Why Wonder Woman Isn’t Just a Superhero Movie

Here’s the moment when I knew superhero movies have changed forever.

Before we get to that, let me just say this. Every time I announce my work, I feel like I split a fine line between spitting in the ocean and coming across as self-promoting. I got some suggestions on Reddit, and if you have something to add I’d love to hear it.

As I was saying, superhero movies have changed, and changed for the better. A few years from now, people are going to still be talking about this movie, and here is my take on why that will be. Mild spoiler alert – there’s a scene in Wonder Woman where Gal Gadot runs across No Man’s Land as part of her journey through the horror of World War One.

As she’s climbing a ladder to enter the battle, the camera gives us the standard detail shot. The lens lingers over her armored wrists, her tiara, and her boots. I sat there, watching, and instantly my cinematography/male brain goes “Here’s the booty shot, here’s the booty shot.” Then it happened; no booty shot. You know what I’m talking about: the booty shot. Wonder Woman has no booty shot.

Up ’til now, it was accepted that every major female character’s screen time would include some moment where the camera remains focused on their bum. That has to be annoying, not only to the actress but to every girl who sees this and the sloppy grins of every boy in the theater. It’s become a thing that every girl has grown to accept, to the point of parody. Objectification and unnecessary sexualization have been sore points in the sci-fi and superhero fan communities. Now here comes Wonder Woman (WW).

At the moment of battle, Gal Gadot climbs the ladder, the camera shows everything about her that tells us visually that she’s a strong, fierce warrior, and then poof, she’s off into the war zone. Not only is she fighting the bad guys on their terms, she’s defeating them. Everything we’ve come to expect from a Captain America or Iron Man, in Amazonian form. Booty shots are off the table, and the gloves are off for us.

I applaud Patty Jenkins for this decision. With two seconds of film, she turned Wonder Woman from another superhero movie into a culturally significant film. Movies have the power to motivate thought, action and change. At the crossroads between art and commerce, many compromises are made in the name of pragmatism. Toxic ideas fester in the gray areas between liberty and license. In one fell swoop, Wonder Woman resets the dials to zero. This film shows us that a movie with a female protagonist, helmed by an underknown actress, can succeed in Hollywood. This story shows that girls can be powerful, gentle, brave and resilient. But then, Wonder Woman gets even better.

Any other ‘girl-centric’ movie seems to sell us short. Case in point: the Ghostbusters reboot from last year, but there are other examples, too. Fight scenes that pull punches. Sexy misunderstandings. Tired speeches that try to marginalize the male characters instead of just being themselves. Wonder Woman pours gasoline on all of these cliches and drops the match.

We’re so invested in the story, the characters and the action that all of these issues fall away. As a former member of the IDF, Gadot puts a startling amount of realism into her fight scenes. WW exits the first act having navigated the treacherous worlds of sexuality, mother-daughter relationship dynamics, Mean Girls, and child bearing with equal amounts of strength and sincerity. Throughout the rest of the movie, WW is equally comfortable whether she’s throwing punches or pitching woo. When she isn’t throwing shade, she’s throwing tanks. You come out of the theater cheering for her as a person, and I think that is why Wonder Woman isn’t just a superhero movie.

Sitting in my chair, I was thinking about how readers and viewers *must* be invested in the story. This is an important point for me, especially if I want to be a successful storyteller myself. WW reminded me that if I’ve connected with the reader or viewer’s emotions, nothing else matters after that. Think about this: old blockbusters are famous for having plot holes and film goofs, but Star Wars is a classic *because* it connected with our emotions. Jaws is a classic *because* it connected with our emotions. WW connects with the audience’s emotions using grace, and style. One day, we’ll look back at this moment and realize that we were witnessing history.

In a world where we’re fighting to be ourselves, to be appreciated for who we are, WW steps out and does just that. It’s got heart, it’s got action, it’s got fun. A lesser film-maker or actress would allow themselves to be sucked into the pointless battle of gender issues. WW relegates those issues to the dustbin where they belong, saying: “watch the movie and have fun. That’s all you should have to worry about.”

Darn right.

 

 

You Learn More from Failure

Every day is another story. Drippy spring morning in Eugene. Wet earth and pine needles. Got a rejection notice from Asimov’s for “Search and Rescue.” No biggie, rejection is part of the game. What I found interesting was the advice that Asimov’s gave me. It’s a form-letter, but they thoughtfully included some insights any writer can use to improve their game. See what you think … maybe you’ll find a gem for yourself:

Dear Jackson,

Thank you very much for letting me see “Search and Rescue.” We regret that we cannot make use of it at this time.

All submissions will be examined as promptly as possible, and if suitable, will be paid for on acceptance.

Many manuscripts are rejected because of fundamental faults.  Check these things:
—Since Analog is a science fiction magazine, we consider only science fiction stories—that is, stories in which some aspect of realistic science or technology plays an integral part.  We do not publish fantasy or stories in which the science is only peripheral.
—Science fiction readers are problem solvers!  Stories with downbeat endings, in which the characters have no hope of solving their problems, are strongly disliked by Analog readers.  In a good SF story, the characters strive to solve their problems—and even if they fail in the end, they go down fighting, not whimpering.
—Good fiction demands strong, believable characters who face powerful, intriguing problems.  Without these, there is no story, no matter how fascinating the ideas or scientific background may be.
—Some plot ideas have been so overworked that it’s virtually impossible to wring a fresh story from them.  These include “scientific” retellings of biblical tales, time travelers who unwittingly change their world when traveling into the past, UFO stories, and stories in which the “alien” world turns out to be Earth.
—Write about what you know.  Analog writers should be able to do sufficient research to get their facts straight, and they should be keen enough observers of people to write realistically about them.
—Please don’t ask for individual criticism.  With hundreds of submissions per month, it is physically impossible to answer them all personally.  Many writing errors are quite subtle, and extremely difficult to define clearly in a sentence or two.

Sincerely,
Trevor Quachri
Editor

Henry Rollins is famous for saying: “I have always learned more from rejection and failure than from acceptance and success.” That’s what I’m choosing, too. I’m posting this so that you understand how true it is that the path to success is not linear. Keep moving forward. Keep failing upward. Go break things. Make something new.

Free Author Tool: Time Management

If you’re going to write, tell jokes, play music, you’ve got to be productive. Your muse doesn’t pay rent in your head, but you pay rent on your apartment, so get busy. I’m adding a new section to the blog in which I pass along things that help me be more productive in writing, successful in reaching book agents, whatever.

Today’s Free Author Tool is about time management, since that’s a personal challenge for me. Sitting at the keyboard for hours at a time, I don’t find myself becoming *more* productive but rather, less. To fix that, I invented a little system that is working out well so far:

  1. Get out your phone
  2. Set a timer for 20 minutes
  3. Turn your ‘Do Not Disturb’ on – close all non-essential Internet tabs (especially Facebook and Reddit)
  4. Write as much as you can for twenty minutes
  5. Stop when the timer goes off

There’s no personal goal of word count to hit, just write as much as you can. You’ll write more as time goes on.

I’ve found that focusing my attention helps my muse to focus, too. There’s nothing worse than staring at a blank page going “c’mon … work.” It’s also frustrating to get going on a writing jag, stop for a break and then forget to start again because you’re checking email or Twitter. Stop doing that to yourself. Get up, take a shower, make the bed. Do something else that’s productive and then come back and set your timer again. To make it fun, I also listen to a variety of music. My personal taste is somewhere between chillstep and cool jazz but whatever floats your boat.

Mesh Update #1

So now, let’s talk about Mesh …

I haven’t released many details yet but I can give you a brief synopsis while I polish the novel:

Mesh is ‘Fight Club’ meets ‘Stranger Things’: a YA sci-fi story about Zeke, a charismatic and slightly anarchic teen who changes the world when he invents an entirely new Internet, completely outside of adult control. With the help of his best friend Roman and their science teacher, Mr. Howard, the boys begin a project for their high school service hours, and discover that they can create an uncontrolled information network using old hardware that nobody wants anymore. Mr. Howard’s technical guidance and historical knowledge of counter-culture give them the help they need to bring the Mesh to life. With new mesh networks coming to life all over America, the government seeks the ‘mysterious hackers’ who give kids unshackled access to information and community. It’s a race against time for Zeke and Roman to complete the Mesh, get an ‘A’ for their project and then disappear before it all comes crashing down.

I’ll be talking more about Mesh and its evolution, because there are a number of exciting components that will appear to sci-fi readers across the entire community spectrum. I’m also drawing from a number of writing, sci-fi and technology influences. One of those influences is Simon Stalenhag:

            

        

Like most of you, I’m a huge fan of his work. His sweeping, evocative vistas are epic in their scope and contain enough texture to fill entire universes. So as he describes this gritty, split-knuckle future from his vantage point in Sweden, I can’t help but draw upon his imagination as I write Mesh. I want to make sure that the universe I’m creating is as much fun as the universes he makes.

More details shortly …

Wartime vs Peacetime Scifi

These are some comments about science fiction as a community and culture. If that isn’t your thing, feel free to ignore this post.

I caught a plane down to LA this week to see some friends from the old life. On my way back up, trying to ignore the incredibly loud lady behind me in 3E, I saw the guy next to me reading from Ben Horowitz’ book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. He has some incredible insight about the world business and CEOs. I’ve read it before, but this time, I focused on his discussion about a ‘wartime CEO’ vs a ‘peacetime CEO.’

Applying his logic, one can see a few underlying causes of the tension within the sci-fi community from the past few years. We largely operate under philosophies of a peacetime-type culture: we have protocol, we talk about consensus-building and we think about the big picture. No one is ‘leading’ the community because the community is both self-organized and self-regulated, but the similarities in culture are obvious.

This culture has made our community successful for over a hundred years. However, as Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel said, “success contains the seeds of its own destruction.” The lessons learned from other enterprises absolutely apply to the science fiction community, since both groups include the carbon-based life forms of our wacky little planet.

We experienced what it felt like to have those seeds exploited when we read Laura Mixon’s report on Benjanun Sriduangkaew. We experienced those seeds poking out the ground when we saw the likes of Vox Day and the Sad Puppies attempting to ‘burn the Hugos down.’ Cynicism and disdain for science fiction as both an art form and community became a toxic distraction to the past couple years of sci-fi. Life has moved on, thankfully, but I can’t help but wonder where the next outbreak of toxicity will come from. Why did these toxic actors (TA) succeed, though, if they were so bad for us? Let’s go back to the ‘Wartime CEO’ example, because the answer is there: Continue reading

Dear Netflix: Here’s How You Do ‘Reverse Iron Fist.’

Was all set to say something about how to save Netflix’s beleagured show, Iron Fist, but then theMarySue.com beat me to it. All I have to say now is ‘that’s what she said.’ But then I thought about how you would do it. That’s where my juices got flowing.

First off, I can totally imagine this show as a period piece produced by Quentin Tarantino, starring some underknown Asian martial arts actress. The premise is super easy: Plane goes down in Texas in the 20s and she comes back to China in the thirties as this gunslinging martial arts warrior princess. It’d be an awesome way to talk about history that’s a blank space to Western high school history classes:

The more I thought about it, the more obvious it becomes. Sam Elliot already works on Netflix projects, so you cast him as ‘the cowboy as samurai master.’ Then you cast Michelle Yoh as her elder sister and either Donnie Yen or Jet Li as ‘The Bad Guy.’ First eight episodes write themselves: all about her training to be a gunfighter while maintaining her stance as a martial artist. Last four episodes are about her returning home and kicking butt.

Imagine how cool this would be. Take all of these worn-out story tropes and give them a completely fresh take by flipping them, it’s easy! Not only would the show have an instant market overseas, it would overcome all ‘whitewashing’ complaints in one swift move and reinforce Netflix as the driving force behind entertainment innovation for the next three or four years. I’d be happy to jump on board as a screenwriter, too. I’m an unknown talent so I’ll work cheap.

C’mon, Netflix, what do you say?

New Short Story: The Superhero Shrink

I’ve been amused to see how sick people are getting of superhero stories:

It reminds me of the call that went out last year for short stories featuring superheroes. I sent in a submission but it didn’t make the cut. Rather than complain, I decided to release it as a free short for new readers and am happy to announce that The Superhero Shrink is now available to the Inkican Crew. Here’s a quick description:

Dr. Christopher has a very difficult, unique job. He’s a psychiatrist who works with superheroes. Some legendary warriors come with baggage and his job is to help ‘keep ’em flying.’ Half-serious, half-dark comedy, ‘The Superhero Shrink’ is “‘The Avengers’ Meets ‘Ordinary People,'” an honest look at the people behind the masks.

I’m also releasing it to Amazon on March 27th if you’ve got a Kindle. If you’re sick of the typical ‘superhero’ story, this might be your jam.