You Are What You Read — by Greg

     For reasons unknown (perhaps it was the copious amounts of cold medicine I consumed), I was struck suddenly yesterday by the many different ways in which I read. Let me explain: I tend to read things differently depending upon the function I am serving at the time. For instance, as an ‘editor’ I read things critically, with a jeweler’s eye, looking for ways in which the story can be improved, the characters can be enlivened, the dialogue can be punched up. Each story is a puzzle, a rubic’s cube. In what way can the story elements be twisted and angled so that it is better than before?
     But if I plan to review the book I am reading, my brain clicks, unsurprisingly, into ‘reviewer’ gear. I’m no longer concerned with improving the story (too late, the sucker is already in my hands!). Now I want to know why the story works (or doesn’t). I want to understand how the writer breathed life into the characters and made them three-dimensional people that I care about. I pay attention to how the varying plot elements fall into place, and how the author toys with suspense, action and narrative.
     Other times, I read books as a ‘writer.’ This is when I am ready to be schooled. To be mentored by writers far more talented than I. There are many writers (several of them currently writing stories for Kaleidoscope) whose writing astounds me to such a degree that it can take me 10 minutes to read a single page as I re-read sentences, paragraphs, entire sections over and over again, hoping some of their genius will later seep into my own writing, even if on some cosmic, subconscious level.
     And, lastly, when the need to shut off all deep critical thinking wins out and I want to be taken away by a book or story, I read simply as a, ya know, ‘reader.’ I want to be entertained. To be enlightened. To be caught up in the story to such a degree that the minutes and hours slide away as I am engulfed in the world the writer has created.
     Truth be told, I don’t enjoy one role — or method — of reading more than the other. They all serve their purpose and they all reward me in different ways.
     As an editor, I love putting the story under the microscope and finding its imperfections and the ways to make the story better. Of polishing it until it gleams. Maybe it needs a different ending. A new setting. Maybe the main character shouldn’t be hit by a bus in the first chapter.
     As a reviewer, I like the analytical position I’m forced into, thinking past questions like does this story work to why does it work?
     As a writer, it is wonderful and strangely satisfying to be humbled at the feet of the masters. To be a student of the art form. To learn from writers whose talents vastly outstrip your  own.
     And, of course, as a reader, nothing matches the joy of being taken away completely by a great tale, to become utterly lost in the pages. To succumbing fully to the power of great writing.

Gods of Gotham — by Greg

     New York City in 1845 is a dirty, violent powderkeg, a nasty undercurrent of racism and fear threatening to topple the great metropolis into chaos. Timothy Wilde, left scarred and penniless after a fire ravages much of lower Manhattan, is pressed into service on the newly launched, and much reviled, New York City police force. Days into the job, when the bodies of slaughtered and violated children are discovered, his life is forever changed as he slowly grows into not just a fine policeman but also the city’s first true investigator.
     Lyndsay Faye’s extraordinary new book “The Gods of Gotham”, is quite rightly pegged by most reviewers as an “historical mystery.” But like all great literature, “Gods of Gotham” works on a multitude of different levels as Faye deftly weaves the complex interplay of plot, character and a palpable, dynamic setting.
     The first challenge of historical fiction is, unsurprisingly, the history. Great science fiction is always recognized for the spectacular world-building at play in its greatest works. It’s a highwire act, creating a city, country, planet, universe, that is at once fantastical but also completely believable.
     But what of writers who spin yarns that take place in bygone days? Of stories that take place in the real world of historical record? In some ways, this is an even more daunting highwire act, one that removes the net entirely. Because not only must the ‘historical novelist’ re-create a world that is believable, the world must also be entirely accurate and faithful to history. No small feat.
     The mid-19th century New York that Faye has (re)created for us is vibrant and alive, thrumming with the bustle of the growing metropolis. Faye not only immerses us in the ground-level grit and dirt of the era but also lets us feel the cultural undercurrents at play, namely the hatred and bigotry that can lead a people to disdain their fellow countrymen and the ever present politics that regrettably often stoke those fears.
      One of “Gotham’s” many powerful insights is the way in which, by examining discrimination of two centuries ago, the reader is left to reconcile that the same bigotry and hatred still exist in the world, just with new targets. And Faye makes compelling use of this uncomfortable reality.
     Faye is one of those rare writers for whom language is a musical instrument, a magical talisman. What I’m saying is this young lady can write. Her prose burns.
     And even more impressive is that she uses her prose chops in service of an elegantly plotted work that is humane and moving, in no small part due to her masterful characterization. Her sprawling and boisterous New York teems with an array of fascinating characters, all woven into the clockwork of the book’s central mystery: Who is killing all these children? And why?
     The work hinges on the troika of the honorable Timothy Wilde, the love of his life Mercy Underhill and Wilde’s salacious, drug-addled older brother Valentine. There are many emotional payoffs throughout “Gods of Gotham” and they are hard-earned. Faye has revealed these characters in layers, and when we think we have learned all there is to know about them, she shows us another facet, another angle, and we are riveted to see where these characters will go from here. I was truthfully haunted as I flipped the last page closed, wondering what next was in store for Tim, Mercy and Valentine. For Faye has miraculously managed to make “Gotham’s” ending both uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time.
     Thankfully, there is a “Gods of Gotham” sequel on the way. I for one will be front and center when it is released, anxious to see what adventures next await the wonderful Wilde brothers.

Do These Panels Make My Butt Look Big — by Raf

     As the de facto art wrangler for Kaleidoscope, I have the thrilling but terrifying task of finding the right illustrators for the many wonderful stories being produced for our two anthologies.
     While the process may seem easy (“I’ve got a new script, who wants to draw it?”), it is, in fact, an art; one I hope to perfect, and fast!
     I am, for those who dont know, a student of comics as well as a writer of same; I grew up reading every title imaginable, back when one could buy 10 comic books for a dollar. My brother was an avid collector as well, so on any particular afternoon, you could find me reading, in no particular order, Casper, Archie, Spider-Man, Li’l Dot Polka, Batman, Creepy, Our World At War... you get the idea. One of the most fascinating things was seeing that perfect marriage between word and picture. I can’t imagine, for example, the O’Neill/Adams Batman stories with any other team, or their Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories, for that matter.
     Trying to picture anyone other than Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson on Manhunter boggles the mind. I just don’t see it. I think it takes a certain simpatico, a symbiotic relationship between writer and artist, blending their skills to create not just works of fiction, but works of art.
     Here at Kaleidoscope HQ, I see my job as trying to replicate the magic that can only happen when the right mixture of story and art are blended together to create something wondrous. See what I mean? Daunting.
     Each person brings to the table his or her own unique and substantial gift. But that doesn’t mean you can arbitrarily mix and match. I’m reminded of an issue of, I think it was X-Men, where one legendary comic artist inked over the pencils of another legendary artist. I mean, neither one of these cats could ever be considered a slouch, right? Had either of them tackled the story solo, it would have been incredible. But the combination, for me, at any rate, was oddly clashing and discordant. And yes, I know, I’m talking about writer and artist, but my example is penciler and inker. I’m riffing here, kids. I think ya’ll get my point.
     Some of the writers doing stories for us are first-timers, and some are first-timers to comics, but well established prose authors. My job is to pair that creator to a more established artist. Some writers tend to be caption and dialogue-heavy, so we need to find an artist who can give me the same information with fewer lines, to open up the panel and allow the words to breathe.
      In the same vein, some of the artists we have are from other countries, and English is not their first language. I have to make sure that the integrity of the story doesn’t suffer because of some confusion in the translation.
     Oh, yeah, and I’m doing this while trying to write my own scripts. Yikes!
     I have to say, though, that, tough as the process is, I do so enjoy it. Taking all these different skill sets and piecing together a cohesive, exciting, overall  enjoyable experience for the reader. Kind of like putting together a puzzle. Or, given our name, it’s like viewing all these disciplines and twisting them around, looking at them in a different way, from different angles. You know, like a kaleidoscope.

I Love You, Tomorrow — by Greg

“The bank bailout — that sum of money is greater than the 50-year running budget of NASA. And so when someone says we don’t have enough money for [space exploration], I’m asking, “No it’s not that you don’t have enough money, it’s that the distribution of money you’re spending is warped in some way that you are removing the only thing that gives people something to dream about tomorrow”. You remember the 60s and 70s, you didn’t have to go more than a week before there’s an article in LIFE magazine, “The Home of Tomorrow”, “The City of Tomorrow”, “Transportation of Tomorrow”. All that ended in the 1970s. When we stopped going to the moon, it all ended. We stopped dreaming. And so I worry that decisions Congress makes doesn’t factor in the consequences of those decisions on tomorrow.”
This meme (from a television appearance by the downright wonderful Neil deGrasse Tyson) enjoyed an all-too brief life on the social networking sites a few months ago before fading quickly from view.
For too long now I have been searching (and struggling) for just the right words to encapsulate what we seem, as a people, to be missing right now.
That it took a man light years ahead of me on an intellectual level to find those words should come as no great surprise. I’m just happy he did.
Every generation — once it reaches a certain collective age — invariably feels the world is crashing down around their ears. “Kids these days, they don’t have no respect, I tell ya ….”
The truth is, any quick perusal of history — both modern and ancient — presents a world that seems endlessly and forever on the verge of utter chaos and ruin. Yet, despite this, the human race’s most admirable and redeeming quality has always been this: the ability to look forward. To dream.
But more than that, to put those dreams into motion. And perhaps nothing better encapsulates mankind’s drive to conquer insurmountable odds than the space race of the 1960s.
Of all the images I’ve seen in my life — both terrible (the Twin Towers) and great (the fall of the Berlin Wall), none filled me with the giddy, beautiful, transcendent feeling that anything is possible more than the sight of those two lone men standing in the lifeless air of a faraway rock.
In the early 60s, when President Kennedy challenged us to reach the moon by the end of the decade it seemed little more than a pipe dream.
And yet, despite the inevitable political wrangling, we as a nation took up the gauntlet. We not only accepted the challenge but we embraced Gene Krantz’ mission control mantra that “failure is not an option.”
More to Tyson’s point — when did we stop thinking (and dreaming) about tomorrow? As a child of the 60s and 70s, I clearly (and dearly) remember what Tyson refers to. In no small part due to the dizzying effects of our string of impossible successes in the Space Race, children in my generation were somewhat in awe of what the future would bring. One thing was certain: it was going to be spectacular.
Tyson is right: magazines were flooded with articles about the homes of tomorrow. And spaceflight of the future. And technology of tomorrow.
So, the questions, remains: What happened to tomorrow? Tyson postulates that political and corporate expedience has all but killed it. Every decision is based on the perilous idea of what most benefits a politician or corporation RIGHT NOW. No consideration whatsoever as to what it might mean five or ten years down the road.
But by removing the consideration of a better tomorrow, we remove one of the most powerful motivators known to our species. For what greater goal is there than to strive for a tomorrow that is better than today?
At the risk of veering dangerously close to Pollyanna territory (look it up, kids), optimism — cautious or otherwise — seems to be a fundamental thread of our culture’s evolution. And it’s high time to start talking about it again. To start dreaming. To start building a bridge in the sky.
What are some of the things that we all yearn for? A cure for cancer? An end to war? A world in which no child goes hungry?
But, you say, those things are all impossible. Really? Any more so than launching three men into the heavens with about a hundredth of the technology you currently have in your phone?
If these things really do appear impossible, maybe that’s all the more reason we should commit to doing them.
For those eternal footprints in the dust of our celestial neighbor are testament to the idea that sometimes the only difference between impossibility and reality is our strengths of will.
And an undying determination that better days await.