Monday, May 27, 2013

Cancer vs. Writing

In Stephen King’s book On Writing he has a postscript called “On Living”—about his nearly fatal accident that happened in 1999. He was struck by a van and ended up spending many months (perhaps longer) recuperating and learning to walk again. From what I recall during this time he pretty much announced his retirement. While he was recovering he didn’t have the drive or desire to resume his work as a writer.
In 2007 while attending the Maui Writer’s Conference I got to hear first hand from author Ann Hood about the tragic death of her young daughter to strep throat—and how for years after that she couldn’t write (and she wanted to, it just wouldn’t come).
To a lesser extent, this is where my writing is at this week: stalled, reprioritized, put on a back shelf, waiting to heal.
I’m in the midst of my fight with cancer. A little over two weeks ago I had a cancerous tumor removed from my neck along with some additional suspect tissue. Since then I’ve been in the hospital and at home sleeping, recovering, waiting. There is the possibility I’ll be having radiation treatment, TBD late June.
Before going into my surgery I told my friend Chuck that the moment I most dreaded was the moment when I woke up—but also added this was the moment I most looked forward to. To not wake up after the surgery would be bad. Fortunately I did wake up. But not knowing exactly what to expect when I woke up from my operation—that bothered me.
So after my five hour surgery when the initial drugs wore off in the intensive care unit and I came to with more hoses and lines going in and out of me than the Batman character Bane, the first thing I tried to do to communicate was to write.
Granted, I had a tube down my throat, and was restrained, but each time I was able to I grabbed hold of the nearest nurse or family member’s hand, I’d open their palm, and using my index finger I’d start to scrawl out letters.
“Your tongue is swollen? We know that.”
“Choking? No. You’re not choking. That’s the breathing tube.”
They had to keep sedating me. Each time I woke up I was agitated—and I’d start spelling out my condition, my worst fears, falling back on my writing in the only way I could.
During my surgery a metal, spoon-like object was used to crush my tongue flat to keep it out of the way. It is still painful and swollen and not much good for talking yet. After having some of my many tubes and restraints removed I still had to resort to writing in a notebook or on a little white board to get my ideas across. I found out in short order this was much better than any of my attempts at charades—take it from me, you do not want me on your charades team.
Looking at these notebooks what I had to say those first days after surgery wasn’t very deep:
“I need to pee.”
“Sitting up is a big deal.”
“Is the fishing opener tomorrow?”
“Happy Mother’s Day.”
“Do I need the leg massager things hooked up so I don’t get a blood clot?”
“What is the first pain med you gave to me?”
But I was still turning to my default as a way to communicate: writing.
Me, with new neck scar and start of a beard. Radiologist told me
if I have radiation I might lose part of my beard. Worse things could happen.
But since getting out of the hospital, coming home, I haven’t thought much about my writing, especially working on my fictional stories that I’ve spent so much time on (literally hundreds of hours) over the years. But on days when taking a good breath and being able to drink soup without choking were priorities, what is going on with my made up characters in my made up world(s) doesn’t seem to matter much in the scope of the here and now.
For now, this is my goal: To heal and get my real-world life back under some semblance of normalcy. To have a day without pain and pain meds, to be able to talk so that someone can understand me. To have a tongue that can once again knot a cherry stem. Once I get these basics back down I can only believe that I will get back to imagining, dreaming, finding out what my characters are up to, putting down fresh fictional words on paper.
Years after Stephen King’s injuries he went back to writing and has published several new books since “On Writing” came out. Ann Hood eventually wrote her memoir: Comfort: A Journey Through Grief that helped her deal with her daughter’s passing. If these successful authors can get through these major issues and find writing and creativity again, so can I.
I have no doubt my desire to write something creative will return, and I suspect sooner rather than later. But like my body, I’m giving my spirit and my “creative bones” time to mend. And when I finally feel inspired to write again I’ll have lots of new material to use. I do keep thinking of my character in my novel Blackheart, Clayton Jaeger—who is a cancer survivor. I have no doubt when I revisit Clay’s chapters I’ll have some new perspective to give to his character and experiences.
For my writer friends out there—wishing you health and peace for you and your writing muses.

~ Mark Teats

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Recommendations: Hawkeye and Avengers Arena

Last week, my fellow Scribblerati Agent Shawn posted a few suggestions for your reading enjoyment. One was for the comic book Hawkeye written by Matt Fraction and drawn by David Aja, it's a recommendation that I heartily agree with. In fact, it was the forgotten 14th book in a blog of my own: 13 comics in '13. Shawn talked about it a little bit, so I'll be brief.

Hawkeye is a great book.

It's funny and smart with some fantastic art. It manages to easily walk the line between portraying the serious danger permeating the life of an off-duty Avenger and reveling in the misadventures of a man who is part good-hearted hero and part screw-up.

Now, I'm not one to rail against mainstream superhero books. I don't see the point. I'm not a fan of some of the more annoying and long ingrained tropes, but I still understand that the industry is what the industry is. I mean, you should know what you're buying before you buy it. If you don't like certain things, do like me and don't support them with your money... simple enough. But at the same time, I love books like this, books that stretch and explore and try new things. Simply put, there should be more books like this on the shelf. Books with substance and wit, y'know? Granted, Hawkeye is a character that may not sound like an interesting read at first glance, but it is absolutely a book you should be picking up. It deserves the support.

Here's some samples to give you a taste:

This is hands-down a great book. I love it. Well written. Fantastic art. Excellent pacing and balance of tone. Lots of fun. Definitely worth a buy.

Next up is a comic that I wasn't expecting to like. 

Avengers Arena

I mentioned it in the 13 comics in '13 blog, as well. For the click-lazy, the story goes like this: There's this old X-men bad guy called Arcade. He's a little red-headed twerp in a white suit and bow-tie who specializes in creating these elaborate and nightmarish theme parks he calls Murderworlds that are designed to kill superheroes. He then lures the X-men or the Avengers into the middle of one of these ridiculously stupid, Rube Goldbergian death-traps, all while cackling wildly. 

Unfortunately for him, he's a big failure. None of his intended victims have ever had any trouble at all busting out of one of his stupid traps, let alone actually come close to dying in one. Never once. Not once. He usually just ends up getting the unholy crap somewhat deservedly kicked out of him. The guy is D-list all the way. A total nothing villain. A joke.


Or at least he was...

Because Arcade is back and he's done some work on himself while he was away. He has upgraded his tech and changed the rules of his game. Now, within his new Murderworld, he is all-powerful.

His first target: Teen Superheroes.

"Wait a minute," I hear you saying... "You just go on and hold on there a minute, Jon, you're not talking to some rube here, you are talking to someone who has devoured the latest and greatest new hotness in "literature" these days and I gotta tell ya', this stuff here sounds like nothing more than a Hunger Games rip-off." And you'd be right, Senor English Lit Major... kind of (except for the fact that it's more of a Battle Royale rip-off and so is Hunger Games, both of which owe a huge debt to Lord of the Flies... ahem... but I digress), but the kicker is: The creators are also aware of the similarities. I mean: Duh. Come on. Here's some sample covers...

So they know. It's not a big thing. Anyway, I haven't read anything else by Dennis Hopeless and I'm pretty sure I haven't seen any of Kev Walker's work before either, but let me tell you, they're killing it. Walker's work is expressive and fluid with strong, dark lines, not overly concerned with muscle poses or relying heavily on sexy. I really like it, especially for this book. But the real sell is Hopeless's writing. I mean, really, the key to pulling off a book like this, using a topic like this, featuring a villain who has never been a threat, is to make it all matter. You have to make it dangerous. In a nutshell, Murderworld has to kill the hell out of some characters. 

And it does...





The best part is that all of the characters trapped within this new Murderworld are heroes or heroes-in-training and as the story progresses, slowly but surely, Arcade is forcing them to play his game. Blood has been spilled. There's twists and danger on every page. 

And it doesn't take long to realize that no one is safe. 

Which is surprising because some of the cast has appeared in other books before. There's members of the Runaways and the Avengers Academy present, among others, so you kind of expect them to be safe... but believe me, they are not. 

Along with these established characters, there are some brand new ones too, not that you can tell when reading--a testament to the writing. Each new issue focuses on a different cast member, it introduces them, it lets you get to know them, it makes them a real character with actual motivations... and then...sometimes, it kills them off, often shockingly. Arcade's game isn't over until there's only one hero left and at this point, I'm not entirely unsure that is what will actually end up happening. That's brilliant. Do you know how many Big Two comics there are out there where a character could actually die in a non-Event book? And have it matter? 


Now, some people out there will complain about this. Comic fans are notoriously resistant to any kind of change in the status quo at all, while often at the same time bitching about the lack of tension in stories... it's a difficult crowd to please to say the least. I don't get it. To me, the danger is what makes it thrilling. Sad, of course, because due to the strong writing you end up liking a lot of these characters, flaws and all, but it's a thrilling read nonetheless.

And that's why Avengers Arena is highly recommended.

Read on,

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Something to Read?

Hey ho, Scribblerati Faithful!

I am pumped! Why? Because spring is here!


I just don’t know. And you know what I mean, right? The weather has just been atrocious. God awful. Horrific.

Now, I have allergies, so I kind of have to live somewhere where everything is dead for several months at a time, and over the years I’ve gotten pretty good about rationalizing the cold, but I’m done. DUN!

So let’s talk about spring, and summer, and sitting on your deck with a cold, sweaty beer, or a sparkling glass of your favorite rosé, AND READING.

Here’s a few ideas for ya.

Gone Girl
Gillian Flynn

Folks, this book is WAY outside my comfort zone. I'm mostly a hard-core sci-fi/fantasy guy, but I read this at the behest of my editor. At first I was like, nuh-uh, but then I decided, why not stretch my wings a little? And besides, it’s hard to read sci-fi/fantasy while you’re writing it.

So I read it, and… this book is the bomb.

For those who don’t know, Gone Girl is about a man and a woman who fall in and out of love. Simple story, right? Not in this case. These people are crazy. CRAAAAZY! It’s an, “I think you need to be on medication,” kind of crazy. Seriously. What they do to one another is just terrible.

But it’s the way the story is told that makes it so great. I don’t want to give anything away, so I won’t say much more than you will love and hate each character in equal measures. You will laugh. You’ll be horrified. And at the end of it all, if you’re like me, you’ll sit there and go, “Huh. That was frakked up.”

And then you’ll try to decide when you’re going to get around to reading it again.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Ben Fountain

This is another Editor Recommendation.

ALWAYS read those when you get them.

Here’s the story. Billy and his squad are war heroes and they are back from Iraq for two weeks. The book is told entirely within those two weeks, more or less, and you are in Billy’s had the entire time.

The thing that was so fascinating for me about this book is that you are in Billy’s head for the entire time. I know I already said that, but it’s totally worth repeating. You really are in his head. Like, ALL THE TIME. Every minute. Every thought. Everything from the minutia to the profound. Sometimes your heart breaks. Sometimes you laugh so hard that those nearby at the bar turn and look (true story).

There’s this one part, where he and his squad are at the Dallas Cowboys Stadium and they are meeting the Dallas cowboy cheerleaders, where Billy goes on for most of a page about their breasts. It’s so nineteen-year-old guy real, and so crazy hilarious. It brought tears to my eyes.

But trust me, there’s more here than just hormones and boobs. The story has heart, and you will love it.

Matt Fraction and David Aja

Okay, lest you were worried that I’ve completely lost my geek cred, we’re switching to comics.

I read a bunch of these. Too many, probably. But we likes them, and this is one of my favorites.

I honestly didn’t think I would like this comic because the author, Matt Fraction, isn’t my favorite. But Fraction has nailed Hawkeye, and the artist, David Aja, is exceptionally talented. I don’t know which of them does the paneling/layout, but it’s top-notch. No herky-jerky pacing here, everything is well thought out, making you laugh in one panel and cringe in another.

Of course, every good story is about character, and in this comic Fraction has nailed Hawkeye’s character. Sure, there’s the requisite beat them up / bad guy story arcs, but the heart of this comic is Hawkeye himself. He’s a lovable, good-natured screwup whose mistakes are mostly balanced by his good intentions.

And then there’s the women. They love him, and he can’t stop loving them back, regardless of who it is, or which relationship he’s currently in. Hilarity ensues.

It’s loads of fun. Buy it, take it to the park, and be proud. “Yes, we read comics, and we likes them!”