Words to Live By – Fear, Creativity, and that Pesky Pandemic

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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.

Fear, Creativity, and that Pesky Pandemic

It goes without saying the world has changed since I wrote the March edition of Words to Live By. Today is April Fools’ Day. Some joke, right? I woke up last night after turning in early. My phone said it was two minutes to midnight, and I thought, who’s going to be the fool tomorrow?

Fear is a funny thing. I think most people often get buried under the pressures, politics, and pleasures of everyday life and tend to ignore their fears, to in essence ignore their own shadow side. Well, lucky you, now none of us has a choice. I imagine these things as waves sweeping across the world. Maybe one moment you feel fine, completely on top of things, and the next you’re hit by crippling fear. Which is why toilet paper and ground beef are so scarce at the supermarket, why some people have parked themselves in front of the news one terrifying hour after another, why incredible boredom strikes and sometimes you can’t help but take it out on the poor sods stuck indoors with you.

Carl Jung, of course, believed in a great collective unconscious, an ocean of emotional and motivational currents that rage below the surface of our conscious minds, connecting us in the most primal sense to everyone else on the planet. It sort of takes the Eastern theological concept of oneness to a new place. Can we feel what others are feeling halfway across the globe? I have to admit, as someone who suffers from severe mental illness, I’ve spent much of the last few years in fear anyway. In some fashion, it makes this whole thing easier. But it also ratchets up the tension already winding away inside me. Because I know I’m not alone, I don’t mind admitting I’ve had a few freakout moments in the last couple weeks. I imagine I’ll have a few more before this whole thing is through. Anyway, what does “being through” even look like? Won’t COVID-19 be with us in some form or another for years to come? And what about the next pandemic, the next war, the next social upheaval? Folks who throw around the word apocalypse don’t seem to understand. Human history has seen the rise and fall of many such apocalypses, it’s just that no one living today has had the misfortune of witnessing one before.

They also didn’t have Twitter during the Bubonic Plague. Imagine if they had. Does our incredible electronic interconnectedness help or hurt us under these circumstances? General awareness, assuming you’re getting accurate information, has never been higher. But neither has the fear, the fear mongering, the spread of a wholly different, much deadlier virus that has been with humanity since the very beginning.

There are ways I’m learning to cope with my fear. Creativity is chief amongst them. If you’re reading this, you’re most likely a writer or some other type of awesome creative person. I’ve heard stories of folks rediscovering their artistic side while under the constraints of lockdown. That’s a magical thing. Think of everyone having heart-to-hearts, making love with each other for the first time (or maybe the first time in months or years), beginning new creative projects, getting their life and living situations in order, or simply parking their butts in front of Netflix for hours on end instead of working themselves half to death, which is the only thing many of us have come to know.

You want my advice for keeping those pesky quarantine blues at bay? Make something cool. Like real cool. Write if you feel like writing, edit something you cooked up last year, paint a portrait of your cat, engage in this new and burgeoning Age of Aquarius in the proper way. Go outside if you live nearby nature, put your bare feet on the ground and soak up some sun. I mean, it’s early April and it may snow or something, but would you rather feel alive or inert at a time like this?

Fear is not necessarily an evil. When it causes us to lose control and rush down to the store to buy an entire stockroom’s worth of frozen peas, okay fine, then maybe it’s gotten out of hand. But fear can also show us the flaws in our lives, the things we wish could be different. Maybe you didn’t know you absolutely loathed your job until you had to work from home and found out … hey, I’d rather just be at home. A situation like this can change people, will change people, and it’ll change them on a global scale. God forbid you or someone you love suffers health consequences because of Coronavirus, but assuming everything is okay in your world otherwise, you might see this little siesta as an opportunity for personal growth. Read a self-help book, take up meditation or yoga, investigate the mysteries of the universe, snuggle someone nice and warm in bed at night, and then wake up and do it all again.

The point is there’s a lot of win in this win/lose scenario. Especially if you’re the creative type. Nowhere in your official I Survived Coronavirus contract, decoder ring, and commemorative t-shirt did it say you had to engage with a shock and terror obsessed media every waking moment, with bathroom breaks, meal breaks, and shopping trips baked in for added texture. In fact, I’d say if you’re a creative person—and especially a writer—it’s your obligation to make something that reflects your mood and the moods of individuals and collectives all over the world. Maybe just journal your feelings at night. That could go a long way toward making you feel better on a day-to-day basis.

Creativity is catharsis. Always was and always will be. I believe in the power of creation even when the world is comparatively stable. This, in perfect harmony and truth, is the only proof you’ll ever need for the existence of salvation. Faith can be enormously powerful in times such as these, and I believe you can place a little of that faith in your own ability to cope simply by being a bit more creative.

Nobody knows when this rollercoaster ride will come to a halt, and most certainly, no one can see what things will look like afterward. Maybe this will be the hardest collective test we’ll have to face as a living global generation. Perhaps there will be harder. Regardless, it’s very true you may not have much control over what transpires now, then, or far in the future. But you can control your own ability to create, and that’s worth its weight in gold.

Stay safe and aware, everybody. Until next month.


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!



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Jeff’s Movie Reviews – The Invisible Man (2020)

Jeff's Movie Reviews

The Monster You Know

by Jeff Bowles

It goes without saying that the new Universal Studios reboot of the horror classic, The Invisible Man, offers a uniquely compelling movie experience for our hyper-political, hyper-aware post-#metoo era. The year 2020 is a very different time from 1933, the year Universal released its classic Claude Rains iteration. We understand the world in a startlingly different fashion, and complex psychology, trauma, abusive romantic relationships, and violence against women are all very much at play in the stories our culture has begun to tell.

Rest assured, though, The Invisible Man is not an overtly political movie. More like a chilling and subtly “woke” product of its times. Gone are all the old monster movie affectations—silly white mummy bandages covering a mysterious face, wired monocles and burning cigarettes floating in mid-air—replaced by psychological horror, emotional and physical torment, circa 2020 big-budget computer generated special effects, and a pretty nifty concept for a military-grade invisibility suit. Not to spoil too much, which really is a challenge with this movie, but the monster in this Universal monster picture is still very much a science fictional prospect. He’s also slightly reminiscent of a bad guy you might find in any average modern video game, which is how you know you’re in for one hell of a boss fight.

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Elisabeth Moss, who is just as excellent here as she is on Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, plays Cecelia Kass, the traumatized victim of a seemingly abusive relationship who is desperate to escape her wealthy tech developer husband. Cecelia gets free of his post-modern rich dude Dracula castle in the opening sequence of the film, only to learn a couple scenes later he’s ended his own life and left her his fortune. Which, you know, is really just a springboard for some invisible-man-ish fun and mayhem.

What kind of tech does her husband, Adrian, develop? Optics, of course, the kind that can turn someone… well, you know. I say Cecelia is the victim of a seemingly abusive relationship because while its clear Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has done some truly terrible things to her, we’re never really sure what they were. It’s sort of a narrative issue, a lack of basic context, because as the action and suspense ratchet up, certain story beats become less formidable. Again, spoilers are easy to drop, but how did this guy get this way? He’s not just a monster. His exists solely to watch you realize your most intimate fears. The film insists on hints and allegations, relies too heavily on stereotypes, but only as it applies to Adrian and his brother, Tom (Michael Dorman), who may or may not suffer from some intense form of younger sibling Stockholm Syndrome.

Realistically, if this movie were called The Wolf Man or Frankenstein, I doubt I’d question how insidious the villain is, but we’re dealing with issues of domination, psycho-sexual violence, and truly, more emotional clarity is called for. Not to put too fine a point on it, but simply tossing around terms like narcissism and sociopathy doesn’t really help fill in a backstory. Lot’s of people are sociopathic and narcissistic, and not too many invent invisibility suits and murder-stalk their exes.

The good news for audiences, however, is that none of the above matters much, because The Invisible Man is a focused and frightfully suspenseful film, full of unexpected twists and a finale that is less cliché good guy, bad guy showdown than morally ambiguous coup d’état. At times, the movie is downright ingenious in its concoction of more and more elaborate and devilish scenarios. The supporting cast is excellent, and thankfully, exist as more than simple horror movie cannon fodder. The real unease and dread of The Invisible Man comes down to a basic relatable fear: if I tell them what’s really happening to me, they’ll call me crazy and put me away.

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Which isn’t to say the movie readily offers up easy explanations for all it entails. As the credits roll, it becomes clear writer/director Leigh Whannell wants us thinking hard about what we’ve just seen. Sharp-eyed viewers will spot the answer to the penultimate question posed by the film within its first few tense opening moments, but some audiences may leave dissatisfied by the ambiguity of it all.

Ultimately, The Invisible Man is about desperation and bare-knuckled survival in the face of victim-hood and victimization, an unavoidable totem of an age in which the sins of very powerful, very sleezy men have been outed in spectacular public fashion. Truly, the film is an intimate and personal take on the classic Universal Pictures series of old. It both loves and understands the need to update its source material, and though the final product is uniquely contemporary, its essential nature remains the same. Imagine an enemy you can’t see, who’s watching you in all your most intimate and private moments, who’s obsessively calculating new ways to make your life a living hell. It’s still a great concept for a horror story, which H.G. Wells must’ve recognized when he published the original novel in 1897.

The most frightening monster is the one who knows you best. Abuse at the hands of a loved one is a horror unlike any other, and in real life, more and more, the world is waking up to the fact that this phantom, this particular invisible man, has plagued us since the very beginning. Ultimately, the conscious approach filmmaker Leigh Whannell and his excellent cast take toward the subject is timely and clear-eyed. This invisible man is a beast of a human being. He’s been in your home, your bed, and he will do whatever it takes to possess, consume, and destroy you. Now that’s scary. And not a single floating cigarette or mummy bandage in sight.

Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives The Invisible Man an 8 out of 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 third Friday of each month on Writing to be Read. Subscribe to email or follow on WordPress today.


Words to Live By – Sex, Love, Warfare, and Death

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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.

Sex, Love, Warfare, and Death

People will fool you if you let them. Consumers especially. Consider the old marketing adage coined by Steve Jobs, “A lot of the time, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Every single morning, especially with the elections coming up, I turn on the news to get a glimpse of my world. The media skews reality so badly it sometimes seems pathological, but hey, let’s face it, if I really wanted raw unbiased information, I wouldn’t get it from CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC.

Coronavirus is about to go pandemic. That’s scary, which means the news will deliver it to me at accelerated intervals. Donald Trump tweeted something nasty again—big surprise there—and I’ll hear about it at the top of the hour, every hour. A new celebrity sex scandal? I eat those up, because, well, I’m a human being and gossip about sex somehow makes me feel like an active participant. It really isn’t the media’s fault, of course. They only sell what I’m willing to buy. Whatever else it may have become in the modern era, the news business has always understood our psychology far better than we do.

No matter how old we get, how wizened, educated, experienced, or jaded, there are but a few key elements we demand like clockwork from our stories: sex, love, warfare, and death. The news is a storytelling racket, after all, no different from books, movies, or anything else worth binging till our eyes bleed. Broadcasting the truth (or something designed to look like a reasonable facsimile thereof) is supposed to carry with it an added degree of responsibility, but if you find yourself screaming at the anchorman for his disastrous manipulation of the facts, don’t blame his boss or parent company. We are who we are. Humans possess a higher mind, higher aspirations and beliefs, altruism, compassion, faith, family unity, a virtuous sense of community. But we have a lower mind, too, a famously inconvenient and uncompromising wilderness of dim subconscious junk, and any storyteller worth her salt knows to engage us there first and foremost.

Think about your favorite stories. Every single one of them, I’ll bet, contains some degree of sex, love, warfare, or death. Now, your all-time top ten may not include all four at once, and maybe one or two of those elements, more or less to the point, is dressed up to resemble something else entirely. But they are there. 50 Shades of Grey wasn’t a pop culture phenomenon because it was a good book, and War and Peace would’ve sold far fewer copies historically if Tolstoy had simply called it Peace. I know what you’re thinking. This is all pretty cynical, Jeff. Surely people aren’t so basic as that. Why yes we are, and don’t call me Shirley. Anyway, it’s not cynicism. It just might be helpful to know what you’re up against before you decide to tell your next story.

Here’s what you’re up against. You are a human being attempting to entertain, enlighten, provoke, or otherwise affect on an emotional level other human beings, a species of meat-bodied, highly intelligent yet conflicted primates with a long, glorious history of blood for blood, sex for pleasure, and a penchant for looking for love in all the wrong places. Just so you know I’m not biased, I also believe each of us has a soul and a sovereign and divine spiritual destiny. To my mind, we’re a perfectly perfected, haphazard merger of things both high and low. It’s just that sometimes higher things can seem lowly and lower things can get us really, really, really, awesomely freaking high. There’s no shame in it, at least there shouldn’t be. You’re a warm body and an isolate personality. You get lonely sometimes, have to eat, sleep, and contend with day-to-day living. I also happen to believe in God and the unified consciousness of all things. Good thing, too. It helps to remember my mantras while I’m stuck in traffic, barely suppressing the urge to hop out and punch the guy sexting his girlfriend in the Hyundai next to me.

Have you ever read a really boring novel and thought, there needs to be more conflict, more romance, just a touch more daring and danger? I have, I do, all the time, especially when I’m reading something written by a beginner. Novice writers often confuse circumstance for story. These things aren’t mathematical, you aren’t working an equation, and outlining your latest plot to within an inch of its life will only render the storytelling equivalent of procedural asphyxiation. If artificial intelligence ever takes over the world, it won’t be writing stories. Not good ones, anyway.

Because we’re not synthetic lifeforms, you may every so often encounter people with beating hearts, barely controlled primal urges, a whole host of neuroses (both subtle and extravagant), and oh yeah, a crippling sense of self-doubt and self-limitation, stemming from one very basic fact: we’re all going to die, and there’s not a single thing any of us can do about it.

We care about sex because the survival of our species depends on it. We care about love and tragedy because they tend to define our most guarded, significant moments. And when it comes to warfare, we’ve all gotten a taste. What’s the difference between arguing with your neighbor for playing his music too loud and desiring to invade a foreign country because you don’t like the way they’ve been eying your stuff? A matter of degree is no matter at all, as it turns out. The trouble with reality as we know it is that we as individuals are just so damn, well, individualized. Relating to others in empathetic and wholly loving terms sometimes requires feats of superhuman strength, especially because I’m so terribly separate from you, and you’re so terribly separate from me, and I have my own needs, desires, limitations, and personal wounds to contend with.

But that doesn’t mean we’re alone. We aren’t, not one of us. It also doesn’t mean the stories we tell, the stories we love, have to be manufactured to meet primal criteria and primal criteria alone. The warmth and splendor of our experience is only equal to the depths of despair and loneliness we may encounter. That’s just the way it is. Life is a roller-coaster ride, and truth be told, we wouldn’t have it any other way. As The Beatles put it, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make. How much love have you made recently? Was it worth writing about? If so, why the hell are you reading some stupid blog post? Jot it down. Hurry! Hurry! Before it disowns you and moves to upstate Antarctica!

Sometimes fiction writers neglect their own experience in favor of concocting synthetic lives, synthetic characters, synthetic prose. I imagine to some the old chestnut, write what you know, seems like a bad idea. It isn’t. You’ll have to trust me on this. Your experience is equally significant as mine, as hers, as his, which is to say, both significant and insignificant as dirt. But that’s okay. In fact, it’s the way things are supposed to be. In the course of any given lifetime, fortunes will change hands, lovers will dispose us or face our disposal, babies will cry, enemies and friends will be made, laughs will be had, tragedies endured, and at the end of it all, we’ll have to give the whole shebang back and pretend it was some kind of season finale to a sleeper hit show the network neglected to renew. It seems unfair, but immortality is reserved for vampires, Highlanders, homogenous national virtues, and other mythical beasts. It is precisely our temporal nature that enables the existence of storytelling in the first place. The people who remind us of our limits, who console us, make us feel understood, the ones who tempt us or frighten us or leave us hanging, we call them storytellers, and we honor their place in our lives.

Every single day is story unfolding, and every individual you encounter is a supreme co-author of yours. It is entirely possible to acknowledge these things about ourselves, these dark and dirty, foible-filled things, and to still enjoy the hell out of each waking moment. More than possible. Perhaps mandatory, because hating your life is just a way of saying you love it with all your heart. The real miracle, the fact that any of us are here at all, necessitates our uncompromising need to build the biggest, most luxurious sandcastles, and then to watch helplessly as the tide swallows them whole. This is the essence of storytelling. It’s the essence of life. All things must pass. All things must pass away. Just remember that the next time you sit down to write. You’d better entertain me, wow me, seduce me, or otherwise completely jack up my mood, because if you don’t, I’m putting your book down and turning on the news.

Oh look, Trump just tweeted about Coronavirus, Joe Biden, the Chinese economy, Russian election meddling, Nancy Pelosi, Roger Stone, his persecution at the hands of our political system, and he managed to use the term fake news a total of seven times. That’s got to be some kind of record. What a storyteller! Guess I’m watching CNN all morning again.

It’s in the bloodstream, you see, always was and always will be. And thank goodness for that. No need to make America great again, Mr. President. Or the rest of the human race, for that matter. We’re all pretty great already. I mean, we invented War and Peace and 50 Shades of Grey, and we haven’t even learned to conquer death yet. Bet there’s a good story in there somewhere. You should totally write it, dude, before someone else beats you to it.

Talk at you next month, everybody! Have a good one. 🙂


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.


Jeff’s Movie Reviews Presents: Rise of the Comic Book Film

Jeff's Movie Reviews

Dollars, Cents, and Superpowers

by Jeff Bowles

There was a time comic book adaptations were a non-starter for the majority of moviegoers. For every generally well-liked superhero movie, like 1978’s Superman: The Movie or 1989’s Batman, there were at least a dozen examples of comic films gone wrong. For one, the Marvel Universe was bargain-basement, low-rent stuff. Old timers will tell you of an era in which Stan Lee’s greatest creations were relegated to B-movie direct-to-video time wasters, most of which were shot and funded outside the Hollywood system. Like, waaaaay outside the Hollywood system.

And DC, the former granddaddy of the genre? They tanked at least two very lucrative franchises because they forgot about pleasing fans and got cynical about their own intellectual property. Nobody, for instance, then or now, was willing to take 1997’s Batman and Robin seriously. For God’s sake, the batsuit had nipples. Holy unnecessary anatomy, Batman! You’ll poke someone’s eye out!

The 21st century, however, has seen quite the reversal in fortune for comic book adaptations. Boy, has it ever. In the year 2020, the biggest, most financially successful films in motion picture history feature superheroes, most of which are Marvel characters, because the notion of a working cinematic universe turned out to be an absolutely genius stroke. So how did this happen? What turned the silliest of nerd pastimes into a multi-billion dollar entertainment powerhouse?

In a few months, Writing to Be Read will be running some special articles in honor of national comic book month. May, by the way, is usually the time Marvel unleashes its biggest contender for the year. 2019’s Avengers: Endgame was a blockbuster of epic proportions, and over at DC, they’re cooking up a Wonder Woman sequel, a possible sequel to the Oscar nominated Joker, yet another Batman reboot, and Birds of Prey just hit theaters last week (and immediately flopped; sorry, DC).

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Two things account for the dynamic transformation comic movies have undergone in the past twenty years: the aging-up of the comic-loving, video-game-playing, anime-watching nerd population, and the success of a movie called Blade.

For those who’ve never seen it (and at this point, it’s a little bit obscure), Blade is a 1998 Marvel action-horror flick starring everyone’s favorite vampire-slaying daywalker. Wesley Snipes took the lead role and made him exceptionally cool. And since he was still a bankable star, the film overperformed. The success of Blade emboldened Marvel to take the plunge and adapt one of their most popular properties, The Uncanny X-Men. Featuring all the fan-faves like Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm, Gene Grey, and Professor X, 2000’s X-Men was not exactly faithful to the source material, but it was thrilling to finally watch a Marvel movie that didn’t suck. Again, the idea of an entire working cinematic universe was just a glint in the eye of current Marvel Studios chief, Kevin Feige. The success of X-Men paved the way for the Spider-Man series, halfway decent adaptations of Hulk, Daredevil, Punisher, and The Fantastic Four, and at last, the granddaddy of all franchise starters, Iron Man.

In truth, however, the modern comic movie owes everything to Superman and its star, Christopher Reeve. His first turn in the famous blue tights hasn’t aged exceptionally well, but it still stands out as one of finest examples of a big-screen superhero adaptation done right. Gone are the childish theatrics and abysmally small budget, the mindless plot, and for the most part, the wink-wink, nudge-nudge counter culture irreverence of something like the 1960s Batman television series. Superman: The Movie took its source material seriously. Richard Donner, the film’s director, insisted on a high level of verisimilitude, which isn’t something most Hollywood filmmakers would’ve gone for. Word has it the original screenwriter—none other than Mario Puzzo of Godfather fame—loaded his script with so many tongue-in-cheek gags the film may as well have been a super-farce. For an entire generation of fans, Christopher Reeve embodied the Man of Steel, fighting for truth and justice, making everyone believe a man could fly.

And of course, historically the franchise bombed out after four entries because, you know, DC. Same thing happened to the Batman franchise in the nineties. The folks at Warner Brothers were so shocked and sickened by Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, they snatched the option to make a third bat-sequel from his grubby, weird, Edward-scissor-like hands and passed it off to the marketing machine. Again, four movies was all that first Batman series got, but by then, the genie was out of the bottle, and it wouldn’t be long until Marvel ruled the roost. Marvel, by the way, had been in bankruptcy right until the time X-Men released in theaters. Quite a Cinderella story for the House of Ideas, one nobody could have predicted two decades ago.

In 2008, Marvel and Paramount Pictures released Iron Man, and it was off to the races. Starring the always impeccable Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man injected new life into the genre, and in so doing, completely rewrote the rules of Hollywood. Over ten years later, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is twenty-three movies strong and still growing. Two MCU movies are scheduled to hit theaters in 2020, Black Widow and The Eternals. The thing about Marvel is they’re willing to take risks, knowing that if they do their characters justice, fans will show up. And we do. In droves.

The MCU is truly a mighty thing, containing team-ups like The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, more experimental and hipper entries like Thor: Ragnarok (and doubtless) the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder, politically relevant films like Black Panther, and everything in between. Yeah, they’re still just silly comic book movies, but the entire world is in love with them, and their impact on our culture cannot be overstated. Just imagine all those kids growing up with Captain America posters on their walls. That’s a lot of money in the making, and Marvel’s parent company, Disney, knows it.

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The future of this genre is wide-open, and its not hard to imagine a time Marvel and DC have become two of the most powerful and ubiquitous entertainment companies in the world. Their most popular characters are already known everywhere, and they have been for decades. Really, this is just the cherry on top for a literary form invented for children in the first half of the 20th century. Superman wasn’t just the first superhero, he was the first super media product. The chiseled face that launched a thousand ships. And that doesn’t even begin to account for all the successful and wonderful comic book movie adaptations that don’t include a single cape or superpower. Greats of the sub-sub genre include Ghost World, American Splendor, 300, Road to Perdition, and Sin City. Check any of those out for a palate cleanser. You won’t be disappointed.

It’s funny, but the comic book industry itself has only shrunk in recent years. The good news for comic readers is the movies aren’t likely to completely replace good old paper and ink any time soon. After all, where would all those mega powerful, newly wealthy studio execs get their ideas? What, Hollywood come up with something fresh? Yeah. And Captain America is a communist.

Next month we’ll get back to the movie reviews, folks. For now though, go and have yourself a Marvel movie marathon, especially if you’ve never done one before. Yeah, it’s a lot of confusing action and universe-ending doom, but hey, saving the world has never been so fun. Or so lucrative. Am I right, Disney?


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: The Kid in the Machine

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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.

The Kid in the Machine

When I was a kid, science fiction was everything to me. Partially because my family instilled a deep love of the classics (you know, Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, basically anything with the word Star in it), I watched movies and read comic books, collected toys and built model spaceships. At some point I decided I’d like to tell my own sci-fi stories, and at a relatively young age, I began writing my first novel. I didn’t finish it, of course, didn’t even get past page twenty, but you know, intergalactic star port descriptions are real tricky.

Even now, I still love a good space opera. I never stopped being a fan, never stopped dreaming of distant galaxies and intergalactic wars. In fact, my appreciation for all things speculative and nerdy only deepened, especially once it became clear sports and girls were out, but Lord of the Rings marathons were in. I love that epic fantasy stuff, that twisted horror, that magical realism and those far flung futures, and don’t tell anyone I went to high school with, but I’d rather read a good comic than indulge in any kind of respectable adult activity. Bill paying, for instance. Never did get the hang of that one.

That’s me, I suppose, but I know for a fact on some level it’s you, too. In many ways, the things we’re fans of help define us. I know you’re still a dorky kid on the inside. I bet the inner you still wears braces and drinks juice from a box. What really does it for you? What gets you excited as a fan? Classical literature? Hard-boiled detective stories? The biggest mistake I see many established authors make as they transition from nobody to “somebody” status is that they stop being fans. It’s almost like the red curtain to the whole show gets ripped away from them, and they’re left staring into the cold, mechanical under-croft of the modern storytelling machine. Jaded, I think is the word. You must make me a promise, guys. If you ever get to that place, have yourself a good movie marathon or read a book series that has always been your favorite. A storyteller who no longer likes stories? Criminal.

Ancient sages and modern neuroscientists agree, our personalities are not exactly what we think they are. More of a patchwork, really, a cobble of external influences, internal pressures, beliefs, both valid and invalid, mixed with a healthy dose of daily psychological wear and tear and deeply recessed emotional ideation we’ve tried hard to suppress or which has simply faded into our subconscious minds during the natural course of things. In some lesser known systems of mysticism (since we’re clearly on the subject), our conscious minds are more or less counterfeit anyway, are in fact the byproducts of heretofore unseen spiritual forces that influence our thoughts, our actions, even what kinds of truths we cling to, as essential and impressively ordered as they seem. In concrete terms, you are a body, you are a mind, but you are so much more. You’re the hidden watcher, the presence behind the eyes, the witness and willing participant of the little dramas and tragicomedies happening all around you. If you’re a storyteller, you exist in even stranger terms, because you’re both the creator and the created, and the work you produce is not really yours, but rather is divinely inspired and orchestrated to flow through you.

I mean, all well and good, right? Philosophy and practicality are poor bedfellows. Because while you’re sitting in your cramped home office in the dead of night, staring with hollow eyes at your ten-year-old computer monitor—you know, the one with the cracked screen you can’t afford to repair because you chose to be a “divinely inspired” writer—the work is never as easy as you’d like it to be. I gotta tell you, for people who literally conjure something from nothing on a regular basis, writers can be a grumpy and sour bunch. Sometimes all the passion and love and internal lexiconic fandom in the universe isn’t enough to kill that 2:00 AM headache you acquired from yet another impossible deadline. Life is life, reality is staggeringly persistent, and even the most grounded and stable amongst us can have epic bare-knuckle freak-outs. That’s an industry term, by the way.

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To wit, I recently stumbled across a long and uncharacteristically honest social media thread that got my wheels turning. I’m Facebook friends with a lot of people in the writing business, and though I don’t personally know the vast majority of them, I’ve always felt a certain kinship with like minded individuals who’ve chosen paths very similar to my own. The original post asked the question, Have you ever quit writing long-term? Did you regret it? Now people in our culture are often inclined to save face and amass a front when it comes to their careers. Somehow, we’ve gotten it into our heads that the way we make money says more about us than our emotional or mental states, our long-term habits and behavioral matrices, or even our unerring innate natures, who we were before we became. After all, nobody asked you when you were five years old, Who is the essential you? They asked, What do you want to be? Like, can’t I just be the kid with a juice box who likes Saturday morning cartoons? No, teacher says, you’re an astronaut, Cindy. Next!

The responses to that Facebook post surprised me. I expected a lot of business about I’m a writer this, it’s what I do that, and there were some comments to that effect, but by and large, most respondents had to admit that if they hadn’t actually quit, they’d sure thought about it once or twice. One older gentleman actually said he gave up his very lucrative writing career years before and hadn’t looked back since. Good riddance, that was the gist. Now why would that be? Is this the norm? Isn’t writing supposed to be a joyful act?

It is, purely so, but only when a person is free to pursue it without constant worry and stress. That thing about writers tending to become alcoholics? It’s a tad overblown, but it has a ring of truth. And that gentleman, he wasn’t the only one to chime in with similar enthusiasm. Now I am not what you’d call a seasoned professional, not really. I’ve published, I’ve faltered and thought I’d quit (several times, actually), and I’ve gotten back on the horse, back to the business at hand. Not because I had deadlines. There was no external pressure for me. Because I had something to say, new experiences I wanted to share, truths I wanted to communicate. And you know what gave me the courage to do it?

Star Wars. Star Trek. Battlestar Galactica. I hadn’t written in several years, long enough I found I was ready to be a fan again instead of a base, lowly, underdog creator. And being a fan, just like when I was eight years old, I found once more the desire to tell my own stories. I don’t begrudge a professional who is sick to death of the business and wants out for good. Truth be told, I’ve never been in that position. But I am intimately familiar with the love of these things, the passion, the unabashed joy. I’ve stoked those fires within myself my whole life, and I can’t imagine a day at least some part of me won’t thrill whenever I see Luke Skywalker blow up the Death Star. Sure, it’s nerdy as hell, but it’s home, it’s the place I do my dreaming.

My advice to those who want out before they’ve said everything they want to say: go home. Go and be the dreamer awhile. Maybe even a long while. Dreams can manifest as surely as dawn follows dusk, Spock follows Kirk, Jimmy Olsen is Superman’s best pal. If you as a very impressive, very professional adult can’t touch base with the kid in the machine, apart from having my pity, you have my condolences. Rest in Peace, the guy or gal you really are. Consider the possibility the world is the lie, and that you were always the truth. Drive and the creative impulse are not inexhaustible. This is very true. It’s also true they can be recharged and brought back to tip-top fighting shape as certainly as Green Lantern charges his power ring.

Plus, you don’t have to lug around an alien lantern and swear an oath every time you do it. Unless you’re into cosplay, and in that case, why waste time reading some dumb article? You’re clearly needed elsewhere, space cop. Hi, my name is Jeff Bowles. I’m old enough for beer, but today of all days, I’d like a juice box, please.


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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Jeff’s Movie Reviews – 1917

Jeff's Movie Reviews

Soldier of a Million Faces

by Jeff Bowles

When the first world war broke out in 1914, few could’ve imagined the devastation it would bring. In the span of only four years, an estimated nine million military personnel and seven million civilians were killed, not to mention the resulting genocides and influenza outbreaks that claimed another fifty to one hundred million lives. It was called the war to end all wars, but sitting here in the year 2020, we know better. War never ends, it seems. It only gets deadlier.

Director Sam Mendes has crafted a masterwork in his new film 1917. No single motion picture in the history of cinema has so completely captured the awe-inspiring brutality, horror, and futility of World War I. To be perfectly frank, filmmakers of the 21st century tend to leave it alone, opting instead to tell stories set in that other great conflict of the 20th century, or perhaps Vietnam or the more recent wars in the Middle East. Which is a shame, really, because it’s entirely possible here and now we can learn more from this point in history than from anything else that’s occurred in the last hundred years.

One hundred years. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not so very long a time. People haven’t changed, and clearly, neither has our lack of vision. From the soldier’s perspective, the whims and machinations of those in charge couldn’t be further from the front lines, from no man’s land, from that thin, inky terminator between life and death.

Day to day, hour to hour, moment to moment, the soldier has mental space for only three things: duty, survival, and the lives of fellow comrades. And this is the absolute genius of 1917. In one hour and fifty-nine minutes, Mendes leads us on an odyssey, through a crucible, in which two young English lance corporals, Blake and Schofield, are entrusted with a message that could potentially save the lives of 1,700 men, including Blake’s brother. The German army have withdrawn from the front in what is clearly a strategic feint, a trap waiting to be sprung. Which—no surprise here—isn’t itself enough to stop the English advance. By no means does the enemy cede ground for nothing. This is the first world war, after all. Millions of men fought and died for inches of turf, just a little advance here, a retreat there, bloody as all hell, unforgivable in essence, yet historically, far too readily forgotten.

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George MacKay as Lance Cpl. Shofield in 1917

A true cinematic wonder, 1917 is shot with a single steady cam, broken up only a handful of times by strategic cuts that make it seem as though the film occurs in perfect realtime. The camera follows Blake and Schofield from one awe-inspiring set piece to another. From the back of the line, to the men at the front, just a few minutes’ walk through muddy, overcrowded trenches, but a world of difference, an emotional gamut of attitude, drudgery, and despair. And we’re there with them the whole time. No man’s land, eerily silent and still after the German withdrawal. A ruined French city, a beautiful few minutes of stillness and peace with a young woman and an orphan baby. The choreography of the moment-to-moment action is so perfectly laid out one can’t help but wonder how it was achieved. Nothing is left on the table. Basic character beats are no less profound than exploding shells and ricocheting bullets.

The story couldn’t be simpler either, which is of benefit. Our two heroes have crystal clear intentions. Mendes and co-screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns refuse to bat an eye, which means dialogue is for the most part brief, the writing duo instead opting for visualness over verbosity. I mean, all things considered, the enemy soldiers sometimes can’t seem to hit the broad side of a barn, and Schofield in particular escapes certain death at reasonable rifle range a few too many times, but isn’t that kind of an inadvertent signifier of war? The randomness? How can we explain the loss of one soldier over another when they’re standing in the same spot?

Such questions are inherent to 1917, with a multiplicity of personalities that range from burnt-out grunts to naïve young men who’ve yet to see the brutality the war has in store for them. A star-studded secondary cast—all officers, mind you—anchor the film as the big-budget epic it is, but newcomers Dean-Charles Chapman (Blake) and George MacKay (Shofield) are exceptional and provide a beating heart many war movies neglect to include. Sam Mendes, it seems, has personal stakes. He dedicates the film to his grandfather, who served in the war. Mendes is known as a masterful if not legendary filmmaker, most notably helming American Beauty and the better entries of the Daniel Craig James Bond movies. And yet, something tells me this epic will cement his reputation as a filmmaker of finer stuff, much like his contemporary, writer/director Christopher Nolan.

Nolan made Dunkirk, which has much in common with 1917. The films take place in other times, other wars, but they are both wonderfully cinematic and personal. 1917 may in fact be superior to Dunkirk, simply because its linear, single-camera, single-shot narrative grants no opportunity for detachment or the lessening of tension. Quieter moments are still rife with fear. The danger is perhaps rarely as immanent as the filmmakers propose, owing in large part to that broad-side-of-a-barn effect, but viewers should still be on the edge of their seats for the entire running length. Truly, there’s no escape for these two men. It’s either reach their destination or die. In war, as in all things, the experience of an individual is no less significant than the experience of an entire nation. Joseph Stalin once famously declared one death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic. Sam Mendes and 1917 beg to differ.

Writing to be Read gives the new World War I action epic 1917 a 9 out of 10.

Modern people of the world, pay heed. This was their world then. Our world now is no less fragile.


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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Write Me Better! – Amatuer Short Story

Jeff Version Write Me Better

by Jeff Bowles

We’re starting a new monthly writing challenge series here on Writing to Be Read. Have you ever read a book or a short story and thought to yourself, I can do way better than this? Well, here’s your chance. Write Me Better will highlight a new prose passage by a different author each month, ranging from masterful to, well, just plain amateurish. Anyone and everyone will be open for a little revision, Shakespeare, Steven King, Ernest Hemingway, even the folks who write for this blog, and maybe someday down the line if you’re up for it, even you. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to rewrite what’s already been written. Give it a new style, a new focus. Make it a comedy routine or just plain tear it to shreds. It’s up to you! The following month, I’ll show off my version, and then we’ll look at some of yours. Sound Fun?

Our first piece comes from a little known master named Jeff Bowles. Before you go getting excited, this is one of the first short stories I ever wrote, and yes, I was being cheeky with the whole “master” thing. See for yourself. Let me forewarn all you armchair authors, this passage is not for the faint of heart. It’s bad. I mean real bad. So bad I had to write dozens of other stories just to wash the taste from my mouth. Okay, here we go. This is a little thing I like to call Tsar Alexei. Now Write me Better!

They hunt me even now. Aristocrat boyars, holy men, those who profess loyalty and who have received my kindness. All of them, cursing me in their thoughts even as they toast to my divine rule. A tsar must anticipate dissent. Even on the day of his wedding, he must be on guard and govern with an iron will. These things are expected of me, of Ivan’s son, Alexei. Russia needs Alexei. Even the malcontents gathered here need Alexei.

Regrettably, I am not Alexei. I’m not even human. But these are small matters; always, confidence is key.

I have allowed only two others to sit with me at the main banquet table, a fact which surely displeases the boyars and Metropolitan Boris, the head of the church. Boris rubs his bald head as his eyes trace the empty length of my table. I simply tip my glass to him and smile.

My bride, my lovely Tsarina Sofia sits beside me. Her dark hair flows along her neck, shimmering with highlights of brown and deep red in the candlelight. Her royal wedding necklace glints and sparkles. Her supple lips upturn in a smile as she examines a knife that belonged to Vasily III. She is happy. Her thoughts are of her troubled beginnings, of famine, of my grace and judgment in choosing her, above all others in Muskovy, to be mine.

“Are you well, my love?” I say.

Sofia smiles. “Yes. I could not have dreamed of all this, Alexei.”

“No?”

“I always hoped to marry, but…”

“Now you are tsarina. You were granted fortune when you least expected it. I understand completely.”

I touch Sofia’s hand. Her cheeks darken; her eyes widen. She smiles again.

Fëdor, my loyal servant, nudges me. I chose him first as honorific thousandman for the ceremony. Were he any other man, I would kill him for the distraction.

“Alexei,” he says, “please, we must speak in private.”

I try my best to swallow my anger. “I know, Fëdor. I knew when the celebration began, and I knew in the procession. I’ve known these past three days. It’s difficult to forget when your lapdog constantly nibbles at your heel.”

“I’m sorry, Alexei.” Fëdor averts his eyes. His large brow tightens and his thick lips purse. “But you must hear the message from our…from the Lord.”

“Speak openly. None here would dream of harming me.”

“Yes, but…”

“Fëdor, I am tsar, yes? Wasn’t it I, through sheer power and intelligence, that supplanted that feeble-minded Vladimir?”

“It was,” says Fëdor.

“Then respect me. Respect my bride and my guests, and only distract me from the festivities as long as you must. Speak openly.”

Okay, everybody, that does it for this month. Don’t forget to rewrite the above passage and share it in the comment section. Adios!


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!