We’re close to the 9th anniversary of Rifftrax! For those who don’t know, Rifftrax is one of several creative continuations of Mystery Science Theater 3000, a show that has a premise as insane as the belief that it would last the ten years that it did. Mad scientists shoot a man into space and force him to watch bad movies. To maintain his sanity, said man riffs the movies with the help of two robot companions. The set-up and even the characters changed over the course of those ten glorious years, but this isn’t a history of the show.
This about what the show, and Rifftrax, has done for my family.
I’ll be the first to admit that I entered the fandom well into the Nelson Era when MST3K moved to Sci-Fi before the channel lost its damn mind and became Syfy. I’d heard of the show before but had never caught an episode until I sat through Revenge of the Creature with Mike and the Bots on full power. Sadly, MST3K would only have three more seasons before Sci-Fi canceled it once more.
Of course, this wasn’t the end. I tracked down tapes, videos, DVDs, and soon also found the MST3K Digital Archive Project. I eventually got to know Joel, Doctor Forrester, and the rest of the first half of the show’s cast and crew.
But Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett were my first introduction to the show, and so they have a special place in my heart. Fast-forward to 2006 and Mike Nelson started Rifftrax, an ingenious idea wherein he would provide the riffed audio track for a movie while the customer provided the DVD. It was brilliant, and soon Kevin and Bill would join Mike for what is, at least in my heart, MST3K 2.0.
It’s hard to think that I started watching this show while I was still in middle school…
And yet the show, and these three men in particular, are very dear to me for many reasons.
When I first started watching MST3K, I was just entering my love of writing and seriously beginning to train myself to be an author, to be a writer, to join the greats. I was beginning to realize that stories were something I needed to tell, that science fiction, fantasy, and horror would be my bread and butter. I would learn from the best, the masters of the genre, and be the best I could be. The Holy Trinity of Nelson, Corbett, and Murphy, though, showed me that there was much to learn from the not-so-great entries into the genre. Sure, I could learn a lot from watching Kubrick’s work, from studying the classic paranoia of the 1950s invasion movies, and certainly could benefit from analyzing Dario Argento’s classic Italian horror… but I also had something to learn from the likes of Mansquito, Space Truckers, and Friday the 13th Part 8, the one where Jason dies by becoming a baby. I learned that I could laugh at these movies, not in a mean-spirited way, but as a way to learn what doesn’t work.
This led to the second revelation. I could enjoy even the bad moments in life. MST3K and Rifftrax showed that it was possible to find humor even in something horrible. Future War could in fact be a treat. Even fraking Twilight became an amazing cinematic experience when filtered through the likes of these three men. Engaging with the film, despite the social convention against speaking while a movie is playing, became a more intellectually engaging process. Even something as horrible as Hellraiser Bloodlines suddenly became an opportunity for fun. This was the key word.
No longer would we just accept the work on the screen. No longer would we be slaves to what others gave us. If the movie itself was terrible, we would and could make it better by virtue of riffing. Drinking games help, too.
Finally, and this couldn’t have happened at a better time, it’s important to not take yourself too seriously. Part of the humor in many of these films comes from the fact that, for example, someone thought it was a good idea to give Michael Bay the reins to the Transformers movies. On the other hand, some of these movies, such as Future War and Soultaker, clearly didn’t think things through enough. There must exist a balance between taking the work seriously and being able to laugh at yourself. You have to realize, at some point, that some parts of your life are absurd. Take me, for instance. Five years ago, my wife and I would go to bars, game every week, and watch horror movies while laughing our heads off. Now, the most gruesome thing we encounter is the host of eldritch horrors our baby summons into her diaper on a daily basis, more if she has curry.
MST3K was also present for another important time in my life. When my wife and I first moved in together, we didn’t have cable, let alone internet. The only television or movies we could watch were whatever DVDs we had or anything we had saved on our computer. I’d saved several episodes of MST3K to my hard drive. Before I even had a desk, the monitor would sit on one of our packed boxes and we would have dinner on plastic plates, while sitting on the ground, and I introduced Mary to the Satellite of Love just as I was introduced to it, through the Season 8 episode Revenge of the Creature. She became a devotee ever since then.
That was how we spent our first few weeks in that apartment, before we even had a couch, and before we set the apartment up how we wanted. Now, five years later, we watch Rifftrax and continue the tradition. If I knew a place to get plushy Tom and Crow dolls, you bet my baby would be snuggling up with one. I mean, she already has a Cthulhu plushie.
I was lucky enough to meet Mike Nelson back in 2007 when he spoke at DePauw University. I was also lucky enough to walk him from the hotel and have him sit in on our Comedy class to give his own insight on the genre. We had a short Twitter conversation back in February 8, 2012, where Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett also chimed in on the idea of the Greatest Canadian Hero. If I could have their attention for just one minute again, I would tell them that what they do is, under nearly any standard, absurd. It’s the kind of thing people have been doing since movies were first invented, and even then I’m sure people in Victorian England would sit around the latest novel and mock it as it was read to them.
And yet you turned it into an art form. Speaking to everyone who worked in MST3K, from the earliest days of public access, to the movie, and finally to its last hurrah on Sci-Fi, and to the various projects from Cinematic Titanic to Rifftrax, I want to say thank you. Thank you for more than twenty years of laughs.
Specifically, today, congrats to Rifftrax for continuing a tradition that has shaped lives and changed the course of pop culture. Movie makers are on notice. The audience knows it can laugh. I am who I am because of my family, friends, and teachers, but a part of this crazy mind is due in part to spending my youth, and now my adult life, with the Satellite of Love’s crew, wherever they may go.
And I’ve had a cherished part of my life now passed on to the love of my life. Trust me when I say that when the Little One is old enough, she’s going to laugh along with us too as we keep returning to the Satellite of Love. At least for a moment, know you’ve changed my life for the better.
Here’s to the next thirty years and beyond, gentlemen.
And now, a reminder that even if the premise is absurd, just acknowledging it and having fun with it are better than pretending you’re making Hamlet. Embrace the cheese.
I’ve written extensively about the many things that a writer needs to do to make time and create good works and excel at his or craft.
That was before my wife and I ushered in Mattie, our precious little spawn.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Mattie to death. Nothing cheers me up more than hearing her laugh. That little smile of hers and her “I know I own your ass” look she gives us are some of the greatest moments of my day.
That being said, our toddler can be such a baby.
Every parent knows this. We certainly knew that any semblance of free time was gone the instant Mattie was born. What does this mean for our projects, though, for my wife’s photography and for my writing? It means we have to work much smarter than before.
I can write almost anywhere. Give me some paper and a pen and I can outline, draft, and do anything I need. I could do this before, but it’s so much more important now. I can’t just go to the computer and write an idea. Sometimes, I can’t even pull out paper to write said idea. Taking care of baby requires two hands, after all.
Time to get creative.
My wife and I have started using Evernote. It’s a handy way to quickly write down a note or save a webpage that we need for future reference. Because we both have the app, we can share lists, photos, and anything else we need while keeping everything sorted and catalogued for later. Barring that, having paper and pen handy, despite the abundance of thrown food, is still a viable option. I keep a notebook and pen nearby whenever I’m with the little one, and despite the focus needed to keep a little human in good working order, I’ve found that it’s still the best way to quickly write something down and keep going. When I do have time later in the day to actually sit and work, I quickly pull the notebook out and start expanding the notes and ideas, or the outright passages, into Word documents.
This stop-and-go method to working is tiring, though, perhaps more than actually sitting down for a few hours to type. You can’t focus and let ideas just come to you. Sometimes, it feels like you’re forcing creativity, that the clock is ticking, and you need to get it done NOW. There’s no sitting and thinking and drafting and just letting ideas happen.
While it would be easy to think that any free time should be devoted to craft, that’s not the case. I’m not about to spend every minute the baby is asleep working on my writing. Aside from the fact that we still need to cook food and keep the house clean, there’s also the very important matter of spending time with my wife, talking, just spending a few minutes lying on the carpet and relaxing as the Little One plays by herself. This was one of the mistakes I made years ago, one for which I apologized profusely. Despite the writer in me demanding I sit down to work if I have even five minutes, I need to spend time with my family too. I can’t ignore them or the people I’m doing this for will suffer.
This all means focus is so much more important than before. When I work, I work. Nothing else matters. It helps that my wife and I have our desks next to each other, so that when one of us is working or if we’re both working, we can still chat and share ideas. This also means we need time to relax. Mediation, music, a walk outside, anything and everything to clear the ol’ brain pan before the next mad session. It’s not a perfect set-up, but it works, and discipline is paramount.
Stay tuned for Part 2! In the meantime, enjoy this:
It’s been over two years since I was here in any permanent capacity. Yes, I wrote a handful of articles, but they were anomalies. The site’s lingered here, virtual spiders building their virtual cobwebs, traffic trickling down, but still consistent.
A year and a half ago, we had a baby girl.
My time’s been devoted to this tiny little life I must now care for until she moves out and goes to college to become the greatest president/ private detective/ writer/ Jedi the world has ever known. I was sure this site, and my writing in general, were distant memories, the kinds of dreams you have as a kid before you realize the world is a cold, hard place and you need to make the choice to either follow your dreams or do something that will actually help you in life.
Then something happened.
I looked at this little life in front of me and I saw everything going on. Our country is still crazy, maybe getting crazier. We’re trying to fight for the rights we should have won a century ago, even fifty years ago. I can have a safe, uneventful career simply working as an instructor or writing consultant and hope to move up.
This, dear reader, will not do.
I’m going to finish editing Charcoal Streets and it will be a hit. I am going to keep making YouTube videos because I have something to say and I think it needs to be said. I’m going to keep posting here because I believe this site has changed people’s minds.
I’m going to keep doing this, even if I have to wake up at dark o’clock, because I can’t let go of the dreamer I was five years ago. I want my daughter to see that dreams have power. I want her to know that imagination is not just something you leave in the playground. I want her to see that Daddy pursued his dreams and worked hard and through a combination of blood, sweat, and luck, he made it big.
I need to be the kind of person I want her to become, or at least someone she can see is driven and willing to go the extra mile for his family.
I used to write for me. In a way, I still do. But now I’m doing this for Mattie, too.
Release the Kraken! I’m back!
…What is this. WHAT IS THIS?!
No. I will stay quiet no more. It’s bad enough this corpulent festering pool of a company sells a product that a good chunk of the American population thinks is Mexican food… but what the ever-loving FRAK is this?!
It was bad enough when they sold “tacos” and “gorditas” that resembled their namesakes as much as an ostrich resembles a chimp because both have eyes and legs. It’s bad enough that their processed meat-like product will clean you out like a bottle of Liquid Plumr. I understand that “authentic” ethnic food is a difficult thing to find in another country, and I’m well aware of the fact that most Chinese restaurants, for example, are not indicative of the cuisine of China.
But this isn’t even trying. This is like peeing on a stack of paper and calling art. This is like hiring Michael Bay to do Transformers all over again.
America, do you want a real Mexican breakfast? Do you?!
Here’s what you do.
First, party. I mean PARTY. Get some tequila. None of that fratboy, Spring Break, Jose Cuervo crap. I mean a bottle of 100% blue agave, the kind of liquor that God expels from his nipples when he’s aroused. You grab that bottle and you get a dozen of your best friends. You drink that bottle and play Vicente Fernandez until you all cry and remember loves lost and found. I don’t care if you understand the lyrics. You DRINK. And YOU CRY. You cry like a little bitch and you hug those friends like they’re your brothers and sisters and you stay up reminding each other that LIFE IS GOOD AND FRIENDS MATTER AND YOU TELL THOSE SONS OF BITCHES YOU LOVE THEM. And you do this outside, with the mosquitos and warm night air to keep you company. You let your body sweat tears of pain and heat!
Second, you stay up all night. You go through that bottle and maybe throw in a few beers. Not some artisan, microbrew beer, either. I mean Dos Equis. Tecate. And you drink that swill with lime and salt. Yes, lime and salt. Add some hot sauce for flavor and texture at your own peril.
Thirdly, you wait until the sun comes up. You have to move quickly, because you have work to do. Real work. Like my grandfather used to tell my mother and like he told me twenty years later, “You want to party? Fine, but you WORK IN THE MORNING.” You don’t skip out on your responsibilities. You’re an ADULT. So you drag your semi-drunk corpse out of the building and you find a Mexican restaurant, the kind of place health inspectors would cite on looks alone. No art on the walls. No big sombreros. Just waiters that understand your menu order and that’s it. If you speak Spanish, they’ll treat you like family.
Thirdly, order ANYTHING on the menu. It’s all tortillas, beans, cheese, and meat in varied ratios, but it’s your choice. You eat that meal with home-made salsa and tortillas that smell better than any lover you’ve ever had. You finish that plate and give a satisfied nod to the waiter. And you go on with the rest of your day like nothing happened.
Why? Because you’re AN ADULT HUMAN WHO GRABS LIFE BY THE SHORT AND CURLIES. You enjoy that breakfast, those enchiladas and that chorizo, like you’re about to be fraking executed by a firing squad. That meal is the greatest plate of food in your life.
And come next week, you repeat the process. THAT’S Mexican breakfast.
February 12, 2014
My class today revolved around learning how to peer edit papers. These students are not professional writers, and some of them have had to take the class before, so aside from myself and the Writing Center, I want them to feel comfortable asking each other for help. The lesson, then, revolved around teaching them how to critique and take criticism.
It was simple enough. First, find something in the paper that works. It could be the dialogue, the story itself, or even just the title, but it must be genuine praise, not just cheerleader fluff. Then, you need to point out an actual shortcoming in the paper. And be specific. Is the ending vague? Does it try to cover too much ground? Finally, end with a second positive.
While this may feel like some sort of self-help seminar, the purpose is to make the writer receptive to criticism. Hearing that there are good things in the essay and not just hings to fix is essential, especially for insecure writers. Writing is one of the most stressful activities a person can partake in, so knowing that some parts of the work work is essential. A person can get friend focusing on the things that need to be changed, the mistakes that slipped through the first and second drafts, and even just the amount of work needed to polish an essay for submission. I know.
That little bit of positive feedback can make the difference becoming bitter at the process and learning to enjoy the small victories.
And I’m not asking for too much when I ask students to find something good in each others’ essays. Rarely will anyone find a piece of writing so unbearably bad, so insulting to the senses, that at least one positive thing can be said about it.
In my life, I’ve come across two. I’ve read hundreds of essays, countless books, and I’ve only found two.
The first was actually a student essay back in college. To say that the essay offended my sense of storytelling by taking a story and purposefully twisting the reader’s brain around metafiction with all the grace and subtlety of a rocket-powered brick to the face would be an understatement. Chaos theory states than an infinite amount of monkeys writing at an infinite amount of typewriters will, given an infinite amount of time, write the complete works of William Shakespeare. This essay, however, was a twelve monkey, half hour job. It’s the only time I’ve ever thrown a piece of writing. Its aura offended me.
The second was a novel I had to edit in order to compensate for a small car accident I caused. Instead of having to get insurance involved, the other driver asked me to edit her novel. It took me a good half hour to get past the first page. It was a mess, both grammatically and structurally. The story began with two retired men who won the lottery and drove around the country getting into small adventures. It ended with said men recruiting a dog groomer, a bartender, and assorted folks into a black ops mercenary outfit running operations in Colombia. It may sound like the kind of thing that could work on paper, but it’s not. Not by a long shot. The story would have made more sense if alien ghosts had appeared midway through to explain how reality was being melted by a giant toddler with a magnifying lens.
Being a reader is more than just editing and finding mistakes. It’s about providing a little support to go along with those criticisms.
Except for the odd writing like those two mentioned above. Writing that bad needs to be burned and buried at a crossroads.
For now, let’s enjoy the sights and sounds of The Daily Show destroying the GOP on something that shouldn’t be this difficult.
February 10, 2014
I’d like to believe I’m a fair teacher, one that is willing to work with you to help you pass. I don’t believe in unfair advantages like extra credit or undeserved extensions. I do, however, believe in working with you, explaining through different methods, using office hours and email discussion to help you reach the proper level of understanding and confidence to write. That is my goal.
And mistakes will be made. This, too, is inevitable, but it’s part of the process. Writing is about making mistakes, trying out new sentences, new approaches, telling the story a different way in order to better get across to the audience. Writers who are afraid to make mistakes never grow, they never improve, and in the end they become wrecks as far as the profession is concerned.
That being said, there is one thing I will not tolerate.
Every one of us who calls him or herself “writer” most likely started out imitating others. We copied style. We copied story. We copied tone. But few of us would ever take something copied word for word and call it our own. There is a special level of hell for plagiarists. It’s right between the level where they keep Kardashian fans and people who serve Natural Light at parties.
Accidental plagiarism is also a thing. Students forget quotation marks but have a proper citation. A student thinks he paraphrased something but it was still too similar. Again, these are mistakes.
But knowingly stealing words and trying to pass them off as your own?
I’ve had students lift paragraphs from Wikipedia and sites with sample essays. If it was up to me, the forms outlining their dishonesty would have been sent to the Registrar and the Honor Council ten seconds after I caught their deceit. That is a choice to try and lie and cheat. It’s an insult to the trade.
But the department says we need to give them a chance to explain or fix the mistake, especially if they’re freshmen.
But to everyone else, or those who think they can pass off this sort of work in a final draft, please pay attention.
Are you listening?
I will come down on you like the hammer of an angry god.
I will rain holy fire on your academic record. The ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah will look the Elysian Fields compared to what I will do your grade in my class. Your lies smell like sulfur, and I will exorcise your demons from the digital database with holy water and a sword cast from the church bells of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. I’ll make that essay look like the ruins of Alderaan. You did it because you ran out of time? You forgot? Well, guess what? I’m teaching a full load and have a wife with a baby on the way. I take time out of my evenings and weekends to put together a class designed to make it easy for you to pass if you put forth actual effort and respect the craft, and if you show me something you did not write and think you can get away with it, then you’re wasting my time, time I could be happily spending with my family.
You’re too young to know the kind of pain I will inflict on your soul.
…All I’m saying is, please don’t do it. The paperwork’s a bitch.
I think we’re going to get along great.
And yes… I’m back.
Life is strange, but in a good way.
In early 2009, I met a young woman named Mary. She worked at the Writing Center with me, and a mutual friend suggested she join our Dungeons and Dragons game. She was enthusiastic, if a bit odd. She asked if it was proper for her character to collect the eyelids of fallen enemies. I politely said she couldn’t do that, but she could have a tail.
A few months later, we started going out. She was everything I ever hoped to have. Mary was smart, insightful, and beautiful. She was headstrong, stubborn, and creative. The romance never wavered, and eventually we moved in together. In the holiday season of 2010, I asked her to be my wife. She was so happy, and had more than a few glasses of eggnog, so the rest of the night was spent in the bathroom as she puked up the beef burgundy we had for dinner. It’s the kind of story we like to tell when we, again, have a few drinks. It’s also one of the happiest nights of my life.
We grew closer.
A year ago, October 18, 2012, we had a common law marriage. We’ve been dying to have a proper celebration, something with masks and some horror, but time and money have been tight. This year, however, we both started good jobs. I’m teaching full time. We can get insurance. We can even make plans for a proper house in a year or so.
For our anniversary, we found out that Mary was going to give me the greatest gift of all.
Come April, she’s going to give me a baby.
It’s been a few weeks since we suspected, but on our one-year anniversary, we got final confirmation that everything looks good. Mother and baby look fine. I have a thousand questions and a million things I want to say to this child. But for right now, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. Come what may, I know what I have to do now.
I’m going to be a father. I’m a writer, a teacher, a friend, and a son… and now I get to add “father” to that list.
I love you, Mary. And I love you too, Tyranacore/ Vader/ Athena/ Madeline/ Whatever We decide to Call You.
PS: Yes, the kid is going to be brought up on Seuss, Silverstein, and R. L. Stein. Do you even have to ask?
I know I published a post with a similar headline on April Fool’s, but this one’s not a joke.
I’ll be taking a hiatus from the site because I need to sort a few personal things out. I’ll still be active on Facebook and Twitter, though much less often. I’ll also not be posting Youtube videos for a while.
I honestly have no idea when I’ll return, but I’m hopeful it will be soon. In the meantime, I’ll also be re-posting some old stories and articles, and I’ll certainly keep you all updated on Charcoal Streets and its release date, which is right around the corner.
I’d ask that you keep telling people about the site, share stories, and be patient with me.
I’ll see you around. Take care of yourselves.