Jeff’s Pep Talk: Blast From My Past

Jeff's Pep Talk2

Blast From My Past

I originally wrote a version of this entirely too plucky Pep Talk just over eight years ago. I was twenty-seven then, and life until that point had treated me pretty good. That’s right, before I was writing monthly inspiration blog posts I was still keenly interested in, well, inspiring writers to do our thing. I offer this as a gift today. Eight years is a long time, long enough for the planet Venus to enter, exit, and then reenter retrograde.

And as Venus is the planet of love, I thought I’d share a proto-Pep-Talk that is very near and dear to my heart. Just goes to show you that no matter how far you think you’ve come, there’s always room to grow and many, many miles to go.

Let this serve as inspiration for you, especially if you’ve been feeling down about the world and your place in it. Keep working, keep your head down, but for gosh sakes, be a humanitarian to yourself while you’re at it. That’s the main message Jeff’s Pep Talk was always meant to impart. If you can’t be kind and compassionate to yourself when it comes to your work, how the hell are you ever going to be kind and compassionate when it comes to the rest of life?

Hope you enjoy this blast from my past. Twenty-seven years old. Yeesh. We were never that young. 🙂

2/13/2012

What? Me? Positive?

Firstly, an admission: I’m a terrible writer. Honestly, I am. I happen to have it on very good authority. Right now, right here in my office, even as I write this very essay, there’s a little man sitting in the corner, sucking down a Coca-Cola Classic, fiddling with his long, stringy hair, shouting de-motivators, anti-enthusiastics, and the highest-quality bizarro pep talks I have ever heard in my life. He tells me things like, “Boring!” and, “It’s been done to death!” and my personal favorite, “Nobody in this world will ever care!” He’s so good at his job that he’s even earned his own nameplate and the privilege of not having to sit on either of my shoulders.

I’m 27 years old. When I was 17, he didn’t even exist.

There’s a very simple reason for that, you know. When I was 17 it hadn’t even occurred to me to give writing a shot. Oh, sure, I’d begun and bailed on a novel or two. Once, I even made it a whole 90 pages, a feat that had each of my friends nodding and intoning, “cool,” before laying back into one another on my PlayStation. You know what I was when I was 17? First of all, I was a high school dropout. Didn’t even make it through freshman year. I hold two degrees of higher learning at the moment, but hell, even Scarecrow got one of those, and he didn’t even have a brain. Second of all, and infinitely more important, when I was 17 years old I was a future rockstar. Frontman? Check. Guitarist? Double-check. Writer of every song in my band’s repertoire? Oh yeah, and you just knew the Benjamins would start rolling in at any moment.

I was good at it, too. Honestly, I was. That’s really kind of the point here. Music came naturally to me. Okay, so maybe I didn’t come into this world kicking and screaming and nailing my do-re-mis, but put a Beatles songbook in my hand and a brand-new nylon-string guitar and just watch me put “Let it Be” through its paces. A band, a breakup, another band, another breakup; four albums recorded in my Mom’s basement; high school gigs and coffee house gigs and bar after bar after bar after bar after bar after…where was I? Oh, yes.

“Carrie?” I said to my then-girlfriend and now-wife. “I don’t think I want to be a musician anymore.”

Oh really? How come?

Does it really matter? I was going to be a writer, damn it. That’s it, and that’s all. Makes sense, right? If you can’t be a rockstar, what, then, might you be? Easy. A millionaire bestselling novelist, at the feet of which the Stephen Kings and Anne Rices and J. K. Rowlings of this world but kneel and tremble.

Step 1: Decide to become a writer.

Step 2: Write first short story.

Step 3: Am I a millionaire bestseller yet?

No? Not yet? Okay, I’ll just go wait over there. I and the little man in the corner have pushed story after story into this world via the agonizing and miraculously miraculous miracle of brain-birth. And guess what, the brain-birth for each of them? More agonizingly agonizing than miraculously miraculous. I tell you what, man, it’s downright painful. Writing? Man, writing is for the dogs. Remember when you learned your first guitar chord? Remember how accomplished you felt? Now do you remember your first story and that first critique you ever got?

“I had three problems with this story. The beginning, the middle, and the end.”

Remember how your voice used to have all the girls quivering out there in audience land? Quivering? Really? Okay, maybe more like mildly interested. Still, when was the last time your readers were even slightly or infinitesimally interested? Readers? What readers? You’ve got readers now? Where the hell did you get readers? Mom! The little man in the corner got readers and I didn’t!

Before I even joined the party, those in the know told me that rejection is the name of the game. Man, they weren’t kidding. That first rejection hurts like hell. So does the second, and the third, and the fourth, and the fifth, and the…when exactly does it stop hurting?

Just keep your head down. Just keep working, keep honing, keep sharpening, keep getting better and better, keep…keep…aw, hell, just keep forgetting what rejection feels like, keep forgetting there are a million others better than you’ll ever be, keep forgetting you’re not even as good as you want to be.

Yet…

So what keeps you writing? Why not just give up already? Oh, believe me, I’ve tried. Several times, seriously, studiously, not-joking-this-time. But you know what? Something always kept me going. Kind words? Ha! I wish. Publication? Okay, now you’re just making me sad. No, if I had to boil it down to one word, one, single, all-encompassing, all-revealing, all-enlightening, end-all-be-all explanation of why it is I keep doing what I’m doing, it would be this, my friends…

…………………

“What,” says the little man between swigs of his Coke, “that’s it? Ellipses? You’re going to end with ellipses? Oh, real original, Hemmingway. How about a nice ‘happily ever after,’ or a ‘the end…or is it?’ or you know what, how about a big fat–”

To be continued…


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

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Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – To Self-Publish or not to Self-Publish

Jeff

The third Wednesday of each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.

To Self-Publish or not to Self-Publish

I guess I’m a bit of a dreamer when it comes down to it. Head in the clouds much of the time, projecting myself right out of reality because, well, I take more comfort in worlds inside my mind than the world as it really is. I’ve always been that way, and it’s helped me enormously as a creative individual. Has it helped me much in life? That’s a conversation for another time. Or, you know, maybe never.

For me, the dream was always the most important thing, because I understood dreams become reality with startling frequency. I mean, that’s essentially what storytelling is, right? Making something whole, tangible, expressive, from nothing at all. It’s something I have to believe in order to do what I do. If I didn’t think anything and everything was possible, how could I convince you?

I like self-publishing. It’s a good speed for me. I made great efforts to publish short fiction in the traditional form for more than ten years, and I wouldn’t change anything about that time. But then I went off to earn an MFA in Creative Writing, and it slowly dawned on me that recognition, fans, and even money will only get you so far. If you’re dedicated to your craft, you can do it penniless. In no way does it make or break your enjoyment of the act of writing. In fact, achieving something like the ever-ubiquitous yet disappointing “best-seller” status often throws unsuspecting authors into a rut, one that can be difficult to climb out of. With success so comes stress and an urgent need to produce. I’m not good with stress, suffer from some anxiety and other mental health issues, and I somehow knew about myself that if I wanted to put my books out, I’d have to do it in a manner congruent with my everyday tolerance levels.

So when it came time to publish my first novel, I did it myself. I got the most amazing help from a friend of mine to render a cover and some gorgeous chapter-to-chapter artwork, I set the date, released it through Amazon, and then plugged it as best I could, also knowing I’m not a natural salesman. The truth is I would’ve made far more money if I’d snagged a traditional publisher. The truth also happens to be that I don’t care all that much either way, because I’m still the writer guy doing his writer thing, albeit at a somewhat reduced level.

I like controlling the whole process from beginning to end. The product I end up with, for better or worse, is all on me. The people who’ve read my first novel have enjoyed it immensely. Living the kind of life that’s cool and confident and down for lower-case “success”, simply because I’m not sure the upper-case kind is actually all that much fun, well it works for me right now. Maybe a few years down the line I’ll really push for the traditional publishing route. I’m not sure. What price success?

Given the choice, most writers would opt for more sales over fewer. I don’t think I’ve used the word “duh” since I was thirteen years old, but duh. The point is, you can write as much or as little as you want, and you can shoot for the stars or just keep your work on the down-low, but the real question is what fuels you? What keeps you satisfied? Is it money in the bank or pure creative expression? A happy mix of both? What do you want? What do you want? WHAT DO YOU WANT?!

If you’re working on a book or have recently completed one, first of all, congratulate yourself. You’ve done something most people on the planet want to do but never seem to get around to doing. Secondly, ask yourself the question in capital letters up in that last paragraph there. It’s harder to find sponsorship than to put it out yourself. That’s true no matter what you do, so consider it numero uno. Are you willing to risk rejection aplenty and month after month of waiting for an agent to reach out and tell you your work is magnificent (or abhorrent)? Or do you want to produce your book on the fly and handle all the publicity yourself later on? Know that for the vast majority of self-publishers, a hundred lifetime sales is considered superb. That’s a slow lunchtime minute in February for one of the major houses.

Work the traditional route, you’re likely to feel under-the-gun and underappreciated by your publisher. DIY it, and you’ll probably feel like you’re grinding your gears, working your butt off just to make a few lousy sales. Release your work through an established house, and perhaps struggle to earn out your advance and start bringing in those royalties. Put it out yourself, and claim your dividends immediately, meager though they may be.

See? Plusses and minuses for both. Nice work if you can get it, but look, your best bet is to keep producing and put your work out however you can, whenever you can. That’s the shotgun method, and it works. I know what’s been right for me in the past several years, but I also claim the right to change my mind someday. In the grand scheme of things, it’s all benefit and no loss. Just keep doing your thing, and if you get the opportunity to publish your work in a major way, absolutely go for it. If you can’t, however, or you simply would rather not, don’t sweat it, because magnificent career legacies have been built on less. Just don’t sell yourself short, and whatever you do, remain true to your vision and your goals.

Now for a little practical advice. You knew it had to be buried in here somewhere, right? If you’re in the market for an agent, find yourself a good searchable database like AgentQuery.com, or if you’re so inclined, think about picking up the 2020 edition of the Guide to Literary Agents, which many writers throughout the years have found great success with. Your manuscript must be in tip-top shape before you send it to anyone. I know that seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised how often people mess this up. Tip-top means thoroughly revised, edited, and proofread. If you can make it any better, you’re not done with it. Remember to remain professional and courteous, even when you get shot down. Especially when you get shot down.

On the flip-side of the publishing coin, the final state of your book is just as important in self-release, perhaps more so, because you won’t get an assigned editor to walk you through the process. If you can afford one, hire the services of an independent editor, and if you’re not super artistic, hire someone to do the cover and book layout, too. A lot of people, like yours truly, release their stuff through Amazon and call it good, but this is by no means your only option. Vanity publishing, independent print-on-demand, and independent ebook distributors all exist, though do your homework, because some are more attractive than others. Vanity publishing, by the way, try to eschew it if you can. I like Amazon because it’s one-stop shopping, and their KDP publishing system is easy to use, but your mileage may vary, and you may have bigger plans for your work than I’ve had for mine.

Regardless of how you publish, just remember it’s incredibly important to put out the best work you can. You want words you can feel proud of. In the end, your writing legacy is completely in your hands. That’s it for this post, everybody. I’ve got an overdue book to edit, and you’ve got more awesome Writing to Be Read articles to peruse. See ya next time.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!



Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s “Craft and Practice” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found this useful or just entertaining, please share.


Jeff’s Movie Reviews – Just Mercy

Jeff's Movie Reviews

Justice For All

by Jeff Bowles

Movie theaters across the country are closed due to Coronavirus concerns, so there aren’t many new major films coming out. June is typically the heart of the summer movie season, when all the major studios showcase their big releases for the year. Still, film buffs aren’t completely in the cold right now. Plenty of flicks that otherwise would’ve been released in theaters have come to on-demand services, and some true gems from the past year are getting a little well-earned, extended time in the spotlight.

One such film is perhaps one of the most relevant and urgently messaged home releases for this moment in history. I’m not referring to some pandemic movie that’s meant to invoke COVID fears, but rather a film that deals directly with issues surrounding the current international protests over the death of George Floyd. It’s an incredibly apt time to take a look at racism in the criminal justice system and in our society at large, and Just Mercy, directed and co-written by Destin Daniel Cretton, offers us an unflinching and impassioned portrayal of some truly chilling events.

Just Mercy is free to watch on streaming platforms everywhere for a limited time, and I highly suggest you do so. It’s an affecting film, one that forces viewers to confront the cold hard truth: as a nation, we have failed millions of our own citizens, placed them in handcuffs, incarcerated and criminalized them, often without the benefit of valid and Constitutionally guaranteed due process. As the film tells us in it’s closing moments, one in nine federal convictions has been overturned by the introduction of new evidence, sometimes years after an original crime was committed. That is a startling figure. Put bluntly, Just Mercy is about the wrongful imprisonment, dehumanization, and subjugation of black men and women, and I truly don’t mind admitting (in fact it’s a privilege to admit it) I was in tears by the end.

Jamie Foxx plays Walter McMillian, who, in 1987, was sentenced to die for the notorious murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite a preponderance of evidence proving his innocence and the fact that the only testimony against him came from a criminal with a motive to lie. The movie is really about the early career of world-renowned civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), who graduated Harvard Law and immediately moved to the deep south because, as he put it, “I’ve learned that each of us is more than the worst thing that we’ve ever done; that the opposite of poverty isn’t wealth, the opposite of poverty is justice.”

Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx in Just Mercy

Jordan is terrific as Stevenson, passionately engaged in the portrayal of a young man who simply doesn’t have the word “quit” in his vocabulary. Jordan has begun to make quite a career for himself in this and other films that handle racism directly, though this might be his most grounded and honest role yet. It’s really Foxx who makes the biggest impact, though. Truly, this film offers one of the finest performances of his career. McMillian both chooses to believe and not believe in his right to fair and just treatment. It’s sort of the moral and spiritual undercurrent of the film. This system breaks people down in startling and terrible ways. Even when you’re innocent you feel guilty.

The plot is more or less similar to dozens of other criminal justice movies. A hotshot attorney takes on an impossible case, gathers evidence, faces obstacles and even risks his own life, all for the rights and freedom of his client. But it’s the raw emotionality that distinguishes Just Mercy. Look, we shouldn’t handle this stuff with kid gloves anymore. Either you believe the system targets minorities, or you don’t. A story like this has the capacity to change minds. At a time like this, that could be worth its weight in gold.

I’m a white American. I am not now nor have I ever been an individual who has experienced on a personal level the true horrors of racism. I’m not actually qualified to write a review for a movie like this, not as far as I’m concerned. But’s it’s important to me to listen at a time like this. To learn and to ask myself what I’d be prepared to do if it was my freedom, my life, on the line. Just Mercy is so powerful precisely because it pulls no punches. When a man dies on death row, you feel it. When a racist district attorney undermines and condescends to his African American colleague, it makes you angry.

Anger will only get us so far if we really want to change the world, but information, education, even in the form of a piece of entertainment, it’s incredibly important. And this a great film regardless. In my humble opinion—and by the way, opinions are everywhere right now, so I’m not intensely interested in sharing the full extent of mine—this issue has been politicized to an extreme and absurd level. Leave it to the politicians and pundits to make all the hay they want. With Just Mercy, audiences are asked to take an honest look at incredibly urgent matters and to do more than just think about them. This is a movie that wishes to provoke an emotional, intellectual, and societal response. And it may just do exactly that.

Jeff’s Movie Review’s gives Just Mercy a 9/10.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


You can keep up on what Jeff’s been watching and catch all of his great movie reviews the second Friday of each month on Writing to be Read. Subscribe to email or follow on WordPress today.


Words to Live By – Love in the Time of COVID

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The first Wednesday of every month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.

Love in the Time of COVID

It goes without saying, few people living on the planet today have experienced any year quite like 2020. It’s almost a numerical thing, isn’t it? Or maybe just a numerological thing. Like we could see it coming a mile away, 2020, the year of perfect vision. Or of perfect integration of all the things we used to blindly ignore.

There’s a hell of a lot of old neurotic dead weight coming to the surface, both for individuals and for us as a collective. It brings to mind the basic processes involved in psychotherapy. Very often, the goal is to dredge up, edify, and to therefore let go of past hurts. Then we can move forward, better than before, ready to face the world again as new people. At least that’s the idea.

Is it possible that’s all this is? A chance by the cosmic forces that be to enlighten us through just a pinch, just a little skosh of what feels like outright torture? Have you been trapped in your house for three months straight? Were you used to being so homebound? Used to spending excessive amounts of time with the people you love? It strains the credulity of the value of being social creatures, doesn’t it? This is love in overdrive, folks. The rubber hits the road right about now.

Some people think love is a chosen thing, but I learned better long ago. Love is something given to you. You can’t help who you love. I’m not a father and I have no other dependents. I’ve been holed up with my wife, just the two of us, and it’s pushed us around here and there. I don’t mind admitting there’s been a few harmless spats, because I’m sure you can relate. It doesn’t mean there hasn’t been plenty of moments of fun and warmth between the pair of us. We’ve been watching old movies and chatting all day like we used to when we first started dating. That’s been wonderful. I’ve learned more about who my wife is now than I ever bothered to find out in the entirety of last year. People are constantly changing, and one of the secrets of a successful long-term relationship is to allow each other to grow up. Just a little bit. No one wants actual adults floating about. Heaven forbid.

We’re all such busy little bees, buzzing around, accomplish this task, fulfill this obligation, run this or that errand, put out this fire and then drag our attention to the next. When was the last time any of us had to sit down and face-to-face acknowledge all the people in our lives? In today’s modern society, not very often, not like this. Maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about. Or perhaps you know too well.

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My wife and I have chosen productivity over boredom. I mean, for crying out loud, how many times can you watch all the Star Wars movies on Disney Plus? For starters, I’ve been working on final edits for my latest novel, so that’s kept me busy. She had this idea for a radio-style animated YouTube show featuring angels, demons, and a fictionalized fantasy world, and for my contribution to her concept, I wanted to play with my old monkey.

Sorry, I should qualify that. Years ago, I wrote a short story I liked very much about a detective robot and his hyper-intelligent gorilla companion. The robot was fun, but Gorilla Todd, as he’s known, is one of my all-time favorite personal creations. So he’s going to be a main character on this show, and I’ll also be writing some companion novels about him, ‘cause Hey, Mack, a gorilla’s gotta eat.

That’s the plan. My wife is the artist and craftsperson, so she’s been drawing up maps and concept images, while I’ve been plotting scripts and outlining in my head where I’d like to take some of these stories. It’s been fun being collaborative with her. Though we’ve been married ten years, and we’ve done and seen everything together, we’ve never actually been creative as a team before. It’s an opportunity we might have otherwise missed. So that’s a blessing right there. Love in the time of COVID, you know what I mean?

But doesn’t that just make me a busy little bee again? Am I avoiding the chaos that seems to be raging in all parts of the globe by choosing a large creative project that will likely take the two of us months to gain any ground on? Quite possibly. Love, you see, needs breathing room. It’s just like fire. Suck all the oxygen out of the room, and the damn thing goes out.

And I’m aware, of course, that there are many people right now who don’t have anyone. I’m aware, for instance, that lots of relationships are currently taking a nosedive. Situations you should’ve ended long ago are ending very abruptly, and then you’ve got no one to synchronize surgical masks with when you’re out buying dog food and driving past your favorite movie theater, staring with jealous resignation at its pristine, empty parking lot.

Be careful with your love right now, folks. That’s the message I hope to impart with this post. Protect it fiercely. And if you are the creative type, head in the direction of new horizons for you and your art. Trust me, a nice afternoon of writing after being glued to the news all morning can be a wonderful salve. And, ehem, let’s not forget to use our bodies. Love can help out there, too. I don’t need to go into detail. Suffice it to say, if you are locked away with your partner, neither of you needs to starve for affection.

Yes, you might be saying, but what about unrequited love or love that’s gone cold? What if you’re in a situation right now that’s broken your heart and made you feel small? I’ve been there, man. We all have. Certainly, you can find a trusted friend to whom you can divulge all your longing and pain. See what I mean about love not being something we should take for granted? It’s everything, permeates all walks of life, yet it can up and vanish on you like a flash storm.

The truth is creativity and love go hand in hand. Just like you couldn’t help falling for your one true immortal beloved, you can’t help falling for a creative project that excites and motivates you. That’s the ticket, quantifiably so. We’ve got to love something if it has any chance of growing up big and strong. Works for people, books, paintings, songs. Works for everything we do and make and choose to be in this life.

Like I said, I have no children, but if I did, I imagine I’d be having an extra challenging time right now. It’s no wonder so many people are ill-tempered, lashing out. Society has been thrashing around on issues of race and inequality, civil rights, gun rights, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of this, freedom of that, and we’ve been doing it for hundreds of years, so don’t get it twisted. What you’re seeing on the news is by no means some spring chicken phenomenon. It’s led many to pontificate, where’s the love? We’ve come to 2020, that year of perfect vision, and we are being asked to finally open our eyes and see.

To actually see. What a priceless and burdensome gift.

All you need is love, as John Lennon once sang. Don’t forget to kiss the ones who matter most, let them know how you really feel, because none of us is guaranteed one more tomorrow. We tend to neglect this very basic fact. We neglect a lot of things. But the truth is, we’re all in this together, and if you think you know what the future will be, better buckle up, brothers and sister, because the ride gets even bumpier from here.

I’ll have more words to live by next month, folks. Until then, how about a song?


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!



Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s “Words to Live By” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found this useful or just entertaining, please share.


DC Comics vs. Marvel – Rivalry and Inspiration

Jeff

Rivalry and Inspiration

by Jeff Bowles

Marvel and DC Comics have been crosspollinating, competing, and succeeding together for decades. What began as an off-brand creation for DC, the birth of superheroes as we know them, eventually spawned a mega-industry convolving print media, film and television, video games, toys, corporate sponsorship, underoos, you name it. Together, the two powerhouse entertainment companies, along with their parent ownership (let’s not forget Warner Bros. and Disney), are responsible for billions of dollars of revenue and international commerce every single year. You see their most popular characters everywhere you go, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America.

So is it a wonder, then, that when asked to tell the difference between the two comic book universes, most people honestly can’t decipher what makes DC and Marvel unique. The truth is, that crosspollination factor is very much at play. Read a batch of comics from each company week-to-week and you’re likely to find tonal and stylistic identicality. It’s a bit of a brand spanking new urban entertainment legend that DC is always dark and Marvel is always light. Not that case at all. In fact, the two competing companies more or less share the same pool of creative talent, so it’s only natural they do the flip-flop thing often.

But there are differences, right? I mean, there must be. Why, for instance, do so many DC characters wear capes? And why does Marvel tend to have a long tradition of Cold-War-era nuclear-radiation-themed heroes and villains? All of it, really, boils down to the eras in which the two pantheons germinated and hit their stride.

Marvel vs. DC

You see, DC Comics more or less invented the superhero with the publication of Action Comics #1. This was the first appearance of Superman, who was just different enough from other square-jawed comic protagonists of the time to birth an industry unto itself. Most of DC’s core character lineup can be traced to the year 1938, and to the decade or two that followed. Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Doctor Fate, The Spectre, Captain Marvel (now known as Shazam), all created by or incorporated into the DC Universe in what fans refer to as the Golden Age of comic books. And before you ask, yes, there is a silver age, which is when a company first known as Timely rebranded itself with a new outlook and a new creative modus operandi.

In 1961, the freshly minted Marvel Comics introduced The Fantastic Four, the success of which spawned more creations, like Thor, The Hulk, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and The Avengers. The impetus of the changes Marvel instituted came as a direct result of actions taken by—surprise, surprise—DC Comics. When DC revamped their aging golden-age superhero line in the late 1950s, Timely and then Marvel felt the need to pump up the bandwidth, as it were.

Here lies the crux of the matter: whereas most of DC’s heroes and villains had roots in mythology, noir, world war, and light science fiction, areas of entertainment particularly appealing to Americans in the 1940s and 1950s, Marvel took a much more grounded approach, one rooted in the realities of the Cold War circa 1961.

DC was a bit gun-shy about placing their heroes in the real world. They’d been punished for doing so before, by the federal government, no less, with the introduction of the Comic Code Authority. In their universe, the Cold War barely existed, or in the very least, it was handled with kid gloves. But for Marvel, it was essential as an ingredient for a new type of superhero pantheon that exploited a changed American mindset. The difference became even more crucial as the 60s progressed and social issues and politics came to the forefront.

Fantastic Four #1

The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Uncanny X-Men, Daredevil, All of these Marvel characters have roots in the post-nuclear age. Most of them were straight-up irradiated in order to receive their powers. The funny thing is, DC was so overwhelmed by Marvel’s real-world approach on both creative and financial fronts that they were forced to fight dirty and head straight into the storm. This is when Green Arrow’s sidekick became a heroin addict, Batman at last became the grim avenger we all know him as today, and even Superman had questions about authority.

As I said, crosspollination. It’s doubtful the two companies would exist in the forms we recognize today if not for the contributions and competition of the other, and I think the creators and staff at both Marvel and DC would be amongst the first to admit it.

As the years went on, of course, rampant similarity became the norm. Each company has its own distinct history, has made differing business decisions, big-tent pole story events like the Infinity Saga at Marvel or Crises on Infinite Earths at DC, but in the end, the real differences come down to when and where each set of core characters were birthed.

Being much older, DC has felt the need to “reboot” their characters and settings multiple times, which often leads to confusion amongst non-fans, particularly when it comes to origin stories, which can vary widely from one character iteration to another. Even big players like Superman and Wonder Woman have been imagined in so many different ways it’d make your head spin. Marvel has toyed around with this as well, though to a much lighter extent. The truth is, when you’re playing with DC, you never really know which version of any given hero or villain you’re going to get. The distinction is even more evident in light of contributions from Hollywood, which I’ll touch on next.

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Avengers: Endgame

As most people on the planet are aware, Marvel is by far the most popular of the two companies in the year 2020. It has nothing, or almost nothing, to do with the comics anymore. Superheroes and supervillains have gone mainstream in a huge way, and Marvel reigns supreme at the box office. However, DC tends to have them beat on television. The CW, for instance, has an entire mini DC Universe with shows like The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, Arrow, and new entries Batwoman and Stargirl. The Arrowverse, as it’s known, is not as good as some halfway decent mega-budget Hollywood movies, but hey, it works for most fans.

DC also has Marvel beat on the animation front. Marvel doesn’t really bother with this in a serious way, but DC has a long tradition of cartoon versions of their classic stories. They’re also less of a slouch in things like video games, or last they have been historically. Marvel launched a pretty massive Spider-Man game in 2018, and they’re following it up this year with an impressive looking stab at their flagship series, The Avengers. Coming to a home console near you this Fall, kids. Conglomerate synergy at its finest.

Well, that just about wraps it up for Superhero/Supervillain month here on Writing to Be Read. We hope you’ve enjoyed our comic themed articles all month long. Check back in the archives if you’d like to read more. Maybe we’ll do it again next year. 😊

I’d also like to say that no matter which team you prefer, Marvel and DC always have and always will do their level best to entertain the hell out of you. Both companies come from humble roots, and there have been times throughout the years money seemed more important to them than fans, but they usually come around to the right way of thinking. The gift of entertainment, it’s a high calling in my book. So much of what gives my life meaning as a writer is my ability to wow, shock, and please, and I owe a good portion of that ability to the likes of Marvel and DC. Thanks for reading, guys. See you on the flip.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – The Revision Process

The third Wednesday of each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.

The Revision Process

So I’m in the middle of a fairly lengthy revision process for my latest novel, and it brings to mind a piece of advice a mentor once gave me. When I began writing short stories, I joined an online critique forum that in retrospect helped shape me in some crucial ways. It was a pretty tough, competitive space when it came down to it, and the other writers there didn’t mind (lovingly) tearing stories to shreds if it meant giving enough feedback to fix what wasn’t working.

There was a guy there called Gary, older than most everyone else who frequented the group, and I tended to see him as an authority, a friend, and a bit of a task master. Gary was fond of quick little rules and guidelines, notepad-like pieces of wisdom that could really set a young writer up for growth.

“Expect the revision process for any given story to last two to three times longer than it took to write in the first place.”

In other words, by Gary’s estimation, if you were to write a quick story in an afternoon, you’d expect to spend an additional two to three afternoons revising and sharpening it to an appropriate level. I’m sure I don’t have to explain to you how in-depth the revision process can be. Sometimes it’s pretty easy-going, but for the most part, if you’re not doing some cutting here, expansion there, general tightening of language on all levels, and if you’re not willing to kill your darlings, as the saying goes, odds are you may be doing it wrong.

So what if we’ve written a whole book? Does Gary’s piece of advice still hold up? In my experience, it does. Due to sudden and unforeseen circumstances in my life, my novel took about a year to write. So does that mean it’ll take me two to three years to finish it? Not precisely. I worked on it for a year, but in fact, I only wrote about 300 words a day for a grand total of maybe fifteen hours of actual writing per month. Fifteen hours times twelve months equals 180 hours, and 180 times two is 360. Bare minimum, that is the equivalent of fifteen full twenty-four hour days of revision. Maybe more like a month and a half if I plan on sleeping, eating, or ever seeing my wife ever again.

Now remember, that’s only the initial revision cycle. More work will likely need to be done in order to bring that book up to production quality. Realistically, once you add in the services of an actual editor, you’re looking at several additional weeks or months of back and forth nitpickery. It’s the nitpicks that save us, by the way. Make sure you get plenty of them at breakfast time. They’re like daily bowls of Wheaties. Nitpicks make writer big and strong!

Big and strong writer (due to nitpickery)

It’s part of the overall level of dedication it takes to turn out a good piece of writing, right? And we all expect to have to work a little more after we’ve initially told a story, or at least we should. I’m not big on hard and fast rules. Really, I’m not. I think “rules” in writing can and should be broken now and then. Generally speaking, these kinds of prescriptions are for writers, not for readers. Inside baseball, not meant for actual spectators, you know what I mean?

Even so, there are some commonalities to this process I believe every writer can and should keep an eye on. First of all, get comfortable removing chunks of flesh from your manuscript. Just straight-up cutting large sections that may have had stuff in it you liked. Also, get comfortable rewriting everything you just took out. Only better. Hopefully. If parts of your story slow the narrative down, add unusual or unnecessary complications, or otherwise just don’t fit in with what you’re trying to achieve, that stuff’s dead weight, detritus. It’s got to go. Gird your loins, fellow word-wielder. Things are about to get messy at the slaughterhouse.

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A good piece of meat isn’t born precooked, and neither is a good book. You can always resurrect some of that cut material and insert it elsewhere, but the same idea applies: if the words don’t fit, you must acquit.

Man, I’m on a roll today.

Another important thing to consider is if you want to make focused passes or not, keying in on just one element at a time, starting with larger issues like pacing and character development. This is a good idea if you’re new to the process or just like to stay organized, and it’ll probably save you some time in the long run. By making several focused and element-specific passes, you’ve got the opportunity to hone in without distracting yourself with other stuff that may change in the long run. My only suggestion for this type of revision process is to keep notes along the way. Ideas may spring to mind, better concepts for how to handle any given character or scene or larger story element, and you’re going to want to keep track of everything you intend to change for your next pass.

Admittedly so, I’m much too erratic and scatterbrained for this method, which means I tend to just charge in like a bull in a china shop and really tear the place up until its “redecorated” just how I like it. Mine is a messy process in this way, but it’s also just how my mind tends to work. Not everyone has the equivalent of sixteen trained chimpanzees careening around their heads, doing their level best to run the ship. If I don’t feed them at a regular time every day, Bingo—he’s the captain, see—he orders the rest of the chimps on strike, and then I’m in a real chimp ship pickle. Nobody wants that.

Where was I? Ah yes, serious discussion of the revision process.

A lot of what you’re going to be doing is in fact that more minute stuff, especially when you’re really getting down to it and most of your broader strokes have been made. Changing the language of the piece, the flow, tightening your syntax, all of that is important as finishing maneuvers. Just make sure you’re not revising so much you’re only shifting elements around and not necessarily improving anything. That can happen easily, which is why it’s also important during the revision process to take breaks when you need them. And I don’t just mean a break of a few minutes or hours. Sometimes you’ve got to let your manuscript go for days or even weeks just so you can come back at it with fresh eyes. The ability to forget what we’ve written is a great asset, so use it.

The annoyance and pain of all this is temporary. You have to keep that in mind. However, once they’re released to the general public, your words are forever. So now is your opportunity to line them up exactly as you want them. In the end, all you can do as a writer, as a creative individual of any kind, is your honest best. Will all your extra hard work pay off? That’s an eternal question, always in motion, and anyway, what’s your definition of success? I mean really?

I’ll have another Craft and Practice topic for you guys next month. Until then, cut a little, cut a lot, but don’t cut to the quick. The chimps in your brain may not like losing any of the good stuff. See you in June!


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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The History and Evolution of Comic Books

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Powers in Motion

by Jeff Bowles

As a storytelling medium, comic books have been around longer than anyone living today. Some disagreement exists among historians as to just what the first published example is, but more or less, comics have been with us since the mid-19th century. Certainly, they didn’t explode into absolute pop culture dominance until the advent of superheroes and supervillains, their best-known and most beloved subjects of exploration, but the truth is millions upon millions of comics have sold in all the time since.

It goes without saying that if not for the creation of one very special character, comic books would not exist in the form in which they do today. In 1938, two young men from Cleveland, hard-up for more satisfying and lucrative creative endeavors, concocted a simple yet compelling narrative based on the biblical stories they’d grown up with. An infant savior from another place, sent from on high by his father to protect and guide humankind. Jerry Seigel and Joe Schuster were thinking more Moses than Jesus, but the Judeo-Christian allegory that is Superman tapped into something deep within the psyches of readers everywhere.

When DC Comics published Action Comics #1, the first appearance of the Man of Steel, the company had no earthly concept what they were unleashing on the world. The first appearance of Batman followed a year later, and quick on his heels were characters like The Flash, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman. Sales were massive for this new kind of storytelling, so full of color and simple, easy-to-understand moral allegory. Until Superman showed up, comics were usually about hard-as-nails detectives and avengers of the night who could neither fly nor leap tall buildings in a single bound. But Supes, he was different.

It was and still is widely accepted that comics are for children, but adults like them, too. In fact, as the Allies went to war in Europe and the Pacific, young servicemen and women brought their recreational reading habits to the front lines. Japan in particular adopted comic books with unrestrained delight. In the year 2020, they remain the top producer of the entire global industry, having created a literary genre unto itself in Manga.

Back in the US, the end of World War II brought with it new social standards, including a certain suspicion of the medium. It became widely believed that comics contributed to childhood delinquency, vandalism, and violence. Senate hearings were held on the matter, not unlike those that plagued the video game industry after the Columbine massacre. In both cases, the federal government imposed rating systems, and at least as far as comics were concerned, the high flying antics of superheroes were dragged a bit closer to earth.

In the 1950s, comics gained a squeaky-clean image, which contributed to their overall decline in sales. It seemed that the original generation of kids who had embraced characters like Superman and Batman had grown up, and they were by no means interested in overtly sanitized farces. Network television had a hit on their hands with the George Reeves Superman show, carried over to some extent by earlier radio productions. But the comic book itself faced its first major hurdle: people just didn’t care anymore.

Times change, and so do the kinds of stories we like to tell each other. In 1961, Marvel Comics (formerly, Timely Comics) got into the superhero game in a big way with the introduction of Fantastic Four #1. This single issue began what enthusiasts call the silver age of comic books, and creators Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko didn’t stop there. Many other characters emerged from their Manhattan offices: Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, The Uncanny X-Men, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, Black Panther, all created within the first ten years of the company’s resurgence. They even added an old figure from their distant past to the roster of the newly-minted Marvel Universe. Captain America is almost as old as Superman, but he’d been all but forgotten by fans until Stan Lee decided to pull him from the ice.

The medium exploded in popularity once more, and the 1970s saw advancements that began eschewing the now decades-old Comics Code Authority. DC, for instance, who initially struggled to keep up with Marvel’s perceived hipness, got into all the major social battles of the time, including equal rights, racism, drug addiction, and violence against women. The decade introduced some of the most compelling and sophisticated comic stories told to date, and Marvel and DC became twin powerhouses of an artform many had thought dead and buried.

In 1978, Warner Bros. produced what many consider to be the first serious superhero film, Superman: The Movie. Demand for the character and other DC properties climbed to dizzying heights. In the decade that followed, comics continued to mature, became darker and much more adult, featuring storylines and characters that took advantage of the public’s newfound love of antiheroes. Marvel made huge waves with the likes of The Punisher, Venom, and new takes on classic characters like Spider-Man, The X-men, and The Avengers. Over at DC, things got even more experimental, with major new series like Watchmen and Batman: The Killing Joke, not to mention the introduction of their Vertigo imprint, which exclusively publishes adult-only material

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A new collector’s market formed around special releases and big-stakes stories that reset the board, such as The Death of Superman and the first issue of Marvel’s five-variant-cover X-Men #1. Like so many other markets built on false commodity, however, the bubble eventually ruptured, and comics have seen a slow but steady decline in sales ever since. DC has faired pretty well historically, partially because they were acquired by Warner Bros. in 1969. Marvel, on the other hand, slipped into bankruptcy, and only barely pulled themselves out by the skin of their teeth.

By the late 1990s, the future of comic books was in question. It had become clear that the business of printing colorful heroes and edgy villains was on shaky ground, but the new millennium heralded in a trend few in the industry saw coming.

DC had always had hit-and-miss successes with their film division. Though 1978’s Superman and 1989’s Batman were big for their time and place, superhero movies were still widely considered risky business. In 1998, Marvel Entertainment co-produced a film based on their daywalking, vampire-slaying Blade character. Though the film did average box office, Marvel viewed it as a sign of bigger and better things to come. Two years later, they released an X-Men movie which fared much better, and two years after that, it was Spider-Man’s turn.

Marvel earned one success after another at the box office, creating new film-based iterations of classic characters like The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, and Daredevil. But it wasn’t until 2008 and the release of a little movie called Iron Man that everything changed. At the time, Marvel Entertainment and producer Kevin Feige hatched an idea to do for their movies what Stan Lee had done for their comics back in the early ’60s, namely, they decided to turn them into a working shared universe. Marvel released a few key introduction movies and then bet the farm on 2012’s The Avengers.

The absolute financial and critical dominance of that movie was eclipsed only by its potential for more stories and even bigger box office hauls. Disney bought Marvel in 2009, adding significant distribution and funding prowess to the small company that had almost folded not ten years prior. Though DC and the WB have tried to match the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the decade ending 2019 was completely dominated—in one form or another, it seems—by characters created by Stan Lee and his successors.

But what about comic books themselves? Do people still read them? Do they still sell? More or less, they do, though even fans get the sense the comic divisions of the big publishers only exist to fuel their filmmaking endeavors. Marvel, DC, and others still know how to tell great stories, and they do it every single week, every month, every year. More major contributors to the industry include Darkhorse, Image, IDW, and Valiant. Comics are not now and have never been solely about superheroes, and the indie space in particular proves that this kind of storytelling is open and ready for all.

Regardless of how you feel about the dominance of comic-bookisms in our culture, the slow decline of the publishing industry beneath it, and the ultimate moral ambiguity of “good guys” who beat the crap out of “bad guys”, the fact remains that comics have been a force of societal transformation for over eighty years, longer in fact, when you factor in the storytelling traditions at play, some of which are as ancient as humankind itself. The first comic book, published in the 19th century, whatever it may have been, set a ball rolling that continues to, well, crush the life out of everything in its path.

Only one question needs to be asked at this point: who do you like better, Marvel, DC, or the bold and bombastic characters of some other powerhouse company? Sound off in the comments section below, guys. And continue to stay tuned all May for more superhero/supervillain themed articles and posts right here on Writing to be Read. Excelsior!


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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You can keep up with all of Jeff’s posts right here on Writing to be Read. Subscribe to email or follow on WordPress today.


Jeff’s Movie Reviews – DC Comics Gets Animated

Jeff's Movie Reviews

Cartoon Justice

by Jeff Bowles

This month on Writing to be Read, we’re exploring superheroes and supervillains, so for May’s movie review, I thought I’d discuss a lesser known corner of the major comic book film adaptation landscape.

DC Comics and their parent company/distribution overlord, Warner Bros., have gotten a bad rap for producing superhero films that simply don’t meet the bar established by their rival, Marvel Studios. Well allow me to clue you in on one area DC has Marvel beat: animated films. Direct-to-video, barely seen by non-fans, but actually pretty good and by and large, better than their big-screen live action cousins.

apokolips war

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War

Warner’s animation division has a long history of excellent superhero storytelling. Warner Bros. has owned DC since the 1980s. It took Marvel two additional decades to receive studio backing from Disney, probably because Marvel was in bankruptcy until it started making bankable movies like Spider-Man and Iron Man. But back in the early 90s, Warner Bros. and DC created the Emmy-winning Batman the Animated Series, which still holds up as one of the greatest Saturday morning cartoons of all time. All these years later, that same group is still together. They have released over fifty (count them, fifty) feature-length animated films that cover all areas of the DC universe.

Whereas Marvel requires audiences to have prior knowledge of their storylines before going into any given sequel, the DC animated film series rarely contains that much connective tissue, except in their main Justice League storyline, which just wrapped up this week with the release of Justice League Dark: Apokolips War. Now that’s spelled Apokolips rather than apocalypse; we’re talking a fire planet ruled over by Thanos-clone and best-dressed uber-villain of the year, Lord Darkseid. And that’s spelled Darkseid rather than dark side, because, well, he was created in the 1970s, and everyone in the comic industry at that time was on copious amounts of “powdered productivity”.

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is an excellent animated film, one you may just skip if you’re not a fan. It’s got everything in it faithful DC-heads have come to expect. World-ending cataclysms, fists and superpowers and feats of incredible strength, magic and might, and more major character deaths than you can shake a batarang at.

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John Constantine saves the day in Apokolips War

John Constantine (that’s THE John Constantine, once played by Keanu Reeves in his own major film adaptation) is recruited by the Justice League to take down Darkseid for good. When things go terribly wrong, the population of Earth is more or less decimated, and it’s up to Constantine, a depowered Superman, and a small cast of other heroes to set things right.

Whether they do or not isn’t really the point. This small animated movie takes more risks with its characters than any big-screen Marvel romp. Perhaps because they can afford to. When I say there are a ton of unexpected deaths in this thing, I mean it. You never know who’s going to snuff it, which makes it all the more enjoyable.

The DC animated library is of much higher quality than you may expect. Most entries are made for adult fans, which is how you can justify an R-rating for Apokolips War. For crying out loud, these dying superheroes pop like balloons. Like bloody, spandex-clad, hope-to-see-you-in-the-reboot balloons.

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The Full Breadth of the DC Animated Universe

You wouldn’t want to sit your kid in front of Apokolips War, but the point is that over the course of more than fifty releases, the full breadth and scope of the DC universe has been on full display. We’ve gotten to see all corners and permutations, from Gotham City to Metropolis to outer space and DC‘s dark magical underbelly, loaded with lots and lots of characters the general public haven’t even heard of. If you want your DC education without sifting through stacks and stacks of old comics, these movies may be for you.

Marvel has a great reputation for entertaining if underwhelming storytelling, and right or wrong, they’re also perceived as being the light and enjoyable flip side of DC Comics and their brooding nature. To a certain extent, that reputation is in error. Read some comics from both companies in any given week and you’re likely to find tonal and narrative identicality.

So it’s kind of wonderful to have such a huge library of animated films that communicate what DC Comics is all about far better than their live action equivalents have done. Truth be told, I’d rather watch some of these cartoons than the likes of Batman v Superman or even the much-hyped huge disappointment that was Justice League.

You remember the Justice League movie? Yeah, not many people do, it seems.

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Do I Have Something on My Face?

But a good Justice League cartoon, now that I can get behind. The ending of Apokolips War is perhaps not as definitive as was advertised. Really, it’s just stage one of a massive retooling, but I’m fine with that. The legacy begun by that legendary Batman cartoon series from the early 90s is still in good hands, and you can pick out any one of these animated films and have a pretty good time with it. Plus, they’re all available for digital download and streaming.

Maybe animation isn’t your thing, and neither are comics or superheroes. But the truth is there is a massive installed fanbase that is ravenous for any new story from Warner Bros. Animation. These releases don’t do well financially in the larger sense, but every one of them takes great pleasure and care extoling the virtues of this kind of storytelling.

Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and hundreds of other DC characters have gotten time in the limelight, a feat that will most certainly never be repeated in big-budget live action form. So maybe it’s a little silly to get invested in a bunch of cartoons, but if you have any love or curiosity for the full scope of what DC Comics has to offer, this is a great place to dig in and enjoy.

You weren’t planning on leaving the house anyway, were you? Oh, you were? Then stand six feet away and in that direction, please. I’m not Superman, you know.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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You can keep up on what Jeff’s been watching and catch all of his great movie reviews the third Friday of each month on Writing to be Read. Subscribe to email or follow on WordPress today.


Words to Live By – Look, Up in the Sky!

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The first Wednesday of every month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.

Look, Up in the Sky!

This month on Writing to be Read, we’ll be celebrating one of America’s original storytelling mediums, the comic book. In any other given year, one not smitten with the likes of COVID-19, May would see the release of the latest big-budget movies from Marvel and DC, their publishing divisions would be rolling out their next huge crossover events, and Free Comic Book Day would invite fans and newbies alike to visit their local comic shops and sample what’s available these days.

This year isn’t like any other year, of course. Practically everyone on the planet is being asked to make sacrifices to keep themselves and others safe. Superheroes are great at making sacrifices. In fact, you could say it’s their most important superpower. The truth is we don’t have to go out to the movies or visit a comic shop to witness feats of incredible valor and strength. All we have to do is look at the people around us. In fact, all we have to do is look in the mirror.

Now I know what you may be thinking, especially if you’ve never been a fan of the medium or if you’ve got no love for spandex-clad do-gooders on the silver screen. It is a certainty you’ve noticed Hollywood has pledged a good deal of their resources to the production of films and television series based on superheroes and supervillains. I have to tell you, as a longtime fan, it sort of gives me a thrill. When I was growing up, only nerds liked comics, spotty young men and women who argued with each other about who would win in a fight, Batman or Spider-Man, who dwelt in their parents basements and only went into the sun to hiss at it and then stalk around Lon-Chaney-style, searching for more comics.

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That stereotype isn’t even close to accurate, but look, up until about fifteen years ago, it was supremely uncool to be into this stuff. Which is why I’m so pleased I inherited an absolute passion for it.

My brother, Chris, is ten years older than me, quite an age difference by the standards of most families with only two children. He started reading and collecting comics around about the time I was born, and when I was old enough to read them, he got me hooked as well. I learned so much about my favorite comic characters from cartoons and movies, but it was really Chris who taught me everything I needed to know, who allowed me to glimpse these worlds as they really are: static on the page, but full of life in your mind.

The sum total value of that knowledge is this: comic books are fun, colorful, dynamic, easy on the eyes, and short. Their stories take place over twenty-two pages, and they’re almost always about doomsday scenarios and strong, noble crusaders who nip them in the bud. I remember going through stacks and stacks of my brother’s collection, marveling at the artwork, the boldness and speed of the actual storytelling. Some of the best memories of my life involve curling up with my own short stack of comics. I looked up to Chris with all my heart. I still do. He’s a personal hero of mine.

Lots of people have analyzed the relationship between comics and myth, the Hero with a Thousand Faces, a modern manifestation of our desire for legends and tall tales. But I honestly think people’s love of superheroes, especially in today’s world, stems from a basic psychological need for good examples, guiding lights. If you venture into the world right now, you’ll see that heroes are everywhere. They’re the doctors and nurses staffing our hospitals, putting their lives on the line so we can be happy and healthy. They’re the people who continue to produce and provide us with food, the butcher at the grocery store, the delivery guy who gets your pizza to you right on time.

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Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Even you, who must battle fear just to run a few weekly errands. And rather than seeing these fictional figures as a breed totally outside our experience, it might be more helpful to analyze their existence in relation to our deepest desires. Maybe we can see ourselves in the likes of Superman and Captain America. It doesn’t take much to look beyond yourself and lend people a helping hand when they need it, and this is the basic nature of the superhero.

Sure, their exploits are silly sometimes, even nonsensical. They wear ridiculous costumes and rattle off cheesy one-liners. You could even argue they set a bad example for young people, because no matter what seems to occur, they almost always solve every problem with their fists. But the truth is the modern world needs them. Realistically speaking, we’ve all got a good guy dwelling in our hearts and minds, and it’s possible, if we really try, to take courage and strength, and at the best of times, to let our inner super shine.

A lot of folks criticize Marvel and DC movies for their overreliance on end-of-the-world scenarios, but it’s all a subconscious thing, isn’t it? We’ve all had our personal doomsdays, have all needed to be strong when fate was against us and luck simply was not on our side. It’s a quaint pastime, reading comic books. There’s nothing magical or mystical about it. Just the enjoyment of disappearing into another world for about twenty minutes, and then reaching over to your brother’s stack and picking out another adventure.

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We here at Writing to Be Read believe strongly in literacy and the spread of a better kind of virus, good storytelling. My storytelling mode of choice is often comics, which taught me right and wrong, strength and courage in the face of adversity, and which allowed me to form a connection with my brother that I value and cherish to this day. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my Mom and Dad, who bought us all those comics for all those years. As a writer, I learned a great deal of the craft from this medium. As a human being, I learned everything I needed to know about how to treat others with dignity and respect.

If nothing else, comics are clearly a great bonding opportunity, and in their purest expression, they allow us to feel, if only for a little while, like we too can bend steel, soar through the air, and leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Have a wonderful May, everybody, and tune in all month long for more superhero and supervillain themed posts and articles. We’re all in this together, always have been and always will be. You don’t have to wear a cape and save my life to be a hero in my book. All you’ve got to do is turn to your fellow man, decide you can help, and then do everything in your power to make it happen. Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane!

Up, up and away, everybody.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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The Essence of Writing Good Dialogue

Jeff

It’s not what you say. It’s the way you say it.

by Jeff Bowles

I love good dialogue. In fact, it may be my favorite thing about reading a book or watching a truly excellent film. Many serious writers will tell you that it’s an important tool in the author’s toolkit, but that it is by no means the most essential. I respectfully disagree. I say good dialogue can elevate your writing like nothing else. After all, it’s not what you say. It’s the way you say it.

Looking back, I realize I’ve always been polishing up my ability to generate interesting, gripping, or just plain funny dialogue. I self-studied writers and filmmakers who made it a priority in their storytelling, folks like Douglass Adams, Elmore Leonard, and Quentin Tarantino. I read a lot of Marvel and DC comic books, which as you may or may not know, are almost completely composed of dialogue. I don’t know why it mattered so much to me, but I absolutely lit up whenever characters interacted with each other in snappy and surprising ways. I still light up when I read, see, or hear the good stuff, and maybe I can’t speak for everyone on this, but when was the last time you saw a well-produced Shakespeare production and thought to yourself, Gosh, that guy just couldn’t write people to save his life?

That’s the key. People live in dialogue. Not in long winded descriptions or deep internal navel gazing. Characters come to life in their interactions with each other. You could say it’s the one thing that makes them leap off the page. It’s how people work in real life, too. Which is to say, without conversation, people tend not to work at all. Sit together with someone in an awkward silence long enough and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

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When it comes to short stories and novels, good dialogue is essential. Sure, you’re a master of scene setting and description, but do all your characters seem to communicate like wooden B-movie stereotypes? Or another problem many writers have, have you noticed you’re timid on engaging your readers with dialogue, and so you tend to rely on big blocks of text to get your message across? Scene setting, subtle character development, basic point-to-point plotting, visceral sense engagement and description, and basic personal style may be the rhythm of the music we call fiction, but truly inspiring dialogue is quite essentially the melody.

If you think about it, you don’t even really know characters until they open their mouths. If you struggle with dialogue, or if you’re just looking to brush up on the basics, there are a few exercises you can employ. One, of course, is to go to a public place and listen to people converse in real time. Admittedly, not really a viable option during Coronavirus lockdown, but you can easily work this exercise from the comfort of your own home. Tune into some reality TV, or simply listen to the conversations your family have. Write down every word verbatim, if you can. You’ll notice that people tend to speak in a pretty roundabout way, with lots of umms and starts and stops thrown in the mix.

Good dialogue should contain elements of realistic conversation, but you also need to focus it like a laser beam. If you were to write a scene in which people talk like they do in real life, you’d end up with so many pauses, ellipses, and false starts it’d drive your readers nuts.

“Hi, Jim, how’d work go?”
“Oh, you know, I don’t know … the boss, he’s real … umm … I don’t know, he’s real pushy when it comes to … when it comes to, uh … oh, I don’t know”

Doesn’t really flow all that well, does it? May I present the alternative that what you’re going for with good character interactions isn’t so much realism as pointed randomness. That is to say, make an effort to produce dialogue that cracks like a whip, pops and snaps like lightning. Only make sure also that it’s random enough no one can accuse you of stiffly holding your reader’s hand.

“Hi, Jim, how’d work go?”
“Ah, you know, the boss … ever get the feeling some people’s neckties are on too tight?”
“Uh-oh. I know that tone. He got pushy again, didn’t he?”
“Pushy? I haven’t slept in weeks. Pretty sure I had a waking dream while filing a client’s paperwork today. By the way, if the office calls asking why I’ve suggested one Dana Baker should just hit the clown on the nose and fly away on his trusted dragon, I’m not in.”

Also, don’t be afraid to surprise yourself. If you’re surprised by your writing, you can guarantee your readers will be, too. Zig instead of zag when you approach character interactions. Also, try producing more dialogue on the page than you’re used to. A lot of readers just kind of sift through text blocks anyway. They consider the dialogue the real meaty parts. Sad, but I think it is true. Readers are less interested in what’s happening now than in what happens next. You can fuel that burning need to find out.

Here’s something else you may not have considered. The first true novel written in the English language was likely published sometime in the 16th century, or thereabouts. A couple centuries later in the Victorian era, the novel had exploded in popularity, and that period is still a gold mine as far as writers who produced work we’re reading to this day. In all the time since, our concept of good narrative fiction has gotten lighter, not heavier.

Have you ever been chewing your way through a Victorian novel and thought to yourself, Why’s it taking this lady so long to get out of her house? Well, it’s because back then, the form and function of the novel was to in some fashion reproduce life. Entertainment is its form and function in the year 2020, because these days authors have to compete with film, television, internet memes, video games, just about anything that’s loud, fast, and gets its point across in seconds flat.

Unfortunately, you are therefore also competing with shortened attention spans across the globe. Do yourself a favor, don’t shirk your duty to write super fun, super engaging dialogue. It can save even the dullest story. Well, maybe not the dullest. Need something more specific? Well, for one, make sure all your dialogue tags (or at least most of them) are of the simple, he said, she said variety. Very few of these said-bookisms you’ve heard so much about.

Also, try bouncing back and forth between characters like they’re playing verbal tennis. Keep each line short and snappy; play a game of hot potato. And don’t forget to edit like crazy when you’re done. If you’re not removing bulk between those quote marks, you’re doing it all wrong. Even in my short examples above, I went back in and cut the detritus. Because good dialogue should flow, not lay inert like a dead body on some old science fiction TV show.

Similarly, characters should all sound distinct from one another. Don’t give them so many affectations they no longer sound realistic, but look, not everyone talks the same, do we? We have accents and ticks and odd regional slang we depend on. Try speaking your dialogue aloud as you’re writing it. Kind of helps to clear out the mental cobwebs. If you can hear it from your own mouth, and it sounds pretty good to you, odds are it’ll work well enough on the page.

The truth is, most readers depend on good dialogue to communicate story. You can build or establish character relationships with it, key in on essential plot points, foreshadow upcoming events, or just plain have fun and make people laugh. One more time, dialogue is the melody of this music we call storytelling. So make sure yours is enjoyable to listen to. Speech, language, it’s the engine that drives everything we do. It binds us together, tears us apart, and isn’t that the essence of story?

If you’re struggling with this, the old adage, practice makes perfect, is as always the essential factor. You’ll thank me once you’ve mastered this new superpower, and your readers will thank you. Is it possible to overdo it? Certainly. But wouldn’t you rather read a beautiful mess that sounds like Mozart rather than racoons rattling around in your trash cans late at night?

Heh. That’s a funny line. Maybe I should jot it down and have one of my characters say it someday. Until next time, everybody. Wooden conversation is as wooden conversation does.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!