ramblings

Dealing with Death in Life and Fiction

Death is common in fiction, just as it is common in life. It is the highest of stakes, even though ever character, just like you and everyone you know, will end up dead eventually. Different people react to death, or even the possibility of death, in different ways. Fear is the most common emotion associated with it, but it isn’t one that everyone experiences.

Until my child was born, I never feared for my own death. I did, however, fear the deaths of others. There’s an elderly British man in his eighties who I was fairly close with about eight years ago. We met while I was spending a year abroad, and often had philosophical discussions. Over time, we’d fallen out of touch. Yet whenever I feel the desire to call him and find out what he’s up to, I hesitate. I’m scared I’ll find out that he’s not around anymore, and as long as I don’t call, as long as I don’t know his status, I can tell myself that he’s probably still alive.

Because death is a universal experience, it is bound to come up in your writing at some point. When it does, try to remember that not everyone has the same reaction, and not everyone faces death the same way.

I remember my grandmother, a holocaust survivor, telling me that after the murder of her family, she no longer wanted to live. She was jealous of people that didn’t wake up in the morning. When she finally did pass away, I think she viewed it as a relief. Death was something she welcomed. My father realized this, and yes, he mourned her loss, but at the same time he found a sense of peace, knowing that her suffering on this world was finally over.

There’s a book, A Brush With Death : An Artist in the Death Camps, by Morris Wyszogrod (or Moshe, as he was called by his friends). The book recounts the author’s experiences in the Holocaust, and actually bears a few similarities to Yossel, something I pointed out to author Joe Kubert when I had the opportunity to meet him, a year before his death. Of course, Moshe Wyszogrod isn’t around anymore either. Few survivors are. But what makes his book unique isn’t just that it is an account of death and horror, recorded as experienced by someone who faced it day in and day out for years, but rather because of a few paragraphs written here and there, throughout the book. The author mentions a friend of his, who he met in the Warsaw Ghetto, entered into the concentration camps with, and eventually was separated from as the war went on, only to be reunited in America with years later: Mayer Lachman. My grandfather didn’t talk much about his experience in the Holocaust (or talk much at all, for that matter), so a decent amount of what I know about his experiences come from that book. There were of course some things left out, such as his wife and daughter, who never made it. My uncle once asked him what he did when he found out his wife and daughter were killed. He shrugged and said, “I went back to work.” Because mourning would mean death for him as well. Instead her persevered, and lived long enough to see his great-great-grandchild. Not long ago he was watching some great-grandchildren run around in his son’s backyard. “They didn’t win,” he said with a smile.

Mayer Lachman passed away exactly one year ago, at the age of one hundred and five. A sick child who doctors didn’t think would live beyond his first year had lived through two world wars. The anniversary of a loved one’s passing is a time to reflect on life, and celebrate their legacy. I suppose that’s why I’m writing this.

Where Have I Gone?

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Hello, dear readers. You may have noticed that I have not posted much lately. That’s because I’ve been busy. Both my blog and book writing has fallen by the wayside, due to adjusting to taking care of my newborn daughter, finishing up law school, and a close member of my family getting hospitalized due to major health issues. Now, as I study for the bar exam, I am still writing, though at a snail’s pace. The second Spark book is over halfway done, so there’s that, and I’ve fleshed out the outline for the third. I hope to begin writing more in earnest soon enough. Please just bear with me.

You Made a Mistake

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Obviously, before putting out a book, a writer will do everything within his or her power to make sure the product is as flawless as possible. That’s why its always a little embarrassing to be told that someone found an error in your book.

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However embarrassing it is, I find myself grateful to those who bother to let me know. Honestly, constructive criticism and being told how you can make your book better is far more useful than praise . As a writer, I want to put out the best book I can. But as a human, I’m prone to mistakes, and when it comes to my own writing, I can often be blind to it. So when something is pointed out to me that should be fixed, be it a typo, a factual error regarding the city layout, or a suggestion regarding possible stylistic improvements, I try to fix it as soon as I’m able. And what is amazing about digital and print on demand is that these errors can be fixed almost instantaneously.

Every writer wants to improve, but we can’t learn from our mistakes if we aren’t aware of them. Slight embarrassment is a small price to pay to put out a better book.

Time Lost

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Every year on my birthday, I get well wishes, cards, and gifts. Even with all the celebration though, it is impossible not to think of my own mortality. While celebrating the day of my birth, I’m one year closer to death. And now I find myself closer to thirty than to twenty, a thought that scares me. Just ten years ago I was a clueless teenager, unable to imagine I’d ever get this far. My current age seemed forever away, as did marriage and children. But here I am, an old man (or so my sister-in-law tells me), who could become a father any day now. I’m not thinking of my own birthday, but the day of birth of my child. How can I be a father when I’m a child myself? How can the calendar tell me I’m an adult when I have never felt like one? How did I make it this far? Can I handle what’s just around the corner?

I thought I had more time.

Marketing Failures

A little while ago, I offered a short story ebook for free to anyone signing up for my mailing list. No one signed up. Not one person. I didn’t understand. I had people who view the post and even the mailing list page. Heck, the post that I announced I was giving away a free short story had numerous likes, yet no one signed up to the mailing list. Not a single person. Every time I would check to see if anyone signed up, there would be a this feeling in my stomach over overwhelming dread. And for good reason.

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Failing is horrifying. It reminded me of when I used to make animated shorts. I would spend months animating a little 4-7 minute animation, and I was lucky if I could get 50 views after a couple of months. What’s worst of all is seeing horrendous books and youtube videos that are way worse than mine, yet get more views or sell better. But every time, I lift myself up. And her I am again. Last week I released my first novel. Will it sell? I don’t know. It hasn’t been selling as well as I’d hoped up until now. I do have other marketing plans though, which I have not yet put into effect. Additionally, I’m still working on the second book, and they say the more books in your backlog, the better the series as a whole does. Here’s hoping there’s some truth to that. Unlike the mailing list idea, I’m not ready to write my book off as a failure. Not yet. But regardless, my failures will not define me, and I genuinely believe that with enough work and effort, I can make A Spark Ignites a success. I’m putting myself out there. Because I’m a creator, and that’s what creative people do. Failures be damned.

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Description:  Matt was just a regular teenager, dealing with homework, hormones, high school drama, and an obnoxious older brother. He found his life complicated, but it was nothing he couldn’t handle. Then, when Spark, the city’s greatest superhero unexpectedly dies, Matt finds himself in possession of the hero’s costume and gadgets, with a note asking him to carry on the legacy. Finding himself unable to refuse, he reluctantly begins his superhero career, hoping he can live up to the name of his predecessor. Not knowing the first thing about being a superhero, Matt soon finds himself overwhelmed. Will he find himself in an early grave, just like his hero?

Meanwhile, an aging supervillain, the Inventor, creates a powerful device capable of killing thousands. An elaborate plan is put in motion that could lead to the destruction of everything Matt holds dear. Will he be able to figure out the how to stop him in time? And when evidence arises which indicates that Spark’s death may not be the accident everyone believes it is, Matt finds himself consumed with trying to uncover the truth. Will he be able to get to the bottom of this mystery? And if so, will he be able to handle the dark reality behind it?

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My Favorite Comics (Part 2): Batman Edition

Continuing from my previous post, I will be looking at my favorite Batman comics, in preparation for Batman 5 Superman.

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Batman: Year One
A classic origin tale. Yes, it’s a story you already know (unless you’re my wife, who thought Batman was raised by bats), but it’s still a Batman must-read. There was an animated movie of the same name made, which was a shot-for-shot recreation of the comic.

Batman: The Long Halloween and Dark Victory
Two great mystery stories that are best read together, and pick up on threads from Batman: Year One, as well as including the origin of Two-Face and Robin.

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Batman: Under the Red Hood
A great story about the return of an old Batman character  though it’s much better to read this after reading Batman: A Death in the Family, as it builds directly off that. There’s also a PG-13 animated movie version that’s arguably better than the comic, and incorporates the relevant parts of Death in the Family.

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Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
A classic Batman story set in the future with Bruce as an old man. This redefined Batman, making him dark and serous at a time he was associated with campiness. There’s a PG-13 animated movie of the same name that is basically a shot for recreation of the comic, and runs at over two hours long. The Dark Knight Returns and Batman 5 Superman also seem to be based loosely on this comic.

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Paul Dini’s Batman

Paul Dini was a writer for the brilliant Batman: The Animated Series. He wrote a number of amazing issues of Detective Comics, with most of the stories being really enjoyable one-and-done stories that can easily be enjoyed by first time readers and fans alike. His short stories are collected in Batman: Detective,Batman: Death and the City, and Batman: Private Casebook. He also wrote the fantastic Batman: Mad Love, Batman: Harley Quinn, and Batman: Harley and Ivy. A number of his stories (although not even close to half) have been adapted into episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, often with the adaptations being just as good, if not better.

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Grant Morrison’s Batman

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This is the most confusing comic on the list. You’ve got to have intimate knowledge of the DC Universe to enjoy this one, and it’ll require lots of flipping back to earlier stories as his entire 7-year story. It introduces a new Robin, two new Batmen (including one of my favorite), and draws from every era of Batman. The story starts off in ‘Batman and Son’ and continues into ‘Batman: The Black Glove’ (both of which are included together in Batman and Son: New Edition for a significantly cheaper price) Then there’s Batman RIP, the admittedly very confusing Final Crisis, Batman and Robin Volume 1 and Volume 2, Time and the Batman, Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne, Batman and Robin Volume 3Batman Inc. volume 1, then another volume 1 (confusing, isn’t it?) and finally volume 2, to finish off the story. Some of this story have been adapted into various animated movies, but they range from awful to merely mediocre. Stick to the comics for this one.

This is far from a completed list, but it’s enough for now. Do you have any favorite Batman or Superman comics?

My Favorite Comics (Part One): Superman Edition

In honor of Batman 5 Superman coming out this month (which, if Man of Steel is any indication, will be awful), I’ve decided to share my favorite Batman and Superman comics with you. This list will cover my favorite Superman comics, with my favorite Batman comics coming in another post.

41hajjckawl-_sx311_bo1204203200_Superman: Secret Identity
This is one of my favorite comics ever. It’s a comic anyone can pick up with no knowledge of Superman at all. It’s technically not even about Superman, but rather some guy named Clark Kent living in a world where Superman comics exist, and he’s often mocked for his name. The twist is, he actually has super-powers. This is not a superhero story, however. There’s no villain. It’s simply a story about life and growing up. The story starts with young Clark still in high school, and goes through romance, marriage  kids, and eventually grandkids  Its a beautiful, touching story. If you’ll only read one Superman comic book, this should be it.

“Maybe I had a ‘secret identity,’ but then when you think about it, don’t we all? A part of ourselves very few people ever get to see. The part we think of as ‘me.’ The part that deals with the big stuff. Makes the real choices. The part everything else is a reflection of.” — Clark Kent

51kvincrz9l-_sx325_bo1204203200_Superman: Red Sun
An Elseworlds tale, asking what if Superman had landed in Soviet Russia instead of Kansas. It’s a fun story with an amazingly clever ending. Its interesting to see Superman as the villain, plus Russian Batman is totally awesome. Oh, and commie Superman is STILL a better Superman than Man of Steel’s.

51og2bkd9kkl-_sx301_bo1204203200_Superman: Birthright
My favorite re-telling of the origin of Superman. This is everything Man of Steel should have been. Instead we got a murderous Superman who didn’t care about saving lives, ruined someone’s livelihood for insulting him, and likes to make out with women he just met when human ash is raining down all around him. Idiots.

51aj58tawbl-_sx318_bo1204203200_All-Star Superman
This comic by Grant Morrison is about Superman’s end. It’s something of a possible ending to the pre-Crisis Superman comics (the more outlandish Superman comics that came out pre-1985). It’s a touching story about Superman being tricked by Lex Luthor and succumbing to what’s basically some sort of ‘super-cancer’ and follows the last few months of Superman’s life, and how he lives knowing his end is near. An animated movie of the same name exists as well. It it’s good, but not as good as the comic.

61o7orlbv3l-_sx353_bo1204203200_The Death/Funeral/Return of Superman
These were some of the first comics I read, and its responsible for getting me into comics. While continuity heavy, it’s definitely worth a read. It’s about the time Superman died (as opposed to the time he made us all feel dead inside *coughmanofsteelcough*). An animated version of this movie exists as well, titled Superman: Doomsday. It isn’t as good, but still watchable. About halfway through it goes off in a totally different direction.

51uhk9qemll-_sx323_bo1204203200_Superman/Batman: Volume 1: Public Enemies & Supergirl
A fun couple of stories where Batman and Superman team up, one of which is also the origin of Supergirl. It’s really enjoyable because of the contrast in the two characters personalities. (How they’ll pull off a cross-over in Batman 5 Superman, with both of them being brooding, dark, angst-machines and still make it compelling, I don’t know.) Both Public Enemies and Supergirl have been turned into animated movies, titles Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, and Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. Public Enemies is actually slightly better than the comic it’s adapted from, but Apocalypse pales in comparison.

 

This is far from a completed list, but it’s enough for now. Do you have any favorite Superman comics?

Endings and Non-Endings

cliffhangerHow do you end a story? Coming up with a good ending is probably the second hardest part of writing (the first is getting started). It’s important to end the story. It doesn’t have to tie up all loose ends, but it has to be satisfying if the reader stopped right there. Now, this is obvious when it comes to a stand alone novel. But what about a book series? A trend I’ve noticed in book series lately (and later series movies, where the last book is split into 2 parts) was to end on a cliffhanger. I understand the reasoning behind it- you want to force the reader to pick up the next one. Personally though, I usually end up feeling cheated. Now, it’s ok to have a slight cliffhanger tacked on at the end (like the reveal of Thanos and the end of the Avengers, or the reveal that Magneto still has his powers at the end of X-Men 3), because the reader still got a satisfying, full story. The lest few seconds can easily be ignored, and is more of a trailer or preview for the next movie/volume. Some cliffhangers though, make you feel as though you’re missing half the story. The second Hobbit movie, for example, has such a sudden and jarring ending,  I sat in the theater wondering if the projectionist messed up. I don’t want to be force to buy the next book. If you write a good story, with a good ending, then I’ll buy the follow up. You don’t have to try and trick people into doing.

Book Update and Request for Advice

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My upcoming book, A Spark Ignites, is finally edited. The paperback version is formatted, and I am currently waiting for the proof copy to arrive while I work on formatting the digital version. I’m new to publishing and I’m not entirely clear as to what goes into releasing a book, so I’ve been doing some research for the marketing. I’m thinking some paid advertising (though I don’t have much of a budget), maybe some guest posts on other’s blogs, and possibly a review or two from other bloggers. Any advice from those with experience would be helpful.

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A glimpse at the upcoming book trailer.