Friday, June 29, 2018

R.I.P. Cordwainer Bird

FYI: This is a cross-post on both my book and movie blogs.

It is always sad when a great talent, who has been contributor to our culture for years, passes away. So it is with the writer Harlan Ellison, who has died in Los Angeles at the age of 84. The impact for me is just that bit greater when it so happens, as is the case with Ellison, I actually met the man once.

In my ill-spent youth in California’s San Joaquin Valley, my best friend Eric and I had dreams of writing and drawing comic books. When we were in high school, we met Ed and Jake who had a similar dream but, being a couple of years older than us, they had taken their dream quite a bit further. For a while the four of us had a great time reading each others’ comics, throwing around ideas and making grand plans for super-heroes and fantasy storylines. This culminated in the four of us making a journey down to Los Angeles for my first-ever attendance at a science fiction convention. For a small-town kid like myself with an overactive imagination, it was heaven. There were well-known sci-fi authors everywhere, panel discussions, exhibits of props and costumes from our favorite movies and TV shows. Naturally enough, there was a heavy emphasis on the original Star Trek series, which had only gone off the air a couple of years earlier.

Of all the people we met there, the one that stood out and has always stuck in my memory was Harlan Ellison. I don’t know if I would actually have recognized him, but upon running into him, Ed went crazy like the total fanboy he was. As we blocked his way and chattered away incoherently, the diminutive author (he never quite achieved 5'3") stared up at us two giants (both a full 6'4") and muttered, “Well, a couple of all-American boys.” His attitude was brash and sarky but not unfriendly. For years to come I would laugh whenever I would (frequently) hear of some outrage the writer caused with his prickly manner and bulldog stubbornness. After all, I had gotten my own brief glimpse of it.

As a wannabe writer myself, I saw him as something of a role model. He was working for all the people I wanted to work for. A promising early job with Walt Disney Productions was cut short, though, when he had the bad timing to joke about—and act out—in the studio commissary the idea of a Disney porn flick—within earshot of Roy Edward Disney.

He was a prolific writer of short stories and novels and oft-heralded by the Hugos, the Nebulas and the Writer’s Guild. Perhaps his best known title is the 1969 novella A Boy and His Dog, which was adapted into a 1975 movie starring a very young Don Johnson. He was also a prolific contributor to television shows. He wrote journeyman teleplays for the likes of Burke’s Law and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., but of course his writing really shone when writing for The Outer Limits, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and Star Trek, for which he penned the famous City on the Edge of Forever episode, which featured Joan Collins and which Gene Roddenberry insisted on having rewritten to make it less dark. To Ellison’s further ire, Roddenberry would not allow him to replace his own name with that of his customary nom de plume for projects he wanted to be dis-associated from: Cordwainer Bird. Ellison’s Hitchcock episode was “Memo from Purgatory,” which was based on his own experience, at 20, of infiltrating an inner-city gang for research purposes. It starred James Caan.

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Ellison was a lifelong advocate of gun control. He was credited with convincing DC Comics’s publisher, with a phone call, to end its practice of running ads for BB guns. He also took filmmaker James Cameron to court and won, forcing the director to add Ellison’s name to the credits of The Terminator after the author insisted that the plot was similar to one of his stories.

Ellison was friends with fellow sci-fi writer J. Michael Straczynski and had a credit as “conceptual consultant” for JMS’s TV series Babylon 5 throughout its run. He also wrote the stories for the episodes “A View from the Gallery” and “Objects in Motion.” Not only that but he provided the voices for Sparky the Computer and the comedian Zooty, as well as appearing in a walk-on as a Psi-Cop. One of the great things about being a B5 fan was that JMS was an early pioneer in communicating regularly with fans on the internet, so we got a lot of interesting background anecdotes about B5 in detail. None were more entertaining than the ones about Harlan and his escapades.

I refer to Ellison as a science fiction writer advisedly, as I understand he did not like that term. He preferred to be described as a fantasist. On that topic, he once said, “Call me a science fiction writer and I’ll come to your house and nail your pet’s head to the table.” Here’s another of his choice quotes, about working in Hollywood: “This town is filled with weasels and wormers and people who will stab you in the front if they can’t reach your back.” And another: “The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen… and stupidity.”

I could dine on his bons mots all day. Here he is on popular science fiction: “Star Wars is adolescent nonsense; Close Encounters of the Third Kind is obscurantist drivel; Star Trek can turn your brains to purée of bat guano; and the greatest science-fiction series of all time is Doctor Who! And I’ll take you all on, one-by-one or in a bunch, to back it up!” Perhaps his most self-aware comment: “My role in life is to be a burr under the saddle. I didn’t pick that for myself, it just happens that’s the way I am.”

The difference, of course, is that when the burr is gone, we usually do not wish that it was still there.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Children of the Revolution

“Time is running out for Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega,” proclaims a headline in The Economist. “Nicaraguan students whose families fought with Daniel Ortega to oust the Somozas now lead a rebellion against Ortega’s own family dynasty,” a sub-head in The Wall Street Journal informs us.

Things are clearly unsettled in the Central American nation. Seeing the name Daniel Ortega back in the news again evokes interesting memories for me. Some of those memories found their way, in a literary guise, into my first novel Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead. If you have read the book, then you know that the narrative does not lead my protagonist Dallas Green to Nicaragua, but it does take him up to and over the Mexico-Guatemala border. Along the way he becomes mixed up with a couple of political activists, one from California and the other from Galway. While those characters are completely invented, the American one (Peter) was at least partly inspired by people I knew in Seattle in the late 1970s and 1980s.

Here’s the background. When I was young and naive, I went to work for a weekly suburban newspaper. What I did not realize until I had been there awhile was that there was a unionization effort well underway by employees in my department. Because I was new and apparently unoffensive to management, I was persuaded to represent the prospective new bargaining unit in labor negotiations. Following a vote to unionize, I was elected the union representative. At this point the boyfriend of a co-worker latched onto me, convinced that I was some sort of firebrand of the workers’ rebellion. This fellow was an unabashed political leftist keen to find foot soldiers for his various projects. One such project was reading international news items with a non-American, non-corporate slant five evenings a week on a non-profit, community-based radio station, Seattle’s legendary KRAB. An even more interesting project my friend got me involved in was a voluntary technical effort to help modernize the Nicaraguan banking system. No, really.

In 1979 Sandinista rebels had overthrown the Somoza dictatorship and established a revolutionary government. A member of the new ruling junta was Daniel Ortega, the same man who is now Nicaragua’s president and who is currently facing mass student-led rebellion in response to cutbacks necessitated by the government’s financial mismanagement. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, at least 127 people have been killed and 1,000 injured in the crack-down on anti-government protests that began in April. Four decades ago, though, Ortega was one of the young revolutionaries who had found themselves newly in charge of their country. One of the many challenges they faced was an antiquated banking system in which remote branches could not efficiently communicate with the capital Managua. That was what I got drafted for. The fact that I was learning to program at work and knew Spanish from having lived in Chile made me an near-ideal candidate.

While the Reagan administration was supporting Contra rebels to undermine the Sandinistas, I was writing code—and others were playing with shortwave radios—to build a packet-based transmission system to bypass Nicaragua’s lack of wired infrastructure. Personally, I looked at it more as a technical challenge than a political cause. The work we did was passed on to other volunteers, who took it to Nicaragua. I have no idea how much, if any, ended up being used in any practical way down there. One volunteer I met briefly along the way went down to build a rural hydroelectric facility. Unfortunately, it was located in the northern Contra war zone, and he was killed in an ambush at the age of 27. Enthusiasm for our project was already on the wane even before the Sandinistas were thrown out of government in an election in 1990.

The story in Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead takes place several years before I had any (long-distance) involvement of my own in Central American politics, but my experiences in the 1980s—along with campus politics during my university days—were good research into how the American leftist mind works. While there may have been some wry hindsight humor in the way I portrayed Peter and Séamus, I hope I was fair to their point of view. The older and more cynical I get, though, the more I tend to think that revolutions are not really about ideology at all. In practice, by my observation anyway, revolutionaries are ultimately less concerned with the actual order of the social hierarchy than whether the right people are at the top.

Still, those who roll up their sleeves and get involved in the trenches deserve a certain amount of respect. The fates of Charles Horman in Chile in 1973 (subject of the Costa-Gavras film Missing) and Ben Linder in Nicaragua in 1987 are stark reminders that idealistic activism is not without its risks. As you may have guessed, they were both inspirations for my character Tommy Dowd, who meets a similar fate in my fiction.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Mud in Your Eye

On my movie blog I like to joke that I write my film reviews and commentaries—especially the ones dealing with the Academy Awards—while drunk. I am sure some (most?) readers believe it is true, not least because of the quality of the writing or the frequency of typos. I am sure that my latest commentary, which discussed how UK drink driving laws were threatening the closure of a film landmark in northern Scotland, did nothing to dispel the notion.
Where the magic happens
The image of the dipsomaniac writer is well ingrained in the popular view of authors. Ernest Hemingway, for example, was known to be a prodigious drinker, and it is difficult not to notice that novels like The Sun Also Rises seem to be chronicles of one drinking session after another. Indeed the number of celebrated writers who had reputations as serial imbibers, if not full-blown alcoholics, includes such renowned figures as F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, William Faulkner, Truman Capote, Edgar Allen Poe, Dorothy Parker, Dylan Thomas and Tennessee Williams. The list goes on and on, and never mind the ones truly legendary for their exploits in substance abuse like Charles Bukowski and Hunter S. Thompson.

There are so many great talents who apparently drank all the time that one wonders whether or not it is entirely coincidental. Is it possible that alcohol can actually unleash one’s creative potential? It is a thesis I have willing to test. Especially since my wife gave me the generous gift last Christmas of a very dear Irish whiskey called Writer’s Tears. Can there be a better name for a bottle of spirits? Unfortunately, it was pricey enough that I have been hesitant to drink very much of it. Perhaps at some moment when I am truly in need of inspiration?

It turns out that someone has actually conducted a study into this. Believe it or not, the Harvard Business Review recently published an article with the definitive headline “Drunk People Are Better at Creative Problem Solving.” There you are. Case closed.

The online version of the article by Alison Beard sums it up in the very first paragraph: “Professor Andrew Jarosz of Mississippi State University and colleagues served vodka-cranberry cocktails to 20 male subjects until their blood alcohol levels neared legal intoxication and then gave each a series of word association problems to solve. Not only did those who imbibed give more correct answers than a sober control group performing the same task, but they also arrived at solutions more quickly. The conclusion: drunk people are better at creative problem solving.”

This immediately raises two questions: 1) was this some sort of April Fool joke, and 2) where can you sign up to take part in a study like this? Professor Jarosz elaborates: “You often hear of great writers, artists, and composers who claim that alcohol enhanced their creativity, or people who say their ideas are better after a few drinks. We wanted to see if we could find evidence to back that up, and though this was a small experiment, we did.” Asked if this means all people in creative jobs should be drinking more, he replies, “Very few professions require you to be 100% thinking outside the box or 100% focused, so I think it’s going to depend on the task you’re doing. You know the old saying ‘Write drunk, edit sober’? Well, there’s a reason the ‘edit’ part is in there.”

There’s the rub. I do not doubt that a certain amount of inebriation can have a positive effect on the creative process for the same reason it can make people feel more relaxed and confident in a potentially stressful situation. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and that can be very liberating emotionally and mentally. I suppose it helps bring out thoughts and ideas that are partially suppressed. Experience, however, suggests that drinking is a disaster when it comes to doing anything that requires concentration, consistency or a quick reaction time. Things that sound brilliant when you are a bit tipsy can be excruciatingly embarrassing when replayed to a sober audience. If you think finding and correcting mistakes—let alone avoiding them in the first place—is difficult under normal circumstances, well, it becomes pretty much impossible if you have been partying in your office.

Professor Jarosz, who describes himself as a craft beer fan, also reports coming across research showing that, surprisingly, people who have been drinking speak with more fluency in a foreign language. I can personally vouch for that, although I have never been sure if a bit of pisco or tequila only makes me think I can speak Spanish better.

In the end, this study strikes me as so many academic reports I read about. After all the research and study, the conclusions always seem to me to have been obvious from the outset. Case in point: “One paper, ‘Lost in the Sauce,’ by Michael Sayette at the University of Pittsburgh and coauthors, reported that people under the influence are more susceptible to mind wandering, which could be helpful in some scenarios but harmful in others.”

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Write Stuff

A reader has been very kind to seek me out about writing advice. Specifically, he asked how I center myself and clear my thoughts prior to writing.

I am flattered because, like him and lots of others, I too am always looking for good advice about writing. I have been amazed to find out how much advice—much of it really good—is out there, probably mainly because so many authors—and also editors and readers—write blogs. While I have happily discussed my own writing process on these pages, I have not tried to pass myself off as any kind of writing expert. After 23 years as a blogger and three novels, I still feel like a beginner who has barely begun to learn to write. Still, I am willing to share my thoughts, for what they are worth.

There are probably as many variations of the writing process as there are writers—if not actually more. I can certainly tell you what works for me, but that does not mean it will be the best way for you or anybody else. For one thing, I do not have the common problem that some aspiring—or even some successful—writers have, which is to regularly find oneself frozen in front of a blank word processor page. So I am probably not the best person to tell you how to beat writer’s block. For that, I still think the best approach is that of novelist Richard Bausch: “When you’re stuck, lower your standards and keep going.”

For what it is worth, here in a nutshell is how I myself approach the challenge of writing a novel. (It occurs to me that I am mostly repeating what lots of other writers have already said.)

Have a clear story in mind. That may be stating the obvious, but there is no point sitting down at a keyboard if you do not know the story you want to tell. I do not plot my books out in excruciating detail before I start—and I sometimes find things happening in the story I did not entirely expect—but I always have a definite story arc in my head and in my notes. That includes a firm sense of where the story begins and where it ends. And that leads to the second thing.

First, write a really good first sentence. Then write a really good last sentence. It is important to have a really good first sentence, so I will spend a lot of time on that—even if it may not seem like it. Then I try to come up with a really good last sentence. Realistically, it is difficult to come up with the last sentence at the very beginning, but it is important to have at the outset an general idea of what that sentence will be like. Usually, about two-thirds through the writing, I come up with a pretty definitive version of the whole final paragraph. That may not work for everyone, but it is essential for me.

Commit to writing a significant number of pages every day. This advice is pretty common. The suggested number of pages varies, but it is important that your goal is set in number of pages as opposed to, say, number of hours per day. I think the reason for that is self-evident. Since I am pretty motivated and disciplined by nature, I have always given myself permission to write the most pages I reasonably can each day—whatever that number might be. And, since I have the luxury of setting my own deadlines, I do not beat myself up about skipping writing days. If, however, you are trying live off your writing, then you would be well advised to put strict benchmarks on yourself.

Lower your standards and keep going. (Yes, I am plagiarizing that from Mr. Bausch.) Some days I feel absolutely inspired and every keystroke I make seems absolutely inspired. (The next day, though, it usually looks like it was typed by random monkeys.) Some days every word I muster feels stale and tired, and I question why I ever bothered to go to school—instead of just staying illiterate. If I make the mistake of reading actual really good writers (for me that’s people like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, but there are many, many others) and comparing their work to mine, well, then I just want to break all my fingers. The trick is to just keep writing—no matter how short from your ideal you are falling—with the thought in your mind that you can always go back and polish it later. Of course, it is better to write something good in the first place, but the fact is that, as the person doing the writing, you will not really be in a position to judge the quality of your own writing until you read it later anyway. Even then, you really are not the best judge. That is what editors are for, but the goal is always not to embarrass yourself in front of the editor.

Make your initial goal to simply finish the first fifty pages. I have read in several places that there is something magic about hitting the fifty-page mark. In my experience, this is actually true. Those first fifty pages are always a lot of work, but at or about that point something strange does happen. Every word is still as much work as it ever was, but overall there seems to be less wind resistance or less friction on the runway. It becomes less easy to stop writing because the story has something akin to momentum or maybe inertia. Let that thought encourage you to keep going.

Accept that you are only about halfway done when you get to the end. As much work as writing can be, it is much more fun writing the first draft of a story than it is to go back and polish and re-write the whole thing. I am sure there are actually writers who enjoy that part of it, but for most of us, I suspect it takes a pretty healthy ego to spend day after day dealing with what is basically ample evidence of your own imperfections. If you want a book you can be proud of, then you just have to suck it up and get on with it. You have to keep reminding yourself that making the writing better is as creative in its own way (though different) as dreaming up the characters and the plot developments.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Fitness of Character

How do writers come up with their characters?

The suspicion with novelists—especially first-time ones—is that their protagonists are thinly-veiled versions of themselves. Writers known mainly for one main character—Ian Fleming comes to mind—are frequently seen to have deliberately made that character their alter ego.

But what about the other characters, besides the main one, who populate a novel? Where do they come from?

I suppose in the worst of cases they spring from whatever mechanical need there is to advance the plot. Or perhaps they are just slightly modified stock characters from any number of examples of stock fiction. What writers and readers would prefer, of course, is that every character in a story—even the most minor—would spring to life as a fully realized creation that lives and breathes naturally and is unique in the same way that every human being is non-identical to all other human beings.

My own experience is that a character may begin as being somewhat “like” someone I have known in my life, but by the time she has become fully immersed in the biosphere of the story, she has taken on her own life and overshadowed the original inspiration. It is amazing how your characters—not unlike your children—may begin by depending on you entirely but, before you know it, they have minds and wills of their own. As a writer, you may end up feeling less like an author than a stenographer.

No one has really queried me about where the various characters in Lautaro’s Spear came from—aside from the inevitable accusations that Dallas Green is really me. (For the millionth time, he’s not.) As for the other characters, individual readers have had their favorites and their non-favorites, but most (of the ones who have communicated with me anyway) have liked Marty, the somewhat mysterious proprietor of a hole-in-the-wall Mexican eatery hidden away in San Francisco’s Mission District. Interestingly, he is the one character in the book whom I more or less appropriated full-cloth from real life. It so happens that back in the 1980s when I was working in the Lower Queen Anne area of Seattle, I had my own Marty.

He was pretty much as described, although he did not have a sidekick Leonides (that I was aware of anyway) and I was never invited to his home. And he never made me a margarita, although I am sure it would have been good. He was just a guy who served up Mexican food and liked to talk. Always anxious for an opportunity to practice my Spanish, just like Dallas I would converse with him en español, which he clearly understood, but he would insist on responding in English. And just as in the book, when I mentioned my year in Chile during the Pinochet regime, he began dropping hints that he somehow had something to do with the coup that overthrew Salvador Allende and brought Pinochet to power. I could never be sure, when he said “yeah, we did on a job on him,” whether he was speaking of the U.S. collectively or some other community he identified with or, most tantalizingly of all possibilities, some elite squad of which he was personally a member. The last idea fascinated me. What if he was some sort of secret agent?

If that had been the case, how likely would it have been for him to have wound up cooking enchiladas in the shadow in of the Space Needle? In hindsight, perhaps more likely than I might have thought. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I was a regular customer of a Mexican restaurant in downtown Redmond. Years later I learned that one of the people cooking the food there had been Henry Hill (using a new identity), an FBI mob informant whose story became the basis for the Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas.

I never actually learned the name of the cook who inspired the character for my book. In Lautaro’s Spear I called him Marty. That was my own little tribute to the character played by Edward James Olmos in the TV series Miami Vice, Lt. Martin Castillo. In all my years of television viewing, that was definitely one of the best cases of an ordinary-seeming secondary character being revealed, bit by bit over time, to be way more interesting than was first apparent. I wonder who he was based on.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The First Hurdle

The good news that I have now written nine chapters of my next book.

The bad news is that five of them are Chapter 1 and four of them are Chapter 2.

In other words, things are going about normal. With three novels under my belt, I can actually now make sweeping generalizations about my writing process, and here comes one. The early stage involves a lot of writing and re-writing of the initial chapters. More than once I have read that the biggest hurdle to completing a book is getting past the first fifty pages, and I understand why. I do not know if there is something magic about the number fifty, but I do know that it takes about that many pages for the creation of a book to attain lift-off. Until you get to that point, you are like an airplane taxiing on the runway. The main difference, at least in my case, is that the plane is (usually) not continually backing up and starting again from a dead stop. Come to think of it, neither am I, so maybe the airplane comparison is not completely inapt after all.

A lot of things have to happen in those first few chapters that are crucial to everything that happens after. The characters have to be drawn right, which is to say that they must be consistent with what will be happening further down the line. Some characters start out as placeholders or plot devices, and they need to be fleshed out so that the story has some hope of feeling like it is really happening. The writing process takes up too much time for me to want to spend it all with a bunch of robots. Since my characters are going to be residing in my head for months and years, I want them to be good—or at least interesting—company.

Also, events need to happen in a way that leads to where I need the story to go. Plotting a story is basically a long chain of decisions. I suppose the reason that the early stages are more challenging is that there are too many possibilities. Once you get past a certain point, the possibilities become more manageable because so many branches of the decision tree have been pruned.

Maybe a better comparison for explaining the challenge of getting past the first few chapters is lighting a fire. This is an activity that has been particularly relevant lately since it has been extremely cold in Ireland. Since a mass of polar air arrived from Sibera last week (dubbed “the Beast from the East”) and met Storm Emma coming up from the Bay of Biscay, building fires has become a critically important chore so, yes, let us compare the fifty-page barrier to building a fire.

For all the reason mentioned above—and maybe some others—there is something wondrous that happens around fifty pages in. It is akin to the moment when the turf in the fireplace ignites and begins to burn on its own. From that moment on, you are not exactly home free, but everything is easier. You are no longer going back and laboring on top of already-trodden ground. You can focus entirely on going forward. If the first few chapters tend to get over-written, the rest of the book—at least in my case—is always in danger of not being sufficiently polished. Because of the momentum. I just want to keep the story going and not “waste” time looking back.

I am still looking forward to getting to that point, but at least I know from experience it is not far away.

In the meantime, let us observe that today would have been the 91st birthday of the journalist and novelist Gabriel García Márquez. He was born on March 6, 1927, in Aracataca, Colombia, which he immortalized in his books as the fictionalized village of Macondo. I have previously written on one of my other blogs about what his works—first and foremost One Hundred Years of Solitude—meant to me, particularly at the point in my life when I first read and studied them in South America.

Literary heroes can be daunting because they pose the danger of making someone like me feel his attempts at writing are pointless when there are books of García Márquez’s caliber already out there. Personally, I prefer instead to take comfort from the probable fact that, with each and every one of his books, he would have experienced the same exact frustration as me in getting past those first fifty pages.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Art of the Sequel

In my previous post I explained in a fair amount of detail how my first novel Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead came about. There is no need, though, to explain how Lautaro’s Spear came about, right? It’s just a continuation of the first book because it is a sequel or, as I explained in another previous post, just another book in the same “novel sequence.”

Okay, let’s be real. Lautaro’s Spear is a sequel. So how does it measure up to the definition of sequels that I have oft cited on my movie web site? As I keep saying, a sequel is basically the same story as the original movie or book but re-worked to give the impression that it is actually a new story that advances some overall storyline. Also, the conventions of the sequel require that, when the original story is retold, everything must be bigger and better.

So how does Lautaro’s Spear measure up as a sequel? Well, you can certainly make the argument that it is the same story. Once again Dallas feels his life in California closing in on him and decides to escape by taking off for foreign parts. During his foreign adventure he meets and falls in love with a woman and he forms a strong bond with a new Hispanic friend. Also, he gets mixed up with a bit of political intrigue that leads him to a dicey border crossing.

Had you spotted all those parallels? Actually, come to think of it, if all those coincidences constitute a sequel, then doesn’t The Three Towers of Afranor—if you substitute Alinvayl for California and Afranorian for Hispanic—technically qualify as a sequel too? Actually, when it comes down to it, isn’t every story basically about a journey of some sort?

Okay, I got a bit silly there, but there is a fair amount of truth in what I was saying about sequels. Consumers of fiction, I believe, read or view sequels precisely because they enjoyed the original work and want to have that experience again. Of course, the author cannot give them the exact same experience again because you can only experience—really experience—a particular thing once. If you experience it again, then you are re-experiencing it, which is something different but still valid in its own right. After all, in the sequel experience there is something pleasing about subtle reminders of the original experience, the recognition that, yes, we have been here before, although things were different then.

The real challenge comes with the sequel to a sequel—something some people call a “threequel.” Just doing the same thing but bigger still and better still does not quite cut it. That is why so many third installments in a series (cf. Superman III, Godfather III) fall flat. To avoid this, writers sometimes go in a different direction. They go about de-constructing the original story instead of just retelling it. That appeals to some readers/viewers, but others are put off by the fact that the writer no longer seems to take the story and characters seriously.

Fortunately, I still have a bit of time—and a whole other book to get through—before I have to decide exactly how to make Dallas’s sequel’s sequel work. I can promise you it will be something totally original—but just the same.