joe

The Flash and Fatherhood

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The Flash season finale aired over a week ago, so this might not seem like the timeliest of articles. In my defense, however, I’ve been thinking on this since the show aired. I even live-tweeted during the show, as I frequently do.

But I really needed to give the matter more thought, before expounding on it. Fatherhood’s always been an issue for me, and probably always will be. My own father left when I was about the age my son is now, and I rarely saw him after. My mother’s subsequent choices of mate were so poor so as to make him look like a God amongst men. For most of my formative years, I didn’t see a man get up in the morning, go to work and earn a living. Certainly, I didn’t have one to regularly play catch with or teach me how to shave (for more on my childhood, read this and this). Fatherhood is the primary source of marital dissent in the Crisler home. We don’t argue about most of the standard issues, like money or intimacy, but parenting gives us enough grist to make up for those other areas. I’m most definitely not a television dad, and most days, in the back of my head, I’m 100% confident that I never should have spawned. Love me or hate me for it, it’s how I feel. I regularly envy those folks who figure out they’re unsuited for parenting before it’s too late. Like most parents, I’d die for my kids in a second, but the harsh reality is that dying for them is much easier than living for them.

I have three children myself. My first, from a historical perspective if not in age, will be eleven this year, lives in Canada with my ex-wife and her new boo (who rapidly impregnated her after they met on an otaku forum), and I haven’t seen her in about four years. I can email and Skype, and have a couple times, but it’s a one-way street and I’m not one to ram myself into someone’s life. I’ve basically resigned myself to being a willing and open book whenever she’s ready to talk to me. I adopted my wife’s daughter shortly after we got together, and she is now in college and starting a family of her own. Finally, my wife and I have a son together, who’s seven. He’s a lot like me, and a lot like I was as a child. This is by turns a source of pride and exasperation. Incidentally, we watch The Flash together, without fail. I don’t watch it without him, and even at an impatient seven years old, he won’t watch it without me–if I have duty on a Tuesday night, or even if I fall asleep in the middle of an episode after a long day at work, which I’ve done once.

All of this gives me a certain perspective through which to view a show like The Flash, which to even a casual observer has fatherhood as a major theme.

Barry & Henry

There’s only so much to talk about here, because their relationship is obviously strained by Henry’s imprisonment. Henry’s unjust incarceration took Barry’s father away at a time when he truly needed him most. The loss of a parent is horrible, but under most circumstances, the child at least as their other parent to anchor them. It would be very easy for Barry and Henry both to feel emotionally disconnected from each other, but they don’t–Barry’s drive to clear his father’s name is a major plotpoint in the show, and during the finale, Henry’s primary argument hinges on how proud he is of the man his son has become, and how changing the timeline might make him a different person entirely.

This is obviously no way to raise a kid…

Barry & Joe

Which brings us to the relationship between our hero and his surrogate father. Henry’s not a fully-developed, fleshed-out character, per se, and it’s not really his fault–he’s in the hoosegow, after all. So we really don’t see much of him in who Barry is, other than circumstantially. Joe, on the other hand, is a more realized character. He has a relationship with people other than Barry, and he has a career and some backstory. His influence on Barry is undeniable, starting with his chosen civilian career as a police forensic scientist (shades of Dexter, here, between the adopted cop-father and forensics career angles. But I digress). Joe is just as proud of Barry as Henry (and having Joe in his life is one of the things that Barry realizes is something good that came out of his childhood tragedy), but where Henry teaches us that a father’s pride and love can be unconditional and extend past any boundary, Joe teaches us about a father’s influence on his child. We wouldn’t have the same Barry (or the same Flash) without Joe West.

JOE: Run, Iris! Go get help! Barry, are you looking at my daughter’s ass?

Barry & Wells/Thawne

Sometimes, your father can be a challenge, an adversary to beat. Tough to measure up to, but when you do, that’s how you know you’re a man. Of course, on the flipside is the duty a good father has to push and motivate his children. This is exactly how I perceive the relationship between Barry and Thawne. Eobard Thawne is, unarguably, the father of the Flash. He went back in time and built the particle accelerator to create the Flash when he found himself stranded after killing Barry’s mother. Most of the first season of the show has been about Thawne, as Wells, pushing Barry to discover and exceed the limits of his abilities (for his own villainous reasons of course) and about Barry’s physical and emotional struggle with not being as fast as the Reverse Flash.

“Why you little…!”

Cisco & Wells/Thawne

Their relationship is similar to that between Thawne and the Flash, but it’s different in a few subtle ways. Thawne grew to look as Cisco as a son over the course of the past few years, as they worked together at STAR. It didn’t have to happen (i.e., he didn’t have the primal connection he has to Barry, though he’s not related to him, either) but it did. There’s a mutual admiration, at least for the first half of the season, and even when Thawne kills him in the alternate timeline Barry undoes, he seems to have genuine feelings for Cisco. When they have another solid chunk of time together in the finale, it’s Cisco again who lets us see some actual humanity in Eobard–one-percent of something to relate to in a character we otherwise love to hate. If I’m going to impute a moral to their relationship like I have with the others, I’d say it’s that our children–and being a father–can bring out the best in us, sometimes even despite ourselves.

“Aw, Dr. Wells, have some heart–urk!”

 

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Knowing When to Hold ‘Em

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No, this isn’t a Kenny Rogers homage (I got that out of my system early in my career—and you can read it here, if that’s your sort of thing). I’ve been thinking of the relationship writers have with ideas, and the differing schools of thought. I read one author’s answer to how he kept track of ideas—I forget if it was King, or maybe Konrath—which was basically Write them down so you don’t lose them. But the ones I had to write down in order to remember usually ended up not being very good. The best stories grabbed ahold of me until I wrote them.

I’m paraphrasing, of course, but you get the idea. I can see the value in writing down ideas for later. I have a plain-text document with snippets of ideas going back 6-7 years. I have half-finished stories as old as that. I’ve gone back and reworked years-old partials into complete stories that were completely different from the original intent. I’ve also probably forgotten more ideas than I have recorded. Were most of them crap? Perhaps. Some of the recorded ones are crap. I also have a couple of ideas I’ve neither written nor recorded, but which have stuck in my head for years. I’ll write them one day. I know it.

My wife and I discuss my work sometimes. There are things she’d like to see me do, because she thinks the result will garner more attention and money for my art. I don’t think she’s wrong. A talk she and I had last month yielded what could possibly be a breakout mainstream novel for me. I’m stoked as Hell to get to work on it. Right now, though, it only exists as the merest of outlines in my head. That’s OK. I know I won’t forget it. And according to the guy I paraphrased earlier, that means it might be Real Frickin’ Good. And every so often, the missus asks me why I don’t write one of these Right Frickin’ Nao.

I’m not in a rush to write it, though. Doesn’t that sound strange as all get-out? I have a theory of my own that I’m following. I don’t think I’ve seen it championed elsewhere, though I’m not arrogant enough to believe I’ve actually Stumbled Across Something No One’s Ever Thought of Before. I’m going to hold off on writing that novel, and a couple of others I have in mind, until I’m even better at my craft than I am now.

Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t been trying to sell you anything that I didn’t feel was solid, entertaining work. If you can buy it, I think it’s worth your time. But I am still growing as an author. When I started writing for publication, 1500 words was my norm and 20K seemed like an epic. As I’ve grown, my stories have naturally grown in length—novellas come naturally to me now. I’m getting to the point where I can comfortably crank out a novel. I have a finished novella right now that both of my pre-readers say needs to be a novel, so I’m laying it aside and going back to it after I finish some contracted work.

Stephen King wrote several novels before selling Carrie—sold them eventually, under the name Richard Bachman, but they got a bunch of rejections when he first tried to move them. I’m sure he revised them prior to re-pitching, taking advantage of the experience he gained writing The Shining, ‘Salem’s Lot, etc. Joe Konrath wrote ten (give or take a couple) novels before he landed a contract for the Jack Daniels novels. My buddy John Everson just released his sixth novel, which has been in the works for something like a decade.

I don’t think I’ll end up scrapping five novels before writing a salable one. I’m too tenacious and willing to hack and revise for that to happen. I do seem to have a good instinct for when to bail on a sinking ship and just toss a piece into the Recycle Bin. But a few of these ideas, like the one my wife put in my head—I don’t want to still have my training wheels on when I knock them out, you know? So I’ll be holding on to them. Maybe for a year or two. Maybe longer.

If it’s any consolation, I’m itching to write them a thousand times more than you are to read them.

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May Reviews

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Zombie Bitches From Hell by Zoot Campbell takes an atypical, if not completely new, take on the zombie apocalypse—only women become zombies, and they’re vulnerable via the ovaries instead of the brains—and stirs in the usual survival-fight plotlines, resulting in a decent afternoon-killer of a novel. It’s confusing at times—at one point in the story, a little girl becomes part of the survival party without any mention of the rest of her family or why she was brought along, and Campbell doesn’t make full use of his characters; at least once, the aformentioned little girl isn’t even mentioned in a major scene, and later, she’s used in a manner that would have had far more impact had she been better developed. I’d never unleash a novel on the world in this state, but it does get points for not being so bad I had to put it down unfinished.

Hero by Wrath James White and J.F. Gonzalez throws an elderly black civil rights activist into the direct path of a mixed-race hospice nurse with a psychopathic hatred of African Americans. Those familiar with White and Gonzalez will probably expect a bit more graphic nastiness than Hero provides. It’s still plenty disturbing, however—reminiscent of Stephen King’s Misery, though antagonist Natsinet is anything but activist Adelle’s Number One Fan. While not as over-the-top as other works by these authors, this seamless collaboration packs in enough torture, dismemberment and murder to satisfy any discerning appetite.

While I find the novella to be Brian Keene‘s least fulfilling storytelling medium (I eagerly anticipate his every novel and have enjoyed every short story and comic he’s written, though), The Cage feels most like a complete story of the ones I’ve read. A lunatic gunman walks into an electronics store at closing time, wastes two of its eight employees, and locks the other six up in the back room. He retrieves them one at a time, leaving the rest to wonder what’s going on at the front of the store—until it’s their turn, of course. Cage is part of Keene’s Labyrinth mythos, though I’m not going to spoil it by mentioning which of the Thirteen the story involves. As with every Keene novella I’ve read, it left me wanting more (which I guess is more of a compliment than a complaint), but at least it read like a complete story, while a couple others I’ve read seem more like part one of a novel that would be seriously badass if finished.

Genital Grinder by Ryan Harding is a collection of eight stories most would consider “torture-porn.” Prefaced with an introduction by veteran splatter author Edward Lee, Grinder is by no means in the same category as the thought-provoking but sadistic works horror fans have read by Wrath James White, Jesus Gonzalez, Richard Laymon and the like. For the most part, this collection is gross for the sake of being gross—and if you expect anything different from a book called Genital Grinder, I say the blame lies with you rather than the author. A notable deviation from this theme is the final story, First Indications, which I honestly didn’t quite grasp. The rest of the book did exactly what I was hoping it would when I cracked into it, though—it entertained me for a few hours and made me damn queasy in the process. I particularly enjoyed the references the stories made to events taking place in preceding stories, and the recurring characters Von and Greg who appeared in several pieces. If I had to pick out one standout piece, it’d be Development, which actually did have a storyline and possibly the least gratutious gore of the whole book.

Quarantined by Joe McKinney follows Detective Lily Harris and her partner, Chunk, as they investigate a mysterious death inside the walls of superflu-contaminated, quarantined, San Antonio. When the detectives uncover the secrets behind the murder, the novel turns into not only a police procedural but also a survival-escape story. In many ways, Quarantined reads like a protoype for McKinney’s Dead World zombie novels (walled-off southern Texas city, disaster outbreak, police protagonists), but this standalone novel takes place in a different world and doesn’t feature any supernatural elements at all—it’s conspiracy-driven, rather than a fight for survival against a physical threat. As usual, McKinney offers a compelling story drawn heavily from his experiences as a San Antonio homicide detective and disaster response specialist.

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April Reviews!

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I purchased Ganymede by Cherie Priest at my local bookstore the day before my flight to World Horror and devoured it between the flights there and back. It’s the fourth of her Clockwork Century steampunk books, set in an alternate 1890s America where the Civil War is still raging. I was slightly apprehensive at first after having to set aside Dreadnought (the third book) a third of the way through because it didn’t hold my interest. At this point, I’m invested in the series, though—I’ll be taking another stab at Dreadnought soon enough, I’m sure, and will probably find something to like. I’d been looking forward to Boneshaker, the first novel, for nearly a year before it’s release, and Clementine, the Subterranean Press-released novella, was nearly as good.

I found Ganymede, which revisits Boneshaker’s pirate Andan Cly as he undertakes one last illegal operation in order to finance his retirement, to deliver on the promise of Boneshaker better than any other book in the series to date. For those eager to meet another of Priest’s plucky heroines, we have Josephine Early, a mulatto cathouse owner and one of Cly’s former lovers. For readers looking forward to revisiting old friends, Briar, Zeke, Mercy and Swakhammer all make appearances. If you’ve never read a Clockwork Century book yet, you can certainly jump in with Ganymede (these novels are all self-contained, though they do build on each other), though I’d recommend at least reading Boneshaker first.

Red Empire and Other Stories by Joe McKinney collects his previously released novella Red Empire and seven short stories, some written specifically for this collection. McKinney fans know him best for his zombie stories (he took home a Stoker this year for Flesh Eaters, his third Dead World novel), but there’s not a zombie in sight here, but for one story. Like most of McKinney’s work, many of these stories take place in Texas and feature police. The novella in particular reminded me of the mid-90s-era Dean Koontz novels I enjoyed before I figured out they all followed the same formula—but with the possible romance between the male and female leads left to happen after the story, rather than bogging down the action. A solid collection, and a must for any McKinney fan.

Rust and Blood by Ed Kurtz collects nine short stories, many brand-new with a few reprints. Kurtz has a great writing style, and even the stories that failed to suspend disbelief for me held my attention all the way through. I ripped through the collection in a couple of hours. The premises behind ‘Hungry’ and ‘Pearls’ were a bit farfetched, but both were fun–‘Pearls’ in particular was an uncomfortable read for a guy who had a nickel-sized, inch-deep chunk of necrotized flesh carved from his thigh a couple years back. ‘Sinners’ and ‘Roadbeds’ were confusing, to be completely honest, but the rest of the book is packed with solid, old-school horror–‘Family Bible’ in particular was a great read.

Faint of Heart by Jeff Strand is a self-published novella featuring Rebecca, a young wife who is kidnapped from her home the night after her husband, Gary, goes off on a hunting trip with a couple of buddies. Her kidnapper and his accomplice force her to relive everything Gary did the day before—or else. Strand is great at making a reader care about his characters in a short amount of time, and screwed with my expectations expertly. I also appreciate his economical, to the point style. Faint was a quick, exciting read that I blew through in one sitting.

The first two Sam Truman Mysteries novellas—Catch My Killer! by Ed Kurtz (released this month) and The Last Invasion by Brandon Zuern (coming in May) are the first in a new ongoing series of pulp novellas from Abattoir, an imprint of Kurtz’ Redrum Horror. Abattoir plans to release a new digital novella every six weeks, with print omnibus editions collecting every four or so. If I had to compare the Sam Truman series to anything else I’ve read, it’d be Shroud’s Hiram Grange series, in that both feature down-on-his-luck investigators-for-hire who solve paranormal mysteries. Killer! introduces Sam Truman, an involuntarily-retired private investigator who doesn’t have a pot to piss in. He intercedes in an attempted robbery at a diner by blowing away the perpetrator, only to be later visited (and hired) by the ghost of a murder victim housed in the robber’s corpse. In Invasion, Sam is hired by the family of a missing girl, and uncovers much more than a simple kidnapping or disappearance. Kurtz was born to write noir pulps; Killer! flows effortlessly and is grounded firmly in the series’ 1960s setting. Invasion is Zuern’s first published work, but hopefully not his last.

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