Saturday, October 31, 2009

Morton Greenblatt and the Worst Halloween Party Ever

Muwahahahahahaha! (If that was unsatisfactory, imagine an ominous laugh of your choice. Or if you'd rather not, then just go away. You don't deserve my storytelling.)

It is indeed Halloween at last - at long last. Those 365 days, they do not pass quickly. (Wait - they have this year in a lot of senses. I'd really like time to slow down lately so I can enjoy what's left of autumn and forthcoming winter. I'd also like to have more time for agent research and query letter polishing. I don't like the idea of not at least making some valuable contacts before I turn 26 in less than half another year. I don't even want to think about next spring or summer. I like to take everything slowly, rather than deal with this kind of seeming temporal acceleration.) There, a convenient boxing in of this post's neuroses. Because this isn't a post about venting or being neurotic or anxious and extolling the virtues of accepting a life as a flawed human being. No! This is nothing so heavy-handed and arguably dumb.

Rather, it's time for my latest of my yearly Halloween short stories! (For easy access, my previous two: Skeletons are Eating My Bacon Bits and Boomer the Drunken Ghost. Yes, believe it or not, this blog's coming up on its third birthday. And yet it somehow hasn't yet become an internet sensation. Puzzling!) I like to write sorts of experimental comedy short stories for as many holidays - especially the fall and winter ones - as I can find inspiration for here each and every year. They're always intentionally rushed, rough around the edges, and largely about seeing what I can come up with when I push myself to write a little awkward comedy as a writer. (So, yes, rest easy, my professional level writing is worlds better than this.) Nonetheless, they're important to write, as so to remind you, dear readers, that yes, I am actually an aspiring fiction writer who's dedicated his life to the literary world. (And not just an awkward nerd who babbles about video games, politics, and science.) And so, without further ado, welcome to the 2009 Spiral Reverie Theater of the Spooky!

Morton Greenblatt and the Worst Halloween Party Ever

Morton Greenblatt brushed his teeth only about half as often as he should. I'd say that you couldn't blame him for his lack of enthusiasm for oral hygiene after losing a finger two years ago in a freak flossing accident, but that would be giving him too much sympathy. For just these reasons, he'd never been particularly popular amongst his coworkers at Stillborn Staplers. His yellowing teeth gave the women the heebie-jeebies, and the men were never impressed when they learned how he lost his missing digit. Let's be honest - there are only so many good missing finger stories. And failure to pay attention when flossing is not one of the good ones. By this point, Morton's one-less-finger jokes were about as stale as the boss's tireless efforts to blame his inability to lead on Bob Arkham at corporate. Many had even begun to doubt Arkham's existence.

Against their better judgment, the Stillborn Staplers accounting department had agreed to hold their yearly Halloween party at Morton's apartment. "Hey, he's finally useful for something," they thought, relieved to be out of the office and drinking. With the recession in full swing, there was little solace in anything but drinking. If anybody passed out, Morton was the least likely to get 'friendly' with them in their unconscious state, as it was apparent that he'd never touched a woman in his life. They did not, however, count on his having an 'outgoing' dog. That night, there was much shaking of legs, and not in the sense of dance.

"And then Martha said, 'Pass the cheese doodles!'" Morton concluded his story with as much enthusiasm as you'd expect from somebody who thought pretending to punch a live cow would make a good viral YouTube video. (It only got 200 hits - most of them looking for somebody doing something else to a cow carcass. A certain type of Rocky parody. Something YouTube wouldn't host. Let's not go there.) The Martha referenced here did not actually exist outside of Morton's wishful thinking.

Morton had hoped to regale his coworkers - perhaps make some friends, maybe actually find someone willing to set them up with a cute friend - through his presumed amazing talent for telling a yarn. In reality, Morton was near-insufferable when he thought he was being charming and witty. The only thing worse than a stupid person with too much self-confidence is a stupid person who thinks they're smart with too much self-confidence. Born with a thicker skull than most children, Morton lived relatively oblivious to the rest of the world's views on him.

It's a given that Morton was not exactly an experienced party-thrower. Or even an experienced party-goer. In high school, he was less popular than that forgotten bucket of rat poison. And by graduation, that bucket of rat poison was dating one of the smartest and prettiest girls in school - together, they were bound for Harvard Law and a future of sweet, sweet litigious love. The same bullies who used to pick on Morton also hated the bucket of rat poison - they told themselves he was only admitted to Harvard because of the novelty of having a student who was also a bucket of rat poison. But this bucket? He earned his admission. That other bucket of rat poison that received an honorary MBA from UCLA last summer? Dumb as a bucket of rocks. Nobody who's hired that bucket has made any money.

But as usual, I must digress. While that bucket of rat poison may be a true hero fo our times, having overcome adversity and achieved the American dream, this is a story about his apless classmate, Morton. They had mutually acknowledged one another but never spoken. Mostly because Morton wasn't sure how a bucket of old rat poison could speak. But I never claimed Morton was smart. (It's so obvious!)

As the evening progressed, Morton continued to drill holes in his coworkers' skulls with his inane chatter, telling horrible stories with the precision of a seasoned dentist out to torture their patient. (You'd better laugh at those bad teeth puns. They're hilarious to the maxillary!) Many of the partygoers had begun to suspect that Morton was, in fact, not the partymeister he claimed to be. And as the alcohol ran out - and Morton didn't even buy the good stuff - the accountants began to quietly trickle out of his apartment, their khaki pants stained with shame it would take at least several washing machine cycles to fade. Tonight had been a mistake. How could one human being surround themselves with so much Potatokins the angry potato merchandise? He was a one-note joke character!

"C'mon, guys!" Morton encouraged them, putting on an old C+C Music Factory album, "let's pump up the jam!" That wasn't even a C+C Music Factory reference! This was the last straw. Collectively, the accountants weren't good at much beyond crunching numbers. They weren't articulate enough to tear into Morton over his unsatisfactory party, and they didn't really want things to be tense at work on Monday, so instead of responding to the partyscheister, they cast furtively grim looks in his direction, mumbled thanks for the booze, and shuffled out onto the cold 8:35 PM asphalt. At least they'd have the rest of the night and weekend to forget the embarrassing ordeal.

For what it's worth, Morton wasn't actually that bad of a guy.

For those who finished this story and found themselves hankering for more Stillborn Staplers action, check out the first comedy blog post that introduced the company! See how I'm gradually developing a surreal, intertwined narrative in my blogging universe? You should be afraid.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Very Spiral Reverie Halloween

This public domain Jack-o-Lantern image is happy because inside, he's already dead.Yes, it's getting to be that time of the year again. As the fall and winter holidays roll around, so too do my ridiculous blog posts on the subject. It's kind of a tradition for you to look forward to each and every year. (Especially the several hundred thousand of you who aren't read this yet. Someday you will, someday. And you'll feel on top of the world for it, knowing I recognized you years prior and made a point of addressing you directly from the past. See how important my readers are to me?)

As usual, you can expect an absurd original comedy blog story for Halloween later this week. (Specifically on Halloween itself.) But first! I thought I'd give you guys a double-decker holiday update this year with the important cultural insight I'm known for providing you on a regular basis. (They don't call me Mr. Information for nothing.)

What cultural insight shall I provide this year? Some suggestions for low budget to no-budget last minute costumes that everyone can enjoy! And also some suggestions on new twists on classic dumb traditions to make the holiday edgy and cool again! (Assuming that, to you, edgy and cool entails entirely unnecessary and tragic violence.)

Adult Costumes

OH NO! After blacking out one time too many, it's only five minutes until the big office Halloween party! OH NO! How can you possibly find a costume in time!? OH NO! Don't worry, I'm here to help you! OH NO! Stop saying that. OH NO! Fine, have it your way. Look, just follow my advice and you'll be the hit of every party on the planet - all at once. OH NO! I give up. You're dead to me.

- Secret Murderer - For a change, why not try the charming sociopath waiting to murder everybody the instant they turn their backs? We all know half of you secretly fantasize about this anyway and all you need is an icepick, some kind of life, or maybe a stapler if you really feel the need to sink that low. (Stapling deaths HURT. And also take a long time to finish.)

- Someone Who Keeps Forgetting It's Halloween - The yuk-yuks will never stop when you keep asking your coworkers what's going on and react in complete confusion to the strange revelry all around you! What do you mean it's Halloween?! It was just August! This shouldn't be too hard to pull off considering all those quaaludes you've been doing lately. That's why you blacked out earlier. You've got a real problem, you know. Maybe you should consider seeing that office counselor? Maybe just a little? Okay, geez, I'll back off. You can't say I didn't try. My only crime here is caring too much.

- Too Cool For This Holiday - Impress your coworkers by leaning against walls and standing in corners with your arms crossed at all times while casually remarking to anybody unfortunate enough to get within earshot about how you're so over Halloween, because it's some kinda baby holiday for sugar addicts. Personally, you can't wait for Thanksgiving to roll around so you can snort yourself some turk'. Butterball in the hizzouse. (Warning: If you repeat that last sentence to actual living human beings, you will probably get punched. Repeatedly.) Your coworkers will try to pretend that your cleverly disguising references to popular holiday cuisine isn't actually a thinly veiled cry for help. They all know you're a drug addict, but they'd rather not deal with it. It'd be easier just to fire you, frankly.

Or, if you want to get even more creative...

- Traumatized Veteran - You've just returned from one of any number of American wars: Korea, Vietnam, World War II, Iraq, Afghanistan, or if you're feeling creative, one of any number of potential future wars! (Remember, we're all traitors unless we blindly support the glorious military-industrial complex.) Make up your own back story - maybe you participated in the bombing of Dresden, or maybe you were ordered to murder half a Vietnamese farming village's children! Or maybe you drove around in a desert town taunting thirsty children with candy and water you had no intention of giving them before an insurgent blew up your armored vehicle! The possibilities are virtually endless, and as such, so too are the possibilities of how you can take out your deep-seated trauma on all your friends and loved ones! No one will ever look at you the same way again after you don this costume - secondhand uniforms aren't hard to find on the cheap, either! - and everyone loves an American hero. Especially the ones who come home realizing that our military propaganda's blatantly misleading the American people on what it means to go to war each and every day of every year, and how brainwashed most of the American people have become to this notion. Bonus points if you can get a wheelchair or pull off the appearance of some kind of amputation. (Even more Bonus points for Born on the Fourth of July references in the things you scream at people. It's not hard to be taken more seriously than Tom Cruise.)

- Human Colostomy Bag - People are often full of things. Now you can be too, as the sexiest colostomy bag at the office party! Astonish your friends and coworkers! Will you be covered in excrement by the end of the night? We hope not, the costume - constructed entirely out of plastic bags and saran wrap - doesn't function like the real thing!

Kids' Costumes

So, adult readers of this adult blog written for adults by an adult (technically) - I know what you're thinking now. "Thanks for all the great costume ideas, Mr. Super-Genius! But what about my kids? How can I bring your greatness to them!?" First of all, I don't like kids. They're noisy and annoying and think they know more than they do. (Hey, that sounds an awful lot like many adults, come to think of it.) Secondly, we've already established that you have a real problem with substance abuse. Did you really have to drag a child into your living nightmare? Regardless, I'm a cool guy and I like the cut of your jib, so I've got a few suggestions for you here. They might not be as awesome, but let's face it - it's hard to make anything awesome family-safe enough for kids in today's America. If only you'd had crude, surreal '80s and early '90s cartoons to warp your children like they did me.

- Conscientious Objector - Hey kids! Now you too can glower at that one kid who always dresses like a soldier and whose father wants him to join the marines when he grows up. That kid's so proud, but it's the things daddy saw in the war that make daddy so angry and make mommy sometimes cry all night! At least your parent in question has their demons under control, even if they're sometimes gone all night and seem really twitchy at breakfast the next morning. That just means they love you twice as much as other parents! Aren't you special?

- Spider-Paper-Bag Man - Can't afford a real Spider-Man costume? That's okay! All you need is a regular grocery bag and the ability to draw something that looks vaguely like a circle! Kids are dumb. They won't complain when you insist that sticking a brown paper bag over their head is more than enough for a Halloween costume. It doesn't matter that you have no artistic talent and don't have any idea what Spider-Man looks like. Who cares? You're too busy shooting up in the bathroom. That is important business right there. And in fact, they may even thank you later when they return home with twice the haul the other kids got thanks to their extra-pitiable costume! What is Halloween about, after all, if not some combination of pity and loathing? (This costume may also result in a visit from child services. You've been warned.) Take heed: you're asking for trouble if you don't make sure the kid isn't in the costume when you try to cut out eyeholes. (The child services visit is pretty much guaranteed there. They might find out about your addictions! That's the worst thing that could possibly happen! How's daddy/mommy supposed to live without his/her 'medicine'!?)

- Foster Child - Like the first suggestion, this one doesn't need any actual costume! The kid's costume is their attitude! And like the first costume, sharing sob stories about how daddy or mommy used to shoot smack into their eyeball before kissing you goodnight is a guaranteed pay to awesome bonus candy! There's no candy sweeter than candy given out of cautious concern for a child who may have nothing else that could ever possibly bring them happiness! (And like all other sources of happiness in life - tangible or intangible - someday the candy's going to run out too. And then what are you going to do?)


Traditions are lame, right? Of course they are. They're old. All old things are terrible. That's why you throw them into the nearest dump. It's something all of humanity does all the time. Even with our fellow human beings. (Unless they're in politics - then they get to ruin discourse and hold the whole country back from making meaningful progress.) Now that we've established that old things are terrible, it's out with the old and in with the new!

Considering putting together a haunted house this year, are we? Maybe? Sure, you could take the route with extra Jesus where you give out toothbrushes and tell children of all ethnicities that they're going to burn in eternal hellfire if they don't pray at the altar of old Crucifixiony McPartyDrag, maybe throw some references in to how much you hate and fear Islam because the talking people on the TV-box told you to. But those are the worst kinds of haunted houses conceivable. Why not do something crazy and new? For instance, you could construct a Rube Goldberg murder machine and put on a display more enthralling than those old TV commercials for that Mousetrap board game! The local children will watch with eyes wide as the crazy contraption completes its motions and randomly shoots one of them at the end! (Note: If nobody is successfully shot, you'll have to restart the machine until it all works out.) Now kids can get valuable life lessons and delicious candy in the same night! Some dreams do come true.

To finish things up, you're naturally looking for new ways to spice up your yearly candy distribution methods, aren't you? Yes, you are. It's written all over your face in lutefisk-scented magic marker.

Why not totally shake things up and send ripples through the neighborhood by very carefully placing small razor blades into your candy or tainting them with rat poison? Both these things are very difficult to pull off without being obvious and all the more rewarding for success! As you're undoubtedly well aware - at least here in America - there's been paranoia about just these two things happening for decades now. But! In your favor, it's all just a manufactured media panic. no one really does this! They won't expect it and no one will know it was you!

(Note: The writer in no way endorses child murder - or murder in general, for that matter - no matter how funny it might be. I wish that this disclaimer weren't necessary, but this is the internet.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Next Step: Querying Quandaries

So, I'm continuing this whole more consistent blog updating thing. (Or so I claim, considering that the first part of this post dropped over two weeks ago now.) Since I finished Project 27 Days' final set of edits - at least before an agent tells me what else needs refining, and in order for that to happen, I first need an agent - I still get the daily writing itch without the constant novel/revision work. (This is probably a good thing for me to have developed as a writer-person. It would be worrisome if I weren't addicted to the whole constantly gushing words thing. Which is also funny because in real life, I constantly stumble over everything I say and am not so great at the whole speaking thing. My vocal cords and I have a hot-and-cold relationship. Someday we're going to split up completely and none will be the wiser.) So hey, what better way to scratch the writing itch than through more of this regular self-expression thing? I probably need to overhaul this blog's overall appearance is, and ideally keep producing readable enough content to see if I can drag some more people here. (LOOK, I DON'T MAKE THE RULES, YOU EITHER READ THE WORDS OR I CAVE IN THE BACK OF YOUR SKULL I DON'T LIKE THIS ANY MORE THAN YOU DO I'M NOT A VIOLENT PERSON) I don't know where that came from.

Besides, I did kinda say at the end of the last post that I was dividing it in half as so to write something readable in length. So here we are, at part two of my outpouring of querying/publishing anxiety. You guys like anxiety, right? It is 95.2% of the human experience, you know.

One of the hardest parts of facing the publishing process is second-guessing myself. Every time I read advice columns in The Writer magazine, which I've been reading for over a year now, I wonder if they'd think such and such terrible things they write not to do about my work. I start self-criticizing in excess, and then I want to go back and spend another couple of years rewriting and revising. Not being "good enough" is a constant worry of mine (A general hangup in life, probably.), and the more I read, the more I end up feeling like there's some insane, arbitrary standards - both abstract and subjective - that I'm expected to meet and realistically can't for everybody. All the while, I'd probably make the book longer if I went back, and in terms of word count, it's apparently "too long" by most genre length standards - something I'm hoping can be forgiven in being both a story in a fantastical setting and a work of literary fiction. Given the costs of printing longer novels, it can be harder to push them for most agents and publishers, especially as a first-time author - another big hurdle ahead.

To elaborate on not being "good enough" - it's my biggest fear in beginning this next phase, now: that I'll get a bunch of people to read sample chapters or the manuscript and they'll all completely hate it and tell me to either spend another year or two completely rewriting it or basically just say that it isn't good enough in any sense to be worth even considering. That no agent or publisher would have any faith in the story for what it is and want me to transform it into something that loses the thematic core of the original story. To essentially have one's story and novel taken away and demanded that you twist it into something an agent or editor or a particular individual at a publisher wants rather than the story that it is is pretty much any author's worst nightmare. And in such situations, your only other alternative could end up being to simply give up and write off several years as wasted, never getting to release the story or accomplish anything with it. There's a reason this phase of the process is known as being one of the most soul-crushing - you've worked incredibly hard and poured your heart and soul into something, but if everyone else rejects it and you don't stand a chance of actually accomplishing anything with it, it can hollow you out inside and take you to your lowest lows. Those of us who live to write can be completely deflated and destroyed in time if our passions amount to nothing but failure, after all. And the failing/failed writer who lives for the storytelling but ends up driven to serious substance abuse and young death isn't exactly a romantic cliche so much as something that has happened to some of the best writers the world's ever known. (Hell, they only just recently gave Edgar Allan Poe a more befitting funeral after he died miserably in squalor, his life uncelebrated while he lived.) And a recent story on the student newspaper for the University of Montana - where my younger brother's a pretty big fish in the system - mentioned that on average, UM Creative Writing MFA students tend to get their first books published at an average of ten years after graduation. So on one hand, this does make it clear that it probably wasn't such a big deal in the end that UMass Amherst rejected me earlier this year (Though I'm still utterly lost as to what half of that attempt represented - getting out of the south, as I absolutely need to if I'm going to have any shot at not being completely miserable in life.), but on the other, it's another discouraging smack to the face that reminds that - especially with everything else I'm trying to express with this first novel - odds of finding representation and getting this book published within the next decade are incredibly soul-crushingly low. (The solution? Obviously, not to end up like these average authors. I have no interest in being the average aspiring author, even if not very many people are aware of my existence and writing at this point. Though, granted, every aspiring author thinks this way. I just have to be one of the ones that doesn't fail.) Enough to make one feel incredibly discouraged and pessimistic about one's path in life - not that my intuition hasn't spent enough time telling me I'm going to die alone in the gutter at some point anyway. (Take note: my intuition hates me.)

At this point, I'm still figuring out how to best narrow down agents to send queries to, and I'd like to - ideally - send two or three queries out by sometime in November. (This whole process is taking longer than I expected, but this is nothing new. Everything is incredibly complex in the writing/publishing world - especially just trying to get your foot in the door so that you may someday have a shot at getting a paycheck for your writing. Ideally enough to build a life on. Your options are to roll with the punches or crumple. I've been doing the former consistently so far, hard to say if I'll ever succumb to the latter. I've likely got a lot of hell ahead that I can't even begin to convey at this point. It's pretty depressing to think about, really.) The query-writing process itself makes me quite anxious for several reasons. First off, I've never really liked formalities - any kind of human interaction dripping with artifice and inauthenticity makes my skin crawl. I much prefer to communicate casually and informally if I communicate with people at all - something obviously reflected in my writing style here, and something that has irked people in real life before.

Second, as an introvert, reaching out to and contacting other people has never been my forte. As such, when I do talk to other people I don't know, I'm extremely self-conscious and feel almost overwhemingly clumsy, however I express myself. Forcing a layer of formality onto these communications only makes things clumsier, I feel. And I've never actually been professionally employed and worked a paying job before, so interacting with others on a more professional level is entirely new terrain for me. Even more clumsiness, and so, additional anxiety.

Then, third, we come to the substance of the query letter itself. It seems apparent enough from the focus on formula in guides I've read on writing query letters that there's an exact precision on top of that formality expected by agents - and after reading quite a few blogs and #queryfail talk amongst literary agents on Twitter, it seems that at least one of two things is apparent. Either most people querying agents are going in with literally no idea what they're doing, flailing about with exactly the kind of clumsiness I'm set on trying to avoid - seeing as I want to actually get an agent, learn, and make it in this crazy literary world - or given the volume of queries they regularly receive, most agents are rather unforgiving of query letters that fail to deliver something and someone appealing with the very precision and exact information they demand. (And even then, there's still the question of whether or not you and what you write will fit in well with that particular agent's clientele.) That's a lot of pressure. (Yes, this statement is about as obvious as being run over by a bus.)

Not being a confident person by nature - leaning far more toward the neurotic - it's hard to do anything but second-guess myself and everything that goes into years of work (Even when the work itself feels done right to me.) when reading articles like this. I constantly ask myself, "Am I doing anything wrong here?" while writing, and feel like I can only dread agents and publishers telling me at some point that I'm doing everything wrong. I've read that I'm supposed to sell myself to potential agents on why I'm qualified to write a novel. This is something that strikes me as especially difficult. I don't have the education or degrees that say, "Hey, this guy's an English language expert and master storyteller!" I only took a couple of creative writing classes in college, while I focused my education elsewhere - on cultural and historical elements that appear in my novels in ways that you likely wouldn't see from people who haven't invested a lot of time in studying East Asia and Japan in particular. (Though I learned the importance of self criticism and second guessing after sitting through numerous tense workshops in one course, where people pretty much tore each other's work apart.) And I've only had one short story published after winning a contest back in summer '08. And on top of that, I've known since I first tried writing my own stories back in 4th grade that my calling was writing fiction. But somehow I doubt these things would impress any potential agent, with as many queries as they get on a regular basis.

In my head, I can only picture agents as wanting someone with actual credentials that say, "You want qualifications? All these English degrees guarantee absolute language proficiency and grammatical perfection! I DEFY YOU TO FIND A SINGLE DANGLING PARTICIPLE!" followed by a much better established publishing track record - "You want passion? This person's been entering and winning contests and finding publishing in smaller publications ever since they were a teenager! THEIR WORDS EXUDE PASSION SO INTENSE IT CAN GIVE YOU THIRD DEGREE BURNS IF YOU DON'T EXERCISE PROPER CAUTION!" And it's hard to compete with how many people like that there likely are out there, as this guy out of nowhere: "Hey, I haven't been published or recognized much, but I've been writing my whole life and pursuing all sorts of intellectual interests that enric- what, stop talking? Okay, uh, I'll shut up. Sorry to bother you." As a writer, I don't really have much that's concrete to boast about or show off by which to sell myself, and from most agents' perspectives, it probably would look like I was coming out of left field and trying to break into a world that I can't already outright prove my qualifications for by the merit of past accomplishments. (Kind of like how many workplaces refuse to hire you without experience, and won't even if you have experience if it isn't relevant, as most low skill/minimum wage jobs aren't. And they won't give you a shot at gaining experience, sticking the applicant in a real rough spot. You can't get hired if you don't have experience, but you can't get experience if no one's willing to take a chance with you.) I probably look like much more like a risk to shy away from than a "sure thing" author who's already more than proven themselves to the world.

So much of what magazines and advice books seem to do is lay down the beaten path as clearly as possible, though warning that there's no guarantee of anything if you follow it, and that any advice they have may or may not amount to anything too valuable after a certain point - there's so much that's subjective about writing (Especially fiction) and getting your writing recognized and published that's entirely subjective that you cannot objectively say much with absolute certainty. For me, the beaten path has never really appealed - or worked out too well. When I try to follow the beaten path rigidly, my efforts have an established track record of failure. My intuition tells me that attempting to rigidly take the beaten path in drawing the interest of agents will only end in failure since it's not an organic or natural process for me, but I'm not entirely sure how exactly to take my own path on query letter writing without just ending up #queryfail fodder on Twitter.

In the least, I've found some guides that simplify the query letter process some instead of spending 3-5 pages psyching the reader out about the volumes you're expected to be able to say across a few handfuls of sentences splattered across a single page. All I can really do is try to develop the fullest understanding of what it is that will get an agent to take your letter seriously and write my letters my own way.

It doesn't help that another writer friend I was talking to a couple of weeks back had been increasingly discouraging about how unlikely it is to ever make anything resembling a living on one's writing as well (The funk this put me into is part of the reason for the long gap between the last post and this one.), when I'm essentially unemployable at my age, no matter how you look at my resume. It doesn't exactly put me in an optimistic frame of mind about my future in any regard. Times like this remind me why it's a good thing that I don't drink.

Still, just a few weeks back now, I also had the pleasure of attending a Sarah Vowell reading of The Wordy Shipmates, and spoke to her briefly while getting a signed copy. It was only for a minute, but I mentioned that I was a writer myself and that I was beginning my hunt for an agent then, and she congratulated me on having finished the writing. I have no idea how many exchanges like that she and who knows how many other writers have had with aspiring authors who may or may not ever make anything of themselves, but in the least, it felt like a sort of validating moment, in having a really great author acknowledge my existence - even on some small level as a fellow writer - like that. I'm socially awkward enough around people I don't know, but I stumble even more when I'm starstruck, having met Vowell and had the opportunity to personally interview a fair number of Japanese animation industry celebrities, voice actors, and manga artists in the past. Like many people, I go in wanting to be comfortable and casual, and not some raving fanboy who goes on at length about how much you love their work. And I do manage to avoid the latter there - I just end up not being sure what to say. This probably comes from a lifetime dedicated more to observing and trying to understand other people from the periphery while keeping my interactions with my fellow human beings to a minimum. Valuable as a writer, but after spending an increasing majority of my youth on this, it's also not something I'm not entirely happy looking back on.

In the end, I at least have some idea of a formula and many of the details I'd want to include - while restricting my query letter to a single page, the exact formatting of which I'm not yet entirely clear on - and the more I understand what exactly it is that I need to do, the less imposing it will hopefully seem in time. I'll probably get rejected a lot - though the sooner I can find someone really interested in representing me, the better - but even rejection can at least be chalked up to experience. We'll see what happens.

The path of leading an authentic, substantive life with actual meaning is, obviously, not an easy one.

On which note, I also have to recommend Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York after finally watching it earlier. It was tough for him to follow Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but while I feel this isn't quite as good as Eternal Sunshine, it's still a stellar, deeply involving film. And one I can relate to, in its focus on an artist - in this case, a theater director - dedicating his chaotic, bleak life to the search for truth and meaning in life beyond the depressing inevitability of death through the creation of one of the craziest theatrical productions conceivable: a full scale recreation of New York in a warehouse, populated by actors playing "real" people, and essentially recreating the story of his own life down to the minutest detail as it continues to go horribly awry. Beautiful, powerful film - and accompanying its very bleak, heavily depressing story are a lot of laugh out loud funny moments. I may have to do a full blog post on this one, not having done a film blog in a while. Kaufman, in the surreality of his scripts, is one of my favorite film writers, after all. I'm hoping my work would appeal to fans of his work in cinema.

And to balance the sheer angst of these past two entries - and I'm planning on writing about writing more often from now on - the next two entries? Both coming within this week. You guys're getting a double the Halloween comedy posts this year.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Next Step: Publishing and Project 27 Days

As mentioned in my previous post, I finally completed Project 27 Days, my first novel, earlier this week after roughly 7 months of revisions from beginning to end. Overall, it's technically my third draft - and as far as I'm concerned, my "final" draft - after completing the second and first truly complete draft back in early March. And so, it's reflection time. (As all of you waiting for this novel with bated breath have undoubtedly been looking forward to. Besides, I haven't done a writing/publishing centric post in quite some time.)

If you've been wanting more detail about what my first novel's really about and what my second one's going to entail as well, after years of blogging here, you're in luck! This is the post you've been waiting for.

The writing process is a journey unto itself, both frustrating and rewarding. You have to lay the groundwork - scoping out the characters and developing an understanding of them, their motivations, and their goals, as well as developing the setting where their story takes place - and if you do all that right, the characters will take you through their story themselves. After spending over 3 years getting to know these characters and accompanying them on their journey, they've become very important to me, making moving onto a new project difficult. I don't think I'll be adding a section to the right column on my next novel just yet, though - ideally at least until I've made some real progress in getting 27 Days published.

Of course, after the several drafts so far, this "final" draft as far as I'm concerned may not end up being the final one in the end. Future work on the book is contingent upon decisions made by my future agent - hard to say when or if I'll manage to get one anytime soon, all I can do is try to think positively and do my best with my query letters - editor(s), and the publisher. As any writer has to, I've come to accept that my work will ultimately be passing through editors' hands, and that revisions will be made that are not entirely my own. I do have two - I feel - legitimate worries about future possible revisions and work with editors, though.

One, I'm a little worried that I may be expected to take another good year+ to do additional directed revisions for another draft or two by an agent before they'll even consider pitching the manuscript to a publisher. This is a distinct likelihood, going on what I've read about the process, and as much as I've enjoyed spending time with these characters and writing this book, time is of the essence on some level - I feel what I'm trying to get across with the book on an external level risks being lost the longer it takes for the book to be published. (Given the numerous senses in which this first novel is a labor of love. And on at least one level in that regard, I'm expecting it to be a personal failure - sometimes life's about doing ridiculous things and failing, though, too.) And on top of that, every delay in getting my work out there in any capacity is another delay in my being able to get my own life going, given how much personally hinges on this particular work.

Two, while I can certainly accept minor edits either by editors or requested particular self-edits by an agent to improve style, language use, and flow (I'm sure all three are likely needed, this being my first novel - this is about as rough around the edges as any of my novels are going to start, and working with professionals should help me hone my stylistic focus.), I'm leery about the possibility of certain turns of plot or general elements in the story being deemed necessary to cut - possibly entire story arcs. The entire book is carefully plotted and told in a relatively nontraditional style across several story arcs, while each individual chapter focuses on the events of a single day from beginning to end through the eyes of the protagonist. This offbeat structure geared on a slice-of-life approach to the narrative itself is a risk I took when writing that could potentially become a strength or weakness when pitching the novel. Sometimes it's a quiet mood piece, other times it's completely focused on character interaction and humorous, naturalistic dialogue, and other times yet, it's outright surreal. As a work of literary fiction, it blurs genre lines while keeping character development at the heart of the narrative. And from arc to arc, the story does take some arguably very weird and probably unexpectedly turns - both in terms of the courses of events that unfold and how they might seem to fit into this sort of story on the surface. But I've been questioning my decisions behind every arc along the way, along with numerous minor details the fate of which concern me. If anyone can argue for why each and every part of the story is important and necessary, of course, it's myself as the author. But having read some horror stories about how unreasonable people in the publishing work are capable of being, I feel it's only natural to be concerned about how the story would be treated by people seeking to maximize its appeal and profitability to begin with - and literary fiction itself isn't exactly known for being the moneymaker that pulp genre fiction is. To put it bluntly, I'm not interested in "suits" or completely unreasonable people hacking my novel apart and potentially damaging its carefully-constructed essence. (Yes, this is probably one of the more pretentious-sounding statements I've made in a while. As an artisan of words, I'm allowed to get away with these things, right?) As a writer, I seek to celebrate the strange and offbeat and many have been very successful in doing just that, so I'm hoping that my concerns are unfounded and perhaps exaggerated out of anxiety after reading some confidence-crushing horror stories and intimidating writer magazine articles. I can't afford to give in, no matter how intimidated or anxious I become. I have everything to lose by not persevering until I achieve - and deserve - success. And as long as I'm writing anything worth reading, the literary and publishing worlds also have something - technically - to lose without even realizing it. I think that's a healthier attitude to take, anyway.

By extension, given its Murakami-and-Salinger-inspired plot, I'm worried that between the strangeness of the book and its overall length, it may prove considerably difficult to find an agent willing to represent it, let alone a publisher willing to risk publishing it, simply because it's "too weird." This has to be my first published novel for many reasons, and I've put a tremendous amount into it to make sure it's a worthwhile venture - both for readers and ideally a publisher. In many ways, I can only just keep my fingers crossed that all these years of hard work don't amount to nothing. (Save for perhaps a slap in the face from life - and I'm pretty sure I'm already over quota for those.)

Each of my novel projects is about challenging myself on some level or another as a writer. As my first novel, Project 27 Days (Which I'll be pitching with two potential working titles for starters) evolved from a mystery novel - though the final story itself certainly hasn't lost its mystery elements - set aboard a train to a challenge of abstraction. That's a central theme of the story on every conceptual level - one that I'm hoping will be able to draw some interest from both an agent and publisher, given how many explicitly concrete novels there are out there, as opposed to those using more abstract settings, approaches to the plot, and the characters themselves. As a concept of contradictions as well, I like to describe the book as a road novel set in an enclosed space. Like any road novel, it focuses on a journey taken by individuals and the growth they experience over the course of their journey. At the same time, the majority of the story unfolds between a handful of oddly designed train cars, passing oppressively redundant snowy scenery that seems without end beyond the windows. And undercutting the setup for another cliche coming-of-age story, there's a cast of characters who've lost their memories - so the tale focuses on self rediscovery as opposed to self discovery, tempered by melancholy, cynicism, humor, and empathy. (In the least, all of this is what I've worked hard to try to get across with these characters in this story.) I want to get the reader lost in the surreal, confusing setting with the characters - to experience what they experience, to puzzle over the same questions they ask, and to ideally come away from the experience feeling something. I love these characters, and I love this story - as risky, painful, and deeply personal as it is for me in many ways.

Next up is - to officially announce it now - Project Princess. A challenge to myself to pull off a work of literary fantasy fiction, as opposed to genre fantasy. A subversion and twisting of fairy tales and light-hearted swords-and-sorcery fantasy settings. A character study with even rawer emotions at its core. And little humor to back up what I intend to be a personal challenge to write something that takes itself largely seriously without incorporating the offbeat sense of humor I usually rely on - an exercise in attempting to develop further range. (And hopefully something an agent and publisher wouldn't frown upon, given that it seems they like to see authors develop in a particular direction as "this kind of author" or "that kind of author." I'd like to have some breathing room in developing into "That weird author who writes dark stories with at least some humor." As is, I feel like the dark comedy/dramedy world of writing is a lot more honest than many, since you can take your characters and reader to all sorts of lows in addition to being able to make them laugh - and juxtaposing the two, I feel, can make their effects resonate more deeply.)

Project Princess is a thematic followup to Project 27 Days in many ways. Particularly in that it confronts the sort of emotions and their perils that hover quietly over the 27 Days cast, but aren't often directly addressed. But rather than seeing these particular emotions faced by the 27 Days cast then - frankly, I think it would completely ruin the ending I've given them if that was part of the narrative, and would be stretching the ending out far beyond where it needs to go - a new cast, some even more damaged in some ways, will step forward to undertake these challenges themselves.

It's a cold story. Not just literally, though like Project 27 Days, it will be my second - and currently last planned - novel set in a snowbound setting. Where 27 Days focuses on a sympathetic group fighting off their frostbite together aboard a train and supporting one another as they face the bared fangs of their past, Project Princess focuses on a largely more solitary journey. A deeper level of both physical emotional isolation, sharper-edged emotions - joined by sharp-edged blades - and a lack of even the train's comforting furnishings, the plot centering on a rather twisted hero's journey through an apocalyptic blizzard on horseback and foot. A harsh setting in which only the strongest and most twisted can survive and there's no one to turn to for kindness. Given this even colder central story, it's going to be a different experience to write - and involve tapping into some even more intensely negative emotions - and my current challenge is humanizing each of the characters enough so that I can come to love them as well. No matter what horrible things have to happen to them.

I've poured a great deal of my life and passion into this first novel, at any rate, and intend to do so into each successive work. I can only hope that it shows when I begin submitting sample chapters and manuscripts to potential agents, and that they see potential worth pursuing. I was going to write even more about query letter concerns in this post, but it's already long enough - it doesn't need to be yet another insanely long post to the point of unreadability, so I'll be following it up with more query letter thoughts in the next few days in a second post. Those who stuck around, thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

TV Season 2009-2010: I Can Feel My Brain Eating Itself!

Heffer from Rocko's Modern Life. This is what TV will do to you.Hey there, blog-o-net. Worried that I'd forget you yet again after taking just over a week to write another post? Of course you were. That's only natural. Without your regular Spiral Reverie fix, you might start developing healthy sleeping habits, maybe get around to taking up that new exercise regimen you've been meaning to. We can't have that, can we? No, no we can't. The only muscle you need is the brain (ALSO KNOWN AS THE LOVE MUSCLE), and that too must atrophy.

I finished Project 27 Days' final draft at last just the other day, so you can finally start breathing again. And now that I'm about to begin the agent hunt/publishing process (Hoping to maybe get the book published by sometime next year if fortune's on my side.), I'm giving myself a bit of a break before diving headfirst into my second novel. I'm going to do some research on query letter writing - learning how to write a good one, what agents are looking for and generally want to hear, and how to differentiate my own letters so that they aren't just some cut-and-paste formulaic affair that wouldn't get their attention - and synopsis writing (Gotta make 27 Days sound as intriguing as possible.) and ideally contact at least two or three agents this month to get things started before I dive headfirst into my second novel. And with more time for other things - my Wii disc drive having problems since the end of August and currently being off at a Nintendo office for repairs having freed up even more time for me than usual, stressful as the hardware problems've been - I'm going to be looking for more inspiring material by which to get back to blogging here more often for the fall again. (So those of you waiting for me to get back to this more regularly, look forward to it! I swear, I'm sticking to it this time.) At any rate, I'll be writing more musings on this project milestone and general personal milestone as a writer in my next post in 2 or 3 days.

On to the main focus of this post! While later than the last two years (Hard to believe this blog's been running for 2+ years, isn't it? Especially given that I still get very few hits on a regular basis, hahaha. Yes, this thing needs a general design overhaul.), but hey, it's time to do my yearly look at TV I've deemed noteworthy. BEHOLD MY AMAZING TASTE IN POP CULTURE! (And general personal recommendations for what's entertaining and worth your time.)

Heroes - Mondays at @ 8 PM - Three episodes of season four have aired so far. And so far's still technically watchable. The two-hour season opener introduced the theme of the latest "volume" of the story, REDEMPTION. Yes, this is a theme not unfamiliar to longtime Heroes viewers. In fact, this is a theme the show's already beaten into the ground (Much like GRAY AREAS. We get it, Noah Bennett is a badass, give us something new.), but it doesn't even matter since the characters are all so two-dimensional and inconsistent that it doesn't matter when they change sides YET AGAIN and then search for redemption after their villainy stint. This thematic focus doesn't exactly bode well for the season, especially since Bryan Fuller departed the show again after last season to work on two new pilots.* Despite having a better overall start than season 2, I'm pretty much expecting it to gradually dissolve down to the kinds of lows that at least season 3 plumbed when Fuller wasn't around. They could perhaps try developing tehse characters into people we can care about, given the inconsistent and two-dimensional nature of the entire cast, but that doesn't seem likely. Sendhil Ramamurthy seems to be gone, with no Mohinder Suresh to be seen anymore - not that they had anything left to really do with his character. But the same issue lies in many of the other characters: the question of "why are you still here?" They killed off Ali Larter's original character, Nikki Sanders (And got rid of her relatively useless son and other associated characters from season 2 without explanation.), and brought her back as Tracy Strauss, whose looking exactly like Sanders was never explained, as far as I can recall. But they've never had much real use for Strauss either, and her appearances in season four so far have continued to bring these questions about why she's still around on the show at all. I can't see Hiro's terminal illness storyline going anywhere noteworthy (And they've been confused about what to do with his character and powers since the end of season one as the show basically lost all direction - what little direction they had to begin with.), and all they've done with Ando so far is have him end up engaged to Hiro's sister Kimiko, after Hiro changed the past. Not enough Crimson Arc, superheroics, or even costumes. (And where the hell did the Andocycle go?) With Claire's family seemingly mostly written out now too, it seems even Mr. Muggles' days on the show are over. (And without Mr. Muggles the Pomeranian, where is the show's heart?) It's too soon to make a call about the season's villains, and Sylar's lurking in Parkman's head's been the only interesting part of the season so far. (Claire's beginning college is more or less standard B plot.) But the end of season three twist, using Parkman's powers to brainwash Sylar into morphing into Nathan and thinking he really was Nathan, was probably the stupidest plot twist in the entire show, and the inevitable fallout from that's going to be painful. And apparently Ernie Hudson from Ghostbusters is joining the cast sometime this season as a Baltimore detective searching for one of the characters. I'd guess that being on TV's certainly a step up from video games after the recent Ghostbusters game hit this summer, anyway.

* Frankly, Fuller's doing better for all of us by looking to create his own new shows since the travesty that was Pushing Daisies' cancellation. He can do much better than Heroes, with projects where he has much more freedom. Reportedly, he's been wanting to do a new Star Trek series following the success of the recent movie - having started out as a writer on Voyager - but no details on that have surfaced. Instead, he's been confirmed as working on a planned 2012 hour-long dramedy TV series for NBC, Sellevision, based on an Augusten Burroughs work, as well as a comedy set in an animal shelter, No Kill, also for NBC. Hard to say what to think of these until there's more details/actual trailers and confirmations of whether they'll actually be picked up and made into full series, but after failures on Fox and ABC, perhaps NBC'll be a better fit for Fuller, given how badly they've needed shows that bring the ratings. (Granted, Fuller's have a track record of not being promoted well and getting canceled quickly.)

The Office - Thursdays @ 9 PM - We're a few episodes into the sixth season so far, and as of far, while not bad, the show's writing still isn't on the level it was back in the first three seasons. (Several key people behind the American version of the show left after season three, as I recall.) The season opener was pretty good with an amusing Stanley subplot, Jim's seen some upward mobility and become co-manager of the Scranton branch of the Dunder-Mifflin paper company the show centers around, and he and Michael have dealt with a lot of problems since. Later today, they're airing the long-awaited hour long Jim/Pam wedding episode, bringing more of a climax to their long-running relationship aspect of the show. (Which basically stopped being compelling after they finally got together in season four, but at least they didn't try to string us along with more "will they or won't they" plotlines for the rest of the show.) I'll probably have to catch it on Hulu, since I'll likely be elsewhere for at least part of the episode, with Sarah Vowell appearing at a local independent bookstore this evening. Anyway, my overall feelings on the current season of The Office amount to that it's more or less more of season five - which was better than season four, and while not spectacular, still not bad at all. So it's been good so far, and I expect that'll continue.

30 Rock - Thursdays @ 9:30 PM - I've never actually watched it, but I felt like I may as well toss a plug in, since it seems to actually be good, what with all the critical praise. (Plus the fact that Tina Fey, Jane Krakowski, Tracy Morgan, and Jack McBrayer are all actually funny.)

Parks and Recreation - Thursdays @ 8:30 PM - Back to shows I actually do watch. Sadly, the ratings for the first season weren't great, and season two hasn't had much of an audience so far. There's already been blog speculation that it'll be one of the next shows to get axed this season, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that NBC at least finishes this first full-length 20+ episode season, since the show's only grown on me since its premiere earlier this year. Some of those who'd left The Office are behind Parks, after all, and the season's been off to a fun start. I enjoyed last week's episode's giving Aubrey Plaza more screentime than she normally has on the show, since her character, April, can be one of the funniest, though she's often underused. (Not unlike Nick Offerman, who's similarly really funny when he actually gets screentime.) Comedian Louis C.K.'s had a small guest role in a couple of episodes and seems like he'll be in at least a few more yet this season, too. He fits in well. If NBC does indeed end up axing Parks later this season, I'll definitely miss it.

Community - Thursdays @ 8 PM (Initially 9:30) - I had good expectations of this show when it was initially unveiled and NBC began running promos, some of those behind Arrested Development working on the show. And on top of that, it's had a good critical reception. I've never watched The Soup, though I've heard good things about it, so I was only familiar with Joel McHale from appearances on Conan before, but he makes a good lead for the show. Chevy Chase shows that he's capable of being relevant again (As he did in a several episode stint as a major villain in the latter half of Chuck season two earlier this year.), and Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Alison Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown, Donald Glover (Of the hilarious comedy troupe Derrick Comedy, which has their first movie, Mystery Team, bound for theaters sometime this fall), Ken Jeong, and John Oliver make for a very strong supporting cast. Despite the strong reception, the show's already suffering from sagging ratings - as NBC's Thursdays aren't doing as well as they used to - and like many college shows (Poor Undeclared), it probably won't last beyond a single season, I suspect. A definite shame, since it's actually funny and well written in its absurdity.

Family Guy - Sundays @ 9 PM - Two episodes have aired so far, getting the season off to a solid start. The premiere was a Brian and Stewie episode - you can generally count on quality from those - and possibly the most out-there one yet, focusing on the duo jumping between alternate dimensions, including Robot Chicken-style stop-motion animation, Disney animation, and even a split second in the real world, portrayed by an actual dog and baby. The second episode brought an appearance by Max Weinstein (Who hadn't been seen since the controversial, banned episode from the '90s, "When You Wish Upon a Weinstein," for its focus on stereotypical Jewish jokes in general. By today's standards especially, very tame for a banned episode. And yes, I'm fully aware of how nerdy pointing all this out makes me.) as Lois learned of her own Jewish ancestry. Not a bad start overall, though in general these days, Family Guy's been trending downward in quality - like The Simpsons, Family Guy has effectively peaked, and it's gradually on its way down in quality, with some particularly lazy episodes here and there. (Like last season's "I Dream of Jesus" focusing mostly on "Surfin' Bird" jokes, and the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast guest star episode mostly wasting their presence and focusing on atheist victimization - the message and intentions behind the episode weren't bad, but it wasn't executed well at all, and I say this as an atheist myself.) In the least, it's off to a funny start.

American Dad - Sundays @ 9:30 PM - Not too much to say about American Dad. It's the least popular of MacFarlane's three Sunday night shows now, at least for the moment. (It's hard to say if The Cleveland Show'll sustain its popularity in the long run.) But it's also the smartest and funniest of MacFarlane's shows, easily the best of the three, and the two episodes aired so far this season were a lot of fun.

The Cleveland Show - Sundays @ 8:30 PM - This one's an odd duck. When the spinoff was announced, the internet was baffled and wondered why they were doing this. The Cleveland Show is, at its roots, a Family Guy spinoff that nobody really wanted or asked for, and Family Guys are pretty split on liking Cleveland, let alone enough for him to star in his own show. (And by MacFarlane's own admission, this spinoff was the result of a process of elimination, determining that giving Joe the cop a spinoff would have been too weird, and that a Quagmire spinoff - obviously - could not have been aired on network TV for the simple fact of how much over the top sex there'd have to be. However you look at it, there's no real sense in or demand for spinoffs for any of the characters in Peter's circle of friends.) That said, the pilot was mostly weak, with few standout jokes. Only two episodes have aired so far, and the second episode was notably better than the pilot, so while I'm guarded in my take on this unnecessary show, it's not entirely without humor or the potential to continue improving. So with two seasons (Over 30 episodes altogether, I believe) already ordered, I'm going to give the show a fair shot like I did with American Dad before deciding whether or not it's really worth one's time. Given time, American Dad did shape up into something really funny, after all.

King of the Hill - The final season of the show officially wrapped up back in the spring, but I felt that King of the Hill was worth mentioning one last time as one of the only shows left keeping from Fox's Sunday night animation lineup from becoming pure Seth MacFarlane projects. The actual series finale also aired back in mid-September, formally bringing the show to an end with the series' cast coming together for a barbecue in the Hills' backyard, following an going plot about Bobby getting involved in competitive meat judging. A pretty strange way to wrap the series up, but not unbefitting for the conservative Texan satire. It lasted longer and fared better than Mike Judge's short-lived The Goode Family on ABC this past summer - I didn't even manage to keep up with The Goode Family myself - and was certainly worth noting for bringing a different kind of humor to Fox's Sunday nights than Matt Groening and Seth MacFarlane. It took King of the Hill some time to grow on me - and I was never a huge Beavis and Butthead fan to begin with, though I can enjoy that too - but in the end, that show had a lot of memorable and fun episodes, and at least deserves a nod for having been worthwhile.

Glee - Wednesdays @ 9 PM - I wasn't sure what to make of this when it was first unveiled, not being a big musical fan to begin with. (But open minded enough to at least give the genre a shot, and I'll admit I have enjoyed some musicals before - like Sweeney Todd and Dancer in the Dark. The Reefer Madness movie musical with Kristen Bell and Alan Cumming was pretty funny, too.) The presence of Jane Lynch, part of Christopher Guest's inner circle of talented hilarious people, was an encouraging sign, too. So after missing the pilot in May and its early-September reair, I watched it on Hulu before the season premiere, and I've caught every episode since. The show features Broadway talent including Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele in lead roles (Pushing Daisies' wonderful Kristen Chenoweth guest starred in an early episode as well), as well as several former Heroes supporting cast members who've gone on to something better in this show (Jayma Mays, Jessalyn Gilsig, and Stephen Tobolowsky). The writing is pretty consistently funny and mostly manages to capture the magic of stage musicals during the characters' performances on the show - though that varies some depending on the specific context of the performance. The musical offerings so far have included Journey, Bon Jovi, Kanye West, Beyonce, Heart, and numerous others. The only concern I have about this glee club dramedy - focusing on teachers and high school students in equal measure - is the breakneck pace at which the plot seems to be moving forward at times. It's hard to tell if they'll be able to maintain this kind of plot pacing while continuing to come up with new material. I also hope that it continues to do well enough on top of that to merit multiple seasons, so long as they can maintain this standard of writing quality. For me, Glee is definitely an out-of-left-field surprise favorite of the season, and certainly a fresh piece of television, so I heartily recommend checking it out.

Dollhouse - Fridays @ 9 PM - Two episodes have aired so far now, too. After debuting back in February as a mid-season show, Dollhouse got a surprising renewal for a full-length second season. For once, with Eliza Dushku at the show's helm, Joss Whedon's avoided a relapse of the 9 PM Friday time slot that killed Firefly, his much beloved post-Buffy cult hit, and Bryan Fuller's Wonderfalls (Which was pulled from the air far faster than Firefly). Dollhouse, with its prostitution and human trafficking themes and overall dark atmosphere (Seriously lacking the humor Whedon's shows are known for.) - on top of its excessive sexualization of female characters early on - got the show off on the wrong foot and made a lot of Whedon fans angry. The episodic roots of the show, focusing on the "actives" being hired and programmed with one personality or another, turned a lot of people off, too. But halfway through the show, when Fox executives started to take more of a backseat in show involvement, the quality shot sharply upward, Whedon's trademark humor started working its way into the dialogue (From one of the most morally questionable characters in the cast, no less, who they're making likable and sympathetic as the show's awkward smartass nerdy guy, much to the chagrin of many.), and a more cohesive central plot began to come together beneath the surface-level job plots. The first season came to a strong close with the on-screen debut at last of Alpha (Played by Firefly's much-beloved Alan Tudyk, from playing a hilarious pilot to a psychotic killer), the series' main antagonist, an escaped doll who'd constructed his own personality-imprinting technology. Paul Ballard changed sides and begrudgingly joined the Dollhouse in exchange for November's release from service as an active, and became Echo's new handler as Boyd was promoted to head of Dollhouse security. Major shakeups, which led into season 2's focus on the change of cast and story dynamic beneath the weekly jobs and programmings. Now Echo's aware that she's being made into many different people, but that all of these experiences are real, and with Ballard, she's planning on bringing the Dollhouse down from the inside. Season two so far has focused largely on these changing dynamics with Ballard and Echo, as well as foreshadowing Dr. Claire Saunders/former active Whiskey's new found self-awareness and impending departure from the show. More Battlestar Galactica cast members are turning up this season too, with Helo playing Paul Ballard and Romo Lampkin having shown up a few times in season one. Jamie Bamber, who played Lee "Apollo" Adama in BSG turned up in the season two premiere, and Michael Hogan, who played Col. Tigh on BSG, will be guest-starring later in the season. Season two's off to a strong start, and I highly recommend giving season one a look now that it's out on DVD. The earlier, slower episodes are worth sitting through to get to the season's midpoint and the upswing of writing following that. I'm looking forward to seeing what Echo and Ballard's scheming amounts to, what happens with Whiskey and Topher, and just how many times Alpha returns to wreak havoc. (I'm also curious as to what they'll do with Sierra and Victor this season as well - they both had major roles last season, but they've hardly had any screentime so far in season two.) Sadly, I have a feeling it's unlikely Fox'll give the show a third season (But I'd be all for it if they can keep the quality up as they have been.), and if they don't, I do hope they manage to wrap things up in a way that works.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - Thursdays @ 10 PM - The first few episodes to air so far have focused on the Paddy's Pub gang seeking to exploit the mortgage crisis, cashing in on people's woes, and then attempting to go on a road trip to the Grand Canyon. Naturally, these things went completely awry, and last week's episode focused on efforts to exploit the recession and make money on human suffering, which, in turn, also went awry. There's been some controversy about the episode, asking if they'd sold out over the sheer amount of Dave & Buster's product promotion that occurred within the episode. I don't think it's too much to be concerned about at this point though, as even when they included the essential adult Chuck-e-Cheese in the show, they basically portrayed it as the white trash playground it is - which fits the show and characters like a glove - rather than explicitly painting it as someplace everyone should be dying to go. If product promotion can help the show - at least from a budgetary perspective - without outright disrupting the humor (As Subway promotion at times disrupted Chuck for a few seconds here and there in season two, but served a greater purpose for the show in the long run.), I can live with it. But when you get down to it, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is pretty much the last show that could sell anybody on anything, given its very nature and style of humor. So far, season five's been enjoyable. And it's also had hands-down the best promo of any show this season: seriously, try some Kitten Mittens.


Bored to Death - Sundays @ 9 PM - Following the cancellation of Pushing Daisies, ABC's "forensic fairy tale," HBO steps up to the plate to satisfy viewers' hunger for detective comedy with what they're calling a "noir-rotic comedy." Created by author Jonathan Ames and starring the awesome Jason Schwartzman as - yes - Jonathan Ames. The show's incarnation of Ames is a struggling author and general loser who turns to illegally moonlighting as a detective for hire on Craigslist. He's read a ton of detective books, how hard can it be? The show basically follows Schwartzman as Ames and his friends - played by Ted Danson and the hilarious Zach Galifianakis, who's really starting to get big these days - attempt to solve various crimes he's hired to investigate while getting into all sorts of absurd situations. The pilot's said to be less than stellar, but critics have said the show only gets better with each successive episode and becomes something special and hilarious. As my most anticipated premium cable show since Flight of the Conchords (Which is also hilarious and highly recommended - both seasons), it really makes me wish we got HBO on our satellite network.

No Reservations - Travel Channel - The second half of this year's season of Tony Bourdain's travel show wrapped up earlier in September, but it airs in regular syndication several times a week on the Travel Channel, so there's much to enjoy there.

Midseason Returns/Replacements
Chuck - NBC - Schedule details haven't been announced for exactly when Chuck will return for its final third half-season in the spring yet. Word's been that it'll be returning to air in March 2010 for these final 13 episodes - hopefully properly wrapping the series up and giving the characters a good sendoff - with a reduced budget. Hard to say where exactly they'll put it in the schedule, since Heroes took its old time slot, moving back an hour on Mondays. Initially, it was announced that a couple of characters and aspects of the show would have to be cut due to the sharply reduced budget of this final season - which it's frankly a pleasant surprise that we're getting at all - but Subway since stepped up after fan campaigning and contributed additional funding, ensuring that we won't be losing any of the characters. Though it'll probably also mean more in-show Subway advertising. But them's the breaks. I'm looking forward to seeing how things turn out in the spring.

Louie - FX - Following the cancellation of his acclaimed one-season HBO sitcom, Lucky Louie, comedian Louis C.K.'s back with a new comedy show coming to FX in 2010. He's always been a hilarious comic - and yes, he's the one Dane Cook has an established track record of outright stealing from - and as such, Louie should be worth keeping an eye out for, featuring a mix of stand-up and sketch comedy. Here's hoping he has better luck at FX than HBO. (And you can also catch him in Ricky Gervais's movie currently in theaters, The Invention of Lying!)

Caprica - SciFi - Following Battlestar Galactica's epic conclusion this past spring and the subsequent DVD release of the feature-length Caprica pilot episode (Which basically pushed what boundaries it could with violence and frontal nudity of the lady variety that they certainly won't be able to get away with in the main show itself), Caprica will be making its debut in the mid-season on the SciFi channel (I will NOT call it Syfy - what an embarrassing name change.) this next spring. The pilot was met with mixed reactions, as the unusual and groundbreaking show it is, being a grounded character drama - which television certainly has no shortage of - set entirely within a well-established science fiction setting, drawing us into the world of the 13 colonies - Caprica in particular, obviously - decades prior to the original Cylon war, and roughly fifty prior to the beginning of Battlestar Galactica itself. We get to see how decadent and in many ways sick and detached from their own humanity that humanity had become in this era of prosperity, as well as the twisted origins of the development of Cylons - as the pilot begins to get into - and the question of what it is that divides humans from machines. A question Galactica asked repeatedly throughout, with its now-humanlike Cylons. The established narrative of the rivalry between the Graystone family - behind the creation of the Cylons - and the Adama family (Including Galactica's Admiral Adama's father as a main character, and many issues of ethnic conflicts between the colonies - the different ethnicities and cultures of which being something largely underexplored in Galactica.) seeking to oppose their methods.

Dead To Me

The CW Network - Several years after the merger that brought WB and UPN together, what have we ended up with? A network fixated largely on painful teen dramas about how difficult it is to be a pretty white teen. (Also rich, can't forget rich. Sure is hard to be rich.) They axed Veronica Mars after pushing some changes for the worse in its final season, and Reaper wasn't treated particularly fairly either before its cancellation. Given their focus on rather worthless shows and '90s reboots with a fixation on being "controversial" (Again, teenagers having sex is NOTHING NEW and NOTHING CONTROVERSIAL. IT SHOCKS NOBODY.), I don't expect there to be anything worthwhile for me on CW anytime soon.

ABC - Treating Pushing Daisies as poorly as they did and then rushing to cancel it halfway through the season last year was a major respect killer. On top of that, Ugly Betty's days are reportedly numbered, too. I haven't even gotten around to watching season one of that yet, though. I have heard it's good. And after Scrubs ended properly this past spring with an excellent finale, they're forcing another season through. Most of the regulars are gone - the only returning regulars being John C. McGinley, Donald Faizon, and Eliza Coupe. Zach Braff and Sarah Chalke will be there the first 6 episodes, then gone. And they're dropping Sacred Heart for a medical college or something like that. Bill Lawrence has given them his blessing to do whatever they want with it, since his show's effectively over. But suffice to say, this is not what Scrubs deserves, and considering the hit Spin City took after Lawrence left and they tried to continue it without him or Michael J. Fox, I suspect Scrubs "season nine" will lead to the series' cancellation after it airs in next spring. Fail, ABC. Let it rest.

Comedy Central - This time because they have no worthwhile new shows this fall. South Park hasn't been worth noting in a long time, Parker and Stone having run out of funny much earlier this decade, and resorted far more to lazy shocks and terrible libertarian strawman proselytizing. (And this is what gets them awards. Terrible, stupid arguments frequently from awful sides of issues, episodes proudly written in a slapdash manner at the last minute, and relying so heavily on what's going on at the moment that they don't age well at all. It's like critics don't actually watch the show, but simply feel compelled to praise it because a lot of idiots think of it as the conservative cutting edge and it comments on current events at all. There's no taking into account the actual quality and intelligence of said commentary. If you want quality and intelligence on Comedy Central on current issues, you pretty much just have the Daily Show and Colbert Report, which frankly do better than most "real" news shows in their commentary.) Daniel Tosh is funny, but he can do better than just making fun of internet videos on Tosh.0. The Jeff Dunham Show strikes me as a terrible idea - his shtick with those puppets is tired and overexposed enough on that network, the last thing we need is a regular show on top of four or five specials that get reaired an insane amount every year. While not an unwatchable comedian and seemingly a nice enough guy, he doesn't stand out as a remarkable one in any way, let alone one deserving this kind of almost constant exposure. (Hell, characters like his dead terrorist puppet are so stereotypical it's painful.) And just earlier tonight, they premiered their latest show - Secret Girlfriend. This trainwreck - which I'd been hoping might actually be fresh - was embarrassing to watch. The core concept is the creation of a first person show where the viewer is an unnamed silent male protagonist who for some reason hangs out with a couple of unfunny and largely irritating losers who make viral comedy videos for Atom Films (And frankly, this is Atom's worst on-air production, as their older show - Jump Cuts, which eventually evolved into the current Atom TV, which airs at 2:30 AM on Mondays - and its current incarnation showcasing a variety of comedy videos from the site are consistently far funnier than Secret Girlfriend has it in itself to be. On top of the failures of comedy, the viewer-protagonist is somehow a complete Casanova, somehow inexplicably attracting every attractive woman on the show with lines and leering at all the others. There's no actual comedy there so much as outright embarrassing wish-fulfillment writing targeting an audience of men who don't know how to relate to women as fellow human beings, and copious amounts of forced scantily clad moments on account of this silent viewer-protagonist's inexplicable irresistibility. One of the stupidest shows I've forced myself to sit through in some time, and one of Comedy Central's worst originals hows in recent years. Krod Mandoon was at least watchable this past spring, and Michael & Michael Have Issues was hilarious this past summer, though I'm betting it'll be cancelled as quickly as Stella was. At this point, aside from the Daily Show and Colbert Report, the only good I say speak of Comedy Central is that at least they renewed Important Things with Demetri Martin for another season early next year and Futurama's new season will be hitting the channel next summer, I believe. So that's two things to actually look forward to on there next year. As for this year, you're better off just sticking to the Daily Show and Colbert Report, on top of reruns of funnier older shows and stand-up comedy.

So there you have it. The always-necessary new TV season ramble that I bring you every fall. Will anybody read all of this? Probably not. But hey, some shows to consider taking into account by my own personal standards, anyway. Look forward to a more substantive post in 2-3 days!