Sunday, April 29, 2012

Casshan and Me

If the eight Spider-Man entries weren't a clue (and the next one of those is imminent), I've been on a bit of a nostalgia kick for the last couple of years. Some psychologist could probably come up with a theory about a need to try and make sense of my childhood, which wasn't typical, by revisiting the most significant entertainment for me at that time. I'm not really sure, but I do find it interesting to look back at these movies, TV shows or comics and see what impact they might have had on me as a writer.

The character Casshan (or Casshern) was first introduced to Japanese audiences in a 1970s anime series, but that wasn't the version I saw. In 1993, the story was reimagined as a four-part limited series called Casshan: Robot Hunter. The Sci-Fi Channel edited this series into a two-hour film and showed it on their "Saturday Anime" feature, a weekly treat that introduced a whole generation of American kids to the very different kind of cartoons that got made on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. I tuned into Saturday Anime often, but it was always mixed in with the more traditional cartoons I was into at the time. I'd usually flip back and forth when one went to commerical, but Casshan was the first one that really held my attention. I was about 11 or 12 and had never seen an animated story with this level of intense action and drama. It absolutely blew me away. It starred an android in a dorky/awesome outfit whose preferred combat move was a karate chop that could split a robot in half. He also had a robot dog that could breathe fire. What more could a kid ask for? My mother happened to walk in during a scene where Casshan shouted "Damn you!" to his nemesis, the Black King (Android BK-1). She expressed her surprise and I indignantly replied, "Mom, this isn't for kids."

Rewatching it so many years later was an emotional experience. That distinctive style of late 80s/early 90s anime feels iconic at this point and I even kept the cheesy English dubbing on because that was what I remembered. I was able to recall how magical this was for me as a child, but as an adult it's clear it's not quite a masterpiece. The storyline lifts shamlessly from Terminator, Star Wars and a little bit of Mega Man. Characterization is barely given any thought. The boobilicious outfit worn by Casshan's love interest is ridiculously impractical for a war zone. The environmentalist elements of the story make less sense the more you think about them - why would the Black King resort to using nuclear weapons if he's so concerned about preserving the planet?

However, those are the comments of a movie buff with thousands of films under his belt. Sometimes I feel like my younger self's reaction is the one that deserves more attention. Indeed there are moments of real drama within this two hours and the ending is grandiose and moving in a fashion that only anime can pull off. My firsthand knowledge of how powerful this film can be for a child gives it a special kind of value that can't be compromised by any standard cinematic/storytelling flaws.

The character has been revisited a few times now, first in 2004 with a bonkers live-action adaptation simply called Casshern. Then in 2008, a depressing and SUPER angsty reboot called Casshern: Sins discarded most of the canon. Seriously, I'm talking dangerous, potentially toxic Kingdom Hearts levels of emo. It didn't speak to me the way the original did, but it might for some kid out there who could stumble upon it...

Right around this time, I also got my first look at other anime shows out there, including Teknoman (which will probably gets its own entry after I rewatch that). A couple of years later came the one-two punch of Dragon Ball Z and Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue. After that, there was no going back. But my fondness for anime, and perhaps for animation in general, can be traced right back to Casshan. Who says cartoons rot your brain?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Some Press for The World Beyond

So I found myself on the other side of the journalism process when I sat down with my hometown paper (and former employer) to talk about the book. It was a lengthy and sometimes rambling chat, but the final product did a nice job introducing people to the concept and themes. It's not the easiest book to sum up for me, let alone someone who's not the author! I grew up in one town covered by the Town Times and worked there for several years during and shortly after college. I moved on when I got full-time work elsewhere, but it was nice that it was there for me when I needed a venue to try and make people aware this book exists.

If you want to see it as it appeared in the paper, here is Part 1 and Part 2. I've also transcribed it below to give this blog entry more of a reason to exist.

Local author combines media, reality television and music influences in new book
by Stephanie Wilcox

Rob Glidden has a background in journalism and a fascination with the reality television craze. These two things propelled him to write a futuristic novel about how a print journalist with nothing to lose finds the truth behind The World Beyond, a reality television show owned by a huge media conglomerate. Town Times recently sat down with Glidden, who was raised in Durham and currently resides in Cromwell, to talk about his new book.

How would you describe your book, The World Beyond, and who would be interested in reading it?

It's The Truman Show meets All the President's Men. If you're interested in issues with media, journalism and manipulation of the truth, you'd find this interesting.

How long did it take you to write The World Beyond?

Only two months for the first draft. The second draft was four or five months worth of editing...a lot changed there. I added stuff and beefed up some characters. The third draft was mostly fixing mistakes. I have an annoying habit of leaving out words so I read the whole book out loud.

What is your writing routine?

Afternoons when I had a few hours to work. As a journalist, I don't have a 9 to 5 job; my schedule is different week to week and I have little pockets of time. I [also] worked (on the book) on the weekends, trying to get about 1,500 words a day.

In the book, you mention the influence that music had on the development of this book. Tell me about that.

I think the book is metal. Metal inspired it. I listened to it while writing. I had a soundtrack that corresponded to characters, and certain bands are certain characters and their voices. (Metal) has always been a disreputable is angry sounding, anti-war, but it's very genuine music. It encourages you to say so if something's wrong.

In the book, you say that some of the ideas were stewing in your head for a while. How long were you mentally working on this book?

The story came in parts. The reality show fantasy adventure had been in my head for like 10 years. Reality shows got big when I as in high school - put people on an island and see how they argue. I remember being skeeved out even then. The way peoples' past anguish is packaged for television unnerves me. These are real tragedies and (reality television) is only worse now. I wanted to tell a story about that and take it further. Imagine your life as if it was television or entertainment. I thought, what if I had some adventure and it was televised and they gave me enhanced behaviors. That would be cool (to write); I can do that. I always wanted to (write a book) and I'm not getting any younger.

You use different mediums of communication to unveil the plot. That was very clever and effective storytelling. How did you know that would work for this novel?

The most fun part of the writing process was working with the different mediums of communication. The style is called epistolary; it means told through documents such as reviews, news articles, transcripts from interviews and blogs. There is an emphasis on plot-driven shows [now]. I think The Sopranos brought this along, and now Lost and others have followed. So I was trying to come up with real people and use multiple voices. I am a member of a lot of internet forums for various interests, like music or video games, so I know the way these people talk. I wanted to convey how the outside world was reacting to the show. (In the book) we only see the show from the viewer's perspective.

The main character, a veteran journalist, agrees that "good news doesn't sell." How much of this book is about the common perception of journalism?

As a journalist, I don't care if I get it first, I just want to get it right. Drew (the main character) discovers how [important] journalism really is. In the beginning he's ready to give up. He's laid off and doesn't think he's relevant or has any power. But the big media company controls everything except little newspapers...and he realizes he is the only one in a position to do what reporters are supposed to do. He rediscovers why journalism matters.

Do you have any other pieces in the works?

I thought about a sequel. I know what it would be about. And I picked out the music for it. But I don't want the same thing again, so I'm not sure.

Where can people find the book?

The paperback and e-book are both available on Amazon (For the e-book, search inside the Kindle store on Amazon). You can also find the paperback on CreateSpace, the self-publishing site I used to publish The World Beyond.

That's that. If I'm fortunate enough to get more press in the future, I'll share it here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Guest Blogging at NPPM

My brother has started a new music blog called "Neo Post-Progressivecore Music Thoughts" (NPPM) and I thought it would be fun to somtimes throw some stuff on there as a "guest blogger." Given that I spent last summer reviewing 15 albums worth of Iron Maiden material, I definitely have a lot to say about that topic. I don't anticipate cross-posting here so on the off chance you do check this blog regularly, add NPPM (link over to the right) to your routine and you'll be able to keep track.

The first entry is basically about the unsettling realization I had while listening to some new Steel Panther material - their parody of hair metal misogyny was uncomfortably close to real statements being made in the current presidential primary. Not all of my stuff there will be so political - I'd like to write about the process of choosing music for Master of the Wind and also review some albums every so often. I got a new album from one of my favorite bands way early (and legally) but I shouldn't say much until the formal release date...

Finally, here's a handy link to NPPM.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The World Beyond

I'm not very comfortable with self-promotion. Most of the world is just fine and dandy with it, but I always feel like it's opening me up to some sort of trouble. However, when I spend a year on a book and another six months converting it to an E-reader format, the ideal outcome is that people read it.

First, some links. The paperback version can be found here. The newly-completed Kindle version can be found here.

During an interview for a local newspaper (which may also wind up here if there's any interest), I was asked "So why should people read The World Beyond?" I don't do so well with that question. My gut response is "Well, you don't have to if you don't want." That's not going to sell that many books, is it? But I can't help it, I'm not going to just sit here and be like "Read it cause I am brilliant, wa ha ha." If I were to offer up one of those crappy "X meets Y" marketing calculations, I suppose I could say it's The Truman Show meets All The President's Men. If you are interested in dystopian stories, journalism, issues of corporate power, epistolary storytelling and ample sarcasm, I think you might find it enjoyable.

I'm not going to rehash the entire storyline here, though I will reproduce the plot summary from the back of the book:

In the year 2044, nearly all news and entertainment is "under the umbrella" of the huge conglomerate World Media. A highly anticipated new reality show introduces three contestants who grew up in the same small town and tosses them into a huge virtual landscape. As the world reacts to this revolutionary show, Claire Lin does not believe her daughter signed on willingly. She teams up with Drew Stephenson, an embittered print journalist whose vanishing profession gives him nothing to lose. Together, they will slowly uncover the sinister truth behind "The World Beyond."

Some of the concepts in the book have been percolating in my head for a long time. The idea of people who are unwittingly starring in a reality show has been in my brain since I first became familiar with the genre around the turn of the century. Youngins might compare that element to The Hunger Games (though the stakes aren't quite as high) but my inspirations were older films like Series 7 or the aforementioned Truman Show. For a while, I wasn't sure what format to pursue. Should it be a game, like Master of the Wind? It would have been a game with an awful lot of non-playable content. Should it be a screenplay? Maybe, but then I basically have to depend on other people for it to be seen by the public. In the end, a simple book seemed like the most logical choice.

The journalism side of it is a more recent addition. I won't sugarcoat things - this job can be very disillusioning. You often hear that you have a great responsibility to the public who reads your work, but you wouldn't know it by how the industry treats you. You get paid like crap, the benefits are middling at best, and your readers typically ignore you unless you make an error. The ever-shrinking amount of media companies is also cause for great concern...perhaps "World Media" sounds fantastical at first glance, but in the time I wrote this book, two high-profile media consolidations occurred. First Comcast merged with NBC. I recall reading numerous blogs on The Huffington Post that were immensely critical of this merger and of media consolidation in general. Later that same week, AOL bought The Huffington Post. For some reason, media consolidation stopped being popular as a blogging topic on the site. It doesn't strike me as far-fetched that one day in the future, tiny local newspaper reporters like Drew Stephenson might be the only people who can investigate the potential crimes of a media congolmerate without having to worry about a conflict of interest.

Most of the famous dystopian stories deal with the idea of the government having too much power, and history has shown time and again that is indeed something to worry about. However, these days I worry more about the inverse - government having no power. I worry about corporations becoming so deregulated that they essentially exist outside the law. Does that sound ridiculous? I hope so, but if you don't think that's the endgame goal of companies like Goldman Sachs, Bank of America or Comcast, I have a bridge to sell you in Solest.

If that makes the book sound like a bleak and cynical experience, I should note that I also tried to treat all of this with a hint of black comedy. I tend to deal with upsetting elements of life by making sarcastic comments at their expense and some of that sensibility has found its way into the text. I attempted to tell parts of the story though various "documents" - Facebook conversations, message boards, interview transcripts, etc. These sections were extremely fun to write and it was great fun to try and imitate the overall tenor of the internet. It's probably still not harsh enough - I opted not to include any racial/homophobic slurs which cost those sections a bit of authenticity - but for anyone who knows me well, there is probably at least one in-joke in there for you.

So after writing the book and revising it extensively for another few months, it was time to see if I could bring it over to Kindle and other e-readers. How hard could it have been? Really damn hard, as it turned out. What a steep learning curve. I spent another six months nearly banging my head against the wall wondering why the page breaks weren't working, why certain paragraphs weren't indenting properly, and various other shenanigans. I suspect that if I do this again, it will go smoother, but it was way more of an undertaking than I expected. I hope it will be worth the effort - books seem to be going through something very similar to what the music industry experienced ten years ago.

The whole industry is changing. This also means that self-publishing has become a more viable option. I've heard enough horror stories about publishing companies (and I have one of my own, thanks to my ill-fated attempt at a nonfiction book a few years back) that I knew this would be the path I took. I'll have to overcome the stigma of self-published novels being poorly-spelled piles of incoherence, but that also gives a potential advantage of being a pleasant surprise. If anyone reads this and decides to check out the book afterwards, I hope that's what it is for you as well.