Perhaps You Should Donate on Patreon

Did you know that I have a Patreon? Or, rather, the Quinlan Circle, of which I am a member, has a Patreon?

Maybe not, and if you didn’t, let me tell you the reasons you should donate some of your money to the cause (because there are a great many):

The Quinlan Circle provides hundreds of hours of free content every single year, in every medium and genre imaginable. Whether it’s teen romance or dry comedy or thriller, whether it’s web novels or webcomics or blogs or music albums, you can expect tons of Quinlan Circle stories. Every donation we receive helps us continue that mission of providing lots of free content for everyone to enjoy.

morgan wants you to donate on patreon
  • The Quinlan Vault! Anyone who backs at the lowest tier (currently $1), can read dozens of exclusive stories found only on Patreon, or posted on Patreon first. That includes comics, short stories, bonus content, and other odd stuff that will bring you much enjoyment.
  • And when I’m saying bonus content, I mean ATL itself has some really neat stuff already on the Quinlan Vault, including an exclusive short story “Morgan & Karina’s Bad Movie Night!” and the never-before-seen, extremely rare first draft of The Social Media Killer, which was extremely different and even has a completely different final action sequence.
  • Websites don’t make themselves… I’d totally love to afford to redesign all of the Quinlan Circle story sites to have more dynamic and visually appealing and easy-to-navigate layouts, but that’s a long way off for now. With enough support, though, we could make that happen.
  • Art is expensive! Hands Held in the Snow was fully illustrated, with twenty beautiful pieces of art throughout the story. Invisible Werewolf Dracula Meets Vampire Mummy Frankenstein had wonderful art for every single chapter, and ATL: Stories from the Retrofuture has cover art for every single new story. All the time and money on the art can add up, and so every donation on Patreon helps us continue delivering great artwork with our content.

Since you’re clearly already convinced, I don’t think I need to list any more reasons. Every dollar you give is another dollar (minus processing fees 🙁 ) in our weird multi-person pocket to spend on new stories that push the limits of web fiction, and that’s what I really hope you’ll do.

Jim Henson’s Accidental Farewell: Secrets of the Muppets

I finished The Jim Henson Hour the other day, and came across one of the final episodes, a mini-documentary titled Secrets of the Muppets.

It’s not likely you’ve seen this show. It’s not even that likely you’ve even heard of it. It aired in 1989, billed as a true successor show to The Muppet Show a decade later, and lasted just one season. Twelve episodes were produced, but only nine actually made it to air in the United States as scheduled. And due to rights issues stemming from the sale of the Muppets to Disney, much of this series will probably never be officially released.

But the show is great. The Jim Henson Company was always amazing at its craft, and still is, and The Jim Henson Hour exemplifies a company always making strides at utilizing technology and ingenuity to bring fantasy worlds and creatures to life. That level of ambition probably doomed the project, but I have no doubt that this show alone helped pave the way for future television and movies in incredible ways.

But the way it ended has left me honestly pretty heartbroken. It’s a feeling that left me tearing up in ways that maybe only other creators can really connect with, but I want to express it anyway.

For a while now I’ve been doing various reflections of the past ten years with my 2010s Retrospectives series, but now it’s time to take a trip a bit further back, all the way to the beginning of the nineties.

The Jim Henson Hour

(You can probably watch the DefunctTV episode on The Jim Henson Hour if you want a more detailed look; I haven’t seen it because I wanted to finish the series first, but I can attest that the entire channel is always excellent.)

This show had the first-ever real-time animated CGI character in a live-action TV show (the first CGI characters at all were a year earlier but still). It had extensive computer effects that looked good enough that they genuinely kept you in the illusion, at least ten years before any other show could claim the same thing (more like twenty, honestly). The muppet characters were more complex than ever, and were featured in segments and musical numbers that are technically impressive even today.

k.d. lang lesbian muppet kiss
Also, Episode 9 of the show featured country singer k.d. lang and an unnamed female cow muppet smooching in what is one of the first lesbian kisses on all of American television, for no reason.

Typically, each hour-long episode is divided into two parts with wraparounds hosted by Jim Henson himself, as well as a white lion puppet named Lion. Henson gives off a cheerful fatherly vibe while introducing the stories or themes of each episode’s content. It’s the first time he was in front of the camera for one of these shows, and while he doesn’t do Walt Disney or James Cameron levels of presenting himself with charisma, he’s got a real special charm to him.

jim henson with sweater
It’s probably the sweaters.

MuppeTelevision

The first part of most episodes is MuppeTelevision, a very Muppets-esque variety show where Kermit and his friends are in charge of a TV station and decide which programs to put on for the best ratings. Everything constantly goes wrong, naturally. Each episode has a theme, but the themes tend to be very loose and mostly a setup for running gags and brick jokes. It’s usually hilarious and reminds me a lot of Mr. Show with its very odd vaguely-themed pacing. The actual TV program sketches we see are hit-or-miss, sometimes gut-busting and other times too bizarre to handle (The Barbie parody ones are just unsettling), but the parts with Kermit and the gang are great.

weird barbie shit

And that’s interesting, because this show is like the Street Fighter III of Muppet shows; it’s got an almost entirely new cast, with Kermit and Gonzo the only returnees from the original series. This is mostly due to many of the original performers being too busy to participate, especially Frank Oz, but all of the original characters do make cameos here and there. The new characters are very memorable and interesting, especially Digit and Vicki, who provide some of the best jokes. The show is always under threat of cancellation thanks to very low ratings, and I really hope that that was gallows humor by the production staff, because that really did happen…

I can’t believe these Jim Henson Hour characters never appear anymore, but I guess that’s the Disney way

To think that most of this show was shot on bluescreen or used other neat filming tricks, stuff impossible just ten years earlier, is crazy to me.

The Other Stuff

The second half of each episode is typically a half-hour TV movie. The main option tends to be the British series The Storyteller, where John Hurt in heavy makeup tells old European folktales with crazy Jim Henson Company stylings. They are all super, super good.

John Hurt Storyteller

Some of the movies were American productions, such as the all-greenscreen, amazing art direction Song of the Cloud Forest, or the absolute laugh riot Dog City, a noir detective parody starring gangster dog puppets.

song of the cloud forest

And sometimes, the full episodes were full-hour TV movies. Two of those were British productions Monster Maker or Living with Dinosaurs, which combined great technical feats and sappy family drama. But the third was, well, the title of this blog post.

Secrets of the Muppets

The tenth episode (of twelve) is a mini-documentary piece where Jim Henson spends the entire hour of his television program talking about the use of puppeteering and special effects to bring his television shows and movies to life. It showcases behind-the-scenes footage from pretty much every Jim Henson Company production ever made, leaving out only Sesame Street (which isn’t technically a Jim Henson production). Everything from The Muppet Show to The Storyteller, Dark Crystal to Muppet Babies, Fraggle Rock to Labyrinth is featured in some form or fashion.

Jim Henson, as well as an adorable dog character named Jo Jo, visit the sets of ongoing productions, the workshops in both New York and Britain, and talk about the techniques used to make the characters and worlds come alive.

You can watch the full episode here; it’s cute and funny and very worth a watch:

(Though I recommend watching the entire The Jim Henson Hour series, too, because this episode has great making-of segments for a lot of the show.)

MuppeTelevision is featured here, too, with Kermit and the gang having a collective existential crisis as the dreaded “P-Word” comes up and they try to grapple with the fact that they are being controlled via performers and camera tricks. It’s hilarious!

In typical Jim Henson style, the production itself is filled with fourth wall-breaking gags, such as the dog changing between real and puppet several times, and using TV editing to travel great distances instantly. And it’s extremely educational, too, talking about the bluescreen process, computer effects (circa 1989), radio-controlled puppetry, two-camera edits, and even the infamous bike scene from The Great Muppet Caper. It’s a great watch for anyone interested in the process of creating movies and TV.

But what hit me like a brick was the ending, where Jim Henson talks about the most important part of the entire production—the performers. You get one of the most surreal, yet fitting sendoffs you could ever get, when the bluescreen turns off and the camera zooms out to show the performers. The Muppet characters are absolutely freaking out about this to the point of hysterics, and you get to see the actors performing them while they do it.

the muppets being performed

The actors get to talk to their own puppets while staying in-character, and it’s a strange scene in the best way. The fourth wall may have been shattered long before, but this is the floor that has been shattered. The Muppets have to create a shared hallucination that it was all just a bad dream so that they can continue existing, which is my favorite kind of joke.

But…

It’s a lot more tragic when you think about all the context behind this episode.

The Sad Part

jim henson hour showing the muppets

The main sad part: Jim Henson died just one year after this episode was produced. After years and years of overworking himself and neglecting his personal health, he passed away right at an important time for his company’s growth.

The episode then serves as an emotional sendoff to Jim Henson, giving a coda to his countless performances and creations by pulling back the curtain in a silly way that only the Muppets series could manage.

It wasn’t the last Muppet thing he ever recorded—his final performance as Kermit was in the Muppet*Vision 3D show/ride at Disney World (one that is constantly under threat of being torn down and replaced by something trendier)—but it’s much more poignant than it was probably intended to be. After all, I hardly think that Jim Henson had accepted his show would be canceled after one season, let alone knew that his health was failing him. I think this mini-documentary was supposed to just be a fun look at his company’s creations.

There were two more episodes of the show after Secrets of the Muppets, but if you recall something else from the beginning of the article, you may already know the other very sad part…

This episode never made it to air at the time of its creation. Only nine aired on NBC, and the other three aired variously over the years in various countries. Secrets of the Muppets was actually never aired in the United States until it ran on Nickelodeon in 1992. That’s two years after his death.

This final swan song, a farewell to one of the most influential creators in film and television history, didn’t even make it to air until after he passed.

Something about seeing him puppeting Kermit while staying in-character, surrounded by other talented performers doing the same, set upon me some pretty strong emotions.

Creators on Creating

This man lived for his craft. He worked for nearly forty years in the industry, revolutionized puppetry and made it OK for adults to enjoy. Henson created two of the most important pop culture franchises of the twentieth century—Sesame Street and the Muppets—and his company constantly innovated to help Hollywood reach new heights in effects and production design. Thirty years later and you can still plainly see the direct effects of his efforts throughout pop culture to this day.

I think I know why I feel so attached to a man who died before I was even born. Besides the fact that he just made really good stuff, I think it’s his creative spirit. The constant energy he brought to creating great work and innovating to pave the way for everyone else. Being a workaholic because that’s just what he enjoyed the most.

secrets of the muppets

The Secrets of the Muppets episode was not intended as a melancholic farewell; it was a fun middle aged man showing off all the hard work he and his company had done over the years, in the hopes that it might inspire others and get them interested in the puppeteering and effects industries.

I like learning about the behind the scenes of stories I enjoy, and I just love passionate creators in love with their own work. But, knowing the context behind the episode and the fate of The Jim Henson Hour, it needles my heart in a way little other creative stories ever have.

Goodbye, Jim Henson (Thirty Years Later)

A creator going long before his time is infinitely sad, but at least he left us this final little farewell, even if it was unintentional. At least he gave us some of the best, most imaginative work of the past fifty years. At least his company lives on, always innovating and creating great new work both for children and adults (except for Happytime Murders). At least he got to inspire me.

One day, I want to be like Jim Henson. I mean, I don’t want to be a celebrity or anything, but I want to create work that influences industries and inspires a generation of creators. Maybe that goal is far, far too lofty to feasibly reach, but it’s exactly what I want to aim for.

If Secrets of the Muppets taught me anything, it’s that sometimes the most important things you need are just to work hard (but not TOO hard), and just to love the work you’re doing. Even if Jim Henson has been gone for thirty years, his legacy still reigns. And thirty more years from now, I suspect it will still be going strong. What a guy.

Final Note

If you’ve noticed that all the episode screenshots for this article are super low-res and ugly, that’s because it’s taken from a video upload of a tape recording of an original broadcast of this episode. Yuck.

jim henson low res

The Jim Henson Hour has never been released in full on DVD or Blu-Ray. Certain episodes, such as the full Dog City, have been released separately, but never the full series. This is likely because Disney owns the rights to the Muppets franchise, but the Jim Henson Company owns the rights to everything else, so the splits in the show are now legally separated. I assume original broadcaster NBC has some rights, too.

If anything is right and pure in this world, let us hope these companies can come together and reach an agreement to jointly release the entire series in HD picture and sound quality. It’s a tragedy that the world can’t experience these shows in their full glory for how good they are. I’d even accept a simple Disney+ upload, or anything like that, just so long as people can finally see one of Jim Henson’s most underlooked works.

I Went to Jesus’s Grave (in Japan)

So, bored one weekend recently, and forced to social distance and go only to the least-popular attractions in my region, some friends and I decided to travel to one of the most odd spots in the entire world… Jesus’s Grave, in Shingo, Aomori.

You may recall I once went to the Kogarashi Shrine in Shizuoka last year and had a very interesting experience with an odd, out of the way, beautiful location. Well, this one was a pretty similar experience, but for different reasons. It’s… a pretty interesting place. Wikipedia tells all (but so will I later in the article).

Here’s the details of my trip! (Also don’t worry, social distancing measures were taken very seriously.)

Continue reading “I Went to Jesus’s Grave (in Japan)”

Spaceballs

As part of the Quinlan Circle’s first DVD Challenge (Sign up for our Patreon to vote for movies to make us watch!!), I watched Spaceballs, an old childhood favorite of mine for a couple years. (Here is Joi Massat’s own write-up on the movie.)

I hadn’t seen it since something like 2005, so it was a very odd experience revisiting it for how well I remembered almost every single scene. It played out exactly how I remembered.

Actually, aside from understanding all the sex jokes and making me realize I was not old enough to watch this movie at all, there was nothing new here for me to discover at all… Which is maybe a bad thing overall.

Like, I love all the slapstick comedy and the stupid nonsense jokes that go on way too far. I love all the fourth wall breaks where they skip ahead in the movie to find out plot details. But I didn’t love this as much as I expected I would.

Maybe my sense of nostalgia and knowing that it would hold up well started to override my expectations and make me think this would have so much more to offer when I watched it as an adult? It’s just a juvenile spoof movie with a bunch of good gags. It’s nothing more than that, and that should be okay with me. But it kind of disappointed me a little bit…

Spaceballs is funny, Mel Brooks is a genius, and I’m overthinking all of this by a ton. But this is a weird case where I wanted the movie to be a lot more than it was, but instead it was exactly the same.

ATL Season 2 + Pride Month Celebrations

Two big updates:

ATL Season 2 has started!!!

The ninth story, The Dial-Up Demon, is now out, all thirteen chapters. The posting schedule for this season is going to be a bit different than Season 1’s three-times-a-week clockwork style, which I hope will be better for y’all binging types. You can start reading here!

Don’t you wanna read it? Art by hellspawnmotel.

Chapters are gonna be… vaguely monthly. I’m only going to release updates when they are ready, and when there’s a sizeable enough chunk that it’ll be worth it. I stole this idea from Alexander Wales and I hope it helps.

Second news…

Pride Month is underway!!!

Yeah I probably could have made a more detailed post about this, and earlier than this. I’ll make another post later but for now I’ll just say that there’s a lot of gay stuff this month and the Quinlan Circle is celebrating it.

First off, I’ve been running a #PrideWebFiction feature on Twitter where I promote one piece of queer web media every day throughout the month. The endeavor has received a ton of support and it’s really cool to see all the great queer stories out there.

There is also… Another project afoot. Such as Pride Month art for all of the main queer couples in each Quinlan Circle series! The art is part of a commission by Ryuichirou and there is more coming after this…

Check the art out:

Continue reading “ATL Season 2 + Pride Month Celebrations”

The Beginning of Lord of the Rings

I started listening to the audiobook for the first Lord of the Rings book this morning, marking the first time I’ve ever read (?) this extremely famous book trilogy. And aside from watching half of Fellowship in 2011, I haven’t seen any of the movies since probably 2004. So this is an extremely fresh experience to me!

It’s also bizarrely, uh, not widely appealing in the beginning, to put it politely. The first forty-plus minutes of this book, and it’s still in the Shire with Bilbo’s party and all his relatives. Bilbo just disappeared right when I stopped the book. Forty minutes of Hobbit culture and random irrelevant characters talking about their quaint little British lives… it’s a little bit boring! I like it for its whimsy, but there certainly isn’t anything noteworthy going on just yet.

And that fascinates me.

So much of writing advice talks about making a strong impact as fast as possible, for your novels to leap into the most appealing parts as fast as possible or to otherwise grab readers so they don’t let go. Fantasy novels especially so, with a cutthroat market filled with thousands of web novels and ebooks and gigantic 1000-page tomes at your local indie bookstore. Boring a reader is a straight ticket to them dropping the book and never picking it back up.

At least… that’s what’s always taught. That’s the advice that’s always given. Focus on the characters and the plot and keep the action (not always literal action) moving… But then the forefather of all high fantasy spends 40 minutes of its audiobook describing an out-of-the-way town filled with simple bumpkins? It flies in the face of all that despite being, of course, one of the most successful books in all of history.

Did Lord of the Rings simply exist and gain its fame in a time before that sort of stuff would have killed a book? Is its charm just that alluring even to reluctant readers? Or is the conventional wisdom given to writers not so accurate at all?

I have no idea, but it really interests me to wonder about it.

Story Status Updates + Info

I realized it’s been a while since I made a blog post, let alone one that gave an update on what I’ve been up to. So I thought I’d make a brief summary of some of the things you might not be aware of in the world of Thedude3445:

  • First of all, ATL: Stories from the Retrofuture Season 2 is starting very soon! On June 16th, to be exact. If you haven’t caught up on the adventures of Morgan Harding and friends, now is the perfect time.
  • I don’t think I mentioned it on this blog before, but as a stress-relieving activity I started an isekai LitRPG parody series in February called Reborn on a Systemless Earth… With a System. It’s the story about a fantasy character who is hit by a speeding carriage and reincarnated… in modern-day San Francisco?! The antics are wacky and the stakes are very low, and somehow it’s become my all-time most-popular original story already. People really love LitRPGs, it seems.
  • Hands Held in the Snow is also still ongoing and still publishing at two times per week. The story has gotten a lot of nice people following along with Emi and Beatrice’s story lately, and I love each and every one of them. <3

And here is some other upcoming news:

  • Web Fiction Guide is coming back! It’s been in limbo since August or September, and so my newest two serials haven’t even gotten listed on there. But it is coming back soon and that is very exciting.
  • Quinlan Circle will be celebrating Pride Month in style. Since all of our ongoing stories (Except DracuFrank 🙁 ) heavily feature LGBT+ themes, there’s gonna be a ton of nice content throughout June! stay tuned for that, and make sure to follow on social media to stay informed. Details are mum for now, but I can spoil that the excellent artist Ryuichirou Aoino (of Issues fame) may be involved…
  • Hands Held in the Snow is currently being posted here on the Quinlan Circle website, as well as on Royal Road. But on the encouragement of many, it is highly likely that it will be added to two new sites: Scribble Hub and Tapas! If you like either of those sites, make sure to keep your eyes peeled.
  • The movie Nobody was delayed to 2021 and it still makes me sad every time I think about it :'(

And that’s all for now! I’ll try to post more blog posts in the near future since I ought to make better use of this site.

[2010] My First “Real” Short Story

It’s been about ten years since I started writing original prose fiction and posting it on the internet. I don’t think I was really conscious of it at the time, since I was still busy making fan fictions and sprite comics and all that sort of stuff, but it took until high school for me to really start making the things that would eventually make me the writer I am today.

Of course, because I was a little shit, though, one of the first short stories I finished was an “experimental” piece of trash called “An Hero is a Hero.”

(Read it and try to make sense of anything in it. I dare you.)

Continue reading “[2010] My First “Real” Short Story”

Thedude3445’s Guide to Writing Cute Romance

Hello and welcome to my guide on writing cute romance storylines. After my work in stories like Hands Held in the Snow and “On the Ship” (among many others), I’ve had a lot of people ask me for advice on how to write about love and couples in ways that make readers feel warm and fuzzy on the inside, as well as get them hyped up to start shipping your characters together. There’s a whole lot of advice I’d like to give, so I decided to make an entire article on the subject!

This guide can be for a small subplot in a bigger work just as much as a full romance story It’s all just my own methods and thought process, so a whole lot of the details in here will be specific to how I approach storytelling. There’s obviously no one superior method to how to make your romantic storylines adorable.

But while these are just my thoughts and opinions, not some steadfast rules to adhere to, I think they’ll be helpful to anyone who’s looking for how to enhance their romance. It may be a useful read even if you aren’t interested in romance writing, at least because I will explain some of my favorite story techniques and why I like to use them.

Continue reading “Thedude3445’s Guide to Writing Cute Romance”

2010s Retrospectives Update

Just an update on the 2010s Retrospectives blog series here: I’ve written a whole lot of these posts by now, with topics ranging all over the spectrum and posts as short as a couple paragraphs or as long as three or four thousand words. It’s been a really fun time, and I’ve gotten to reflect on things I’m not sure I ever would have remembered had I not been trying to think about various 2010s-related topics.

As for the whole project, I’d say we are well past the halfway point by now. For all the topics I would like to cover, there aren’t too many huge ones I’m still missing out on. So there will be another few months of posts, but we will soon finally be able to put the 2010s to rest (albeit several months into the new decade).

I want to make more of the “Best of the Decade” articles about my favorite media from the past ten years, but those posts take extraordinarily long to make compared to the ones that cover a single topic. If I get the time and gumption to finish more, they will probably come closer to the end of the whole series.

And one last thing… While I’m really writing these mostly for the fun of having a strange, public diary of sorts to look back on one day, I am obviously always glad when people find and read through these posts. However, the site stats tell me most of these posts so far have only single-digit views, which is a bit disheartening. If you have the time, please share some of these posts with other people! I’d love to have more readers and especially more commenters as well.

It is perhaps fitting that, ten years after starting my first blog, my latest one gets just about the same number of views per post. Fitting, but maybe a bit sad as well.