Tagged: Writing

John Ostrander: No Trespassing

My Mary will sometimes pop into the office to chat a bit. If I’m just goofing off (a lot of my work day consists of goofing off), that’s fine but if I’m actually working she has to leave. She understands and doesn’t take offense; she can get the same way when she’s creating.

I don’t want anyone looking over my shoulder when I’m working, especially with the initial draft. I get self-conscious and everything freezes up and goes away. Oddly enough, Kim didn’t always understand that. It bothered her that there was a private place inside me to which she was not invited. She felt a couple should share everything and, for the most part, I agree – except when I’m writing.

I suppose that, with most couples that’s also true to some degree. Perhaps it’s even desirable that the person with whom you’ve spent a good long time can still surprise you, hopefully in positive ways. I once wrote a Wasteland story in which the husband challenges his wife when she claims she knows him completely. He suggests that he could, in fact, be the serial killer they’ve heard about. The claim that he could be eats away at his wife and, by the end of the story, she’s ready to leave him because she realized that the doubt she is feeling indicates she doesn’t really know her husband at all.

It is a big question. How much do we really know another person – even someone that we know intimately? We start off the relationship by being attracted to someone which may lead to falling into what we think of as love. I would suggest that, in fact, what we’re really falling in love with is our construct of the person. Someone we’ve invented that’s based on the other person but is as much or more really based on us as it is them. Hopefully, as time goes by, our perception deepens as we see more of the actual person and, again hopefully, fall into more of a true love.

That gets chancy. As you wind up really seeing more of the other person, you have to let them see more of the real you. Brrr! Pretty scary, boys and girls! It does necessarily involve opening up.

However, when you’re doing something creative – writing or art or what have you – the process can be very private. It’s a mysterious business to begin with; you don’t always know where the initial impulse comes from and you may not want to know. For a long time, I resisted any idea of going to a therapist because I felt that, if I knew more about my creative instinct, it would vanish. In reality, therapy turned out helping quite a bit. I understood why I did or thought some things and that understanding actually helped me creatively.

Still, I don’t want someone watching me create. I may need to dig around in parts of my psyche that can get a bit dark. (Those of you familiar with my work can probably appreciate that.) Nietzche said in Beyond Good and Evil: “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” Kim and I used to describe the creative process as bungee jumping into the abyss and pulling out something. Usually it’s squirming.

I don’t need observers when I do that.

I do wind up revealing aspects of myself in my writing; you have to. Every character you write must in some way be you. However, you’re in disguise; you can always claim a given aspect of a given character is that character and not you. Keep in mind, as I’ve warned some people in the past, that I may appear to be a nice guy but GrimJack comes from somewhere in me.

And visitors are not welcomed there.

Dennis O’Neil: A Difference of Opinion

Back then, when the universe was trying to create justice from whatever scraps of phantom it could find, I was working for one of the all-time excellent comic book editors, writing stories about a superheroic archer. I once gave this archer a line that conflated a politician with… I don’t remember the exact wording, but it had something to do with corruption or the like. The editor seldom asked me for rewrites. He was not the kind of fellow would impose his ego on the work of others by demanding unnecessary revisions But in this instance, he asked for a tiny couple of changes: he wanted me to make “politician” plural and add “some” to modify that same “politician.” So our hero said that only some politicians were corrupt and hence not all of them were.

Big deal? Huh uh. At least it shouldn’t be. In such a situation, the person being edited can a) quietly make the change(s) and go find something useful to do, or b) holler and smash the windows and cry that his First Amendment Rights are being shredded by some crass son of a bitch who picks his nose with a tuning fork, or c) mention the disagreement to the editor and make the changes. Preferably, mention it politely…

Let’s end the story, not that we must. I made the changes and kept my mouth shut and did not, as far as I can remember, feel persecuted. For the record, I did not agree with the editor. The editor was acting from the values of a generation that had recently survived a war and before that a protracted depression. Leave my own politics aside, and put the editor’s right beside them. This was a matter of courtesy – you did not insult people in public, even if they were drooling blackguards who you personally saw mug the vicar – and it was a matter of fairness. Innocent until proven guilty and all that. Maybe fear of being offensive played some part in this, too.

But the editor was (slightly) wrong because, in the honest opinion of the guy calling the fictional shots – me – the archer/hero would not have softened his opinion; he was not that kind of guy, at least not as he was then interpreted, and so we were committing the itsy-tiny offense of not being true to the character. This is seldom considered a cardinal sin and I would not expect to be lynched for it.

We are reminded of an occasional confusion that occurs when a reader believes that what a character says is what the author is saying. Sometimes that’s the case, but not always. So, hey, could we just relax and enjoy the prose?

Oh, and remember to always work for excellent editors.

Dennis O’Neil: Let There Be White!

All right now, settle down. Here it is, already the new year and we haven’t even started yet. Started what? That’s just about the kind of question I’d expect from you, mister smarty pants!

We can begin with a gripe, follow with a premature digression and then maybe segue into a topic. Ready for the gripe? Here goes: Geez, a lot of stuff sucks!

But let me tell you about my early days in the writing dodge. When I was groping through the universe, certain of very little, a person or persons whose identity I’ve forgotten told me that clarity was of high importance. Or maybe even crucial. I believed him/her/them and conducted my professional life accordingly, and it seemed to me that the perpetrators of the novels and comic books and films and plays and short stories I was absorbing mostly did the same. (Poems? Maybe not so much. That Ezra Pound can be pretty rough going.) Murkiness was, by and large, not considered a virtue.

But murkiness – lack of clarity – comes in diverse forms. There’s plain old bad sentences and bad plotting and bad acting and unfocused photography and bad editing and inconsistency and showing off at the audience’s expense – for example, sticking in obscure allusions or foreign phrases. And let’s not forget the obvious, bad printing. We’ll end our incomplete catalogue with this: not giving the audience what it needs to understand the action.

Let’s glance, sideways, at some items that really scorch my grits.

  • Credits, titles and production info – words on the screen – that use white or light colored lettering against white or light background.
  • Credits and so forth that don’t remain visible long enough to be read.
  • Actors who mumble lines
  • Credits shrunk so small, usually to accommodate some kind of advertising, that they can’t be read.

Credits that don’t stop running until the show’s a quarter over. Okay, maybe that one’s more mine than yours. I want the damn things shown and then I want to forget about them instead of perching on the edge of my seat waiting to find out who directed the thing

The assumption on the part of the creative folk that everyone in the audience knows the backstory and the characters as well as they do and so that info doesn’t need to be established on later appearances. (A novelist friend once said that every important element of a novel should be established three times in three different contexts. Sound advice. I wish I followed it.) This is especially pertinent these days when here’s a lot of long-form drama happening on television. And by the way: the sins I’ve just mentioned aren’t are seldom committed by the creators of these shows, though maybe they could work on the credits a bit.)

Okay, does that end the griping? Not likely. But it does end the griping for now. Stay braced for further bitchery in the future. We can assume there will be some.

“Altered States of the Union” anthology shows what America could be


Have you ever wondered what could have been? What if Key West seceded from the mainland? If the state of Wyoming ended up in the middle of Pennsylvania? If freed slaves were given the state of Mississippi after the Civil War? Perhaps you would like a Brief Explanation as to how Budapest became the Taco Capital of the World? Or, if you prefer, there is one story that is a fight to the death between the governor of North Alaska, Sarah Palin, and the billionaire orange haired governor of South Alaska…

You can wonder all of these no longer with ‘Altered States of the Union: What America Could Be’; An American alternate history anthology (say that five times fast) that features a varied and fantastic line up of first time authors, New York Times best selling authors, and Hugo and Nebula award winning authors, coming all together with their own stories of alternate American history and describing what could have been if circumstances were just a little different. (And a little more crazy.)
It will be making its debut on July 15th/2016 at the Shore Leave Convention – aptly, the weekend before the Republican convention. For anyone that grabs it on Indiegogo, copies of the book will be mailed out shortly thereafter, if you’re not at the show to pick it up and get autographs in person.


This anthology wants to show you how we could have gone other ways, how we could have been very different than what we are– yet still be America. For anyone wondering how the Indiegogo will be spread out, they’re taking pre-orders to finance printing costs and generally passing along more money to the contributors— all proceeds after production and distribution costs go to the people whose work drew you to the book in the first place— which, after all, is how it should be.

The array of authors that are in this collection of historic proportions are:


Russ Colchamiro, Peter David, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Debra Doyle & James D. Macdonald, Brendan DuBois, Malon Edwards, G.D. Falksen, Michael Jan Friedman, David Gerrold, Robert Greenberger, Alisa Kwitney, Gordon Linzner, Sarah McGill, Meredith Peruzzi, Mackenzie Reide, Aaron Rosenberg, David Silverman & Hildy Silverman, Ian Randal Strock, Ramón Terrell, Anne Toole, and ComicMix’s own Glenn Hauman as editor.

A mixture of NY Times best sellers, Hugo and Nebula winners, WGA award winners, president of American Atheists, and an editor of the Sandman comics is a sure win. Any anthology that includes the writer of “The Trouble With Tribbles”, a writer of “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries”, and the president of American Atheists is an interesting mix that shouldn’t be missed out on.


John Ostrander: You/Not You

You : Not You

One of the interesting facets of talking about writing is the contradictions you find in the craft. For example: All your characters are you. All your characters are not you.

All of your characters are you.

Every character you write must have some of you in it. All of them. Not just the ones you like to identify with. All of them. The large and the small, the good and the bad, male and female, no matter what age, race, or nationality. If you’re going to write honestly about the character, you must be in the mix.

This can get uncomfortable. Once, when I was writing a white supremacist  in an early issue of Suicide Squad, I had to look into myself and ask, “What in me is like this man?” Look, I’m an aging white guy; there’s going to be something there. No matter how much I’ve worked at freeing myself from that, and I have, there’s going to be something there.

I found it. It’s not enough to understand such a character’s point of view; it’s necessary to find what is in you that is like that. However much I dislike that aspect of myself, it is there to some degree and it can be used. It was.

We all have multitudes within us. We are slightly different people depending on who we are with; with our parents we’re slightly different than we are with our siblings than we are with our friends than we are with our lovers and partners. Each of them know a slightly different aspect of us. That’s one of the purposes of supporting characters; they bring out different aspects of the protagonist.

We play so many different parts in our own lives on a daily basis, we should be able to find some aspect of ourselves – good or bad, laudable or disreputable – that will allow us to identify, to be, the character that we are writing.

I’ve often said that writing dialogue between several characters is the writer having conversations with his/herself. We are all our characters.

All of your characters are not you.

You have to have some perspective on the characters that you write and that requires some distance. The differences are important.

There is, mostly in fandom, a form of criticism pertaining to a “Mary Sue” (among female characters) or a “Larry Stu” (among male). Generally, it means a character is an idealized and unrealistic version of the author. For the most part I dislike the term; it’s too easy, too lazy, and too pat a critique. The person using it generally only has to accuse the author of either having a Mary Sue or Larry Stu and that’s it; no further discussion is needed or, often, allowed. The accusation is made. End of story.

However, as with most stereotypes and clichés, there is a germ of truth. A good character can be very seductive. Few people believe themselves to be evil; even Shakespeare’s Richard III, who describes himself as a villain, believes he has a right to do what he is doing. I met someone once who believed that if he could take something that you thought was yours, he was within his rights to do so. “You only have a right to what you can hold onto,” he would claim. Not someone I wanted to spend any time with, but an interesting idea for a character.

I saw a TV interview with a guy who was doing time because he was a hired killer for the Mob. Coldest son of a bitch I’ve ever seen. Literally would just as soon kill you as look at you. “My life doesn’t matter to me, so why should yours?” was what he said. Again, not a person I would ever want to meet, but it became part of my core concept for my version of Deadshot in the Squad. Lawton doesn’t have a death wish; he just doesn’t care if he dies – or if you do.

The whole “You are your character/you are not your character” thing is a dichotomy and that’s fine by me. I think that most often you find the truth in contradictions. It’s what Del Close taught in his Second City and iO improv classes. Del held this contradiction as a rule: it’s not either/or; it’s and/both.

Finally, don’t try to reconcile or explain the contradictions. State them and trust to your reader to dope it out. Do your job right and the reader will think that the character is them… and not them.

John Ostrander: Don’t Look Down

John Ostrander: Don’t Look Down

Wile E Coyote

There’s a rule for tightrope walkers: don’t look down. If you look down, you’ll fall. Focus instead on the other end of the wire, where you’re headed. Focus on the goal. I’ve always felt that’s good advice for writers as well.

Don’t look down.

If you doubt that you can write, you can’t. If asked if you are a writer, your answer has to be “Yes.” If you’re asked if you are a good writer, your answer has to be “Yes.” If you’re asked if you are the best writer that you can ever be, your answer should be “Not yet.” You not only have to say it, you have to believe it. If you don’t or can’t, then you are looking down.

Don’t look down.

This isn’t about being humble. It’s not about modesty. If you’re going to be a writer, you have to believe that you are good enough to be read. If you want to be a professional writer, you have to believe that you are good enough for people to want to pay money to read you. You have to believe it and you have to continue to believe it even despite evidence to the contrary, even if people tell you that you can’t. Margaret Mitchell was rejected 38 times before she sold Gone With The Wind. J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected by 12 publishers before finding a home. Agatha Christie was rejected for five years. Louis L’Amour got 200 rejection letters. They stuck it out.

You can’t just say you believe. You have to choose to believe. Any belief worth having must be chosen.

Can you falter? Yes. I’ve looked down a few times. I doubted. I fell. You wonder, you question, you doubt. In the end, if you’re going to continue to write, you have to look back up and choose to believe that you can write, that you are a writer. Every time I start a story, every day that I sit down at this keyboard, it’s an act of faith.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be critical of your own work. You just have to criticize without ego. You have to take criticism without ego. I know people whose whole sense of self-worth is tied up with their work. Writing is too slender a reed on which to place such an existential weight. It’s not about you; it’s about the work. Your objective should always be to make the work better. You must also accept that some parts will be better than others and some parts worse. Some parts will, in fact, be good. Deal with it. If you have any talent, any skill, some parts of the work should be good. It’s okay to claim that.

Your writing will never be perfect. That’s inherently impossible especially when writing on a deadline. All it can be is as good as you can make it at that moment. It doesn’t have to be perfect; Shakespeare isn’t perfect. If you doubt me, go read the climax of Cymbeline.

Whenever I’m asked what I think is my best story, I invariably answer, “My next one.” That has to be true. If it isn’t, I’m done. Might as well quit. I like writing too much to want that to happen. Well, most days I like it too much. Some days I hate it and that’s normal, too.

The best way to become a better writer is to write. We all start with a certain amount of crap in our systems and you have to write the crap out. There are no shortcuts; just accept that a certain percentage of what you do is crap and keep working. Over time, with diligence, with luck, you’ll write less crap. Don’t worry about the doubts or the fears; we all have them and we all wrestle with them. Some days they win but, as you go on, those days become fewer. So keep at it. And remember. . .

Don’t look down.

Mindy Newell: Are You Typing?

Bradbury Snoopy

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” • Dorothy Parker

“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.” • George R. R. Martin

“Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn’t work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they’re done, they’re done.” • Kurt Vonnegut

“Are you typing?” • My mom, when she would call me up in the middle of the day when I was writing for DC and other comics companies.

Who are the people who tell us our stories?

And how do they do it?

Some like to plot everything out, down to the last word, using what I call the “shuffling cards” method in which important plot developments or character moments are written out on index cards, and then mixed and jumbled and rearranged until the writer holds a royal flush. Some writers start at the end of the story and then figure out how it got there. Others get a scene or situation in their head; it could be the middle, it could be the end, it could be the opening paragraph, or somewhere in between. Then that scene or situation plays over and over again, like a needle skipping on a vinyl record in the middle of a song, and. like that skip, doesn’t stop until the writer does something about it.

There are writers who get up in the morning and eat a proper breakfast and take a proper shower and get dressed as if they are going to the office or meeting up with friends and walk to their study or their den and work a proper eight-hour day, writing. There are other writers who get up and squeeze their story-telling in the hours between the time the kids go off to school and the spouse leaves the house to join the 9-to-5 rat race to when it’s time to pick the kids up to take them to their play dates or swim team practice or religious school – not to mention cleaning the house and going grocery shopping and doing the laundry and making dinner for the husband or wife who will soon be home.

Then there are the writers whose beds never get made, their carpet never gets vacuumed, and everyone is picking their clothes out of the laundry hamper because mom or dad is “in the zone.” Or, perhaps, the only time the beds get made and the carpets get vacuumed and the laundry gets done is when the writer is having a particularly bad day and everything that works so beautifully in the brain comes out on paper or the computer screen reads like it was written by some ignorant schmuck of a troll in a Twitter feed.

There are writers who live in their bathrobes and there are writers who can only work in the middle of the night when everyone else in the house is fast asleep. There are writers who live alone but have the TV on as “white noise” as they write. There are writers who play classical orchestral symphonies while they are “at it,” and writers who play specific music that matches rhythms of their words, their characters’ lives, their plot, their story. And there are writers who must shut out all the sounds of the outside world, who must listen only to the noise, the racket, the voice of their individual muse demanding to be heard.

There are other writers who demand feedback, who meet a trusted friend or editor and over lunch or long walks or over a beer or a Guinness or a Scotch, and work out the voices in his or her head, like a neurotic going to see his or her shrink.

There are writers who are incredibly prolific, churning out story after story after story, as if they are not individuals, but simply shells of flesh occupied by hundreds, if not thousands, of “others” who wait on a line that stretches out into infinity until at last they reach the front of the line and it is their turn to tell their yarn. There are writers who have but one tale to tell, and when “the end” is reached, they are no longer writers; they are finished, they are done.

There are writers who drink too much wine and smoke too much tobacco. There are writers who need a doobie or a blunt to get the juices roiling. There are writers who can only write on deadline and writers who are masters of procrastination.

There are writers who get to the gym every day; there are writers who think walking to the stoop to pick up the daily newspaper is exercise. There are writers who withdraw from the world, and there are writers who are at every A-list party and every movie premiere. There are writers who are constantly on the phone to their agents or their publishers’ marketing departments demanding more publicity, there are writers who let their words speak for themselves.

There are writers who would never option their story to Hollywood. There are writers who tell their agents that they won’t finish the story until it is optioned by Hollywood.

There are writers who are braggarts; there are writers who are shy. There are writers who are savvy with the Internet; there are writers who still use pencil and yellow legal pads.

There are writers who write instant classics, there are writers who never see success until long after their bodies have rotted away and the maggots have eaten what’s left.

Those are the people who tell us our stories.

And that’s how they do it.

Editor’s Note: The graphic atop this column is of Ray Bradbury and Snoopy. Yes, we know you knew that, but that person sitting over there did not. It was cribbed from The Atlantic from about three years ago, and it is damned brilliant.


Marc Alan Fishman: Oh Captain, My Captain


While trolling my Facebook feed for potential Kickstarter backers the other evening, I ran into an errant picture from a pair of sisters I’d grown up around since kindergarten. They were smiling and hugging their father, my former freshman year honors English teacher. I will spare you the visceral detail, but suffice to say he didn’t look to be in the state of health I might have otherwise thought he’d be in. A quick message to his daughters later and I’d been given some sobering news: the whole ordeal, after being explained, left me in a bit of a stupor. Just seeing his face again had unlocked the door to my memory palace (as Hannibal might say, before dining on one of my sundry organs), and the resulting flood of flashbacks has remained floating in the front of my mind ever since.

I was a smart kid. Not a genius bound for a Baxter Building mind you, but always labeled bright. Learning came easy enough to me. Accelerated math? Why not. English composition and literary comprehension? I could read, absorb, and write with laughable ease. While compatriots in class struggled with social studies, or science experiments, I’d hunker down at the dining room table for an hour and be ready to go the next day with aplomb. It’d been that way from the second I walked into my elementary school, clear through to the day I waltzed out of junior high. Clearly high school will be a piece of cake, and colleges will knock down my door, I’d told myself. You see, when you’re gifted, you wind up narrating your own life in the present-tense, to ensure you’re on the right path.

And then, on my very first day at Homewood-Flossmoor Community High School, I sat down – smirk cemented in place – in Mr. Ken Pries’ Honors English class.

Mr. Pries was as all teachers were at my alma matter: awash in Eddie Bauer, astute, and approachable. But behind the unassuming suburbanite facade lay a taskmaster like I’d never been privy to in the past.

“I warn all my students who enter this class that I am a not an easy grader. Up until this point, you’ve likely enjoyed the easy life when it came to your compositional skills.” He announced this to us milliseconds after the first bells blared. “I am here to challenge what you know, and how you choose to communicate it.” And with those words, the first text was passed out, a tome of Greek mythology. Really, Mr. Pries? You’re going to get my goose by giving me the comic books of the English-class world? My smirk remained unscathed.

The first paper was dispatched as all others had been up to that point: hastily heaved from my drifting mind, peppered with pretentious prose (so as to prove to the given educator that I knew the big words too) and never given a second glance before being spit out of the inkjet printer, sloppily stapled but beautifully designed, with perfect typographic presentation. It was returned to me with a hastily etched C- and the scrawled epitaph “Consider trying harder next time.”

I’m fairly certain you could hear my heart flop to the floor with an errant splurch. This clearly wasn’t a slip of the grading pen. The continual avalanche of footnotes, hash marks, and frowny faces sliced through my assignment as it did my self-worth. Try harder? Those words had rarely, if ever, been muttered to me. And never before did they feel as real as they did now… towing a barely passing grade at the hilt.

Mr. Pries exhumed an emotional response in me that was foreign. Here was a man who clearly saw through every ounce of B.S. I’d used up until that point to curry favor from the adults who oversaw my age of enlightenment. I was laid bare, left to produce actual thoughts, actual facts, and then present them without error. I was no longer given a book and casually asked to regurgitate the prose in different words to prove I’d read it. I was given assignments forcing me to make arguments and defend them. In the simplest of terms, I was challenged to prove I was more than just above average. And for the first time ever, I honestly questioned if I really was.

After shakily earning my way into a solid B average in the class, we tackled the final unit: Shakespeare. By now, conditioned into a state of never-not-panicking, I’d mentally prepared myself for the fall. But after a year’s worth of truly hard work, the final assignment given seemed like a practical joke. We were to reinterpret any scene of the bard’s and apply it to a modern day event. At the time, O.J. Simpson and his trial were a prevalent source of comedic material. As such, I toiled to create a reinterpretation of the witch’s scene in Macbeth, rooted in the minutiae of the Simpson murder trial. I poured myself into the prose. I added helpful footnotes and stage direction. I even took the time to ensure the entirety of the scene rhymed. I turned it in, my once signature smirk now replaced with that face a puppy makes when it has an accident on the rug. A few days later… “O’ Jackbeth” was returned to me.

“A-”, it read. “Best work you’ve done. Inspired.” Once again, Ken Pries had granted me a new emotional experience: Professional pride.

Of the few remaining tokens that remain of my high school career, my now curled-and-weathered final assignment of Mr. Pries’ class remains my most cherished. It represented a year’s worth of emotional growth. The “A-” that adorns my cover page – complete with Microsoft Word clip art – exists as the grade I strive for in my own life. As Dr. Huxtable might say, it was a “Hard A” that proved to me after being shaken to my core, that I had real value to share with the world. Even if that value was in a light-hearted parody of Shakespeare where the ghost of Judge Ito scorned a repentant O’ Jackbeth. It was the success of that assignment that allows me to tell people of what fills me with professional pride today: a story about Samurai-Astronauts, led by an immortal kung-fu monkey master, defending humanity from a band of zombie-cyborg pirates… in space!

Ken Pries was the first teacher who showed me that he believed in me but wasn’t content with the me I chose to be. It’s because of that notion – of tough love, and the lessons of a life well earned – that I even chose the arts as a career. Art was, after Mr. Pries’ class, the biggest challenge I’d ever undertook. And when I formed Unshaven Comics with my lifelong friends, it was Mr. Pries’ class that comes to mind. When I finish a panel, a page, or even a single piece of dialogue, I no longer execute it with a snarky confidence. Instead, I silently recall that feeling of never quite knowing if I’ve done something right, silently kicking at my heart… still listless and lingering at the base of my feet.

“I am here to challenge what you know, and how you choose to communicate it.”

The lesson will never cease to educate me, Mr. Pries. Thank you for that.


John Ostrander: 65

So there I was, flailing around for this week’s topic. The clock was ticking and time was running out. And then it hit me like a wet sock on the end of my nose – it’s appearing on Sunday, which happens to be my birthday. Not only my birthday but my 65th birthday which is supposed to be one of those big hoohah numbers. A milestone (I hope Brother Michael Davis lets me use that word). It marks me officially as a Senior Citizen (as if my balding pattern and gray to white hair hadn’t already done that).

I’m doing all of those things you’re supposed to do at this age. Join AARP? Done that. Applied for Social Security and Medicare? Done and done. Gimme that governmental teat to suckle. Sorry, Junior, but I’m soaking up your financial future and destroying your freedoms. Ask various media.

Except, of course, they don’t give me all that much. Of course, there may not be Social Security by the time you reach my age but I didn’t think it would be there when I reached this age so who knows?

And, of course, I’m going to retire.


Even if I could afford to retire (which I can’t), why would I stop writing? I love this gig. It’s part of my bones at this point. This is what I do, this is what I am. Writing isn’t like playing sports; the knees may go but, with writers, so long as your mind isn’t completely shot (careful!), the probability is that you can just keep getting better and I think, I hope, I believe that I have.

Regrets, I have a few but then again too few too mention.

Crap. I’m quoting “My Way”. I’m not a fan of the song. Too self congratulatory for me. The only ones who can sing it and make it work are Frank Sinatra and John Cleese at the end of George of the Jungle.

Crap. Now I have it running through my head.

Crap. Now I have the disco version running through my head.

Yeah, now it’s going through yours too, right? You’re welcome.

Anyway, I can look back and see some things I do wish I had done differently. I wish I had done a few more creator-owned projects. Balancing those against the for-hire work is generally a better idea, I think. Folks like Peter David and Mark Waid have done a real good job of that, I think.

I also wish I had gotten into prose more, gotten some novels under my belt. Again, folks like Peter David have done a good job with that. Yes, there are times I wish I was Peter David. Most of the time I’m fine with being me but there are times. . .

But know what? I’m 65. I’m not dead. There’s time to make changes and start doing both prose and creator owned projects. My paternal grandfather lived to be 100 and his daughter lived to be 101. In this day of crowdfunding, it’s more possible than ever to get new work out there.

And I have new projects I’m working on with partners I’ve worked with before. There’s possibilities of a novel or two that I’m actively pursuing. One of the projects that I’m doing with Tom Mandrake, Kros, you may have seen mentioned on Facebook. Timothy Truman, Mike Gold and I are discussing more GrimJack. Lots of stuff I can’t discuss yet but I hope to tell folks soon.

And I’m on social media. I have my Facebook page, I have my Twitter account. Still learning how to use the latter but I’m out there pitching.

When you get right down to it, 65 is just another number. It doesn’t really mean anything in and of itself; the meaning is what we ascribe to it. Getting old? Naw. Pulling back? Hell no. Going to Tahiti? Well, I wouldn’t say no but not on a permanent basis.

I’m just getting started.

Photo by JD Hancock

John Ostrander: Justified Complaints

SPOILER WARNING: I’m going discuss last season’s Justified which means I’ll talk a bit on what happened during it. If you intend to binge watch the show and haven’t done so yet, skip the column.

Last week, FX wound up its fifth season of the Elmore Leonard inspired series, Justified. It stars Timothy Olyphant as U.S. Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens, a supporting character and sometimes star of some of Leonard’s crime novels. You may not know all his books but a fair amount were made into good movies such Hombre, Get Shorty, 3:10 to Yuma, Jackie Brown and, as mentioned, the TV show Justified.

For those who don’t know: Elmore Leonard was noted for his spare style and his way with dialogue as well as his keenly drawn characters. Like Damon Runyon, Leonard liked the seamy side of people and expressed them with unique dialogue. In his essay, “Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing” he said: “My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” One of the other rules I found interesting: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” Sounds simple but, oh, it is not.