We Are Who Makes Us
Here’s what you get in every episode of Into the Storymaze: writing insights or a work-in-progress; something creative I’m digging; a highlight from my comics-writing credits; plus a quote that’s got me thinking — both about right now and what’s next.
Twisty Little Passages
Bit longer wait with this one, as I struggled whether to include this here. It came to mind with Father’s Day — as it always does. Doesn’t matter that my Dad’s been gone many years now. One year would be too many: it’s a hole in the universe that doesn’t close. My first thought quickly became complicated by many others: this is getting way too into my own weeds, this is more of myself than I’m ready for. (Or anyone may care.)
The back and forth was resolved by reminding myself one of the goals of this newsletter is to get out of my own way. I’d ask you to forgive me the personal nature of this one. But the personal’s the point. I hope you find something within that works for your own time and place and people that are important to you.
"Hello, Death. What shall we talk about?"
With few exceptions, direct conversations with the Great Timekeeper are all the same. To wit: end of story.
What about those of us left to hold up and carry on? There are still words to be said. But…oh, the struggle. It's easier to just get it over with, isn't it? Dash off a perfunctory obit of linear accomplishment and familial association, pass the bottle, let grief have its way with you.
What could a Story Maze possibly have to offer at a time like this? Going deep on a creative concept or a business challenge to dig out its gold was one thing. But these twists and turns? It had to be hurt around every corner. And nothing at the center except an ultimate, empty space to match the loss.
Every writer knows the fear of the empty space — aka the empty page, the empty screen. Remind yourself, then, of Joseph Campbell's words: "The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek." That one who got taken deserves your very purposeful exploration into the Story Maze. No matter how much it pains…there is a lifetime of riches waiting to be brought back out.
I was 16, and the lot of us - my brothers, my mom - were sitting up in my room, gabbing about everything and nothing in particular. When dad walks in, stands there in the doorway. Just listening. With that smile on his face. And this big, black plastic bag hanging from one hand. Just hanging. Not saying a word.
With that smile. Until one of us ﬁnally has to ask, "So what's in the bag?"
"A dead hamster," he says.
We break up. Shock. Surprised guffaws. What are you talking about? Not what you'd expect to join the conversation. Now, it's true we did have a hamster in the house. But we were pretty sure it was alive. Last we checked. And there's no way any rational person would just saunter in and nonchalantly drop news of a dead pet rodent.
But he's accomplished his mission. He's gotten one over on us. As he's laughing, he waves the other hand, shakes his head gently, assures us the hamster's ﬁne. Well, at least that's settled. But the question's still there. Hanging. Like the bag in his hand. "So what is in the bag?"
"Nothing," he assures us. With great sincerity. Then a perfect beat of time. "Except a dead hamster."
Dad's hamster-go-round would continue for the next 10 minutes.
Maybe it's one of those "you had to be there" stories. But that's the point. We were there. For that moment. And a thousand, thousand more.
Quirky. Endearing. Quiet. Solid.
The kind of man that makes an impression.
There's a saying. As there often are in times like this. "Every father should remember that one day his son will follow his example instead of his advice."
What's the impression of his example?
It's the fact I overcame my fears to ﬁnd I had the strength to step up and become a dad myself.
It's the team he forged with his wife — showing us the joy and worth of a loving, eccentric relationship that pointed the way to our own partners.
It's the six grandkids who enthusiastically yelled out "POP!" wherever he appeared.
He didn't suffer fools. But he wasn't afraid to be silly, quick to laugh and help others do the same.
He could seem a private man. But was never shy about letting us know we were loved.
He was a man of many elements. Reshaping metal and ﬁghting ﬁre. Turning the earth to bring up colorful gardens, and bringing wood to life in beautiful ways.
He was no good with plumbing. When I called him about a leak one time he told me to "get a bucket."
He wasn't what I'd call religious. But you can see the hand of God in his affection, his devotion, his discipline. The sense of fair play and right and wrong he projected and instilled.
He was, and is, two of the four most precious words we as a family have been blessed to know: our father.
I believe my father considered his life well spent. But I can say with certainty his was a life well given. That's what makes this passing, this change, so hard to take. But if we're to truly honor him, do more than remember. However he touched you, pass it on.
Be an example of humor and leadership. Of precision and craftsmanship. Of caring. Of dedication. Of decency.
All these things he gave to each of us. These wonderful gifts of character.
And, of course, a dead hamster.
Gather your memories, and keep them close. You will need them.
There's lyrical magic to be found in the sci-fi imagination of Ted Chiang's "Exhalation." Mr. Chiang may be best known as the author of the story that led to the phenom science fiction film Arrival, and those same rich themes of identity and choices and perception weave through this book of short stories.
Among the 9 gems: a magical portal that would make Aladdin proud; decaying mechanical beings who must consider their place in the cosmos; an epic appreciation of evolving digital software agents; explorations of predestination and free will; and a heartbreaking final word from the world of parrots on the subject of Fermi's Paradox. Chiang's easy, inviting style weaves serious ideas and near-horizon advances in virtual reality, robotics, artificial intelligence and time travel together with deep humanity. It's like Black Mirror with a soul.
Is there anything better than discovering a new author? (New to me, anyway!) You'll want to re-read and think deeply about each story in this collection. My wish for you this episode: I hope you've never heard of Ted Chiang before this, and get to enjoy the same first-timer delights.
The Comics Labyrinth
Far be it from me to ignore the chance for a movie tie-in! So with Black Widow finally getting her cinematic solo this week — in theaters, no less! — I thought one of my dances with Natasha was worth a highlight.
This pairing with Punisher may have been one of the last in the oversized format that was the original showcase for the "graphic novel" label. I don't recall exactly, but I sort of feel that it was one of those "prescribed" assignments. If I'm right on that, this would have been an instance of Marvel wanting to promote Widow more — so who better to generate attention with than Mr. Frank Castle?
The Punisher was an undeniable draw in those days, so a team-up had a guaranteed audience. Editorial would occasionally have these sort of "this plus that" projects in mind, and it was up to the creative team to figure the details.
I believe this started in Greg Wright's office, where my Nick Fury experience would have suggested some affinity to Black Widow's espionage antics. Fury's prominent role in this tale aligns with the logic of that memory reconstruction. I definitely saw this more as the Widow's story. The Punisher was always fun to play with, but he was a "mission machine" as a character.
The Widow was more complex, especially comparing her ruthlessness against the story's villain, the cuckoo-for-genocide Doc Malum. I was deep into my fascination with nuclear power phase, and he's an amalgam of the crazier side of Edward Teller and a bit of Hannibal Lecter.
One of the high points of this project was the free rein in cooking up the story, which drew its big spark from an article in Smithsonian Air and Space magazine. I mined that publication — and its parent, Smithsonian — time and again for bigger ideas of character and historical springboards.
The Pluto Project — the "flying crowbar" at the center of the end-of-the-world scheme — was an actual military thing. The fact there really was a weapon system that used a ramjet to spew radioactive waste appealed to my sense of overcomplicated story detail: I was never happy with "just" a doomsday device.
This same cleverness would result in my big disappointment with the story. The major reveal of the weapon was supposed to be an over-the-shoulder shot of Widow and the Punisher as they entered the retooled aircraft. The visual description was set up to show that the interior had been turned into a madman's wet dream.
Unfortunately, the artist instead went for a beefcake and cheesecake shot of the heroes that did nothing to advance the story. ☹️ 😡 This left me having to re-script the page, delivering ham-fisted dialogue that had to describe what the reader should have been seeing.
A related problem: when the book transferred over to Nel Yomtov's editorial office, he had none of this history and thought I had dropped the ball on the storytelling. I had to direct him back to the original plot to regain some cred! The real lesson, though? Build relationships with your creative team-ups, so you're lined up on the details of worlds and adventures together.
The title could have used a bit of editing. "Spinning Doomsday's Web" was both a bit too on the nose and one of those marble mouthed assemblies that just doesn't feel right. (But without someone calling me on it I ran with it anyway.) The Widow nod could just as easily been accomplished with a simpler "Spinning Doomsday" or simply "Doomday's Web." Would have been happy with some editorial help here!
So…how many of you will be with Ms. Romanov at the theaters? Or are you choosing to entertain her adventures with an in-home invite via Disney+?
Web of Intrigue
“Each moment is a place you’ve never been.” — Mark Strand
ANNOUNCEMENT: If you're in the US Northeast, drop in on the Terrificon Comic Con at Mohegan Suns Casino in Connecticut. I'll be there Sat Jul 31 and Sunday Aug 1!
How’d we end up here together? Maybe a detour off the dark web! But I’m hoping it’s because you subscribed to this share-out of projects I’m working on plus things that have me jazzed. I’m D.G. Chichester. Which sounds very pretentious, and tweed jacket and pipe — so feel free to just call me “Dan”, and have a go at the last name as Chai (like the tea) Chester (just like it looks). I earned my word-cred writing comic book titles like Daredevil, Terror Inc., Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD and Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, along with all manner of digital widgets and websites in the world wide web of advertising. I keep my storytelling cred by trying new things — this is one of ‘em, with more on the way. I like weird and sometimes creepy tales, so if things here bend that way — now you know why!
Folks seem to like the comic book adventures I’ve written, so if you haven’t checked one out — please do. Many are now available in fab collected editions.
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