A NICE TALK WITH THE DO-DADS

My good friend Jeff Elden (and company) invited me to jump on the Do-Dads podcast. We talked about life, pop culture, family, writing, and inane dinner party conversations. I promise I tried my darnedest to be entertaining and insightful. Do-Dadsart2

"On a very special Do-Dads David Hopkins (Emily Edison, Karma Inc., Short Story of the Month Club, The Wild and Wayward Tales of Tammi True) teaches us how having a good work ethic can make all of our dreams come true." Listen here.

THE IMPORTANCE OF ART AND LITERATURE DURING A TRAGEDY

monsieur_jeanDuring a tragedy, I try to stay away from Facebook. Some of my friends (who are wonderful, kind, and intelligent people) just start posting stuff that puts me on edge. Then I try to figure out why I'm on edge, and then I start playing the game Who-I-Most-Agree-With-and-Why, and it really distracts me from the actually tragedy. Finally, it ends with a blog post. Like this one.

On Friday, Paris was attacked by terrorists. Before that, terrorists also attacked Beirut. Horrible. Terrible. Heartbreaking.

Then, I see people on Facebook complaining that more people are upset about Paris and didn't even know (or care) about Beirut. The implicit judgment: You hypocrite. And some astute people are able to point out tragedies that have taken place all over the world — Peshawar, Qasoor, Karachi, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Serbia, Croatia, Boko Haram, Darfur, Palestine, and Israel. Let's also not forget the atrocities happening in Central and South America. The implicit judgment: Do your homework, you hypocrite.

It's true. The tragedy in Paris hit me the hardest. Is it because I think French lives are more important than the lives of people elsewhere? Not at all. I want to care about all tragedies in equal measure, but I don't, and I don't think you do either. I think it comes down to how close we are to the tragedy.

I haven't done a lot of international traveling in my life. I've been to Russia, and I've been to Mexico, and that's about it. But I've watched movies by Francois Truffaut. And I adore them. I've seen Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie and A Very Long Engagement several times, not to mention other great French films. I've read Monsieur Jean by Dupuy and Berberian — and countless other French graphic novels. Art and literature put me in closer proximity to that place. Paris, a place I've never visited, feels alive through decades worth of exposure to great French artists.

Why do I care about Iran? I read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. Why do I care about Palestine? I read Palestine by Joe Sacco. Why do I care about Israel? I read Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan.

Let's not make this about us. You aren't a horrible person because you're fond of the places closest to you. And for someone who hasn't had the means to travel as much as he'd like, the only way I can connect to these places is through art and literature. On some level, my view of England has been shaped by Doctor Who and Harry Potter. Japan? Lots and lots of manga, Kurosawa, and Miyazaki. Just as I'm sure that the world sees New York City as the place where Marvel super heroes live, and Texas will always be the home of westerns and John Wayne.

Instead of telling others how they are supposed to feel about a tragedy, how about sharing with them some of your favorite art and literature from those other countries? The ones we habitually and shamefully skip over. I know there's something I'm missing out on, and you have an opportunity to let me in on the treasures of those other cultures. Then it becomes a real place.

As you might guess, I think the best place to start is with translated works. I'm fond of comic books and graphic novels from other countries. First Second has a good collection. And if you like prose novels, Deep Vellum is doing some great work.

Yes, I realize the issue is bigger and more substantial than "I haven't seen any great movies about Syria recently." Does the U.S. news media do a good job covering international events fairly and in equal measure? Of course not. However, let's save that frustration for where and when it's due. If we want to keep the conversation positive and productive, it starts with introducing people to new places and new people, not by policing how we respond to tragedy.

(For further reading: "Tragedy hipsters" and the #alllivesmatter-ification of grief https://storify.com/JamilesLartey/on-fff)

CAKE AND PROSE: A RECAP

IMG_0594 copyThank you so much to everyone who showed up for CAKE AND PROSE: A BOOK RELEASE CELEBRATION. The evening offered a beautiful mix of art—literature, theater, and music. The Margo Jones was the perfect venue, and we had the perfect audience: friends, friends of friends, and a few delightful strangers. It was a privilege to hear my stories read by such talented actors, providing a new perspective on something so familiar. Plus, Greg Schroeder. The guy does not disappoint. He's an incredible musician and an all-around badass. I recorded the event. It's not a professional recording—just me with my trusty Sony digital recorder—but it's all there, every story and every song. Enjoy!

Cake and Prose (1 hour, 37 minutes)

[audio mp3="http://thatdavidhopkins.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/cake_and_prose.mp3"][/audio]

This event benefited the Birthday Party Project. All money collected at the door went to support their efforts to bring joy to homeless children through the magic of birthday parties. Last Friday, we raised enough money to provide a party for 75 kids. If you choose to listen to the audio, please consider donating a few dollars.

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Below, I've posted my introductions for each segment. I wrote everything out word-for-word, for fear that I'd ramble, but then I'd occasionally go "off script" anyway.

Introduction: It Might Be Worth Something

IMG_0619This is what happens when the Wild Detectives bookstore doesn’t respond to my emails. I inquired about doing a signing there to promote my short story collection, because I love that place. I never heard back from them. So I thought, fine, I’m an independent author. I’ll throw my own party. I asked my friend Brad McEntire for some guidance. Brad is a man of the theater. I greatly admire him for his work with the Audacity Theater Lab and the Dallas Solo Fest. We brought two other talented actors on board, Maryam Baig and Bryan Pitts. Greg Schroeder is also here tonight to perform a few songs. He’s an amazing songwriter, one of my favorite local artists, who tells these incredible stories, peering out through the verses. And then, Sugar Bee Sweets Bakery offered to provide the cake. Next thing you know, we have something bigger than a book signing.

IMG_0620Book signings are weird anyway. I’ve done them before, and I always grimace when someone has me sign a book, then he or she waves it in front of me and say, “Who knows? It might be worth something someday.”

It really is the worst possible thing you can say to someone about a book they wrote. “It might be worth something, someday.”

Because that’s what I’m thinking while I’m writing it: It might be worth something. Just maybe. Someday.

There comes a moment in the creative process where you realize that it is worth something. It’s worth something to you. These stories take on a life of their own, and you have to finish, because there are fictional lives at stake. The stories are yearning to live, to be free. There is life in the good fiction, in good art, and you feel its burden.

The stories we’re sharing tonight are about life yearning to be free, that life is temporary and so it is precious, that choices shape our lives and that indecision is a kind of death. We choose who we love and, at the same time, we find ourselves so compelled to love that it carries the gasp, the hush of inevitability. Tonight, we’re celebrating what’s good in life. Stories, music, cake, and love.

Shopping Mall at the End of the World

IMG_0629I wrote this story for D Magazine. It’s one of my favorite pieces. It’s about apocalypse. A popular subject, one of my favorites. In fact, the novel I’m working on is called, “Wear Chainmail to the Apocalypse.” (Good advice by the way.) The apocalypse refers to a final destruction. The word also means to “uncover” or “reveal.” In a sense, all good stories are apocalyptic—in both senses of the word.

In stories, we condense the world down to a few people.

For instance, in Moby Dick, our whole world is reduced to a small boat on a great sea, the remnants, a small wandering tribe. In the journey, we uncover what it means to be desperate, afraid, and heroic. Great Gatsby is a grand party at the end of the world. Huck Finn is about two people searching for freedom while the society around them descends into madness.

This story is about the apocalypse through the eyes of a mall. I present “Shopping Mall at the End of the World” as read by Brad McEntire.

If You Could Be

IMG_0630Usually, an author attempts to endear himself or herself to an audience. However, I’m going to share one of the worst things I don’t remember doing. Let me explain. I dated a girl briefly when I was in high school. But I can’t remember what year it was. I was definitely old enough to drive, but it couldn’t have been my junior or senior year, because I was dating a girl named Susan at that time. So, maybe my sophomore year? I had a policy of rarely dating girls from my school because I found that girls at other schools had no idea how uncool I was.

This girl who I’m fairly certain was my girlfriend, but I don’t remember her name, we went out on a few dates, and here’s the thing: I don’t remember breaking up with her or her breaking up with me. I think I just stopped calling her, but not as a conscious decision. I literally, and I don’t even know how this is possible, I literally forgot I had a girlfriend. She was pretty. I liked her. We had similar interests, but somehow she disappeared.

How does that happen? Sometimes people slip away. In part, that’s what this story is about. “If You Could Be” as read by Bryan Pitts.

Escaping Venus Texas

IMG_0658This next story actually started as part of a comic book series that never found an artist or a publisher. A few years ago, I counted up what I’ve written in comics. 2,000 pages. Half has been published in some form. Half has never seen light of day. (Symmetry!) This story was in the latter pile. It was a subplot that I decided I could rewrite as a short story. It may be the most intentionally unromantic story ever.

I’ve grown tired of stories where the girl ends up with the guy, and that’s a suitable conclusion to her story. At the same time, I wanted to acknowledge there is something special about a lifelong commitment to another person. So I decided to tell two stories about two women, one who left and one who stayed.

I present “Escaping Venus Texas” as read by Maryam Baig.

Ladies and gentlemen, Greg Schroeder...

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All photos by April Hopkins.

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PANEL DISCUSSION AT DOWNTOWN DALLAS LIBRARY

I've been invited to participate in a panel discussion next Thursday at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library in Downtown Dallas. The title of the event is Mean Business: Women in Comics. Heather Lowe, manager of the fine arts division, will be moderating it. Thursday, April 9, 2015 at 6:30 p.m. J. Erik Jonsson Central Library 1515 Young St., Dallas, TX 75201 4th Floor Performance Space

The four guests are: Iris Bechtol, Gallery Director and Adjunct Professor of Art at Eastfield College in Mesquite, TX Keith Colvin, owner of Keith’s Comics Taffeta Darling, media personality and host of the webshow “Fangirls” David Hopkins, writer, graphic novelist and co-host of Fanboy Radio’s “Indie Show”

It's not the first time I've spoken about women's issues in comics. But now, fortunately, I have a moderator and three other people to bounce around ideas. It should be a great discussion. If you're the kind of person who likes to discuss women in comics, welcome! We'll be on the fourth floor.

CAKE AND PROSE: A BOOK RELEASE CELEBRATION

CakeAndProse-942x600 Cake and Prose is a unique presentation of essays, short stories, and music. There will be readings from WE MISS ALL THE GREAT PARTIES, performed by local actors (Brad McEntire, Bryan Pitts, and Maryam Baig), and live music by the talented Greg Schroeder.

Plus, there will be cake. Let's not forget the cake.

The details:

  • The event will be on Friday, May 1st at the historic Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park.
  • Admission is a pay-what-you-can donation to The Birthday Party Project, cash or check accepted. It's a wonderful non-profit that brings joy to homeless children throughout the Dallas area.
  • Cake generously provided by Sugar Bee Sweets Bakery in Arlington. They have the best cakes in North Texas. Absolutely delicious.
  • The event starts at 7:30 and will probably last about two hours.
  • Parking isn't terribly complicated at Fair Park, but you will probably need this webpage to guide you.
  • Copies of WE MISS ALL THE GREAT PARTIES will be available for sale (both paperback and hardcover).

Facebook event page at: https://www.facebook.com/events/1390010577987158/ If you can't see the event page, it probably means you need someone to invite you. (Facebook is weird.) Just post a comment or send me an email, I'll add you to the list. Either way, please come. Facebook is not necessary for your attendance or your acceptance in this life.

Why the hoopla?

It took way too long to get this damn short story collection finished. Now I want to celebrate and sign some books. I'm knee-deep working on my novel, with no end in sight, and it's my last hurrah before I have to go back into hiding. And yes, May 1st is also my birthday. But if you think I'm the kind of person to host an event on this scale, just so I can force my friends to listen to my stories, as performed by actors, to drag some musician I greatly admire across north Texas to play some music, then hand out cake, all as a pretense to have a kick-ass birthday party, then you sir (or ma'am) might be on to something.

In truth, I wanted to have this event sooner, but May 1st was available and it kinda fit into the whole theme ("We miss all the great parties"). It was the birthday aspect that made me want to donate all the money raised at the door to The Birthday Party Project. Kennedy and I volunteered for them about two years ago, and ever since I've been enamored by their mission. It's possible, but not confirmed, that the executive director of the organization will say a few words at the beginning. I emailed them about this project a few weeks ago, and they were very excited.

A huge thank you to Brad McEntire for helping me plan everything. As a man of the theatre, he's been an invaluable sounding board and resource to make sure the event will kick ass.

So, let's pack the Margo Jones. It has a capacity for about eighty people. And maybe we could fit a few more in? All are welcome. We can celebrate the good things in life: stories, music, love and compassion, friendship, and cake. Let's not forget the cake.

Any other questions? Feel free to post a comment below.

A FEW THOUGHTS ON MOBY DICK

MOBY-DICKThis weekend, I finished Moby Dick (Or, the Whale). D.H. Lawrence called it "one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world." And I'd have to agree. It is truly strange, even by today's standards. At first, I liked the book, then I hated it, and then finally I loved it. The book has an odd charm that isn't fully realized until you get to those last chapters. The premise is absurd: A captain seeks revenge against one particular whale. The intermingled drama and comedy is positively Shakespearean. Certain scenes are terrifying and surreal, such as Captain Ahab's speech after his harpoon glows from the lightning strike. The tension between Starbuck and Ahab is fascinating. Like a classic tragedy, the ending is both inevitable, predictable, and still shocking. And yet, the novel is wrapped in the tedious journalistic details of the whaling industry in the 1800s.

Moby Dick would be an easy novel to abridge. Simply take out all those chapters that go into explaining everything you never wanted to know about the genus and species of whales, the anatomy of whales, how different countries hunt whales, maritime whaling law, the mythic and symbolic role of the color "white," and how whale oil is stored and shipped. However, there's something about these chapters that contribute vitally to the whole.

One of the greatest treasures within Moby Dick is the hidden wisdom--thoughts on life and death, faith and disillusion, love and loss. My favorite passage, which captures all of it in one heartbreaking bundle, might be:

There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause: - through infancy's unconscious spell, boyhood's thoughtless faith, adolescence' doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood's pondering repose of If. But once gone through, we trace the round again; and are infants, boys, and men, and Ifs eternally. Where lies the final harbor, whence we unmoor no more? In what rapt ether sails the world, of which the weariest will never weary? Where is the foundling's father hidden? Our souls are like those orphans whose unwedded mothers die in bearing them: the secret of our paternity lies in their grave, and we must there to learn it.

Which ties beautifully to the very last sentence of the epilogue:

It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.

Note the connection to the words "retracing" and "orphan," separated by several chapters but absolutely not an accident.

Somewhere in the middle of this novel, I swore I would read Moby Dick only once--and then be done with the stupid thing. Now, I'm a little anxious to return to the beginning and read again. Maybe next year.

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HOW A TV SITCOM TRIGGERED THE DOWNFALL OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION

11053877_10102989026069687_7746252422717411390_nLast Friday, I spoke at Union, a spiffy coffee house in Dallas that I'm fairly certain is a church in disguise. That's a thing, isn't it? Churches pretending to be coffee houses. This one is more subtle than most. The pastor is a good guy. (He calls himself a "community curator"... what does that even mean?) The place is cool. And Union certainly beats going to Starbucks. If you go, I doubt anyone would start asking you about the sorry-ass-state of your immortal soul. You're safe. Anyways. Union invited some fellows from D Academy to speak at its Naked Stage series. All of it was to promote the Big D Reads event in April. I was one of the speakers. Most people spoke extemporaneously and did a wonderful job. However, I wanted to prepare a written essay that I could share—a call to arms against anti-intellectualism in America.

D Magazine's Frontburner blog shared my essay. And now, I'm sharing it with you.

I want to discuss a popular TV show my wife and I have been binge-watching on Netflix. It’s the story of a family man, a man of science, a genius who fell in with the wrong crowd. He slowly descends into madness and desperation, lead by his own egotism. With one mishap after another, he becomes a monster. I’m talking, of course, about Friends and its tragic hero, Ross Geller. Read more →

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"WE MISS ALL THE GREAT PARTIES" AVAILABLE ON AMAZON

WeMissAllTheGreatPartiesMy short story collection — WE MISS ALL THE GREAT PARTIES — is now available on Amazon, both paperback and Kindle ebook editions. Support the indie author in your life (that would be me). You'll be surprised. Indie authors look and sound like real authors, except they get a larger percentage of the sales revenue! It's amazing.

Actually, I don't know if this is true. However, I do know that I'm not handing over a percentage of my book's revenue to a publisher to tell a distributor that I'm good enough for them to list my book, and I'm not paying an agent 10% to tell the publisher that I'm good enough for them to read. And I'm not paying a publicist to tell readers that my book is worth their time. I'm just giving a huge chunk to Amazon, and they're selling my book.

Welcome to the outland territories of American literature. I can't promise you I will ever be legit. But I won't stop writing, and rudely shoving it in your face. Thus, we're at an impasse. You will simply have to take a chance on my book. It's scary. It's reckless.

http://amzn.to/1DaYueW

The book contains 10 stories about odd encounters and personal exploration. More specifically:

A young man in search of meaning connects with his dead girlfriend's son. A group of men in Wisconsin start a poetry group while waiting for their favorite bar to be rebuilt. A woman discovers her husband has been hiding a secret. He also wants to rob a bank. A basketball player continually relives the last six seconds of his worst game. An amateur chess player encounters greatness. A girl attempts to leave a small town. But before she goes, she learns the story of one who stayed.

These stories span a variety of genres, technical approaches, and perspectives--one story is a parody, another is written entirely as a series of conversations, one story is a family melodrama, another is a contemplation of pro sports and time travel.

This 10-month project, which turned into a two-year project, represents what I love most about short stories: the opportunity to experiment and play, to expand a condensed world.

[tweet "You will simply have to take a chance on my book."]

BADASS WRITING INTERN WANTED

badass_internI'm looking for an intern. I need someone who can think and write. The writing must be concise, balanced, purposeful, and artful. The thinking can be messy or organized, gut-driven or analytical. As long as you don't indulge in idiotic behavior or spurn intellectualism, you're good. You will be writing for Imaginuity. It's a great place with great people.

What will you get out of the experience? You'll get paid. And I'll pick up the tab on lunch from time to time. Mostly, you will get the benefit of my mentorship. After three months, you will be so damn employable that any creative agency would be crazy to pass on you. It will be hard work, but you're a writing badass. You can handle it.

Contact me, if you're interested.

A SIMPLE EMAIL TO MY COWORKERS

A Humble Pie SellerSUBJECT: The box says "World's Finest," and I have no reason to doubt. A general address to the faithful workers contained within this creative space for the specific purpose of parting from you your hard earnings:

Salutations and good morn! My daughter, an earnest capitalist in the truest sense of the word, has beseeched me to act as her agent in the selling and distribution of fine chocolate confections. Wherefore such actions? The chief aim being to raise funds to support her school, and if I may venture, to pay the monthly salaries of the buffeted pedagogues. I digress. If you would like such delectable candy, you may ask yourself, “How can I afford such wondrous treats? Surely, since the box proclaims the sundry sweets as the ‘WORLD’S FINEST CHOCOLATE,’ how can I afford it? It must require my own life’s savings!” Nay. Fear not, gentle plebeian, the chocolate of which you speak, requires only two bills. And not the one’s bearing Franklin’s sour visage, but that of our noble Washington. Two dollars for a box of chocolate, upon my life, I speak the truth. Come visit me at my work station, and I will gladly officiate the transaction.

In the interim, thank you and glad tidings for your generosity.

Sincerely, David Hopkins Wordsmith and protector of strategic methodologies for the purpose of enhancing our client’s bounty

Post script: This is what befalls, hence you listen to the Moby Dick audiobook on the highway to work.

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FANTASTIC FOUR TRAILER: CHANGE IS COMING

Some thoughts on the release (finally) of the Fantastic Four teaser trailer:

  • I'm digging the Philip Glass score.
  • Not digging the obligatory light shooting in sky to open a portal.
  • The official website describes it as a "contemporary reimagining." I'm conflicted. I don't want this movie to tread the same ground as the other movies (3, including Roger Corman's). But would I prefer to see what Marvel Studios would do with the FF in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Yeah.

  • Josh Trank is capable of making a good movie. (Exhibit A: Chronicle) I'll take a good movie that works from the same genetic ooze as the real FF (Exhibit B: The Incredibles). But it's not as satisfying as seeing a good FF movie that looks like what I read in the comics.
  • By "looks like what I read in the comics," I'm not talking about Johnny Storm as played by Michael B. Jordan. I'm really excited about the casting of Michael. I'm still a little confused by Billy Elliot (aka Jamie Bell) playing Ben. We'll have to see how the CG works with him. In the teaser commentary video, Trank said that Bell's blue eyes will remain untouched by effects--which is interesting.
  • Oh yeah, here's the teaser commentary video: https://www.yahoo.com/movies/the-fantastic-four-teaser-trailer-with-commentary-109246554892.html
  • Watching the commentary trailer, Trank needs to stop calling it "The Ultimates." The Ultimates is the Avengers. You mean, Ultimate Fantastic Four. It's confusing. I know.
  • Tagline: "Change is coming." Is this a shot at the fans who complained about... everything?
  • Trank: "This was the first, most important superhero group in the history of modern comics."
  • The trailer didn’t give us any of the actors interacting or talking. More of a mood piece.
  • I could take the moral high ground and say, “If nothing else, maybe it’ll drive more people to the comic.” But in truth, if it’s wildly popular, it may change the direction of the FF comic in the rapidly changing Marvel universe. (Whenever FF returns...) A hit could change how Marvel does FF going forward.
  • You should read this interview with Josh Trank and Simon Kinberg over at Collider. The whole interview reads like some serious damage control. However, kudos to Trank for this moment...WEINTRAUB: I have to ask, so Marvel cancels The Fantastic Four…. TRANK: What? What?! WEINTRAUB: When did you guys hear that Marvel was canceling the Fantastic Four comic book, and what was the first reaction? TRANK: Do you remember when Jay-Z said he retired from rapping? WEINTRAUB: Yes. TRANK: I almost forgot that too.

EPIC MAD MAX TRAILER

From WIRED: "After watching this clip we wanted to file this under 'Greatest Movie Ever Made' even though it’s probably a little too soon to make that call. That said, we’ve got a feeling, deep in our bones, that this movie will be spectacular. George Miller looks like he’s out for bloody vengeance, seeking to rain down hate on anyone who’s dared make an 'action' movie since he left the post-apocalypse behind."

ANTIGONE AND POWER

Antigone confronts CreonA few months ago, a student from the University of Rochester in New York contacted me. She was taking an English class on adaptations. Part of her research paper included the adaptation of Antigone that I created along with Tom Kurzanski. (The comic is available online in its entirety. Go to my published work page and scroll down. It’s there, all 32 pages.) From her email:

I love your adaptation; I especially love seeing Antigone's power shown so blatantly. In looking at your other works, it seems that female characters take a large role. In your Antigone, female power seems to be a very central part of how you tell the story. I was just wondering if you had any thoughts about this. Was portraying feminism in Antigone your intention? Was this theme of power used in order to strengthen the plot in any way, or was it more of a message in itself?

My response:

Obviously, debating the definition of what makes something "feminist" is almost as old as the movement itself. I consider myself a feminist, and I try to incorporate ideas about gender and power into my work. I see Antigone as a powerful character -- in part -- as a function of Greek dualism. The obvious counter example would be her sister Ismene. However, I see Creon as the true weak one. His desperation to hold onto his political power has weakened him. He pretends to not care about the will of the people, but it's clear that he does care. He's a bully who hides behind his authority, whereas Antigone's power comes from her own conviction of right and wrong and the will of the gods. I see Antigone as a character who, through no fault of her own, is constantly challenging people on their own convictions. That's why I had Antigone kiss her sister in the opening scene. It was her way of forcing the issue of their incest origins. It was a power play, and a rather cruel one.

The concept of "power" is omnipresent in the play, and hopefully in the comic as well. Military power. Political power. The influence of family. Love. Power of fate. Violence. As a woman, Antigone feels physically weak compared to her uncle. So she has to find other ways to exert her power. Through disobedience to his law. And then, when Creon's wife commits suicide, that's the ultimate loss of power, isn't it? In the final scene, Creon acknowledges that he is powerless before the fate of the gods.

My other comics (Karma Incorporated, Emily Edison, Astronaut Dad) all touch on feminism and power, just in different ways. For instance, Karma Incorporated, ultimately, is about domestic violence. It's just disguised as a con artist/caper story.

[tweet "I consider myself a feminist. I try to incorporate ideas about gender and power into my work."]

BIG FELLA? FUCK YOU TOO.

oddfellowsYesterday, I had dinner by myself at Oddfellows. I wanted to get a quick bite before going to a book signing. (Rough life, huh?) Oddfellows is perhaps my favorite place in Dallas to eat. The place isn't too crowded--except for brunch. It's a cool restaurant in a great neighborhood, relaxed environment, lots of natural light, and good food. Now you have my two-sentence Yelp review. I was sitting there, reading a book (because that's how I roll). And this server walked up to me. He was probably in his early twenties. He had red hair and a camp counselor smile. He looked like the kind of attractive guy who no one could imagine having sex with, because it'd feel like you were befouling a muppet. The guy cheerfully approached.

"Hey there, big fella, can I get you something to drink?"

Cue the record scratch. Big fella? Big. Fella. What grown-ass adult calls another grown-ass adult "big fella," who? Big fella is what you call a tubby kid when he's at Disneyland. ("Hi, big fella, are you excited to meet Mickey Mouse?") Do not ever call me "big fella."

This casual, faux familiarity has to stop at some point. These diminutive, hypocoristic names -- honey, sweetie, sugar, champ, sport, boss, bro, buddy, pal, chief -- are ridiculous. Unless your name is Peggy and you work at a small diner, in a small town, then feel free to call me "honey" or "sweetie." Otherwise, I seriously have no problem with "sir" or learn my damn name.

I like the casual vibe, but let's not get too snugly with the pet names. M'kay? Of course, I did not flip out at Oddfellows, because then I would look like an asshole. Instead, I decided to blog about it and be a prick. Fortunately, another person took over as my server, and she did not speak to me like I was in the hospital about to get my tonsils removed with ice cream to follow.

No, I did not flip out. I smiled. Tipped 20 percent. And acted like a normal, happy customer.

But to the camp counselor muppet who called me "big fella," at that moment, I wanted to drag you into the street and beat you senseless with my hardcover. Obviously, I didn't, because who does that? And you'd probably kick my ass. I bet you go to the gym. But in my mind, in the wonderful playground of my twisted imagination, you are broken and crying in the street, while some valet guy is honking at you, demanding that you crawl to the sidewalk so he can park the car. No, wait. He just ran you over. Totally not my fault.

Okay. I feel better now.

If you do go to Oddfellows, I would suggest the Buffalo Mac. It is delightful. Or take a few friends for brunch, arrive early. You won't be disappointed.

BECHDEL TEST THYSELF!

rsz_batmanisadick26lx_3766I've always considered myself a feminist. As someone who makes up stuff out of thin air, I'm concerned with how I portray women in my stories -- to do so in a way that is honest and fair and responsible, to create stories that offer compelling characters, both male and female. I want good stories, and I believe this is EASIER to accomplish when you approach narratives as an intelligent, compassionate human being.

However, having been raised on a steady diet of male-oriented genre fiction, a writer can fall into one of the many tired, sexist tropes that besiege modern storytelling: damsel in distress, stay in the kitchen, double standards, slut shaming, and many more. These tropes exist because of lazy one-dimensional writing. Writers use the female characters to merely support the male characters.

Out of curiousity, I wanted to see how I fared against the Bechdel Test. What is the Bechdel Test, you say? To quote Ashe Cantrell at FilmSchoolRejects.com:

"The Bechdel Test, if you’re not familiar with it, is a benchmark for movies developed by Alison Bechdel in 1985. For a movie to pass The Bechdel Test, it must contain just one thing - a scene in which two or more named female characters have a conversation (that is, back and forth dialogue) about anything at all besides men. Anything, even if it’s something stereotypically feminine, like shopping or shoes. It could be about dog poo. It doesn’t matter."

After a quick read through my comics, here's how I stand.

Lengthy projects -->

Astronaut Dad: PASSED Karma Incorporated: PASSED Emily Edison: PASSED Antigone: FAILED (Technically, Sophocles failed. It's adapted from his original play. There's Antigone and Ismene, but they only talk about their brother Polynices.) We've Never Met: PASSED Souvenir of Dallas: PASSED (Barely, these one-pagers don't have much in the way of conversation. Plus, since these one-pagers center around the misadventures of Fictional Paul and Fictional David, there aren't many women. However, one comic "Real Housewives of Dallas" does fit the criteria.) Some Other Day: PASSED One Night Stand: PASSED Mine All Mine: PASSED

88 percent.

Short stories -->

"Productivity" from Boo! Halloween Stories #1: FAILED (There's only two characters in this short story, a man and a woman.) "From Geek to Freak to Emergency Room" from Jam! Tales from the World of Roller Derby: PASSED "Judge Roy Bean" from Outlaw Territory Vol. 3: FAILED (Four characters in the story, all men.) "50 Miles to Marfa" from PopGun Vol. 3: FAILED (Three characters, only one girl.) "Virginia 1939" from Bradley Boys Adventure Magazine: FAILED (Only one woman in the short story, on the last panel, and she doesn't say anything.) "Betrayal of the Man-Eating Cow Clones" from The Tick's 20th Anniversary Special Edition: FAILED (One page story, no female characters.) "The Stranger Waits for Me" from Western Tales of Terror #2: FAILED (No conversations in this story. Mostly the narrator.) "CFI: Silent Forest" from Silent Forest Television Parody Special: FAILED "The Sparrow" from Dead@17 Rough Cut Vol. 2: FAILED (There's no dialogue in this story at all.) "Fight to Live" from Dead@17 Rough Cut Vol. 1: FAILED (Only one female character, she doesn't talk. Too busy being resurrected.) "Siren Song" from Dark Horrors Anthology: FAILED "Fighting David Parrot" FAILED "DangerZone Dave vs. the Realistic Dolphin" FAILED "The Happy Bullets Present an Illustrated Companion Pamphlet for the Album Hydropanic at the Natatorium" FAILED

7 percent. Clearly, my short stories don't stand up as well as my longer stories/projects.

I don't know if the Bechel Test exonerates or condemns. But it does create an interesting starting point for a conversation about gender in fiction. (For instance, the original Star Wars trilogy fails the Bechdel Test miserably. There are only three named female characters with speaking roles--Leia, Aunt Beru, and Mon Mothma.)

I would encourage other writers to test themselves. But more importantly, I encourage us all to go beyond this simple, low-bar benchmark. No more lazy stereotypes. No more sexist tropes. Simply creating a "strong, female character" is not the same as creating a female character worth caring about. I'm confident that my best work is ahead of me, and you'll notice it, because the characters will breathe real air. They won't come out of the box as pre-packaged genre fiction crap. But in order to do that, I have to think intelligently about how I approach my characters.

THE QUOTABLE TACTICS TIME NEWSLETTER

hopkins_chessI really enjoy (and highly recommend) the Tactics Time newsletter by Tim Brennan. A few times each week, he sends an email with a tactical conundrum from a real game, something that you might actually see over the board--not just tactical compositions. He also includes a little bit of interesting commentary on the game itself. Each newsletter features an inspirational quote. I wanted to share a few of my favorites.

"In chess, attention is more important than concentration." - Frank J. Marshall

"When you strike at a king, you must kill him" - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"All great achievements require time." ― Maya Angelou

"Tactics are it. People under 2000 shouldn't study anything else. You need to work on the ability to count and calculate." - Mig Greengard

"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'press on' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race." - Calvin Coolidge

"The weaker the player the more terrible the Knight is to him, but as a player increases in strength the value of the Bishop becomes more evident to him, and of course there is, or should be, a corresponding decrease in his estimation of the value of the Knight as compared to the bishop." - Jose Capablanca

"I give 98 percent of my mental energy to Chess. Others give only 2 percent."  -  Bobby Fischer

"The pleasure to be derived from a chess combination lie in the feeling that a human mind is behind the game, dominating the inanimate pieces ...and giving them breath of life." - Richard Reti

"No matter how much theory progresses, how radically styles change, chess play is inconceivable without tactics." -  Samuel Reshevsky

"When you see a good move, look for a better one." - Emanuel Lasker

"The player who plays best in a tournament never wins first. He finishes second behind the guy with the most luck." - Saviely Tartakower

"There are only two kinds of moves in the opening: moves which are wrong and moves which could be wrong." - Saviely Tartakower

"Improvise. Adapt. Overcome." - Clint Eastwood (Heartbreak Ridge)

10 THINGS TO DO BEFORE I TURN 38, JUST 10

April has a list she does every year near her birthday. While I commend her for wanting to do "33 Things" before she turns 32, I'm turning 38 next year -- and "39 things" is a lot of things, even if it's just piddling things. I'll be old, one day, if I'm lucky. And I don't want to think of 99 things when I turn 98. Sorry. I'm sticking with 10. It's a good number. 1. Print and distribute my short story collection.

2. Memorize a poem that I like.

3. Memorize some more Mark Twain quotes. (Everybody likes Twain quotes, right?)

4. Less Facebook. More books.

5. Shine shoes like a pro. Pop that rag!

6. Get my USCF rating to above 1400.

7. Finish "Improve Your Chess Tactics" by Yakov Neishtadt.

8. Every week, work on my novel.

9. Get our garden going.

10. Meditate more.

MY 20 FAVORITE ALBUMS

Doolittle by PixiesBack in the old days, you'd invite a friend over and they could peruse your CD shelf, quietly nodding to your choices. I guess people still have CD (and record) collections, but almost everything I have is now stored within the near-infinite, intangible bytes of my iPod. If I could pull my favorites and put them on the shelf, here they are. I made one of these lists for Facebook a few years ago. And I think another such list is hiding in the vast archives of this blog.

My mood changes, so do my preferences, but some albums stay at number 1. Hello again, Doolittle, my old friend.

Feel free to post your own list or debate my impeccable musical tastes in the comments section.

All links go to Spotify--unless I couldn't find the album.

20. Fox Confessor Brings the Flood by Neko Case Favorite song: "Fox Confessor Brings the Flood"

For me, this is Neko Case at her best -- wistful, haunting, melodic.

19. From A Basement On The Hill by Elliott Smith Favorite song: "King's Crossing"

This album hit me hard. Like all great works, it holds together by a string, but it still holds.

18. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah Favorite song: "Details of the War"

Some people lament the decline of Clap Your Hands, once heralded with the "most likely to succeed" curse, the new indie darling. Regardless of their future missteps, this album stands on its own merit.

17. Sailing the Seas of Cheese by Primus Favorite song: "Jerry Was A Race Car Driver"

I've come back around to Primus. There's something delightfully immature about this band.

16. Flood by They Might Be Giants Favorite song: "Birdhouse In Your Soul"

This album establishes the TMBG gold standard for fun, silly songs with deceptive depth and melancholy.

15. Firecracker by Lisa Loeb Favorite song: "Wishing Heart"

It's my guilty pleasure on the list. And I will defend its charm and virtue. I know this album by heart.

14. Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear Favorite song: "Two Weeks"

I'm a sucker for eighth notes on a piano. I don't know why. It's a great album for zoning out and losing yourself.

13. Automatic for the People by R.E.M. Favorite song: "Sweetness Follows"

At one time, R.E.M. was my favorite band. I burnt myself out listening to this album. Which I guess is a good thing?

12. Hunky Dory by David Bowie Favorite song: "Life on Mars"

Bowie's best album.

11. Violent Femmes by Violent Femmes Favorite song: "Gone Daddy Gone"

When I first heard this album, I threw away all my thrash and speed metal. Yes, the Violent Femmes ruined Anthrax for me.

10. Siamese Dream by The Smashing Pumpkins Favorite song: "Disarm"

The opening to "Cherub Rock" is one of my favorite album introductions. It says, "This is what you came for." And the album never disappoints.

9. Rubberneck by Toadies Favorite song: "Quitter"

I admit some regional bias.

8. Exile in Guyville by Liz Phair Favorite song: “Divorce Song” or "Fuck and Run"

Most underrated album ever? Not kidding. This album should be required listening for anyone who cares about good music. It's such a raw, vulnerable, powerful, and complete work.

7. Bone Machine by Tom Waits Favorite song: "I Don't Wanna Grow Up"

This album was my gateway into the much wider world of Tom Waits.

6. Apologies to the Queen by Wolf Parade Favorite song: "I'll Believe in Anything"

A powerfully cathartic album, yes, I used the word "cathartic."

5. Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles Favorite song: "I Am the Walrus"

The Beatles' most solid album from beginning to end? Let the debate begin.

4. Love this Giant by David Byrne and St. Vincent Favorite song: "I Should Watch TV"

A little too new to be this far up on the list? Maybe. But there's something about Byrne that brings out the best in Annie Clark and vice versa.

3. In a Bar, Under the Sea by dEUS Favorite song: "Roses"

The Belgium band dEUS never found its audience in the U.S., except me. So, here I am--basking in the knowledge that everyone else is wrong.

2. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan by Bob Dylan Favorite song: "Girl from the North Country"

In the Bob Dylan v. Beatles debate, I'll side with Bob. One could argue without the Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, the Beatles would've never evolved beyond being a teen-bop phenomena. This album challenged them to be something more substantial. And it does that to almost everyone who listens to it.

1. Doolittle by Pixies Favorite song: "Wave of Mutilation"

Nothing is wasted on this concise folky masterpiece of distortion and surf rock. This album is weird and wonderful.