best; a God that would kill twenty children because prayer wasn’t allowed in school is also pretty nutso.) All of the stories, the explanations, presented come from the individual’s own story, their own narrative.

What was Adam Lanza’s narrative?

A lot of our personal narratives, our own private realities, allow or justify some of our own actions, no matter how dubious. Here one of my writing rules apply: no one thinks of themselves as a villain. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot all thought they had good reasons for the mass murders they performed. We are, in our minds, the heroes of our own lives. I’m assuming Adam Lanza was as well.

What was Adam Lanza’s private narrative that allowed, that perhaps compelled him to kill those children? Will we ever know? Lt. J. Paul Vance, a CT police spokesman, said, “The detectives will certainly analyze everything and put a complete picture together of the evidence that they did obtain, and we’re hopeful – we’re hopeful – that it will paint a complete picture as to how and why this entire unfortunate incidence occurred.” In other words, we’ll have a story of some kind. To what extent will any of us recognize elements of that story in ourselves?

In Act III, Scene 1 of Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark observes “I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me.” I can relate to that. I am all the heroes I have ever written; I am all the villains, too. To write convincingly of a character based on Adam Lanza, I would have to find the Adam Lanza inside of me. I have no doubt that I could. That is not, however, a journey I would like to take.

David Eagleman again writes, “There is an ongoing conversation among the different factions in your brain, each competing to control the single output channel of your behavior.” Some terrible part of Adam Lanza won out and made him who he is. He ended the narratives of all those he killed. As President Obama said of the children in a press conference, “They had their entire lives ahead of them – birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.” All their own stories, ended with gunshots.

Adam Lanza’s personal narrative has now made him part of the nation’s narrative and part of the personal narrative of each one of us. We will make stories, on both a personal and national level, to cope with it, to make sense of the chaos. It’s what we do. It’s what we must do.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


A Doctor a Day – “Boom Town”

Using the new Doctor Who Limited Edition Gift Set, your noble author will make his way through as much of the modern series as he can before the Christmas episode, The Snowmen.

A recent enemy returns, as does a recent friend, and Cardiff’s new Mayor is determined to turn it into a…

by Russell T Davies
Directed by Joe Ahearne

“They were French – It’s not my fault that ‘Danger – Explosives” was only written in Welsh.”
Six months after the events of Aliens of London / World War Three, the TARDIS lands in Cardiff, last seen in the past on Christmas Eve.  The rift under the Sneed Mortuary is still there, sealed, but still leaking energy, perfect for refueling the TARDIS.  Of course, the chance of a do-nothing holiday on Cardiff Bay is out of the question. Margaret Blaine, former MI5 higher-up, liaison to the Prime Minister, and one of the few survivors of the destruction of Number 10 Downing Street, has become lord Mayor of Cardiff, and has pushed through plans for a massive nuclear power station to be built in the center of town.  Margaret is also Blon Fel-Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen, last survivor of the alien family who had planned to destroy the earth and sell it for scrap in the aforementioned adventure.  Cardiff is Plan B.  A nuclear meltdown right over the Rift would work like hitting the flaw of a diamond with a chisel – it will, in short, end badly.  Her plan was to use the resulting energy to power a stolen teleporter, to get off the planet, and not care much about the danger in her wake.

The plan now is to take her back to Raxacoricofallapatorius, but when they learn that the family Slitheen were all sentenced in absentia to the death penalty, their resolve is shaken.  Over a long evening of re-charging the TARDIS, Margaret talks The Doctor into taking her to a local restaurant for a last meal.  She pleads her case that she’s changed…in between attempts to kill him, of course.  Just as she begins to weaken his resolve, her trap is sprung – the teleporter starts to feed off the power in the TARDIS, resulting in the same getaway and end of the world scenario.  Only one thing can stop her, the TARDIS itself.

(Witty tmblr-pics via expelliarmus.tumblr.com)

Davies does a good job of showing the softer side of a Slitheen (obvious physical attributes aside, of course) – the scene where she chose to spare the young reporter who’s learned about the danger of the project once she learns she’s with child is rather touching.  And it’s that hesitation that affords her a second chance at the end, as opposed to the fate of her brothers.

The rift in Cardiff makes a number of reappearances in the series, including being a recurring plot device in Torchwood.  Timeline-wise,  Captain Jack Harkness is likely right under the current one’s feet – Torchwood Three is hidden directly under the Millennium Center, and Jack has (will be…has been…) been the head of it since 2000.  At this point in history, the events we’ve seen in the spin-off series have yet to occur, but Jack’s down there, making trouble. and secretly saving lives. It’s fair to assume they stayed out of the way of these events, Jack already knowing it’ll get sorted by his earlier self.

It’s become somewhat common for the episode before the season finale to be more light-hearted, sort of as a sorbet before the last course.  Even with the threat of massive death, this episode is packed with laughs, from the witty dialogue to the wonderful slapstick of Noel Clarke as Mickey.  It’s also the opportunity to bring the “Bad Wolf” theme out into the open.  “Blaidd Drwg”, the name of the project, is Welsh for “Bad Wolf”, and while The Doctor waves it off, it’s clearly mentioned to bring it into the light for the audience’s sake. It’s also our first exposure (not directly, thankfully) to the heart/soul of the TARDIS, who we’ll meet in a much more personal form in a few seasons.  So even thought it’s not obvious, this episode does a good job of setting up the info needed for the finale.  It’s also the last time we won’t know what the pattern is.  With the next season, the search began for clues to the Big Bad theme before it even began.  Details are now pored over as to what they could mean, and the Internet’s desire to know everything right now becomes harder and harder to fight.  the latest season has tried to buck the tradition by not featuring a carry-through theme, but rumors are already circulating that the Christmas episode will feature an enemy that will carry through the rest of the season.  We’ll know in a couple week’s time, but till then, it’s fun to just enjoy the episodes one by one, not worrying about how the story will be carried through weeks away, just enjoying this one.

A Doctor a Day – “Dalek”

Using the new Doctor Who Limited Edition Gift Set, your noble author will make his way through as much of the modern series as he can before the Christmas episode, The Snowmen.

Mr. Henry Van Staaten owns the Internet.  He also has a museum of alien artifacts under Utah, including a Slitheen claw, a Cyberman head, and a…

by Robert Shearman
Directed by Joe Ahearne

“Broken…broken…hair dryer…”

The TARDIS lands in 2012 (!) in Utah, or more precisely, under it.  They’re in the personal horde of Henry Van Statten, an impossibly rich American who obtains alien artifacts, reverse engineers their technology, and sells it for profit.  The Doctor picked up a distress call from his one living exhibit, a mysterious creature that Van Statten calls a Metaltron.  Only when The Doctor sees it does he realize what it truly is – a Dalek, which somehow survived the Time War and fell back in time to Earth, damaged and alone.  The Doctor immediately tried to destroy it, but Van Statten, not wanting his most valuable item damaged, stops him.  But when Rose tries to reach out to the creature, touching it, the Dalek is able to user her DNA, charged with the energy of time travel, to restore its systems.  In seconds it breaks free of his chains, absorbs the power grid of the western United States, and downloads the Internet, searching for information about his people.  Finding nothing, it resorts to the primary command of all Daleks: exterminate.

Pretty much as soon as the new show was announced, questions came up as to when the Daleks would appear.  The show was shot into the stratosphere once the Daleks appeared, and they’ve been linked inextricably ever since.  The Daleks almost didn’t make it to the new series of Doctor Who, and it was all Steve Martin’s fault.  When he was to appear in the film Looney Tunes: Back in Action, he insisted they include a Dalek in a madcap scene full of old movie aliens.  He was a big fan of the series, and thought it’d be a nice tip of the hat.  Permission was asked, but the estate of Terry Nation, who controls the rights to the characters, was not.  This caused offense, so when the BBC asked to bring them back for the new series, the estate originally refused.  When Steve Martin heard about it, he wrote a personal letter to the estate explaining the situation, and apologizing personally.  This calmed everyone down, and the proper paperwork was signed to allow the characters to appear.  But for about a month, Robert Sherman was forced to work on a draft of the script with another alien.

The new Dalek was designed to match the height of Billie Piper, so she could look it in the eye.  Similarly, the New Paradigm Daleks were designed to match Karen Gillan’s eyeline.  But in a recent interview on the BBC website, Steven Moffat wonders that making them too big was a mistake. “They’re scarier when they’re wee”, he says.  The scene of the Dalek at the bottom of the stairs was a clear reference to the classic gag about not being able to climb stairs. But of course, in the original series, Daleks had found a fix for this long since. They had anti-gravity mats in Planet of the Daleks, but the big reveal in Remembrance of the Daleks as the Imperial Dalek slowly floats up the stairs was the scene that had fans laughing and squeeing.

Nicholas Briggs, the voice of the Daleks, got his start working on fan productions and the Big Finish audio dramas.  He’s also provided voices for the Cybermen, the Nestene and the Judoon.

Eccleston played the episode as positively bloodthirsty.  After several episodes of offering the aliens a chance to leave in peace, he does not hesitate to try to kill it.  His rage at the Dalek, and later at Van Statten is a sight to see.  Billie Piper has equally good scenes against the Dalek from the other side of the spectrum, trying to help the unstoppable tank who is trying to get the hang of feelings.  This could have been a perfect final Dalek adventure, but as you’ll see, they’re far from gone.

There are a lot of parallels between this episode and the first of this season, Asylum of the Daleks.  Both this Dalek and the tragic prisoner in Asylum are kept in chains, and both are more than a little conflicted by being a mix of human and Dalek.  Both are capable of amazing destruction all on their own, even as far below the surface of their respective planets.  The idea of human and Dalek hybrids has been a theme as far back as Evil of the Daleks, where The Doctor introduces a “Human Factor” into a number of Daleks to start a civil war between factions.

Martha Thomases: The Future Is All Right

Martha Thomases: The Future Is All Right

The electricity, heat, hot water, Internet and phone service all work today. Even my elevator works. Doing without is last week’s news.

This week’s news is the election. As I write this, people are voting. We won’t have results until tonight at the earliest. Since I’ve voted already, I’m going to try to ignore the media until the polls close. There’s nothing more I can do, and that is frustrating. I want to do everything, and I can’t. If you are a spiritual person, pray for me.

For the last few years, my Republican brother-in-law has been telling me that the problem with the economy (and Obama’s presidency) is “uncertainty.” Because job-creators don’t know what Obama will do, they hesitate to expand, to hire more people, because what if they make the wrong choice? As someone who started a business (albeit in 1979), I can report that I never knew what was going to happen, nor did I expect to. It was my responsibility to make things happen.

According to Aaron Ross Sorkin in The New York Times, the election won’t make any difference in solving this problem, even if things go my brother-in-law’s way.

What will the future bring? We don’t know. When I was a kid, I thought the future meant I’d have a jetpack, or a flying (electric) car, and my clothes would have those pads on the shoulders like everyone wore on Krypton and the Legion of Super-Heroes. My apartment would clean itself. I thought we’d get our meals in pill form. I thought we’d wear Dick Tracy two-way radios.

Instead, we’re still dependent on fossil fuels. That’s bad. We don’t have pills for dinner. That’s good. I couldn’t have predicted the local food movement, but I’m really happy because now I can tell the difference among 15 different kinds of apples.

Then there are the things I didn’t even think about to form a prediction. Gay marriage became legal instead of marriage fading away as an institution. Instead of working a George Jetson three-hour work week, we expect employees to put in 50 hours or more. I don’t have a robot maid, but I could have a robot vacuum cleaner if I wanted. I could have a robot dog. I carry around more computing power in my pocket than there was on the entire Star Ship Enterprise. That’s dazzling, even if I use a lot of it to send photos of my cat.

We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. That’s what makes life interesting.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman


Martha Thomases: Say Good Night, New York­

Here’s where my plan went wrong.

Ever since Friday, the media have been telling New Yorkers to prepare for the storm. Be sure to have candles and batteries and water.

I do.

Still, I am not prepared. I am too high maintenance to function without electricity. If this was the NBC series, Revolution, I would have died before the opening credits began.

It is not until the power goes out that I realize how much I depend upon it. My hand automatically goes to the light switch when I walk into the bathroom. I know the coffee-maker won’t work, but I don’t know that the gas stove also requires electricity to light. I have to drink my coffee cold, like a Neanderthal. Luckily, I have a friend who only likes instant coffee, so I do not have withdrawal.

There is also no cable, no Internet, no cell service. My iPad is fully charged, but I can’t watch anything on Netflix because I can’t stream.

I can’t send in my column by deadline. With no subways or buses, I can’t go to a Starbucks for the WiFi because no place is open. I can’t even buy a newspaper.

Things are happening outside. I can hear sirens. Because I am old-fashioned and have a landline, I can talk to people. Friends and family from California, Michigan, Ohio and Brooklyn, all exotic foreign lands that have power, have called to tell me what is happening across town.

It would be a quiet day except for the wind blowing over the scaffolding on the building across the street. I have been reading the pile of graphic novels on my coffee table, saving my Kindle battery for later, when there is less natural light.

Then I will hunker down in the darkness, with candles and backlighting. I will eat my cold food and drink my room-temperature water.

There are rumors of light and power uptown. I may gather my devices for recharging and walk the three or four miles necessary to ascertain if this is true. If you are reading this, then I was successful.

I will feel like Kamanda, the Last Girl in Earth.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman, “Team” Player



Felix Baumgartner just seconds before the jump.

The Red Bull Stratos Space Jump aired live on The Discovery Channel and across the internet today. Although this isn’t pulp fiction, the brave man who performed the jump is the true definition of a pulp hero, brave and possibly just a little crazy.

All Pulp congratulates Felix Baumgartner on making history.

Martha Thomases: TV or Hot TV

When I was a girl, back in the Stone Age, September was a big, big deal. School started, so we got new clothes. There were new model cars in the showroom.

(Here’s a joke from those days: What are the three holiest days in the Jewish Calendar? Rosh Hashonah, Yom Kippur, and September 29. What’s September 29? The day the new Cadillacs come out. I love that joke. I think it’s kind of anti-Semitic, but it makes me laugh. Also, I’ve only heard it told by other Jews.)

Most important to childhood me was the new television season. After a summer of re-runs, the three major networks would launch new shows. TV Guide would explain what the new series were about, and what changes were coming to keep the old shows fresh. It was so exciting!

Today, now so much. As this article reports, new shows premiere all the time, and, of course, there are many more than three television networks offering them.

And if you can’t watch a show when it airs, you don’t have to wait until the rerun comes around. You can record it on the DVR (which I still refer to as “taping” because I’m old. Sometimes I say “icebox”). You can watch it on On-Demand stations on cable, or on Hulu or other Internet sites.

You don’t even have to be home. You can watch on your phone, or your tablet.

It should be a golden age, but I find it causes me stress. Instead of making me feel safe, like I can actually live my life the way I want, I feel like I can’t keep up.

For example, on Sundays, there are currently four shows I want to watch between 8 PM and 11 PM. Two are on HBO, which means I can watch them at anytime either On Demand or on HBO Go. One is on a broadcast network, so I can “tape” it or, if I can stand commercials, On Demand. One is on BBC-America, and their On Demand is kind of dicey, so I tend to “tape.”

On Monday, there are also four shows I like, plus I’m out of the house for a part of prime time. More on the DVR.

Tuesdays are also packed, but a lot of what I like are the sit-coms, which tend to be 30 minutes and not 60, spit’s easier to find the 20 minutes of free time. And then, Wednesday there is hardly anything I like (at least so far). I can catch up.

Because if I don’t, Thursdays and Fridays are also clogged. If we come around to Sunday again and I haven’t watched any of the shows from the previous week, I’m behind. Aaaah!

(Also, back in the day, there weren’t continuing plot lines from one week to the next. You could watch a show without having seen any before it, and still figure out who the characters were, or what was going on.)

There’s a lot I’m curious about this year. Will Elementary be good enough to survive in a world that already has Sherlock? I hope so, because I have loved Jonny Lee Miller since Hackers, and it’s not his fault he’s not Benedict Cumberbatch. I have hopes for Vegas because The Big Easy is my idea of a sexy film. Fringe is back for a real conclusion, and all will be revealed.

As a geek, I’m also excited about the CW’s Arrow. The lead is really cute. It looks like they’re keeping a lot of what made the comic book fun (archery, riches, Dinah). They’ve added a mother, and I’m hoping she is not a harpy, but a way to add depth to Oliver Queen, at least through conversation. Did I mention the cute lead?

Recent television shows based on comics have a mixed track record. While I kind of liked

Birds of Prey because I have loved Barbara Gordon in every form, the series only lasted 13 episodes. Smallville did much better, perhaps because it, too, had a cute guy in the lead role.

I sense a trend.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

John Ostrander: How I Learned to Write

One of the pleasures of the Internet and of Facebook in particular is that sometimes old friends find you or you find them and you get a chance to re-establish old bonds. One such for me is David Downs who I knew in my Loyola University theater days. Recently, he was asking about my writing and about writing plays and I realized – by Gum! – there was a column in it. Thanks, David!

I’m essentially self-taught as a writer. I’m not putting down writing classes or seminars; I’ve taught some myself. As I think I’ve said elsewhere, however, the theater was my writing school. Much of what I’ve learned about writing comes from my days in theater. I was an actor, a director, a playwright, a sometimes techie, a teacher and occasional inept producer.

My sense of structure comes from the theater and my work as a playwright, an actor, and a director. All three demanded that I be able to break down a play, to comprehend where the conflict lay and how the action built to a climax, how it paid off. The acts break down into scenes and the scenes into beats. A beat can be described like a heartbeat – ba-DUM, ba-DUM. It’s an action/reaction, usually between two characters but it can be one character (witness Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy) or even two groups of characters.

Beats build into scenes with their own mini-climaxes, which in turn lead into acts with their own climaxes, which in turn lead to the play’s climax. What a character does is determined by their motivation; something that drives the character. Not just something they sorta kinda want to do, but what they need to do. There may be more than one motivation and they may be conflicting within the character. Sometimes the characters will think they want something but, underlying, there is something they want more and they learn that in the process of the story.

I learned from theater that everything is defined by action and that includes the dialogue. No one ever just talks – they confirm, they deny, they ask, they reject, they explain, they lie, they oppose, they attack, they defend and so on and so on. How they express themselves reveals something about them as characters. Do they hide behind words? Do they not know how to use words? What is the rhythm of their speech? Do they use long words? Do they use short sentences? Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter but his characters do not all speak in the same way. How characters speak reveals themselves as people, often in ways they don’t expect. It happens in every day life; that’s why it works in theater or in writing.

From Shakespeare I also learned how theme should be tied into plot – hard wired in. It’s not something that you overlay; it’s not the “moral” of your story. On any given topic, it’s hard to tell what Shakespeare “thought.” That’s because he was so brilliant at exploring and expressing different and even diametrically opposite points of view. What his characters said on different topics fit because in the plot it was appropriate at that moment to advancing that plot. It was deciding their actions and those actions drove the play.

Case in point – in that same “To be or not to be” speech I mentioned earlier, Hamlet is trying to decide whether to kill himself or not. He debates the pros and cons with himself. He’s trying to determine his course of action. If it’s just declaimed as a beautiful piece of poetry or philosophy, it misses the point. It needs to have an urgency, a real sense that Hamlet just might kill himself if he can’t find a reason why he shouldn’t.

I’ve learned other things from other playwrights – Samuell Beckett and Harold Pinter taught me about economy of language. George Bernard Shaw was very good at wedding social issues with bright characterization and very clever dialogue.

I also learned a lot of Improvisational theater. My sometime writing partner, Del Close, taught many, many classes in Improv and I was privileged to be in some. He taught as well as directed at Second City for a couple decades before moving to the ImprovOlympics. Del was famous for hurling chairs at actors if he felt they were going for the funny. He wanted them to go for the true because, as he often said, “Reality is far funnier than you can ever hope to be.” He wanted the moments that would reveal situations and characters.

He also wanted us to “start in the middle and go on past the ending.” He wasn’t interested in “all that boring exposition crap” and he wanted to see what the next moment was beyond what should have been the end of the story. He wanted the next day after “happily ever after.”

One of the really big things I took away was how little exposition we really need to get into the story. Much less than most writers would think. Assume the readers can keep up. Stan Lee did that with many stories; he’d start you in the middle of a fight and promise to catch you up as he went. He did, too.

From the theater I learned to do without explanation. Don’t tell the reader what to think or feel; let them think and feel and then tell you. Character is to be found in contradiction; don’t try to resolve the contradictions – explore them. I learned all this from constant repetition until it has sunk deep into me; it becomes second nature.

It comes down to this. If you’re going to be a writer, then write. Don’t talk about it, don’t just think about it – do it. A lot of what you write at first may be twaddle. That’s okay. Write the crap out of your system and keep improving. I believe I’m a good writer but not yet as good as I can be and I hope that never occurs until the day I die.

There is no one system or course of instruction that works for everyone; there’s only what works for you. This was my path. Find one that works for you.

MONDAY: Mindy Newell