JOHN OSTRANDER: READING MYSELF

transmogrification

by John Ostrander

I recently received my comp copies of the second trade paperback (TPB) collection of The Spectre, dubbed Wrath of God, and took advantage of it to re-read the stories Tom Mandrake and I created back in the Nineties.

The character was originally created back in the 30s by Jerry Siegel who also co-created Superman. Jim Steranko described the Spectre as having the toughest origin in comics. Plainclothes cop, Detective Jim Corrigan, is killed by gangsters but, unable to rest, is sent back as an Avenging Ghost by a mysterious Voice who can be taken as God. He’s also given lots of powers. He may in fact be the most powerful character in comics. Some think he’s too powerful; how can you create a significant threat to a character who’s only slightly less powerful than God? In the decades since his creation, those powers got damped down. Corrigan himself was supposedly brought back to life with the Spectre as a separate entity who took shelter within Corrigan.

When Tom and I got a hold of the character, we decided that having a powerful Spectre would result in better visuals and that Corrigan was dead and had been since the character began. The result has been what many readers declared a definitive version of the Spectre and some of the best work Tom and I have done separately or together.

I know writers who can’t/don’t/won’t read their own work once it’s been published. I understand and sympathize but I always read the comics once they came out. For me, it wasn’t really a comic until it was published. I wanted to experience it as the reader did. Granted, I couldn’t experience it for the first time as they did but I often forget exactly what I’ve written between the time that I finished the script and when the book is published. A turn of phrase, for example, can surprise me. I’ve gone on to other things and that’s where my focus is.

So I came to Wrath of God with, if not fresh eyes, at least with a touch of amnesia.

The first volume, Crimes and Judgments, introduced Tom’s and my version of the Spectre. The twelve issues were tied together with an overall plot that reached a tragic end. The second volume deals with repercussions emanating from that end. The Spectre goes somewhat mad with grief and when you have a character that powerful, it’s a very dangerous situation indeed. His mission is to punish murderers, to find evil, and in the first story of the second collection, the Spectre finds an entire nation guilty and destroys it.

That was extreme, even for the Spectre and I knew it at the time. I wondered if I had taken him too far. Would it alienate the readers? It might be hard enough for them to empathize with a character as powerful as the Spectre. Would such an extreme act drive them away from the book?

In my private life this was also a time of stress and sorrow. My wife, Kimberly Yale, contracted breast cancer and it would claim her life in 1996. I was in a somewhat bleaker state of mind while I created these stories. I was sometimes asked how I was able to continue writing while dealing with Kim’s illness but writing was a refuge for me. It was where things still made sense and with The Spectre I could channel all those emotions I was feeling.

The bulk of the rest of the stories in this volume stem from this first story as we explored the ramifications for the next ten issues. I like doing things like that; something significant happens in one issue and you can follow up on it. It’s one of the virtues of doing a monthly comic; there’s room to explore.

We dealt with issues such as forgiveness and justice, mercy and retribution, guilt and responsibility. While I had become an agnostic, I was a very specific agnostic. I was raised as a Roman Catholic and that still very much showed in my writing. Especially with the Spectre.

Not every story is an unalloyed delight. One story was set in Northern Ireland and dealt with “The Troubles” between Protestant and Catholic there. At least, it attempted to do so. However, this was before I visited Belfast and my understanding of the situation there can only be described as woefully inadequate. Well intentioned but I didn’t have the comprehension of the issues that the story needed and clichés abound in it. It is readable but not as strong as other stories in the TPB, in my own opinion. It’s one of the things that occur when you re-examine your own work; flaws pop out at you. Useful if you learn from it.

One of the great strong points of the volume and indeed of the entire series is the work of my friend and collaborator, Tom Mandrake. We worked together in what is known as “plot first” style; I would break down the story into page and panels and Tom would draw it. (Our gag was that sometimes he drew what I should have plotted.) It would come back to me for dialoguing and it was always a thrill to first see those pages. Tom, in my not so humble opinion, is one of the modern greats in the medium and The Spectrewould not have been the same without him.

It was interesting re-reading the stories after all this time, to re-encounter the person I was back then. It’s me but a different me. I don’t know if I could write the same stories today but that’s how it should be, I think. Our writing reflects who we are and, as we change, so should the writing. The Spectre I would write today would be very different from the book I wrote back then. I have changed and, hopefully, grown.

The stories in this volume, I think, are still worth reading. If you do, be sure to say hello to the Old Me. He’s lurking in there.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out John’s newest book at Amazon.

John Cleese and Eric Idle are so funny people pay just to hear them talk

John Cleese Capture

…To each other yet! This was wonderful to see live last week, but the recording ain’t bad either:

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YOUR AUTHOR PLATFORM

Author-Platform

by Rita Karnopp

There has always been talk about how to promote your work once you finally get published.  If you’re like me, I’d rather write stories – promoting takes effort and time.  But a writer must make time and take efforts to create a writing platform.

Oh, I’ve heard it, “Do I really need to have a platform?”  No, not really, but then that depends on your goals and aspirations of selling your books.

If you desire – need – want – commercial success and great sales, then I would say, “Yes, having a platform will make all the difference in the world.”  It’s irrelevant whether you’re an indie (self-published) or traditional published author.  You must decide how you can grab those readers and get exciting exposure for your books if you want to be competitive in the marketplace.

What exactly do we mean by platform?  Simply put, your platform is the means through which you get your book noticed – then purchased.  It has a lot to do with who you know, creating networking, and learning to appeal to the massive world of readers.

You must be willing to take the time to nurture relationships, establish a sound foundation, and create or build effective networking to reach your target demographics and beyond.

So the next question, “How do I do that?”  There are so many ways you can create your platform, and it actually depends on your skillset, how large/small you want that platform to be, and finally your knowledge of the avenues available to help in this process.

Let’s discuss some of those avenues available to you.

Do you have a Website?  I’d say the most important first step will be to create a writer’s website.  It doesn’t have to cost much . . . I use a program called www.web.com and pay around twenty dollars a month.  It’s an easy self-create site –and there are a lot out there – even free sites.  Check with friends of sites you really like.

Do you have a Blog?   Carve out your own writer’s corner space and use it as a place to post articles that establish your expertise in your field. Share news about your book, speaking schedule, upcoming interviews, etc. If you don’t want to do this by yourself, ask a fellow writer to share a blog site with you.  Wonderful writer, Ginger Simpson, asked me to join her blog a few years ago … it’s a great working relationship (as well as sistership) http://mizging.blogspot.com/

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“Good writers are hard to find”

So sayeth the television industry. No, not the U.S. industry but worldwide. Everybody in power says they’re looking for good writers but just can’t find them. Over here at TVWriter™ we think it’s all about definitions, as in “What are those so eagerly seeking “good writers” really looking for?

Sparing no expense, we’ve scoured the globe for more info on this situation. Here’s what we think is the most interesting take, direct from…Mumbai:

film-tv-production-manager-job-in-mumbai-123962457-1402411456by Ritwika Gupta

MUMBAI: The heartbeat of any television programme lies in its story and content. Developing good content through various ideas and imagination is a significant priority for television channels and producers. Story-telling, as they say, is an art and the small screen is constantly looking for compelling scripts that tell stories which entertain, engage and enrich the audience. Over the past few years, the Indian television industry has been exploring new formats and series of programmes in order to give the viewers an excellent TV viewing experience.

Television director and creator of the unique chat show Satyamev Jayate, Satyajit Bhatkal says, “To be honest, we did not have any preconceived model for content creation or the kind of show we hoped to do. We made 6-7 documentaries on real life people and we realised that there was so much happening in the country. The common man faces so many problems and we needed to address these serious issues and give a 360 degree look to the matter.”

However, except for a few who are willing to take up the challenge of creating something new, many are still stuck with the tried and tested.  According to Bhatkal, television, today, is way too cautious.  He elaborates, “It is a challenge that we have to cater to people of various education levels and social backgrounds. However, I feel we are not willing to move to a different level of aesthetics.”

Director of many popular television series like Amanat, Kyunki Saans bhi kabhi bahu thi, and the current hit show Jodha Akbar, Santram Verma believes that there is a division amongst the audiences today as while some of the viewers want to watch fresh content, the older generation wants to stick to the same stories that were showcased years back. As a result, he feels that it is hard for the industry to evolve.

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JOHN OSTRANDER: BELIEF SUSPENDED

by John Ostrander

There’s the concept in fantastic literature known as the “willing suspension of disbelief” by which the reader/audience accepts fantastic elements in a story that are not found in reality, suspension-of-disbeliefsemi-believing them for the moment for the sake of the story. If the creator is invoking it, he or she must be careful not to jar that suspension of disbelief.

It’s an important concept for those of us who labor in the fields of SF, fantasy, horror, and comics. Two things I find crucial to make the concept work – an internal consistency within the story and a consistency within the continuity. By an internal consistency I mean that something that was given as true on page five remains true on page thirty. If the character knows something they can’t suddenly un-know it just for the convenience of the plot. Likewise, if something has been established as part of the continuity, you can’t just disregard it willy-nilly. It doesn’t mean that continuity can never change but there needs to be reasons that it changes unless you’re going to do what DC does and just throw the baby out with the bathwater and start continuity over.

Something else that confounds my suspension of disbelief is when something in the story just ignores reality. I went to Independence Day and I wasn’t expecting much, just a good mindless action film. Unfortunately, there was incident after incident of things that were just patently impossible that it threw me right out of the story. To wit: Air Force One is taking off despite explosions going on all around. In fact, one explosion almost engulfs it. It comes up the tail of the plane before the aircraft manages to speed away. Never mind that the shock waves would have torn the plane apart – it was a Cool Visual.

Take an episode of Doctor Who this past season, Robots of Sherwood. Aliens are escaping Sherwood Forest on a ship that uses gold to power its furnace. A little more gold will cause the power plant to overload and explode. With the help of the Doctor and his companion, Robin Hood shoots a golden arrow at the ship that causes the ship to go boom. Never mind that the arrow would have just hit the hull and never come near the power plant. Never mind that the weight of an arrow made of gold would cause it to fly about three feet.

It’s too bad, too; I actually really enjoyed the episode up until then.

I’m willing to suspend my disbelief; after all, I was raised Roman Catholic and you’re told by the Church to believe that a wafer of bread becomes the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ and that you are supposed to eat it. As a kid, I just accepted that. I’m open to all kinds of things.

Every time I open a book or enter a movie theater or turn on the TV, I’m willing to accept the premise as possible at least for the duration of the experience. It’s when I’m not allowed to stay in that moment because I’m jarred out of it by something stupid that violates the premises listed above that I actually get a bit pissy about it. My time has been wasted and I do not take that kindly.

My own rule of thumb is to always ground the fantasy in as much reality as I can. The more accurate and real the non-fantasy parts of the story feel, the more the reader can identify with it and the more likely it is that they will accept the fantasy elements. Earn your readers’ trust and they will follow you anywhere. I know I do.


John Ostrander is the creator-writer of the comic book character GRIMJACK and, yes, it’s true, one of LB’s favorite writers.

 

One Writer’s Diary for Television Pitch Season

That writer is Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, and her experience definitely has inspired the TVWriter™ minions. Read and learn, gang. Read and learn:

TV-PILOT1

Hatching a Pilot
by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen

You with your feet up, remote in one hand and beverage in the other, being all judge-y about this fall’s new network dramas and sitcoms. Just take a moment, will you, and think of us writers gutting ourselves trying to create them. Think of us lumbering from lot to Hollywood lot, fingernails in our teeth and oil in our bowels, pitching what we hope you’ll be criticizing next fall.

The Big Four — ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC — have recently wrapped two months of listening to about 350 series pitches each. (I know what you’re thinking: Someone out there has to sit through five or six television pitch meetings a day, and there is no Nobel Prize in that category.) Each broadcast network will buy up to 60 pitches. Hallelujah for those lucky pitchers, who will then write their scripts for the pilots. At year’s end, each network will pick a dozen or so to produce. Those pilots will shoot in the spring. Next May in New York, in the ad-buying extravaganza called the upfronts, the networks will announce the precious few that will become full series.

I am a journalist and author who stumbled into writing pilots. I had an idea for a drama, called “The Ordained,” about a former priest trying to stop an assassination. I pitched it to networks. None bought it, so I wrote a script on spec.

In 2012, the script sold to CBS, which produced it. This is unusual. As Deadline Hollywood noted, by way of saying pigs are flying, I had no TV credits and live in New Jersey.

Then the 2013 fall lineup was announced — and my pilot wasn’t on it. After I stopped rocking in a dark corner, I told my clarinetist husband that we should buy a house. New beginnings, I told him. Besides, now that I had one produced pilot, surely the deals would be rolling in. We bought the house. The following pitch season, I didn’t sell anything at all. We sold the house. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year.

Why would any would-be show creator suffer the agony of pitching to networks, when everyone knows cable is where it’s at these days? Because money (still way more than cable). Because audience (ditto). Because creating a hit show for broadcast television — maybe one that even the critics like — still makes you an American hero.

So here I am again. This is my diary of the 2014 network TV pitch season.

June 10 The very start of pitch season is like dating; producers need writers for their projects, and writers need ideas. Producers have ideas, but more important, they have rights: to books, to foreign TV series, to whole entire lives. This is not as awesome as it sounds. I can’t make the colossal mistake I did last fall of believing that projects originating with producers are inherently better, and that I will be able to sell them. They aren’t. And I didn’t.

And now I’m desperate for a sale. Last week, I spent 10 minutes in the cereal aisle, choosing between Kellogg’s and the nasty store brand. Let’s face it: My family’s primary source of income is a total crapshoot. And in a crapshoot, it’s better to fail with an idea of my own. For my dignity or whatever.

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