Words to Live By – Love in the Time of COVID

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The first Wednesday of every month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.

Love in the Time of COVID

It goes without saying, few people living on the planet today have experienced any year quite like 2020. It’s almost a numerical thing, isn’t it? Or maybe just a numerological thing. Like we could see it coming a mile away, 2020, the year of perfect vision. Or of perfect integration of all the things we used to blindly ignore.

There’s a hell of a lot of old neurotic dead weight coming to the surface, both for individuals and for us as a collective. It brings to mind the basic processes involved in psychotherapy. Very often, the goal is to dredge up, edify, and to therefore let go of past hurts. Then we can move forward, better than before, ready to face the world again as new people. At least that’s the idea.

Is it possible that’s all this is? A chance by the cosmic forces that be to enlighten us through just a pinch, just a little skosh of what feels like outright torture? Have you been trapped in your house for three months straight? Were you used to being so homebound? Used to spending excessive amounts of time with the people you love? It strains the credulity of the value of being social creatures, doesn’t it? This is love in overdrive, folks. The rubber hits the road right about now.

Some people think love is a chosen thing, but I learned better long ago. Love is something given to you. You can’t help who you love. I’m not a father and I have no other dependents. I’ve been holed up with my wife, just the two of us, and it’s pushed us around here and there. I don’t mind admitting there’s been a few harmless spats, because I’m sure you can relate. It doesn’t mean there hasn’t been plenty of moments of fun and warmth between the pair of us. We’ve been watching old movies and chatting all day like we used to when we first started dating. That’s been wonderful. I’ve learned more about who my wife is now than I ever bothered to find out in the entirety of last year. People are constantly changing, and one of the secrets of a successful long-term relationship is to allow each other to grow up. Just a little bit. No one wants actual adults floating about. Heaven forbid.

We’re all such busy little bees, buzzing around, accomplish this task, fulfill this obligation, run this or that errand, put out this fire and then drag our attention to the next. When was the last time any of us had to sit down and face-to-face acknowledge all the people in our lives? In today’s modern society, not very often, not like this. Maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about. Or perhaps you know too well.

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My wife and I have chosen productivity over boredom. I mean, for crying out loud, how many times can you watch all the Star Wars movies on Disney Plus? For starters, I’ve been working on final edits for my latest novel, so that’s kept me busy. She had this idea for a radio-style animated YouTube show featuring angels, demons, and a fictionalized fantasy world, and for my contribution to her concept, I wanted to play with my old monkey.

Sorry, I should qualify that. Years ago, I wrote a short story I liked very much about a detective robot and his hyper-intelligent gorilla companion. The robot was fun, but Gorilla Todd, as he’s known, is one of my all-time favorite personal creations. So he’s going to be a main character on this show, and I’ll also be writing some companion novels about him, ‘cause Hey, Mack, a gorilla’s gotta eat.

That’s the plan. My wife is the artist and craftsperson, so she’s been drawing up maps and concept images, while I’ve been plotting scripts and outlining in my head where I’d like to take some of these stories. It’s been fun being collaborative with her. Though we’ve been married ten years, and we’ve done and seen everything together, we’ve never actually been creative as a team before. It’s an opportunity we might have otherwise missed. So that’s a blessing right there. Love in the time of COVID, you know what I mean?

But doesn’t that just make me a busy little bee again? Am I avoiding the chaos that seems to be raging in all parts of the globe by choosing a large creative project that will likely take the two of us months to gain any ground on? Quite possibly. Love, you see, needs breathing room. It’s just like fire. Suck all the oxygen out of the room, and the damn thing goes out.

And I’m aware, of course, that there are many people right now who don’t have anyone. I’m aware, for instance, that lots of relationships are currently taking a nosedive. Situations you should’ve ended long ago are ending very abruptly, and then you’ve got no one to synchronize surgical masks with when you’re out buying dog food and driving past your favorite movie theater, staring with jealous resignation at its pristine, empty parking lot.

Be careful with your love right now, folks. That’s the message I hope to impart with this post. Protect it fiercely. And if you are the creative type, head in the direction of new horizons for you and your art. Trust me, a nice afternoon of writing after being glued to the news all morning can be a wonderful salve. And, ehem, let’s not forget to use our bodies. Love can help out there, too. I don’t need to go into detail. Suffice it to say, if you are locked away with your partner, neither of you needs to starve for affection.

Yes, you might be saying, but what about unrequited love or love that’s gone cold? What if you’re in a situation right now that’s broken your heart and made you feel small? I’ve been there, man. We all have. Certainly, you can find a trusted friend to whom you can divulge all your longing and pain. See what I mean about love not being something we should take for granted? It’s everything, permeates all walks of life, yet it can up and vanish on you like a flash storm.

The truth is creativity and love go hand in hand. Just like you couldn’t help falling for your one true immortal beloved, you can’t help falling for a creative project that excites and motivates you. That’s the ticket, quantifiably so. We’ve got to love something if it has any chance of growing up big and strong. Works for people, books, paintings, songs. Works for everything we do and make and choose to be in this life.

Like I said, I have no children, but if I did, I imagine I’d be having an extra challenging time right now. It’s no wonder so many people are ill-tempered, lashing out. Society has been thrashing around on issues of race and inequality, civil rights, gun rights, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of this, freedom of that, and we’ve been doing it for hundreds of years, so don’t get it twisted. What you’re seeing on the news is by no means some spring chicken phenomenon. It’s led many to pontificate, where’s the love? We’ve come to 2020, that year of perfect vision, and we are being asked to finally open our eyes and see.

To actually see. What a priceless and burdensome gift.

All you need is love, as John Lennon once sang. Don’t forget to kiss the ones who matter most, let them know how you really feel, because none of us is guaranteed one more tomorrow. We tend to neglect this very basic fact. We neglect a lot of things. But the truth is, we’re all in this together, and if you think you know what the future will be, better buckle up, brothers and sister, because the ride gets even bumpier from here.

I’ll have more words to live by next month, folks. Until then, how about a song?


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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DC Comics vs. Marvel – Rivalry and Inspiration

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Rivalry and Inspiration

by Jeff Bowles

Marvel and DC Comics have been crosspollinating, competing, and succeeding together for decades. What began as an off-brand creation for DC, the birth of superheroes as we know them, eventually spawned a mega-industry convolving print media, film and television, video games, toys, corporate sponsorship, underoos, you name it. Together, the two powerhouse entertainment companies, along with their parent ownership (let’s not forget Warner Bros. and Disney), are responsible for billions of dollars of revenue and international commerce every single year. You see their most popular characters everywhere you go, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America.

So is it a wonder, then, that when asked to tell the difference between the two comic book universes, most people honestly can’t decipher what makes DC and Marvel unique. The truth is, that crosspollination factor is very much at play. Read a batch of comics from each company week-to-week and you’re likely to find tonal and stylistic identicality. It’s a bit of a brand new urban entertainment legend that DC is always dark and Marvel is always light. Not the case at all. In fact, the two competing companies more or less share the same pool of creative talent, so it’s only natural they do the flip-flop thing often.

But there are differences, right? I mean, there must be. Why, for instance, do so many DC characters wear capes? And why does Marvel tend to have a long tradition of Cold-War-era nuclear-radiation-themed heroes and villains? All of it, really, boils down to the eras in which the two pantheons germinated and hit their stride.

Marvel vs. DC

You see, DC Comics more or less invented the superhero with the publication of Action Comics #1. This was the first appearance of Superman, who was just different enough from other square-jawed comic protagonists of the time to birth an industry unto itself. Most of DC’s core character lineup can be traced to the year 1938, and to the decade or two that followed. Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Doctor Fate, The Spectre, Captain Marvel (now known as Shazam), all created by or incorporated into the DC Universe in what fans refer to as the Golden Age of comic books. And before you ask, yes, there is a silver age, which is when a company first known as Timely rebranded itself with a new outlook and a new creative modus operandi.

In 1961, the freshly minted Marvel Comics introduced The Fantastic Four, the success of which spawned more creations, like Thor, The Hulk, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and The Avengers. The impetus of the changes Marvel instituted came as a direct result of actions taken by—surprise, surprise—DC Comics. When DC revamped their aging golden-age superhero line in the late 1950s, Timely and then Marvel felt the need to pump up the bandwidth, as it were.

Here lies the crux of the matter: whereas most of DC’s heroes and villains had roots in mythology, noir, world war, and light science fiction, areas of entertainment particularly appealing to Americans in the 1940s and 1950s, Marvel took a much more grounded approach, one rooted in the realities of the Cold War circa 1961.

DC was a bit gun-shy about placing their heroes in the real world. They’d been punished for doing so before, by the federal government, no less, with the introduction of the Comic Code Authority. In their universe, the Cold War barely existed, or in the very least, it was handled with kid gloves. But for Marvel, it was essential as an ingredient for a new type of superhero pantheon that exploited a changed American mindset. The difference became even more crucial as the 60s progressed and social issues and politics came to the forefront.

Fantastic Four #1

The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Uncanny X-Men, Daredevil, All of these Marvel characters have roots in the post-nuclear age. Most of them were straight-up irradiated in order to receive their powers. The funny thing is, DC was so overwhelmed by Marvel’s real-world approach on both creative and financial fronts that they were forced to fight dirty and head straight into the storm. This is when Green Arrow’s sidekick became a heroin addict, Batman at last became the grim avenger we all know him as today, and even Superman had questions about authority.

As I said, crosspollination. It’s doubtful the two companies would exist in the forms we recognize today if not for the contributions and competition of the other, and I think the creators and staff at both Marvel and DC would be amongst the first to admit it.

As the years went on, of course, rampant similarity became the norm. Each company has its own distinct history, has made differing business decisions, big-tent pole story events like the Infinity Saga at Marvel or Crises on Infinite Earths at DC, but in the end, the real differences come down to when and where each set of core characters were birthed.

Being much older, DC has felt the need to “reboot” their characters and settings multiple times, which often leads to confusion amongst non-fans, particularly when it comes to origin stories, which can vary widely from one character iteration to another. Even big players like Superman and Wonder Woman have been imagined in so many different ways it’d make your head spin. Marvel has toyed around with this as well, though to a much lighter extent. The truth is, when you’re playing with DC, you never really know which version of any given hero or villain you’re going to get. The distinction is even more evident in light of contributions from Hollywood, which I’ll touch on next.

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Avengers: Endgame

As most people on the planet are aware, Marvel is by far the most popular of the two companies in the year 2020. It has nothing, or almost nothing, to do with the comics anymore. Superheroes and supervillains have gone mainstream in a huge way, and Marvel reigns supreme at the box office. However, DC tends to have them beat on television. The CW, for instance, has an entire mini DC Universe with shows like The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, Arrow, and new entries Batwoman and Stargirl. The Arrowverse, as it’s known, is not as good as some halfway decent mega-budget Hollywood movies, but hey, it works for most fans.

DC also has Marvel beat on the animation front. Marvel doesn’t really bother with this in a serious way, but DC has a long tradition of cartoon versions of their classic stories. They’re also less of a slouch in things like video games, or last they have been historically. Marvel launched a pretty massive Spider-Man game in 2018, and they’re following it up this year with an impressive looking stab at their flagship series, The Avengers. Coming to a home console near you this Fall, kids. Conglomerate synergy at its finest.

Well, that just about wraps it up for Superhero/Supervillain month here on Writing to Be Read. We hope you’ve enjoyed our comic themed articles all month long. Check back in the archives if you’d like to read more. Maybe we’ll do it again next year. 😊

I’d also like to say that no matter which team you prefer, Marvel and DC always have and always will do their level best to entertain the hell out of you. Both companies come from humble roots, and there have been times throughout the years money seemed more important to them than fans, but they usually come around to the right way of thinking. The gift of entertainment, it’s a high calling in my book. So much of what gives my life meaning as a writer is my ability to wow, shock, and please, and I owe a good portion of that ability to the likes of Marvel and DC. Thanks for reading, guys. See you on the flip.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – The Revision Process

The third Wednesday of each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.

The Revision Process

So I’m in the middle of a fairly lengthy revision process for my latest novel, and it brings to mind a piece of advice a mentor once gave me. When I began writing short stories, I joined an online critique forum that in retrospect helped shape me in some crucial ways. It was a pretty tough, competitive space when it came down to it, and the other writers there didn’t mind (lovingly) tearing stories to shreds if it meant giving enough feedback to fix what wasn’t working.

There was a guy there called Gary, older than most everyone else who frequented the group, and I tended to see him as an authority, a friend, and a bit of a task master. Gary was fond of quick little rules and guidelines, notepad-like pieces of wisdom that could really set a young writer up for growth.

“Expect the revision process for any given story to last two to three times longer than it took to write in the first place.”

In other words, by Gary’s estimation, if you were to write a quick story in an afternoon, you’d expect to spend an additional two to three afternoons revising and sharpening it to an appropriate level. I’m sure I don’t have to explain to you how in-depth the revision process can be. Sometimes it’s pretty easy-going, but for the most part, if you’re not doing some cutting here, expansion there, general tightening of language on all levels, and if you’re not willing to kill your darlings, as the saying goes, odds are you may be doing it wrong.

So what if we’ve written a whole book? Does Gary’s piece of advice still hold up? In my experience, it does. Due to sudden and unforeseen circumstances in my life, my novel took about a year to write. So does that mean it’ll take me two to three years to finish it? Not precisely. I worked on it for a year, but in fact, I only wrote about 300 words a day for a grand total of maybe fifteen hours of actual writing per month. Fifteen hours times twelve months equals 180 hours, and 180 times two is 360. Bare minimum, that is the equivalent of fifteen full twenty-four hour days of revision. Maybe more like a month and a half if I plan on sleeping, eating, or ever seeing my wife ever again.

Now remember, that’s only the initial revision cycle. More work will likely need to be done in order to bring that book up to production quality. Realistically, once you add in the services of an actual editor, you’re looking at several additional weeks or months of back and forth nitpickery. It’s the nitpicks that save us, by the way. Make sure you get plenty of them at breakfast time. They’re like daily bowls of Wheaties. Nitpicks make writer big and strong!

Big and strong writer (due to nitpickery)

It’s part of the overall level of dedication it takes to turn out a good piece of writing, right? And we all expect to have to work a little more after we’ve initially told a story, or at least we should. I’m not big on hard and fast rules. Really, I’m not. I think “rules” in writing can and should be broken now and then. Generally speaking, these kinds of prescriptions are for writers, not for readers. Inside baseball, not meant for actual spectators, you know what I mean?

Even so, there are some commonalities to this process I believe every writer can and should keep an eye on. First of all, get comfortable removing chunks of flesh from your manuscript. Just straight-up cutting large sections that may have had stuff in it you liked. Also, get comfortable rewriting everything you just took out. Only better. Hopefully. If parts of your story slow the narrative down, add unusual or unnecessary complications, or otherwise just don’t fit in with what you’re trying to achieve, that stuff’s dead weight, detritus. It’s got to go. Gird your loins, fellow word-wielder. Things are about to get messy at the slaughterhouse.

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A good piece of meat isn’t born precooked, and neither is a good book. You can always resurrect some of that cut material and insert it elsewhere, but the same idea applies: if the words don’t fit, you must acquit.

Man, I’m on a roll today.

Another important thing to consider is if you want to make focused passes or not, keying in on just one element at a time, starting with larger issues like pacing and character development. This is a good idea if you’re new to the process or just like to stay organized, and it’ll probably save you some time in the long run. By making several focused and element-specific passes, you’ve got the opportunity to hone in without distracting yourself with other stuff that may change in the long run. My only suggestion for this type of revision process is to keep notes along the way. Ideas may spring to mind, better concepts for how to handle any given character or scene or larger story element, and you’re going to want to keep track of everything you intend to change for your next pass.

Admittedly so, I’m much too erratic and scatterbrained for this method, which means I tend to just charge in like a bull in a china shop and really tear the place up until its “redecorated” just how I like it. Mine is a messy process in this way, but it’s also just how my mind tends to work. Not everyone has the equivalent of sixteen trained chimpanzees careening around their heads, doing their level best to run the ship. If I don’t feed them at a regular time every day, Bingo—he’s the captain, see—he orders the rest of the chimps on strike, and then I’m in a real chimp ship pickle. Nobody wants that.

Where was I? Ah yes, serious discussion of the revision process.

A lot of what you’re going to be doing is in fact that more minute stuff, especially when you’re really getting down to it and most of your broader strokes have been made. Changing the language of the piece, the flow, tightening your syntax, all of that is important as finishing maneuvers. Just make sure you’re not revising so much you’re only shifting elements around and not necessarily improving anything. That can happen easily, which is why it’s also important during the revision process to take breaks when you need them. And I don’t just mean a break of a few minutes or hours. Sometimes you’ve got to let your manuscript go for days or even weeks just so you can come back at it with fresh eyes. The ability to forget what we’ve written is a great asset, so use it.

The annoyance and pain of all this is temporary. You have to keep that in mind. However, once they’re released to the general public, your words are forever. So now is your opportunity to line them up exactly as you want them. In the end, all you can do as a writer, as a creative individual of any kind, is your honest best. Will all your extra hard work pay off? That’s an eternal question, always in motion, and anyway, what’s your definition of success? I mean really?

I’ll have another Craft and Practice topic for you guys next month. Until then, cut a little, cut a lot, but don’t cut to the quick. The chimps in your brain may not like losing any of the good stuff. See you in June!


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!



Want to be sure not to miss any of Jeff’s “Craft and Practice” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found this useful or just entertaining, please share.


The History and Evolution of Comic Books

Jeff

Powers in Motion

by Jeff Bowles

As a storytelling medium, comic books have been around longer than anyone living today. Some disagreement exists among historians as to just what the first published example is, but more or less, comics have been with us since the mid-19th century. Certainly, they didn’t explode into absolute pop culture dominance until the advent of superheroes and supervillains, their best-known and most beloved subjects of exploration, but the truth is millions upon millions of comics have sold in all the time since.

It goes without saying that if not for the creation of one very special character, comic books would not exist in the form in which they do today. In 1938, two young men from Cleveland, hard-up for more satisfying and lucrative creative endeavors, concocted a simple yet compelling narrative based on the biblical stories they’d grown up with. An infant savior from another place, sent from on high by his father to protect and guide humankind. Jerry Seigel and Joe Schuster were thinking more Moses than Jesus, but the Judeo-Christian allegory that is Superman tapped into something deep within the psyches of readers everywhere.

When DC Comics published Action Comics #1, the first appearance of the Man of Steel, the company had no earthly concept what they were unleashing on the world. The first appearance of Batman followed a year later, and quick on his heels were characters like The Flash, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman. Sales were massive for this new kind of storytelling, so full of color and simple, easy-to-understand moral allegory. Until Superman showed up, comics were usually about hard-as-nails detectives and avengers of the night who could neither fly nor leap tall buildings in a single bound. But Supes, he was different.

It was and still is widely accepted that comics are for children, but adults like them, too. In fact, as the Allies went to war in Europe and the Pacific, young servicemen and women brought their recreational reading habits to the front lines. Japan in particular adopted comic books with unrestrained delight. In the year 2020, they remain the top producer of the entire global industry, having created a literary genre unto itself in Manga.

Back in the US, the end of World War II brought with it new social standards, including a certain suspicion of the medium. It became widely believed that comics contributed to childhood delinquency, vandalism, and violence. Senate hearings were held on the matter, not unlike those that plagued the video game industry after the Columbine massacre. In both cases, the federal government imposed rating systems, and at least as far as comics were concerned, the high flying antics of superheroes were dragged a bit closer to earth.

In the 1950s, comics gained a squeaky-clean image, which contributed to their overall decline in sales. It seemed that the original generation of kids who had embraced characters like Superman and Batman had grown up, and they were by no means interested in overtly sanitized farces. Network television had a hit on their hands with the George Reeves Superman show, carried over to some extent by earlier radio productions. But the comic book itself faced its first major hurdle: people just didn’t care anymore.

Times change, and so do the kinds of stories we like to tell each other. In 1961, Marvel Comics (formerly, Timely Comics) got into the superhero game in a big way with the introduction of Fantastic Four #1. This single issue began what enthusiasts call the silver age of comic books, and creators Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko didn’t stop there. Many other characters emerged from their Manhattan offices: Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, The Uncanny X-Men, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, Black Panther, all created within the first ten years of the company’s resurgence. They even added an old figure from their distant past to the roster of the newly-minted Marvel Universe. Captain America is almost as old as Superman, but he’d been all but forgotten by fans until Stan Lee decided to pull him from the ice.

The medium exploded in popularity once more, and the 1970s saw advancements that began eschewing the now decades-old Comics Code Authority. DC, for instance, who initially struggled to keep up with Marvel’s perceived hipness, got into all the major social battles of the time, including equal rights, racism, drug addiction, and violence against women. The decade introduced some of the most compelling and sophisticated comic stories told to date, and Marvel and DC became twin powerhouses of an artform many had thought dead and buried.

In 1978, Warner Bros. produced what many consider to be the first serious superhero film, Superman: The Movie. Demand for the character and other DC properties climbed to dizzying heights. In the decade that followed, comics continued to mature, became darker and much more adult, featuring storylines and characters that took advantage of the public’s newfound love of antiheroes. Marvel made huge waves with the likes of The Punisher, Venom, and new takes on classic characters like Spider-Man, The X-men, and The Avengers. Over at DC, things got even more experimental, with major new series like Watchmen and Batman: The Killing Joke, not to mention the introduction of their Vertigo imprint, which exclusively publishes adult-only material

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A new collector’s market formed around special releases and big-stakes stories that reset the board, such as The Death of Superman and the first issue of Marvel’s five-variant-cover X-Men #1. Like so many other markets built on false commodity, however, the bubble eventually ruptured, and comics have seen a slow but steady decline in sales ever since. DC has faired pretty well historically, partially because they were acquired by Warner Bros. in 1969. Marvel, on the other hand, slipped into bankruptcy, and only barely pulled themselves out by the skin of their teeth.

By the late 1990s, the future of comic books was in question. It had become clear that the business of printing colorful heroes and edgy villains was on shaky ground, but the new millennium heralded in a trend few in the industry saw coming.

DC had always had hit-and-miss successes with their film division. Though 1978’s Superman and 1989’s Batman were big for their time and place, superhero movies were still widely considered risky business. In 1998, Marvel Entertainment co-produced a film based on their daywalking, vampire-slaying Blade character. Though the film did average box office, Marvel viewed it as a sign of bigger and better things to come. Two years later, they released an X-Men movie which fared much better, and two years after that, it was Spider-Man’s turn.

Marvel earned one success after another at the box office, creating new film-based iterations of classic characters like The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, and Daredevil. But it wasn’t until 2008 and the release of a little movie called Iron Man that everything changed. At the time, Marvel Entertainment and producer Kevin Feige hatched an idea to do for their movies what Stan Lee had done for their comics back in the early ’60s, namely, they decided to turn them into a working shared universe. Marvel released a few key introduction movies and then bet the farm on 2012’s The Avengers.

The absolute financial and critical dominance of that movie was eclipsed only by its potential for more stories and even bigger box office hauls. Disney bought Marvel in 2009, adding significant distribution and funding prowess to the small company that had almost folded not ten years prior. Though DC and the WB have tried to match the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the decade ending 2019 was completely dominated—in one form or another, it seems—by characters created by Stan Lee and his successors.

But what about comic books themselves? Do people still read them? Do they still sell? More or less, they do, though even fans get the sense the comic divisions of the big publishers only exist to fuel their filmmaking endeavors. Marvel, DC, and others still know how to tell great stories, and they do it every single week, every month, every year. More major contributors to the industry include Darkhorse, Image, IDW, and Valiant. Comics are not now and have never been solely about superheroes, and the indie space in particular proves that this kind of storytelling is open and ready for all.

Regardless of how you feel about the dominance of comic-bookisms in our culture, the slow decline of the publishing industry beneath it, and the ultimate moral ambiguity of “good guys” who beat the crap out of “bad guys”, the fact remains that comics have been a force of societal transformation for over eighty years, longer in fact, when you factor in the storytelling traditions at play, some of which are as ancient as humankind itself. The first comic book, published in the 19th century, whatever it may have been, set a ball rolling that continues to, well, crush the life out of everything in its path.

Only one question needs to be asked at this point: who do you like better, Marvel, DC, or the bold and bombastic characters of some other powerhouse company? Sound off in the comments section below, guys. And continue to stay tuned all May for more superhero/supervillain themed articles and posts right here on Writing to be Read. Excelsior!


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Music – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


You can keep up with all of Jeff’s posts right here on Writing to be Read. Subscribe to email or follow on WordPress today.


The Essence of Writing Good Dialogue

Jeff

It’s not what you say. It’s the way you say it.

by Jeff Bowles

I love good dialogue. In fact, it may be my favorite thing about reading a book or watching a truly excellent film. Many serious writers will tell you that it’s an important tool in the author’s toolkit, but that it is by no means the most essential. I respectfully disagree. I say good dialogue can elevate your writing like nothing else. After all, it’s not what you say. It’s the way you say it.

Looking back, I realize I’ve always been polishing up my ability to generate interesting, gripping, or just plain funny dialogue. I self-studied writers and filmmakers who made it a priority in their storytelling, folks like Douglass Adams, Elmore Leonard, and Quentin Tarantino. I read a lot of Marvel and DC comic books, which as you may or may not know, are almost completely composed of dialogue. I don’t know why it mattered so much to me, but I absolutely lit up whenever characters interacted with each other in snappy and surprising ways. I still light up when I read, see, or hear the good stuff, and maybe I can’t speak for everyone on this, but when was the last time you saw a well-produced Shakespeare production and thought to yourself, Gosh, that guy just couldn’t write people to save his life?

That’s the key. People live in dialogue. Not in long winded descriptions or deep internal navel gazing. Characters come to life in their interactions with each other. You could say it’s the one thing that makes them leap off the page. It’s how people work in real life, too. Which is to say, without conversation, people tend not to work at all. Sit together with someone in an awkward silence long enough and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

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When it comes to short stories and novels, good dialogue is essential. Sure, you’re a master of scene setting and description, but do all your characters seem to communicate like wooden B-movie stereotypes? Or another problem many writers have, have you noticed you’re timid on engaging your readers with dialogue, and so you tend to rely on big blocks of text to get your message across? Scene setting, subtle character development, basic point-to-point plotting, visceral sense engagement and description, and basic personal style may be the rhythm of the music we call fiction, but truly inspiring dialogue is quite essentially the melody.

If you think about it, you don’t even really know characters until they open their mouths. If you struggle with dialogue, or if you’re just looking to brush up on the basics, there are a few exercises you can employ. One, of course, is to go to a public place and listen to people converse in real time. Admittedly, not really a viable option during Coronavirus lockdown, but you can easily work this exercise from the comfort of your own home. Tune into some reality TV, or simply listen to the conversations your family have. Write down every word verbatim, if you can. You’ll notice that people tend to speak in a pretty roundabout way, with lots of umms and starts and stops thrown in the mix.

Good dialogue should contain elements of realistic conversation, but you also need to focus it like a laser beam. If you were to write a scene in which people talk like they do in real life, you’d end up with so many pauses, ellipses, and false starts it’d drive your readers nuts.

“Hi, Jim, how’d work go?”
“Oh, you know, I don’t know … the boss, he’s real … umm … I don’t know, he’s real pushy when it comes to … when it comes to, uh … oh, I don’t know”

Doesn’t really flow all that well, does it? May I present the alternative that what you’re going for with good character interactions isn’t so much realism as pointed randomness. That is to say, make an effort to produce dialogue that cracks like a whip, pops and snaps like lightning. Only make sure also that it’s random enough no one can accuse you of stiffly holding your reader’s hand.

“Hi, Jim, how’d work go?”
“Ah, you know, the boss … ever get the feeling some people’s neckties are on too tight?”
“Uh-oh. I know that tone. He got pushy again, didn’t he?”
“Pushy? I haven’t slept in weeks. Pretty sure I had a waking dream while filing a client’s paperwork today. By the way, if the office calls asking why I’ve suggested one Dana Baker should just hit the clown on the nose and fly away on his trusted dragon, I’m not in.”

Also, don’t be afraid to surprise yourself. If you’re surprised by your writing, you can guarantee your readers will be, too. Zig instead of zag when you approach character interactions. Also, try producing more dialogue on the page than you’re used to. A lot of readers just kind of sift through text blocks anyway. They consider the dialogue the real meaty parts. Sad, but I think it is true. Readers are less interested in what’s happening now than in what happens next. You can fuel that burning need to find out.

Here’s something else you may not have considered. The first true novel written in the English language was likely published sometime in the 16th century, or thereabouts. A couple centuries later in the Victorian era, the novel had exploded in popularity, and that period is still a gold mine as far as writers who produced work we’re reading to this day. In all the time since, our concept of good narrative fiction has gotten lighter, not heavier.

Have you ever been chewing your way through a Victorian novel and thought to yourself, Why’s it taking this lady so long to get out of her house? Well, it’s because back then, the form and function of the novel was to in some fashion reproduce life. Entertainment is its form and function in the year 2020, because these days authors have to compete with film, television, internet memes, video games, just about anything that’s loud, fast, and gets its point across in seconds flat.

Unfortunately, you are therefore also competing with shortened attention spans across the globe. Do yourself a favor, don’t shirk your duty to write super fun, super engaging dialogue. It can save even the dullest story. Well, maybe not the dullest. Need something more specific? Well, for one, make sure all your dialogue tags (or at least most of them) are of the simple, he said, she said variety. Very few of these said-bookisms you’ve heard so much about.

Also, try bouncing back and forth between characters like they’re playing verbal tennis. Keep each line short and snappy; play a game of hot potato. And don’t forget to edit like crazy when you’re done. If you’re not removing bulk between those quote marks, you’re doing it all wrong. Even in my short examples above, I went back in and cut the detritus. Because good dialogue should flow, not lay inert like a dead body on some old science fiction TV show.

Similarly, characters should all sound distinct from one another. Don’t give them so many affectations they no longer sound realistic, but look, not everyone talks the same, do we? We have accents and ticks and odd regional slang we depend on. Try speaking your dialogue aloud as you’re writing it. Kind of helps to clear out the mental cobwebs. If you can hear it from your own mouth, and it sounds pretty good to you, odds are it’ll work well enough on the page.

The truth is, most readers depend on good dialogue to communicate story. You can build or establish character relationships with it, key in on essential plot points, foreshadow upcoming events, or just plain have fun and make people laugh. One more time, dialogue is the melody of this music we call storytelling. So make sure yours is enjoyable to listen to. Speech, language, it’s the engine that drives everything we do. It binds us together, tears us apart, and isn’t that the essence of story?

If you’re struggling with this, the old adage, practice makes perfect, is as always the essential factor. You’ll thank me once you’ve mastered this new superpower, and your readers will thank you. Is it possible to overdo it? Certainly. But wouldn’t you rather read a beautiful mess that sounds like Mozart rather than racoons rattling around in your trash cans late at night?

Heh. That’s a funny line. Maybe I should jot it down and have one of my characters say it someday. Until next time, everybody. Wooden conversation is as wooden conversation does.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Jeff’s Movie Reviews – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Jeff's Movie Reviews

So Who’s Skywalker, and Why Are They Rising?

by Jeff Bowles

If you’re a Star Wars fan, watching The Rise of Skywalker for the first time is a bit like having your cake and … throwing it against the wall. It provokes an almost drunken feeling, madly lilting from truly satisfying and charming to holy cow, why was that necessary? Unfortunately, director J.J. Abrams has assigned himself too big a task, choosing to tie up not just his trilogy, but also to revive one more time themes and characters that go all the way back to 1999’s The Phantom Menace (remember, kids, dyslexic Star Wars numbering applies: that’s four five six, one two three, seven eight nine).

Admittedly, it would seem, this is Abrams game to lose. He set a high bar for the franchise going forward with The Force Awakens, and Rian Johnson made something of a bold statement in The Last Jedi, which proved incredibly divisive for fans. The Rise of Skywalker will not settle the debate over whether these new Disney-era movies are more jaded cash grab than fitting continuation. You may love or not love this concluding chapter of The Skywalker Saga. Like me, you might do both at the same time.

It’s no big spoiler to say the plot revolves around the return of Emperor Palpatine. The film tells us what he’s up to right there in the classic opening crawl, and lo and behold, he appears within the first few minutes. Palpatine has plans to convert the somewhat nebulously conceived First Order into a super supreme new Empire. All the chess pieces are in play, and trust him, he’s been planning this one a long time.

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The fun new cast we met in The Force Awakens return with typical enthusiasm and once again prove good actors and genuinely funny moments make these movies more enjoyable to watch than the prequels. Rey (Daisy Ridley) has continued to train as a Jedi, now under the tutelage of General Leia Organa. Carrie Fisher, of course, passed away shortly before the release of The Last Jedi, but the filmmakers have worked a minor computer-generated miracle and cut in a mix of outtakes and CG reconstructions to make it appear as if she finished the trilogy. The effect is never quite perfect, but her presence is nice, and the movie would suffer without her.

On the other hand, The Rise of Skywalker is chalk full of fan service moments that don’t work. Some aren’t sought for or needed, and others simply aren’t earned. Why, for instance, does Ray have to travel all the way back to Luke’s lost island just so he can pop up blue-ghost style? What, no frequent flyer miles, Master Skywalker? We can Force project ourselves clear across the galaxy, but it’s a no on the house calls? Oscar Issac’s Poe and John Boyega’s Finn get more to do in this movie, which is beneficial, but more than a few characters get much less screen time in leu of new personnel, most of whom are women, which is bound to piss off mega-macho male fans still irate Rian Johnson dared suggest women can be more heroic than Jedi dudes and scoundrel bros.

Also returning are legendary former cast members Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian and the afore mentioned Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor. It’s nice to see Lando back in the fray, and even the Emperor is creepy enough to give his own past performances a run for their money. But really, I didn’t sign up for Palpatine still kicking around. That opening crawl is an odd one, because before the movie even gets rolling, you have to shift gears and tell yourself, Oh, I guess we’re doing that thing with the evil old Emperor again. Good to know.

The plot moves quickly, sometimes too quickly, proof positive the screenplay has opted to cover too much ground. There are plot twists aplenty, some of which, again, are not earned. Another annoying thing for fans—or should I say, fans of The Last Jedi—is the fact J.J. Abrams goes a long way to wipe out some of the more intelligent counter-programming of the previous film. Psst, remember how we found out Rey’s parents were nobodies? Well…

Check out my video review above, rebel scum!

Ultimately, I appreciate this movie and the things it gets right. But I haven’t felt this cynical about Star Wars since Episode I. There will be many people who don’t see The Rise of Skywalker that way, but I think even they will have to admit it doesn’t live up to the hype and the massive task laid before it. This movie didn’t have to do anything more than tie up the threads of the previous two films. In no way, as far as I can see, did it need to attempt a summation of nine films separated by more than forty years. George Lucas, partially through insatiable revisionism, did a pretty effective job convincing us there would only ever be six Star Wars movies. As a lifelong fan, it pains me to admit these new flicks might not have been necessary. I know, more shocking words were never spoken.

For all its shortcomings, the film still proves enormously charming when it wants to be, and the action scenes are still top notch. Also a highlight, the relationship between Ben Solo and Rey. The penultimate chapter of their story really pulls out all the stops, and ends in a way that’s simultaneously poignant, powerful, and in a way, lovely. By no means do the concluding few moments feel more final than anything that’s come before, but hell, we don’t actually want Star Wars to end, do we? I mean, what would be the point of that? If you’re a fan, anyway.

That’s what it boils down to. Take someone who’s never seen a Star Wars movie to The Rise of Skywalker, and I doubt they’ll be impressed. But for folks who have stuck with the series their whole lives, gosh, there’s just enough to love to keep the film from being a wash. Now the real struggle begins, trying to find out what George Lucas intended for these films and then arguing on the internet over Disney’s opt-in to Force choke the life out of his original concept.

Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker a seven out of ten. I would’ve given it a six, but you know, lightsabers and junk. Now man your ships, and may the Force be with you.


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Nashville Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, is available on Amazon now!

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Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


You can keep up on what Jeff’s been watching and catch all of his great movie reviews the third Friday of each month on Writing to be Read. Subscribe to email or follow on WordPress today.


“God’s Body”: A post-apocalyptic tale with a new kind of hero.

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God’s Body, by Jeff Bowles has one of the most masterfully crafted openings that I have read in a long time. By the beginning of the second paragraph, he had placed me in the setting, I knew this was like no other story I had ever read, and I was hooked, which is what a great opening should do. It impressed me so, that I asked the author’s permission to reprint it here.

“The toe was an ungodly mountain of flesh. As massive as it was inexplicable. It clung to the Earth like a bulbous pink tumor. Enormous, all-encompassing, the height of a skyscraper, the breadth of Niagara Falls. Rain water washed through its thick patchwork of crevasses and cracks. Long vertical rivers lapped at skin-cell canyon walls. There were flesh creeks and tidal waves. The toenail itself was the hanging shelf of the world.

Then Harold looked higher and saw the rest. Lord God Almighty…”

FB_IMG_1561221566724 You just can’t read this and not want to know more. It’s obvious this isn’t going to be your average, everyday story, and you must read on in anticipation of what will come next. It’s clear this will be a story of epic proportions, and Bowels does not disappoint. God’s Body is an Armageddon story like no other; a post apocalyptic tale of good vs. evil in the best of pulp fantasy traditions, if such traditions existed. Bowles pulls out all the stops, using humor, irony and contemplation of the human condition to tell his tale with skill and craftsmanship. Everything about this story is of epic scale.

I’m not going to give you a rundown of this story line because the whole thing was such an entertaining read that I wouldn’t want to give out any spoilers, but what I will tell you is that in addition to the wonderful writing talent of Bowles, the artistic craftsmanship of Writer’s of the Future illustrator Pat R. Steiner accompanies this story with some truly awesome illustrations like the one seen here.

A truly original story that puts a new twist to an age-old theme. Written with skill and talent in a literary work of true craftsmanship, God’s Body is like nothing else you’ve ever read. I give it five epic quills.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.