Bringing KITT Back

First let me apologize for my absence. I've been fiddling with more personal, non-writing specific posts. That was fine and all, but there was one topic I've been trying to tackle for awhile that is difficult because it involves another company owned by the company that owns mine. In other words, there's a lot I'm not allowed to say, even if it was in support of the company. At least, a lot I'm not allowed to say without getting permission, and I don't want to go through that hassle. Job is over there. Joe the writer is over here. And I want to keep those two separate. I've been burned too many times in the past for not doing so.

And then there was the biggun. I was one of the three million people that lost power. Now I've lost power before, but I've always been fortunate in that it comes on a few hours later. I think the longest I've ever gone without power (as a result of a calamity and not the electric company turning it off or not having a home to power) was five hours. Not this time! Three and a half days. And that's still not as bad as some! But you learn a lot about how your house is heated when there is none. We eventually had to flee to a motel as the heat fell below 40 degrees in our house. We were lucky that we got a room in town, one of two that required we wait in the motel lobby for an hour waiting for reservations to be cancelled.

So then power came back and I had a lot of work to catch up on. Still, I had an idea today I'd like to share. While it's still not the post I've been brainstorming on for awhile, I think a lot of you might find it recognizable.

Those of you 30 or older, at least. The youngins might only remember the reboot from a couple years ago. And if you remember it, I apologize. It was quite awful. I would rate it worse than the reboot of Bionic Woman, which was sadly awful as well. What am I talking about? Knight Rider.

It's the show that made David Hasselhoff famous before Baywatch. It aired at a time when Saturday morning still showed cartoons (not Power Rangers or VR Troopers or any of that offal, I'm talking about real cartoons). Saturday afternoons were the pantheon of young boy television. A-Team, Incredible Hulk, Airwolf, Knight Rider, Battlestar Galactica (original). Dear lord, I weep just thinking about its greatness (I also weep when I watch the pilot of Airwolf and discover just how bad that show was).

I'm also old enough that I got the tail end of the greats from the previous decade. That means the Six Million Dollar Man and the original Bionic Woman. Plus all their made-for-TV movies! SO. GOOD!

I was excited to see the reboot of Bionic Woman and sad to see they missed the mark so badly. I gave Knight Rider a chance. I had given Knight Rider 2000 a chance, so why not this? I had less confidence that they could do it right because it's such a niche story that the original series covered a lot of bases. And as expected, it was a crapper. Even with Val Kilmer as KITT. Like so much TV, they tried to be what the other show wasn't, even though the other show worked for its time. Now you had a car that could do everything, a hot shot idiot driver, and an ex-flame with an axe to grind as the scientists daughter.

These things are expected. There are so many political decisions that go into TV casting now, that you can't have an all-guy cast except for the chicks in bikinis like you could in the '80s. That's a good thing. But it's approached with specific biases (e.g. your lead still needs to be a white male) that it makes casting pretty predictable.

Today, for some reason I cannot imagine, pieces for the show fell into place. The reboot had a few right ideas in that it needed a younger cast. Not the middle-aged guy talking to the old guy except when he was talking to his car. It needs some women who are competent. And it needs a talking car. It doesn't need an "on the run from the law" when in the first episode you introduce a car that can do everything. There is no cop in the country that's going to catch your car, so why are we watching?

So here's what we do. Make the lead Idris Elba or Taye Diggs. Let's break that "all leads must be white" mold right now. We know it's not true and these two are recognizable enough that it won't be a big stretch for the less liberal of America to sign onto the concept.

Knight Industries returns as a military research and design company, run by an old white guy. We'll name him Michael Knight. It never made sense that Knight Industries was run by Devon Miles and Michael Knight was just an employee. Let's fix that with a little throw-back to the old series. It's a pity Edward Mulhare couldn't fill that role because that would have been awesome. RIP, sir. This new character is the CEO and head of research, the guy that started it all. And while the company has grown well beyond that scope (we'll see later), Dr. Knight is all about military research that saves lives.

Specifically, he's working on an adaptive AI program to be installed in military Humveess to reduce the amount of casualties by IEDs and other impediments. They are in the final testing phase before the computer system goes operational. His team?

Captain Taye Diggs Idris Elba, United States Army, detached to Knight Industries to serve as military liaison, field expert, and the best damn driver in the military.

White chick engineer. Former military. She doesn't mind getting greasy and she's great with machines. Mix Zoe with Kaylee from Firefly and you're looking good here.

Indian nerd. Let's get rid of the typical gangly guy with the thick nerds or the FOB import. Have an Indian guy great in electronics without the accent that doesn't look like he was beat up all his life. He just likes to get his nerd on. (The first time you see KITT's red light going back and forth, I'd love to see the computer say "By your command." It makes me squee with glee.)

Chinese AI expert. He's your mole. Oh, that's right. We're throwing some Scarecrow and Mrs. King in to this thing. We're well ahead of China on adaptive AI, and they send in a ringer to take what we have and eliminate the team. Make it look like an accident. The Humvee explodes, but Taye Elba saves the primaries of the team (except for Michael Knight and the red shirt engineers who don't get names).

This is all part of a grander espionage that the team must foil because there's not time for anyone else to do so! But in so doing, they alert the Chinese spy they're still alive and still have the technology. They install the AI into Captain Taye Elba's own sports car and use it to save the day. Most of its systems are off-line because it was built to be in a custom-made Humvee. It can't go invisible or any of that stupid shit.

Now Michael Knight's daughter shows up. She runs Knight Industries clandestine unit, farming out equipment and computer resources to the CIA and such. The entire team has been declared dead and there's an espionage war that America can't openly fight. Do they want to wave the red, white, and blue while using awesome gadgets and kicking some ass? Why yes they do.

Oh but wait, their families have been told they're dead. Captain Taye Elba was privy to some super heavy top secret shit. If ever he disappeared or was killed, his family would be relocated with new identities. He has a wife! He has a son and a daughter! And now they're gone. He never got to tell them he was okay. He must find them. But Young Knight chick won't let him. It's for their own safety. And KITT is still an infant AI and follows its own protocols, doing what it must to keep Taye Elba away from his family. Oh the angst! Who can he trust? Who are his friends? And what other dangers are there out there aside from the Chinese! A resurgent Russia, a corrupt military industrial complex, and a boss who never seems on the level.


Okay, Hollywood. Get on that. That's a show I would watch as long as you don't make it suck.

(How not to make it suck. Have them working to get KITT operational through the climax, but they can't get it working in time and the humans carry the load on their own. At the end of the pilot, THEN have KITT finally go online. Having a car that can do anything basically means you're filming 41 minutes of car chases which is Nascar without the beer.)

Why Oh Why? Oh Me. Oh My! (...times seven)

It's hard to keep track of topics when you're on a variety of soap boxes. I've written in two different live journals, hosted a podcast, and now how this blog/journal. Sometimes you think you've written about a topic when you haven't. Or, you think you've written about it in one place when really it was in another and no one is going to see it. Today's post may or may not be a redux. I'm not copying/pasting, but I know it's at least a topic I've covered on the PodgeCast, so we'll call it a redux nonetheless.

I have been pondering the rewrite of HELP WANTED: CHOSEN ONE for awhile now. An agent who read the manuscript suggested I change the main character from Nashau to Bastin, the latter being more energetic and overall more likable. I was unsure of this, because the story I was telling was most certainly Nashau's, but since I already had multiple POVs, it seemed a better way to hook the reader into the overall story. Once I made some cuts, I saw that he was right.

But something happened when I changed the main character. All of a sudden motivations I never had to explain to the reader became necessary. And those motivations seemed pretty thin. You might get away with a second character coming along because of a curiosity or amusement or the adventure of it all. Main characters need more depth than that and Bastin was my main character. So I needed to articulate the reasons he was doing what he was doing.

Now, keep in mind, I'm not making up excuses for why he's doing what he's doing. If you get to that point, your plot is too thin and you need to back up and really take a hard look at things. You should never make excuses for your characters. They do things and they do those things for the reasons they do them. You may feel it, like they do, but given enough time, you should be able to adequately articulate the psychology behind it without making an excuse. If you ever say "just because," you are required to slap yourself in front of a mirror. If your reasons make someone's eyes roll (especially our own), you have to let that person slap you.

But you don't want to be slapped! Neither do I. So it's best we find a way to articulate our characters' motivations. How do we do that? you ask. We ask the Why Tree.

The why tree is not some ancient being of untold knowledge, it is the question "Why?" asked over and over and over again. (I generally recommend seven times for those people that need a rigid number to properly implement such a stratagem.) Write the question why then draw a line to possible answers. Draw a line from those answers to another question why and so forth seven times. The ever expanding list will take on a Christmas tree-like shape. It's a Why Tree.

Bastin is my main character
Bastin will participate in the quest the prophets claim he is chosen to complete
To make amends to his adoptive father
Because he betrayed his adoptive father
He was young and dumb and didn't trust anyone
His mother was a prostitute and he ran with a street gang
His mother died, leaving him on the street
She had no family to care for him and didn't know who his father was

This has given me all the information I need. When the prophets coming looking for the descendent of a famous count, I have a con man who also doesn't know who his father is. He may or may not be the actual chosen one, something to reveal at the end.

It also gives him the motivation to pursue this quest if you throw in a well-placed "How?"

For all the whys, the HOW? is the really important question. How does all this stuff influence Bastin so he decides to go on this quest? And that's what was stumping me on this rewrite. What was Bastin's motivation that he would risk his life? Amusement? Boredom? May play for a secondary character, but you need something better for a main character. And that's when I keyed on to his adoptive father. I already show Bastin trying to make amends, repaying the money he stole that landed Jin in debtors prison where he eventually died. The thing Bastin can't do, however, is restore Jin's reputation. But here he is being offered a chance to participate in a prophecy. All he need do is tell people it was Jin that did the deed instead of him and all of a sudden, boom! reputation restored. The one thing he cannot do he now can. This doesn't just offer him motivation, but the level of emotional attachment to brave dangers without quitting and an end goal that is worth the risk.

Get excited!


Because this story is gonna rock your face!

Redux: What Rejection Means to My Work Week

It's a Friday, I have a full manuscript with an agent, and I'm querying others. This reminds me of a meme the Rejectionist had on her blog. It feels poignant today:

The Rejectionist asked another question, one I felt worhty of a response. The question returns us to a topic I have written on frequently here in the Brick City (a name I have not used in a long time but fits the tone of this post, so here it is again.) It is, in fact, a topic that comes up frequently, often in an attempt at humor, often resulting in a typical Joe Selby tirade. Regardless, I will endeavor to answer said question anew with both humor and derision, as is befitting.

What does rejection mean to me?

What a simple question. What an unsimple answer. Rejection, to steal a phrase, is like an onion. It has many layers. Specifically, in this case, rejection refers to query rejections in the pursuit of publication, so we can cast aside any blunders I had in my youth attempting to touch my girlfriend's breasts. We will keep this in the now, as I continue writing and continue querying and continue getting rejected.

Writing is one of the most important things in my life (truly, second only to my wife), and rejection is the largest hurdle I currently face to taking my writing to a national (international?) market. As I approach my writing as the second job it is, I will now address rejection as it impacts said job during a standard work week.

I received a rejection letter today. This makes me proud. Many of my friends who do not write or who write as a hobby do not understand this. They assume rejection means failure. This is because they do not attempt professional publication (or, at least, not in anything larger than self-publication, which I discount). They do not truly understand the challenges of finishing a novel-length manuscript. How could one understand without having accomplished the same. So often a manuscript is abandoned after the first surge of creativity is expired. One cannot compare the challenges of writing a 20,000-word manuscript to finishing a 100,000-word+ manuscript. And then to revise that manuscript multiple times and then to query an agent. It is a daunting task. And while true, many queriers do not go through all those steps, I did. I wrote professionally. I submitted professionally. I was rejected professionally. I am a professional. This makes me proud. Thank you, Rejection.

I received a rejection letter today. I appreciate this. It's a form rejection, as they almost alrways are. I recieved a semi-personalized rejection once, or the most politely written form rejection ever known. I hope it was semi-personalized because if she says how close she was to asking for it, that seems horribly unfair to the author. Today's wasn't one of those. It was just a form rejection. It was polite and professional. It went through all the standard statements of how this isn't a reflection of my work and that writing is subjective. I understand that and after having read it so many times, I wonder if it's necessary, but then I remember that it's a kind word and kind words are never unnecessary, so I say thank you. I do not write back thank you, because that would clutter a busy agent's inbox, but I say thank you in my brain, because she deserves thanks for taking the time to read my query and respond.

I dislike agent policy of not responding. I've seen the argument that it's a waste of an agent's time. The math and the totals of how much time out of the year would be spent replying to queries and I do not care. Agenting is not just about writing, it's about relationships, and taking the time to acknowledge you received, reviewed, and passed on my work established a good relationship. Not to mention it spares you from receiving follow-up emails and requries that I think in the end would take up more of your time than creating a form rejection. Email clients and super-copy/paste applications make form rejection absurdly easy. I have posted before what I think when an says she is too busy to do something. We're all busy. A rejection letter is not too much to ask for. So thank you, for sending me one today.

I received a rejection today. Dammit. I'm running out of agents I queried. It's not right for you or for her or for him. This has to be right for someone. Come on. This isn't hackneyed stuff. This isn't my first time at the rodeo. I've written. I've revised. I've avoided cliches and found an interesting hook. I wrote with character and with adventure and threw in some fun twists. This will appeal to the market. I've seen books with this tone before so how can you tell me it's not right for you? It has to be right for someone. How did those books get published if they weren't right for anyone either? There aren't THAT many fantasy agents in the world, and I've done a LOT of research. One of you has published this stuff before. Why won't you even ask to read mine? It's good! Yes the page count is high of your perfect margin, but it's not a 250k+ epic. I'm sure that number will fall during editing. I already brought it down once with my own edits. I edited. I've edited professionally before. I had beta readers and took into account their feedback. Come on. This has to be right for SOMEONE. Someone? Anyone? Listen, I'm productive. I write a minimum of one novel a year. I wrote two last year. I have over a dozen books percolating in my brain, so this isn't going to be a one-shot and we're out kind of thing. Professionally, I'm an investment. I'll produce regularly for you and of a quality that won't suck up all your time from your other clients. Come on, just give me a shot! I'm a steady paycheck! Read the damn manuscript. You'll like it. It's good.

I received a rejection today. One of my self-published friends tried to have a conversation with me today about the challenges of publishing in the industry. He talked down to me like he was some seasoned professional. Dude. Dood. You are self-published. I admit, the changing marketplace makes self-publishing more feasible, but you relied on your friends to edit, design your cover, and set the pages. Sure some of them have some experience, but this is small scale. Your friends were in the creative writing class in high school. They're not professional fiction editors. They do not make their living doing this. They do not win awards for doing this. The authors they edit do not win awards for doing this because you're the only person they edit. Please do not think because you are self-published, and I received another rejection letter, that this somehow puts me into a subordinate position. I am a better writer than you. I am a significantly better writer than you. It is because I am a better writer than you that I am attempting to break into professional writing. I am not cowering in self-publication, "setting my terms for success." My "terms of success" are succeeding. My sales will go well beyond the three-digit cusp. I will make advances. I will earn them out. I will earn royalties. I will be published in multiple languages. I will be asked to submit more manuscripts and even to possibly participate in an anthology.

So, dear agent, while I appreciate that you took the time to send me a rejection, I would ask you to reconsider if for no other reason than to save me from my friends who think I'm a failure. I am not a failure, but it is unlikely they will accept that until I can beat them over the head with an ARC.

I received a rejection today. What. The. Fuck. You posted on your blog that you wanted to expand your list. You said you were looking for fantasy. Hey, that's me! You said you didn't have enough male clients. I have a penis! I know. I touched it this morning! You said if the writing was good you'd ask for more pages. You didn't ask for more pages. You rejected me. What the crap is that? I've been putting up with this all week. You were the last one. My entire query list has rejected me. You see this book I'm reading? It's average. It's not crap. It's not testament to the poor standards of the industry. It's average. The author repeats himself too much and has this unnatural aversion to pronouns. I am better than this. He is a best selling author. This novel is a best selling novel. I am better than this. Why won't you even give me a chance? You know how many times I've revised that goddamn query? Just give me a chance.


I did not receive a rejection today. That's a Monday through Friday thing. I still write on the weekends, though. I write all the time. It's what I do. It's what I've always done. Some days, it's hard. I wake up on Saturday and wonder why I'm not playing frisbee golf or Xbox with friends. Why am I sitting at a counter behind a computer writing about a world that doesn't exist? My wife sees the look on my face and she gives me a hug. She's still in bed. She's going to sleep in. But she doesn't want me to be sad. She reminds me that I'm an asshole when I don't write and, while I may not feel up to it, she'd appreciate it if I'd go do it anyway. For her sake. She also tells me her favorite Babe Ruth quote. "Every strike brings me closer to the next home run." I avoid telling her that you only get three strikes until you're out. I kiss her. I thank her for her encouragement. I write some and see a new agent. Perhaps she'll like what I write. I send her a query. Maybe next Monday will be different.

Redux: There is No Such Thing as Writer's Block

Not quite sure why people are so much more willing to read blogger than live journal as one is just as easy as the other (other than displaying in reader, but we won't get into an RSS feed discussion). Anyway, because it has reared its ugly head again, I feel inclined to repost one of my earlier journal entries on writer's block. It doesn't exist. Stop making excuses.

I can't remember who the author was, someone I respected immensely at the time (Kurt Vonnegut Jr. perhaps?), but I read his opinions long long ago and to this day, I have found them mostly accurate. I say mostly because physical and psychological factors can also play a part in one's writing, so if you're exhausted, overly stressed, or in some other way not prepared to write, it may be frustrating if you're trying to push yourself through. Excluding such instances and focusing directly on writing (when you're in the proper state of self, when you should be writing), there is no such thing as writer's block.

I'll say it again, there's no such thing as writer's block. If you find yourself stuck, unable to move the story forward or unsure of where to go from where you are, you're not "blocked." You've made a mistake. Go back and review what you've written. Somewhere in there is a mistake. When you've corrected the mistake, the story will continue to progress normally. Thus, writing without mistakes will yield a fluid process from beginning to end. Granted, by fluid process, I don't mean that you'll write a publishable book on your first try. There's still revision and corrections to be made. But it's a serious mistake that stops a writer cold.

I have yet to discover this claim to be untrue.