Behind The Story

Finally, this past week saw the publication of my oral history of the New 52, just six or seven weeks after I’d finished it. (I’m oddly salty about the time between submission and publication, even though I know the editing process was particularly in-depth on this one; really, I think I’m just upset that it stretched on to the point where we missed the actual 10th anniversary of August 31st.) Seeing it actually go live after so long, and after working on it for so long, was a surreal experience, and one that was more than a little awkward.

I am, I should say to start, happy with the piece. It’s imperfect, of course; creating it proved to be surprisingly difficult, with a genuinely surprising number of people contacted refusing to be involved for any number of reasons — including, on more than one occasion, explaining that they remain too traumatized by the experience that they couldn’t talk about it, or at least couldn’t talk about it on the record — which made for a difficult time assembling anything that looked like the reality of the situation. There are noticeable absences in the narrative, but they were unavoidable, unfortunately.  For the most part, I like the story.

That said, watching the story’s reception across the week has been odd and uncomfortable, as people have noticed those absences and created arguments in their mind for them that… well, just aren’t true. Apparently, I’ve been alternately writing official propaganda, or ignoring specific creators intentionally; I’ve been an apologist for multiple, often opposing, viewpoints and arguments, I’ve had agenda to fulfill, and I’ve simply been trying to destroy the reputation of the entire era by, and I quote, “dredging up the past and making everyone look bad.” Really, I’ve seemingly been exceptionally productive, if you think about it.

Through the whole thing, I’ve kept quiet; arguing against people on the internet is a losing proposition, and it’s easier in the long run to just quietly seethe on the sidelines, knowing the truth. But still. But still.

Vote For Me And I’ll Set You Free

I had the strange experience last week of making an argument for my dream job — or, at least, one of my dream jobs. It was something that spun out of a phone call with an editor, and me beginning that argument during the call; they said something along the lines of, “I’ve never heard you so fired up! Why don’t you write something up and we’ll see what happens?” and it was off to the races.

The reason I’m sharing this isn’t that I think it’ll happen; just the opposite, given the way that so much of this year has worked out when it comes to career opportunities. But, really, just the act of sitting down and writing out what is more or less a pitch for, “this is what I want to be doing with my career, and this is why I think that you, unknown decision maker who has to think about if this is financially viable, should agree with me,” is a dizzying, surreal experience. Think of it as the old idea of singing for your supper, but with a component of having to consider how the supper and the song fits into the listener’s overall business plans.

The even stranger thing is, this wasn’t the first time that I’ve had to do something like this in the last couple of months. As I try to consider what shape my writing career is going to take in the next few months to a year — if I’m going to continue to have a writing career of any note — I’ve had to write more than one attempt at pitching myself and my plans. As someone who hates talking about themselves and coming across as anything resembling confident, it’s a skill that I’m still working on learning, but one that I arguably should have had years ago.

I’ll find out if this latest argument was convincing in a few weeks, I suspect. Like I said, I doubt that it truly will be, given the evidence so far, but I’m willing to be surprised one more time, just in case.

In The Last Split Second

Before I hit send, I thought the following things:

– That I was relieved, more than anything, to be finished. This process was one that had been in the back of my head since I first had that conversation months ago, and the constant presence was something that had gone from something filled with potential and possibility and, yes, even excitement had become something of a worry, especially in recent weeks. At the start of everything, I’d suggested the end of summer as a self-imposed deadline because it felt impossibly far away; then, suddenly, the end of August was staring me in the face, and I was all too aware of the need to just sit down and get things done.

– That this wasn’t the end, but really just the end of the beginning, to use the cliche. What I was sending off was a first draft — arguably, something even earlier than that, notes towards a partial first draft, perhaps? — and nothing was really finished at all. In fact, this was taking things into a more difficult, awkward place where someone else would see what I’ve been doing and could tell me all the ways I’d messed up. This was just the start; as soon as I sent it, things would only continue, only get bigger and more filled with pressure and expectation.

– That I was nervous of letting go of the whole thing. As exhausting as the process had been to date, there’s been a comfort and security in working on it for so long in private, in working to my own expectations and plans without anyone else seeing or telling me where I’m going wrong. In many ways, the project had become a security blanket I hadn’t expected, and as soon as I sent it off, that wouldn’t be true anymore.

– That I would be heartbroken if it was rejected, or pulled apart with notes to essentially start over.

– That I wasn’t emotionally prepared for it to be accepted either, with all that would mean.

Knowing how scary the moment was, I hit send quickly, and tried to ignore the knot in my stomach afterwards.

Whatever You Do

I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about the lost art of changing your mind, especially in critical scenarios. Part of this comes from revisiting movies that I’ve previously liked and found wanting years later — not least of which being the theatrical version of Justice League, which I rewatched for work reasons and realized was so uneven and disjointed that I couldn’t believe that I’d ever thought it was, you know, fine — as well as going back to things I’d believed were lacking, only to find new value and strength after the fact.

Maybe it’s because I work online, and exist in those spaces — not just my work spaces, but also social media as a whole — that I feel as if it’s difficult to come out and say, “that earlier take I had, I disagree with now.” There’s a pressure to entirely dedicate yourself to your opinion and valiantly defend it, no matter what, I feel; the idea that liking something or disliking it to the degree that every single opinion becomes a potential hill to die on, no matter how trivial. Perhaps it’s old age talking, but I feel like it’s not overly ridiculous to be okay with deciding that the superhero movie you thought was cool five years ago is actually a bit shit, on reflection.

This is, of course, dangerous thing to admit out loud; by being an online culture writer, it’s basically an announcement that I have critical opinions that others should pay attention to, and going back to those opinions after the fact to say that, on reflection, maybe I was wrong, might undercut the very purpose of the whole thing. Aren’t we supposed to be, if not infallible, then at least unchanging?

But, again, that feels like a fault. There is value in changing your mind, and re-evaluating your opinions on art at a later date, even if it’s just discovering new favorites to love from that point on. Or accepting that Justice League could never be as strong as I wanted it to be.

Take A Look At The Five and Ten

The last few weeks of the year is always crunch time for me, work wise, and I always forget that until I’m in the middle of it, quietly losing my mind through overwork and stress. Every December begins with me making a promise to myself to really embrace the holiday of it all, and by the middle of the month each year, I’m panicking about how I’m going to be able to hit all my deadlines and also find time for Christmas. This has happened on a regular basis for the last few years, and each and every time, I’m somehow surprised by it.

I never learn. I should fix that.

Things this year have been different, in that the pandemic meant that all of the holiday shopping took place online and earlier than usual, which at least shifted stress from I don’t have time to shop, I have three different deadlines to hit before the day’s over to I don’t have time to open these boxes and I can’t even remember what I bought, I have three different deadlines to hit before the end of the day. A change is as good as a rest, according to people who regularly get rests; to everyone else, it’s just regularly exhausting.

What hasn’t been different has been the rush for material, and the juggling of keeping up with the day-to-day workload of news and explainers and op-ed pieces with the traditional year-end content: retrospectives, Best Of lists, and speculation about what lies ahead in any appreciable area. I’d hoped, foolishly, that the lack of a Star Wars movie this year might have eased things, but DC relaunching its superhero comic line and the new Wonder Woman movie on HBO Max put paid to those forlorn hopes.

I’d managed to convince myself that, maybe, maybe I was being melodramatic and things weren’t so busy and stressful this year. And then I told my therapist my recent workload, and she went, “oh boy, that’s a lot. I’m tired just listening to you.” That might be a sign that, all things being equal, I’m a little overwhelmed right now. Tis the season, after all.

Turn And Face The Strange

Ive been writing for different places in the last few months, after losing my Wired gig and seeing my THR workload get smaller — something that, thankfully, gets reversed at the start of next year, I’ve recently been told. It’s been a move born of necessity, but not necessarily one that I regret; it’s good to reach out a bit, try new things. Even before the pandemic, I was thinking that I should probably be trying to be published elsewhere. It’s just that the way in which it happened wasn’t exactly an ideal situation. But, really, what was, this year…?

Some of the “different place” writing has been old haunts returned to to see if it worked out, others have been new venues I’d been eyeing for awhile. Not all of it, wonderfully, has even been published under my name — intrigue! — but it’s all been part of this experience of breaking out of the comfortable work rut I’d found myself in for the past few years, and looking at the way I do the work that I do.

(Just because I call it a rut doesn’t mean I’m bemoaning it, I should clarify; it was a situation I was very fortunate to be in, and one I miss being in now, and not just for monetary reasons. Having two ongoing gigs of the scale I did was a rare and wonderful thing, and I’m lucky I had the opportunity for as long as I did. Nonetheless, I was doing the same thing for a few years, and at some point, I became a little too comfortable with that.)

It’s been an experience, to say the least — relearning how to pitch stories, and even more importantly, how to deal with pitches being rejected; learning to deal with the demands and expectations of new editors; discovering the quirks of how I write and the affectations of others I’ve taken on, unconsciously — and it’s something that has improved what I’d call my craft, if such a term didn’t make me feel self-conscious.

That said, as I head into a new year and one that, I hope, is going to be less tumultuous for the world and my profession in particular, I find myself hoping to find recurring, regular berths again. I love writing, I love my job. It’s just that, if it’s possible, I’d like to be able to love and appreciate it with a little less worry for awhile.

Alternative Careers I Have Considered Throughout My Life

Being a freelance writer isn’t for the faint of heart, nor for anyone who truly cares about money. As this year, especially, has shown, you’re at the whim of countless elements outside your control, from editors whose tastes are unintelligible and unknowable to budgets that change with little notice but control if you’ll meet rent that month or not. In the (gasp) decade-plus that I’ve made it as a freelance writer, I’ve often thought about giving it up and finding something else — something better-paying, something more stable, something with a set schedule that might actually involve some level of physical activity to keep my muscles from slowly atrophying on a near-imperceptible basis — to do, instead. Really, who could blame me? Here are three of alternate options that I’ve struggled with.

Librarian or Bookseller

Pros: I like people. I like books. What if I could put both of those things together, and help people find the books they really wanted, and make them happy? Cons: You have to go to school to become a librarian, I’m pretty sure. And even if you didn’t, I know that I’d judge people’s poor taste relatively harshly enough that I’d risk getting fired for failing to disguise my horror at some of their choices.

Some Kind of Comic Book Industry Professional

Despite how vague this sounds, it’s rooted in some kind of reality. I know a surprising number of people who’ve jumped from writing about the comic book industry, like I do, to actually being part of that industry, whether as an editor or some executive level position. There are even people inside the industry who’ve made noises that I should make the switch myself, and there are certainly days when it feels like an option I should consider — and then, almost inevitably, there are days when I’m writing about the industry and remember that it’s a cruel and unforgiving one without any true loyalty or retirement package that transforms even its most beloved figures into exhausted husks by the time it’s finished with them.

Plus, no-one’s actually, like, offered me an actual job or anything.

Postman

This has been, for years, my unofficial retirement dream — to give up being a freelance writer and instead deliver mail part-time. I’d get exercise, I’d be part of a community, and perhaps even get cookies from grateful households during the holidays. Unfortunately, 2020’s apparent destruction of the United States Postal Service has maybe put paid to this fantasy.

Guess I’ll just have to keep writing for now. If you’ll excuse me, I’m pretty sure I need to get to work on some pitches…

Don’t Speak, I Know What You’re Thinking

One of the things I initially intended when I set myself the rule that I’d post three times a week on this site, back at the start of 2019 — in the midst of a divorce and trying to find a new structure for myself, as well as a new sense of agency, and having literally no idea that a pandemic was a little over a year away, because who did? — was that I’d share things written elsewhere that I wanted to keep track of, whether they were stories written for print that didn’t appear elsewhere on the internet or simply things that hadn’t appeared publicly for whatever reason.

It’s fair to say that I haven’t actually done that over the past, what, 20 months or so, by this point. Part of it was, simply, that I didn’t get around to it — there was always something else to do, or else I was simply forgetting and ending up writing new posts instead of repurposing old ones. But part of it was that, when I did write things that I would have wanted to share, it wasn’t necessarily a good idea to share them.

A case in point: I did what could, I guess, be considered unpaid consulting for a publisher earlier this year. It didn’t start off that way; it was, instead, a simple question asked by someone at that publisher about something that I can’t share because it’d break confidences. My answer, however, was a short essay, going far bigger than they’d intended, and creating a Unified Theory Of That Publisher’s Public Image that, sure, answered the question but did a bunch of other things, too.

(So many other things, in fact, that I worried that I’d gone too far and wrote a follow-up message that was basically, “I’m sorry if I went overboard.” I hadn’t, I was reassured.)

I couldn’t share something like that, because it was all said in professional confidence, for want of a better way to put it. And so much of the stuff I’d want to post here that was originally written elsewhere falls under that category. The moral of this story may be either, I should shut up elsewhere more often, or perhaps I should publish and be damned, anyway. I’m not sure which, or if it’s either one at all.

Beyond Thunderdome

So, I did DC FanDome.

In a year of COVID, everyone has been taking the idea of a convention and turning it into a series of Zoom meetings and YouTube videos, so I guess no-one should have been that surprised when WarnerMedia announced FanDome in the first place; it felt like the ultimate culmination of that idea crashing into Warners’ corporate desire to make DC into a lifestyle brand — something that’s been a quiet ambition since the company named dropped any modifiers and became, simply, “DC.”

(I could be wrong, but I think the official name went from DC Comics to DC Entertainment in 2009, and then quietly became just DC just under a decade later; there was certainly no big fanfare about the dropping of “Entertainment,” I just remember DC execs quietly telling me to stop calling it DC Entertainment in THR stories.)

DC FanDome felt overwhelming and overkill on first blush, I’ll be honest: a 24 hour livestream based entirely on DC properties? Is that what anyone really wants? But then I remembered that I spent four days last year at a real life convention based around Star Wars, and that’s just one series of movies. FanDome, in that context, suddenly felt like a model of restraint — only 24 hours? And for free? I could even watch from the comfort of my home, and not have to go to Chicago!

With rumors of new footage for the big DC movies of the next year or so, it was obvious that I’d have to cover the show for work, and that’s exactly what happened; I was one of a team of three at THR watching the eight hour block of programming this past Saturday — in many respects, the original plans for FanDome were scaled back before it happened, with a second event announced for the following month less than a week before it took place to host more than half the originally announced content; I’d love to know what happened behind the scenes — and, reader, it was exhausting.

Perhaps it’s because it really was a nonstop eight hour block of programming with little downtime to allow us the chance to write up stories. Maybe it’s because “panels” lasted anywhere between 10 to 30 minutes instead of physical show’s more common 45-60 minute runtime, making everything so frenetic. Or, simply, I could have just been exhausted by working on a Saturday after a long and stressful work week as-was.

All I know is, I was aware that, objectively, DC FanDome was entertaining, slickly produced, fast-paced and, honestly, kind of fun. But, personally, covering it felt like an endurance race that I was not prepared for. I’m, by this point, familiar with attending comic cons where friends say things like, “Oh, that sounds fun!” and I respond with, “No, it was work.” This one, though, despite only being eight hours, and despite seeing me at home the entire time, felt like work.

I did DC FanDome, and I’m really glad that it went well for everyone involved and all the fans that dug it; I think it’ll be a model for future events of this nature, even after COVID, whenever that may be. But I’m also very, very glad that it’s over and I can relax for a bit.

Gonna Fuss and Fight

Before the big THR story was published last week, I was pretty nervous.

There were multiple reasons for that, I told myself; the subject was big — perhaps too big for the word count we’d been given, but print is print and you only have the space allotted you. (When I was starting out as a writer, I’d look at magazine pieces that stretched through multiple pages with awe and fear, thinking I could never write anything that long; I now know quite how short a two page magazine story actually is.)

More than that, the subject was important. The story we were writing was about something that had changed people’s lives, had ruined lives. (It had certainly ruined careers, or utterly derailed others’.) Each of the three of us who’d written the story had talked to a number of people impacted by what had happened, and we felt a responsibility to get everything right for them, if nothing else.

There was also the fact that, by the time it ran, we’d been working on this for some time — more than a month, in some form or other. We’d started seriously talking about it towards the end of June, and even that came after watching events unfold for a couple weeks by that point. The story had been something that we’d been living with for awhile, first as an abstract concept, then as information gathering, then finally more than a week actually putting together and pulling apart, going through the editorial process. The idea of putting it out, of it actually not being something in the works anymore, felt oddly daunting.

And finally, I was nervous about reception to the piece. Would it go over well? Would people be receptive? Reporting it had only uncovered more stories to tell, and I’d already pitched follow-ups. If we were judged to have done this one well, it would be easier to convince editors to go for what’s next.

I’d convinced myself that I was the only one nervous, but as the piece actually went out, I discovered that wasn’t the case; someone else who worked on it shared their own relief as reaction started to appear, and it was positive. It was an oddly restorative moment, for reasons I’m unsure about, but something that made me feel less ridiculous and less alone.