Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Free Reading, Giveaways, WFC Panel and Nano

You KNOW that I am procrastinating, but these things were so good, I had to share!

Great article on Urban Fantasy by Daniel Abraham. Specifically, the unwritten, yet understood limits of the female protagonist. Very thought provoking.

Nanowrimo! No, I'll do a post tomorrow on that. But this post by Chuck Wendig had me in stitches.

N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms has won a few awards this year. If you haven't already checked it out, you can read Chapter One here.

Speaking of The Knight Agency, they've got a great giveaway happening today.  One of the benefits of not having a huge following is that I can tell you about it without ruining my chances for goodies!

I've been stalking google for uploaded videos from the World Fantasy Convention that took place over this past weekend. My diligence paid off today, when author Blake Charlton put up 4 Videos from the epic fantasy panel.

I'm so excited I couldn't wait to share. Now, if you don't mind, I have to get back to my procrastination!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Water Cooler - Friday, October 22, 2010

Random bits and pieces from the speculative fiction world.

Top of the list this week: Don't purchase books from Dorchester. Yes, apparently they are not compensating their authors. Bad form! Read the story here. Good luck to those authors who are trying to get their rights and compensation straightened out.

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[image goes here]

Geeky signage! (How can I go from serious to stupid? I do it because I can.) I like this one to attach to all my posts. You can find a ton more here on Flickr.

Edit: Apparently the picture is not inclined to show up. Lame. I'll leave you the link.

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Since I reviewed a couple of series this week, I thought I'd point out another. Steven Till reviewed Pillars of the Earth.

My biggest concern going in was how they were going to fit a 900 page book into the span of eight hours. I was impressed with the amount of information they crammed into such a short time period without really losing anything. Overall, I’d give the series a A- .


I may have to give that a look.

While I'm at it, SQT's first impressions of Spartacus:BaS Season One.

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UK cover art for Steven Erikson's The Crippled God, the final book of his Malazan series.



Pretty sharp cover. Suvudu provides the synopsis here.

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Solaris released their 2011 publishing line up.

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Tor is hosting a Pyr giveaway contest.

The Official Rules: To enter, leave one comment on this post—duplicates won’t count—by Saturday, October 23, leave a comment in Facebook, or reply on Twitter. The 5 winners will be chosen randomly. Please check your email on October 23rd and 24th; if we don’t hear back from the winner in 24 hours, another winner will be chosen.


Hurry!

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Barnes and Noble announced they will be selling the Nook at Walmart.

The popular NOOK devices are expected to arrive on Walmart shelves beginning as soon as October 24, in advance of the holiday shopping season.

The NOOK eBook Readers will be prominently featured as the premier eBook Reader in the consumer electronics area. Many Walmart stores will feature a NOOK-branded eReading area where shoppers can see and touch a demonstration device.


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Kudos to Jasper Kent's new marketing strategy: Vampires that don't sparkle.

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Like multiple links in one easy to find spot? Grasping for the Wind does them daily! I envy his tenacity.

Genre Reader does a frequent "Today in Fantasy" post that is always nicely done, as well.

For an industry perspective, check out Eric's Friday Round over at Pimp My Novel.

Or Nathan Bransford's This Week in Publishing.

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That's all I've got for today. What sort of news are you interested in?

Have a great weekend!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Series Review: Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Season 1

When I thought about writing this review, I realized that I had to overcome the urge to simply analyze the positive and negative elements, and rather, give a reason(s) why you might be inclined to pass or indulge in watching this series.



Production wise, this is 300 meets Gladiator - without the benefit of either Frank Miller or Ridley Scott. Spartacus:BaS is brutally graphic, and oft times gratuitously so. More on that later.

The story of Spartacus, as we've come to know it through media, was written by Howard Fast (Spartacus (North Castle Books)
). The story was made popular by the Stanley Kubrick movie production in 1960; there was also a 2004 made-for-tv production as well.

Having not read the book, nor seen the other two movies, I will not bother with comparing. Comments and reviews seem to indicate the novel tells the tale much better - but, that's almost always the case. I will say that, overall, the story behind the Starz production was pretty good. The arcs and subplots were well handled, and there were certainly enough interesting twists and turns to take the viewer right up to the dramatic end.

For the story(-ies) alone, it is probably worth a look.

Otherwise, the production is pretty rough. It is a graphic novel come alive without artistry or clear intent. I mentioned Frank Miller earlier, and if you've seen either 300 or Sin City, you can see the artist's hands in either production. There are subtleties of elements that define an artist work - and those subtleties are missing from Spartacus.

Spartacus contains unbelievable amounts of blood and sex and nudity. This would suggest that the target audience, the intent of telling the story this way, is male; specifically the target is to immerse a man into the dark, bloody, gritty story. But, frankly, if that is the case, then this is a homo-erotic fantasy. There is more male frontal nudity in this production than I've ever seen - anywhere. Including the sort of stuff that Cinemax shows late at night.

I'm not homophobic, and I do not mind meaningful nudity in a story, nor did I mind the homosexual relationship story arcs (which are all but expressly inevitable in retelling stories from that cultural history). But it reaches a point where it is gratuitous, outside artistic vision, and perhaps only present for some grim shock value.

All of which would be fine, if the intent was to market Starz' Spartacus:BaS, as homosexual porn. But the rest of the visual elements suggest otherwise. The blood, CGI splattered everywhere, the graphic depictions of intestines being spilled, of throats being cut, of vomit and infectious wounds and worms - these are the sort of graphic, edgy, visual elements that you want to pitch to attract male heterosexuals, "manly men".

It would be unrealistic to expect zero nudity in the representation of such a hedonistic culture, and I think it would be further untrue to the core material to not have a degree of homosexual interaction. In portraying war and combat, yes, there's going to be blood and graphic violence.

I thought the blood was often gratuitous - the male nudity more so. The production fails to choose a target audience. Mind you, I like blood and guts. That can be fun. I'm not remotely prudish. When I say "gratuitous", I mean it exceeds the boundary of what I feel is a reasonable artistic license in producing a visual image.

Now, none of that may trouble you. It's arguable, and a matter of taste, whether certain scenes and conflicts benefit from the graphic nature of the production.

For instance, there's a scene where Ilithyia is choosing a gladiator from amongst new recruits. She's a perv, so they are asked to get naked, which the camera reveals from her perspective. When they do so, the camera slowly pans from behind the men, revealing each and every buttocks. Then her mouth drops open, and she chooses the Gaul with the "horse c*ck." Which the camera shows. Three scenes later (spoiler), the man is punished for an offense, and they show him crucified and his penis cut off. The stump where his penis was spurts blood out onto the sand. (end spoiler)

The writing, particularly the dialogue, is flat and unimaginative for the first few episodes. The series benefits from a few strong actors who carry the entire production - otherwise, especially in the beginning, there is no passion, no chemistry between the characters.

Andy Whitfield, as Spartacus, is an excellent actor with great emotional range (considering the role), and I understand the buzz surrounding his departure from the cast to deal with health issues. Otherwise? Even the formidable Lucy Lawless, as Lucretia, falls a little flat (and for some unknown reason, they have her painted white as a ghost. It looks horrible. As a lower class Roman citizen, she could have had a little color.), but I'm not sure if that's the writing or her. (The upshot of her presence is that she is an attractive woman who spends a great deal of time in various states of undress).

Manu Bennett, as Crixus, is entirely horrid to watch, he has the emotional range of a monkey. Most of the others have very little believable emotional range. Even the accents are muttered and mumbled and fall flat. To be fair, this was more apparent in the beginning of the season - by the finale, there is some character chemistry and comfort.

If you're watching this for the acting, however, you'll be disappointed in not only the writing/dialogue, but in pretty much everyone but Whitfield, and arguably Lawless. If the others have shining moments, they are rare.

Overall? The series succeeds in telling a well-paced story; of that, there can be little argument. The acting and dialogue fall a little flat, and the production is gratuitously graphic without clear intent of who they're trying to entertain.

I'd give this 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Non Fiction choices, October 2010

Better late than never, a few non-fiction titles I've read recently.

Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism by Erwin Panofsky, (1957), 2nd Printing, 158pps.

I received this book as part of LibraryThing's Member Giveaway program. My copy is very used, with scotch tape holding the cover in place. Pity that, as the book is now out of print.


As the updated cover illustrates, this is essentially a transcripted lecture, something that I would have suggested even before I saw that cover.

The material flows quietly into three distinct areas. One describes Scholasticism as it became defined from the 10th to the 12th centuries. This section was the most interesting to me, I confess, as it highlighted the key tenets of the "intellectualization" of philosophy. In many ways, I'd go so far as to say as scholasticism is what makes the works of historical philosophers easier to understand and digest.

The next aspect described the development and function of Gothic Architecture, independently of the previous nominalism vs mysticism debate.

The third and final part of the lecture then fuses the evidence of architecture styles prevalent in European countries of the Middle Ages; it referenced diagrams and illustrations to indicate how the reader could see where the influences came from.

It was a fascinating exploration, although I must confess I am simply a fan of architecture. From a layman's perspective, it was interesting to see the correlations as noted above.

From a scholar's perspective, I would have to suggest that this material would not stand alone. This book would make a fine accompaniment to an existing study in either medieval philosophy or architecture (or even art, I suppose). There is enough information to whet the appetite, and to engage and/or enforce an existing knowledge on the topic. It is but one lecture, though, and does not focus on any particular subject long enough to be able to be recognized as authoritative in that regard.

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Soul of the Samurai (Tuttle Martial Arts) (translated) by Thomas Cleary, (2005), 156pps

The Art of War by Sun Tzu was a popular reprint in the 80's and 90's aggressive corporate culture. If you are looking for a book to expound upon that sort of single minded "victory" frame of mind, this is not it. This book translates Martial Arts: The Book of Family Traditions (Yagyu Munenori), The Inscrutable Subtlety of Immovable Wisdom, and The Peerless Sword (Takuan Soho). Each book within the book stands on its own, but there are enough overlapping concepts as to make this a well-construed trilogy.



Thomas Cleary is a brilliant translator, however. Each page of the original text is accompanied with excellent cross references to other historic writings of the time; and if not a scholar of ancient Eastern philosophies, those references make the inherent teachings of the original text that much more understandable.

Though marketed as a martial arts book, there is very little practical or technical skills taught within. Reading this may well help you to be a better swordsman, but it will not show you how to wield a sword.

Analysis aside, I think this is a very clear, very expressive foray into (as the cover suggests) three classic works of Zen and Bushido. If this is your first foray into Eastern philosophy, there will undoubtedly be concepts that will be too complex. However, that noted, the original text (and what can be gained through the references and translations) contains great volumes of insightful commentary on inner peace, success, self-discipline and ambition. Those gems alone are worth taking the time to read.

***

Infinite Possibilities: The Art of Living Your Dreams by Mike Dooley (2009).

This was a "lend" from my mother, and unfortunately, I must finish my re-read and send it on to her, so that she can continue to share it. This is one that I will have to get my own copy of someday soon.



Ah, yes. The "self help" book. No shortage of those, ever. My foray into psychology was prompted by the books like these that I read as a teenager. Some of you older folks may recall Wayne Dyer, or Anthony Robbins. Hell, I even read Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People back in my youth.

So, between my study of psychology and religion, the effect of those types of books began to wear off on me. Because it is what it is - some believe in a supreme Deity, and you must have faith that things happen for a reason. Others believe that we are the rulers of our own fate, so we must be "positive", and life will go well.

Those are both very nice beliefs, and yet, incredibly dull. In either instance, there remains too many moments of powerlessness. No matter how positive I am now, or how religious I was, those beliefs certainly did not explain, to my satisfaction, a life with an incurable disease nor the destruction of my former career at the hands of my own father.

Enter Mike Dooley, who bridges the gap between the very real psychological phenomenon of programming, and the persuant positive thinking, positive reinforcement and such "secrets" - with - the necessity of a faith that must not necessarily be religion.

Moreso, he does it in simple, non-sensationalized, practical and applicable segments. It's actually quite brilliant. It's the first book that doesn't just stop at "Oh, be positive mister saggy pants." or "You must believe in HE, and HE will show you the WAY."

Because, frankly, my friends - both of those methods are nice. Good. But, they're bollocks. You can sit on a hill and chant happy me stuff until your voice goes, and you can put all your faith in God, Gaia, or my left knee cap - and neither one of those actions will actually FIX anything.

Infinite Possibilities presents an action plan within a train of thought and belief that is interactive, functional and puts the responsibility where it belongs: On you. Mike Dooley gives no misguided "wave the magic wand" advice. Throughout the entire book, you're reminded that you actually have to work towards your goals.

But, he does make the task of having dreams and living your fantasies seem a little more doable. As far as self-help books go, this one not only succeeds, but it's a triumph amongst works of self empowerment. It will not be for everyone, but I can't think of anyone who would not benefit by reading it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wednesday Writer's Report



Tada! Finished? No. But this is the last one you will see for awhile (or not, if I can conceive a solid story idea for Nanowrimo).

I have one or two chapters left. And I'm going to stop there. Although I'm a completionist, this is the resolution of the story. The hard parts are done, over. Now I need to tie on a bow. And the bow should be meaningful, as opposed to making the reader want to sling the package across the room.

I realized, about 20k words ago, that I will need to redefine the characters in "Tribe E" - so it follows that anything I write now for their ending will be meaningless and will need to be redone. Seems a waste of time to do it now, only to have it to do it all over again later.

It's actually rather telling. At this point in the story, their ultimate conclusion should be relatively predictable. No, I won't offer spoilers, but the fact that I'm staring at the screen and realizing that I don't have a fitting dialogue... that was telling. I can say more, but I think it would be spoiler-ish.

All the other characters have an ending sequence. The other characters need some polish and such. But these characters, no. They need help.

There will be a lot of editing, though. The book is too big for the story - the prose is decent, but not quite as lush as say, Jacqueline Carey, so that tells me there's a bit of babbling. Additionally, it's been suggested to me to introduce more POV's - and that's going to add words, not subtract. That means I'm going to have edit even more heavily to be able to fit in the additional "complexities".

Don't even get me started about the two "stories within the story" that aren't finished.

So! Parts of the story are going to be rewritten from different (new) POV's in order to reduce the word count and speed up the pace. Current arcs need to polish the characters, now that I figured out what I want them to do, from beginning to end.

This could take a while.

The upshot, however, is that I was pretty close at predicting my pace - good news for the future. This is by far my largest single writing project.

And no, I'm not querying yet.

Otherwise, while not quite the content heavy blog I promised for this month so far, there's still a couple weeks left. Cheers.

Monday, October 11, 2010

New York Comic Con - Fantasy Author Panel

Two vimeo videos, below - just over an hour total - which I have ungraciously borrowed from suvudu.com.

NYCC Panel Video: Fantasy Authors from Suvudu on Vimeo.



NYCC Panel Video: Fantasy Authors Part II from Suvudu on Vimeo.



I thought the Tolkien question was reasonably asked and addressed. I was particularly surprised/relieved at the multiple G.R.R.M. references as well. I'm biased, of course, as I see those two as my own biggest influences.

Naomi Novik hit it on the head, more or less, in her response to the "influence of gaming on writing" question. I think it's important now, and will continue to be increasingly so, that with modern technology, readers can find a world that they can immerse themselves into.

The other questions and answers were interesting, but more or less expected. It was enjoyable to watch for me, so I thought I'd share.

Happy Monday.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Random Things of Interest

I'm chewing on a new catchy feature, this thing, where uh, it is basically random internet links! I am certainly *not* the only one doing it!

But it's telling, no? We see if we like the same things? Fun, exciting, or NOT COOL YOU SUCK! I don't know. Let's try!

Okay, by way of weblog camaraderie, this blogaraderie (I am a master of language OR NOT), let's begin...

I was reading Bryce's post It's News to Me, and found this SF Signal post, which contained a link to the best vampire powerpoint presentation ever. It's a little lengthy, so wait til your lunch break. (Oh, and because I couldn't NOT look, a rendition of Steampunk Sarah Palin. The horror!)

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Mead! The drink of the gods. Tis a funny thing, to write about the stuff, and to never have tried it, no? Well, now you can try to make your own, with this mead making e-book. Am I being asked to promote this? No, he probably doesn't even know I'm mentioning it; I just think it's cool.

Edited to add: Well, hell, the dude's got a video!



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Getting a little buzz on Yahoo, this 2 minute Star Wars video.



The timing of this video was all the more interesting, as Lucasfilm recently announced that it would be reproducing the Star Wars saga in 3D. And yes, you aren't the only one who is horrified by a three dimensional Jar Jar.

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Speaking of, scientists have discovered a new (potentially) habitable planet. Sharpen your pens, sci fi writers.

(And come up with a better name than Gliese 581g, for crimony's sake.)

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In the "Why it's a miracle that humans haven't gone extinct" category, a viral video of a Ukrainian lion trainer getting chomped on.



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I predict this year's hot new Halloween costume will be "Cigar Guy". Here he is, knocking out Sonny Liston...



If you haven't heard of Cigar Guy - he was standing in the background when a photographer got nailed by an errant Tiger Woods shot.

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I have some actual news and publishing information to share, but I think that I will wait and put those together. My guess is that if you need to know something bad enough, you can find it. My goal here is to show you things you might have missed. (Or really, reasons to mock/praise randomly.)

Have a great day.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Banned Books Week



Several of the (mostly agent) blogs that I follow have been hyping up this week, "Banned Books Week", and I think that it is my responsibility to say a thing or two.

Before I do, however, I want to note that I think others will ultimately say it better. As such, I am going to add some links at the end of this post. If you stumble across a particularly riveting article, please add it in comments.

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In this, the Information Age, the act of censorship in and of itself is counter-intuitive to every other social movement. I know pre-teen children that are being issued laptop computers (with wireless internet), as part of their curriculum.

The phenomenon of social media encourages the exchange of information. Status updates on facebook, myspace. GPS locators built into smart phone technology. A day spent in the local library is now replaced with five minutes on Google.

Every social movement suggests, "We can share with the world more than anyone should ever want to know." Society has evolved to embrace that, in all aspects, from sports and games and hobbies and entertainment to politics and medicine and ecological issues. You are not alone, even if you sit by yourself in front of a computer. The world is at your fingertips.

Is this dangerous? Yes, it is.

But so is censorship. Moreso, in fact.

Freedom of information, of the exchange of ideas, suggests only one thing - that others may listen. It is conducive to an environment where people with wicked and evil ideas may gather together to wage philosophical, economical and societal terrorism on the unexpectant masses.

Then again, in the same stroke, lies the ability for people who have survived or suffered, who face very personal grief, terror and tragedy in their lives, who feel so very alone to reach out and find others - and to learn, indeed, that they are not alone.

Somewhere in the middle, within our nature as a social animal, technology has furthered what has been the case since before the recorded history of man - that we seek approval and acceptance, the birth of cities rose from communities of commonality, and in the 21st century we are linked to each other in ways that were only previously imagined.

In books. In stories. Written recordings of what was originally oral history, passed from parent to child, philosopher to student, king to warrior to farmer. Variations on those themes and ideas, as science and evolution and history all teaches us more of ourselves and more of our past and broadens new ideas towards our collective future.

Censorship cannot be allowed. It is a tyrant's tool, an ancient failure brought forward, when ideas were so powerful that they could create revolutions in thoughts and beliefs. It is an act of fear.

Some many others will write about freedom, about amendments. Those are valid reasons, but they are not mine. I will present to you a universal truth, that does not require legislation.

Friend or foe, if I take the time to teach you my beliefs, I assume you have the ability to understand it. Sheep or lion, it makes no matter who or what you are. Society now does this on the grand scale, we covet information, we respond as a society to knowledge and wisdom.

We live the life that the ancient sages could have only dreamed, but with this one fatal flaw.

Censorship suggests an illogical belief, that you, the reader do not know how to think. Censorship is someone taking your hand and saying, "You may think this, this or this - but not that, oh no. Let me take that from you."

Censorship is putting a cover on an electrical outlet, because you are a child who does not know to not stick your finger in there.

I do not believe in this.

I believe that too much time and effort is spent in telling people what to think. All this information, the task itself is impossible.

It is now time, friends, to tell people HOW to think. To let them decide for themselves. To not treat people as children or horses, blinding their eyes from the frightening realities of the world they live in.

Teach people that all stories have value, all opinions have value, and the wise can turn a critical eye without blinders and decide for themselves what is right - based upon their beliefs.

Do you gain more satisfaction from being followed blindly, by those cowered in fear and ignorance - or would it be better to know that those who follow your beliefs know exactly what's out there, and have made a critical decision made with full knowledge of their options?

I choose the latter. Censorship chooses the former. I will take an educated and wide-eyed decision. I will choose the critical thinker over the fearful faithful.

For the love of humanity, use this opportunity to teach people HOW to think, to make their own decisions and stop deluding yourself into thinking that in this Age of Information, that you can hide ANYTHING from the masses. You can't. You're foolish to try, and you insult everyone in the process.

In the Age of Information, can we spend no effort in teaching people HOW to think critically? How is it so politically correct to cherish the individual, to treat everyone as equal with one hand, but then take away their ability to make their own critical choices with another?

Faith remains after beliefs are manifested. But you must give people the tools by which to construct beliefs that are true to the world they live in.

People are NOT too stupid to make their own choices. Censorship suggests they are, and for that reason alone, it shames me to know it still takes place.

~ Bill, Coyote.



Links:

American Library Association

Banned Books.com

Tahereh will review her favorite banned book, Sep 30.

Agent Janet Reid (aka Query Shark).

Agent Suzie Townsend and a couple of banned book reviews here.

Banned Book Review Week Excitement, ala The Rejectionist.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Video: Research, News - Killer Giant Squid

SyFy network has a new show called Beast Legends, in which a team of people digitally recreate, through science and legend, some of the mythical creatures.


I'm finding the show to be a little corny, but it's interesting in terms of the information they work with.

Recently, (episode 2) they recreated the Kraken myth, relying primarily upon their (spoiler alert) discovery of giant squid scientific factoids.

Aside, SyFy producers, you blew it on the "armor". An underwater predator that large will be capable of diving to such depths that their skin will have evolved into something very incredible, and believable. Sharkskin isn't armor, but it ain't no joke. Etc.

Getting info on the giant squid was difficult, as the animals are very elusive. Until now. (cue dramatic music)

As reported in the Express online paper, Humboldt squids are attacking fishermen and devouring fishing stocks.


Two Mexican fishermen were recently dragged from their boats and chewed so badly that their bodies could not be identified even by their own families.

No wonder the giant squid are called “diablos rojos” – red devils.

...

Marine biologists wear chain-mail to protect themselves from creatures that can measure 8ft, weigh 100lb and carry an armoury of more than 40,000 fearsome teeth along two “attack” tentacles.

The creatures have another eight “legs” for grasping and swimming and can reach speeds of more than 15mph.


(Ironically, or poetically, this story came from reading Dinosaur Comics. Comics are your friend, people.)

Now if you watched the SyFy episode, you would have learned that there's practically no footage of giant squids, due to their swimming depths and general intelligence. But I managed to find a little video to show you.



A tiny one, alas. (Which is amusing to consider that three feet is tiny. Such a cynic I am.)

If you're not in a hurry, there's a nice 13 minute documentary that's far more detailed here. Imbedding was disabled, so you'll have to clicky clicky.

To be able to explore these things, it's almost worth it to create a race of creatures that can breathe underw... hmm. Okay, back to work for me. ;-)

Truth is stranger than fiction, yes?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wednesday Writer's Report



Pace was down this week. It wasn't so much that life got in the way, it's moreso that I let it. If it is my intention to be a writer, I'm going to have to learn to live with Crohn's Disease, and keep writing in spite of "uncomfortable" days. Additionally, even *I* watched some football on Sunday with friends, then there were some family things that required my time.

Mostly just distractions that pushed at the heart of what I'm facing. I have two critical scenes that were pivotal in steering towards the events of the climax. I've had some misgivings about my characters and those are starting to show up now. Glancing up, I see that my word count may come in a bit high for what the story is. I managed to do one of the scenes, and the other is staring at me like a homeless guy in a downtown crosswalk.

The food for thought, this week, is that when you're facing difficulties, it is easier to find reasons not to write. I certainly didn't have to spend an hour watching the Fox Fall Party Webcast, in spite of my eager anticipation for season 7 of House. The misconception is that the scenes have to be great - and they don't - they just have to get written.

Rule # 4: Write now, Edit later. (I may have mentioned this last week, huh?)

So my answer has been to break up my routine, which I started on Monday, and it seems to be working. Previous to now, I had one writing session per day, and that session would go until I concluded a scene, a chapter, whatever my daily goal was. It was never about word count, it was about completing it in bits and pieces.

Mostly, that works for me. However, this week I've started two writing sessions a day. The first is 250 words or thereabouts, early in the day, before my internal editor comes online. The second, in the evenings, picks up where that left off and finishes the scene, and keeps going until I'm out of brain juice.

I share that with you because I know Brian and Luna are writing as well. And the following is for your benefit, too.

Rather randomly, I glanced over at the Suvudu thread of unread posts, found something that caught my eye, and that led to another blog, which led me to Jim Butcher's Live Journal, which he hasn't updated in over two years.

I haven't read the Dresden Files (yet), for which he is more well known, but I am doing a reread of his Codex Alera next month. It's not a bad epic tale, and I think more people should learn about it.

Butcher's LJ has only about 15 posts, and most of those are to do with craft. Oddly, many of his suggestions are ones that I was already doing (particularly where concerned the "Great Swampy Middle"), but there were plenty of things I haven't paid enough attention to. Well worth the couple hours (or less), it took to read through his advice.

Aside, I know it's been quiet here lately. I'm holding off until I recapture my pace, before I post the few things I've set aside for now. I'm sure you understand.

Raine, I know, has started a new job and other things going on in her household, plus I think she told me the last book she read wasn't worth a review. Gotta love that. Once she gets her schedule settled, I'm sure she'll be back in action.

This is a picture of my favorite dog, Rocky, who belongs to some friends of mine. He is a male Bull Boxer.



What I'm doing is showing the size of his gigantic melon-sized head by holding it next to a regulation size tennis ball.



Big, monstrous dogs make me happy, and they're fun to write. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Video: Research - Squirrels vs the World

Well, I'm a little behind on my word count this week, so my latest review will have to wait. In the meantime, I would like to share a couple of squirrel videos.

Yes, squirrels.

The first one is a bit lengthy, I'm afraid. But you can watch it for a minute and get the idea.





This second one, (and pardon the cheesy music background, but the original video wouldn't imbed), is something I saw on Nat Geo. The squirrel is protecting its babies in a nearby den from a gopher snake. Don't give up too early (after about 2:30, there is nothing but snake) on this one, as the squirrel wins and keeps going, but it ends up in a draw.



Again, I say truth is stranger than fiction.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Worldbuilding vs "Nerdism" (nerdism, seriously?)

Larry, over at OF Blog of the Fallen, is a bit of a literary elitist. That's a compliment, Larry. I read his blog because he represents that end of the scale, and he reminds me of some of the overly bright folks I used to socialize with.

This morning he resurrected an old argument from 2007, which you can see and research here.

It's a lovely discussion, and me only one cup of coffee into the day. You see, I am absolutely the fan of "world building" (i.e., secondary world creation) and it is an inherent aspect of my work-in-progress. Yes, I have maps, and languages and gods and tigers, oh my!

Why? Because I'm a nerd? Maybe. Anyway, here's something from an old Larry post that caught my eye...

Sounds more like a weak and twisted version of studying history, without the desire of those that do study history to apply that knowledge toward a greater understanding of ourselves. ~
Larry, 2007


Let's talk about that. I'll be the first to admit that history wasn't a strong subject while I was in school, all that bloody memorization of dates didn't work for me.

Yes, the appeal of Tolkien's Middle Earth, of tabletop gaming, of online gaming was the immersion into a secondary world that I could know and understand and participate in on some level. That cracked the egg, if you will, into giving me more interest in human history. The enjoyment gained from that level of immersion allowed me to step up to historical fiction, in books and movies.

For example, yes, "300" was not really historically accurate, but damn it was fun to watch. After that, reading Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield was far more enjoyable (and slightly more accurate). It didn't feel like I was back in high school, slipping notes to the hot spanish girl in the mini skirt while pretending to pay attention, while the teacher droned on and on.

After reading George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, I looked up some material on the War of the Roses, and the Hundred Years War, from which the fiction is influenced.

Isn't that the point of fiction? To draw relevance in a way that is spectacular, if not inherently more digestible by virtue of it being fiction? Storytelling, from an ancestry of the oral tradition to our modern day usage has always served a dual function of entertainment and communication.

Good worldbuilding will not only immerse, it will inspire. Humans just aren't that original, and you aren't going to find a political or military event in all of fiction that hasn't been documented somewhere.

So what if it's 300 Dwarves against 100k Goblins beneath a mountain somewhere? Maybe that'll make you think of the Spartans, and next thing you know you're exploring your Greek roots.

Some immersion will be pure escapism, and that's fine. Who are we to judge what the individual reader gets from a story?

What is it that a story should achieve, exactly? Good prose gives appreciation for the beauty of language. Good dialogue allows the opportunity to savor the human condition in the exchange of words, whether they be witty, humorous, profound or provocative. Good characterization and growth allows the reader to relate, to understand, to empathize in order to gain a greater understanding of the self.

There is no story without setting - so why not make the setting incredible, educational, inspirational? How many castles, swords, mountains, valleys and oceans do you have to read about before you find the urge to explore your own world?

All of this is very nerdy, hmm? Maybe it is (but nerdism, as a phrase, makes me giggle). So what, I'm a nerd. You don't break 150k words on any sort of writing unless you are, methinks.

I don't think that info dumps are helpful, as that's a reminder of why school was sometimes boring. I believe in the power of prose, the magic of language, and I think dialogue should be true to the characters, and the characters should be true to themselves. The story is what matters, and the story should take you somewhere, and bring you back. Communicate and entertain.

I do have an agenda in my own writing, my own secondary world creation and perhaps it is jaded by the role my education has had on me; I suspect that's not only natural, but redundant as a statement.

I'm fascinated by ancient cultures, and how they were honed by their geography, their challenges, the geology of the land itself. My story(-ies) takes place in a secondary world with parallels to cultures that never did meet in our history, and yes my (secondary) purpose is to show how much humans were affected by where they ended up, and what they had to endure.

Why? Why not? If setting is going to be created anyway for the purpose of weaving a tale, why not make it something valuable in and of itself? So long as I don't overpower the narrative with my shiny creation, what's the problem, exactly? It's not making me a bad person for studying Neolithic cultures, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, the Roman Empire, the Incas, et al.

If the passion I've found in the discovery of the secrets of the earth, from people to plants to animals to geology can translate to my readers, to a desire for them to find their own place in the Universe, then I consider I've gone above and beyond in my role as a writer.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Video: Research - Caracal vs Guinea Fowl

I can't recall if this was Discovery or NGC, but I had never heard of this particular cat, common to South Africa.



Did you see that vertical leap? Kapow! Aside, the Guinea Fowl is a fairly muscular bird. The one video I saw (not this one) gave it good odds for outrunning a predator with a nice burst of speed. Unfortunately, in that video, the fowl can only fly like 100 yards before they tucker out. Jumpy Cat caught it on the descent.

What's writeworthy: I recall from the original program that these are early morning hunters, so I imagined a scene with a leaping cat while my adventurers are eating breakfast. With that kind of vertical leap, the fiction possibilities (not rooted in science, as much of mine is) are pretty endless.

I'll try not to inundate the blog with animal videos, but it's my current research, and I can't get enough of them, so I hope you don't mind me sharing just a little.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Video: Research - Rhino vs Tourists

I found this one while watching National Geographic; the name of the show escapes me.



I like how the lady rolls her eyes when the guide is trying to scare the rhino.
I found it laughable to think that slapping a rifle butt could scare a rhino.
The winner is that one man is attacked, the other gets hit twice and is lying in a heap on the ground, and then the guide decides to shoot the damn thing.

What's writeworthy: Taking a direct hit from a rhino charge, getting knocked down and being able to scamper. The rhino, in the bush one minute, attacking the next. The rhino, changing targets, giving up on one, but sticking with the second. Bonus: Of all the people, he went after the brothers. Statistically, 1 in 8 x 2, right? Rhino sixth sense, the brothers smelled funny, were weak, something.

Seriously, why aren't there more rhino's in fantasy fiction? They're great! What's not to love about a temperamental, fat, horned quadraped in tank armor?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Video: Research - Dog vs Bull

I've been watching a number of animal and wildlife documentaries lately, so I'm going to share snippets of things that I find interesting/inspiring.

This first one I saw while watching Animal Planet, and found a partial clip on YouTube.



Ironically, I was just chatting with Raine the other day about bullfighting. Some folks think it's cruel to the animals, and I don't disagree, but the festival is an ancient tradition in Spain (and other Spanish countries). There are worse, more cruel and/or wasteful traditions that still take place all over the world.

I digress.

Once you add the human element, stupid things happen. The bull was 1600 pounds. The man lost his footing. He should have died.

A bull terrier is a spunky, fun-loving dog. The edit on this video is a little rough as it jumps out of sequence. The dog was panting (as opposed to growling), and taunting the bull before it finally scurried off back into the crowd. They are solid, and that one was probably on the low end of about 50 pounds. Vs. 1600 pounds. Didn't even get hurt.

Oh, and since it's not obvious from the video (unless you notice the beginning where the dog scoots in from the right side), that wasn't the man's pet. That was just a terrier having fun.

What's writeworthy: Seriously? What isn't golden about that whole scene? Tiny dog saves man! Tiny dog was chewing on the bull's face (and perfectly situated to not get mauled, only tossed about)! The episode was epic, the cause was heartwarming.

Awesome. I love dogs.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wednesday Writer's Report



Had a good week, comparatively speaking. Have had to slow down to take 2-3 research days, as the story approaches new geographical and cultural challenges.

Much of my research has been in animal behavior. So far, the story has stayed within relatively predictable and populated areas. The E tribe has ventured outside of their known territories, meeting new people and new lands (to them), and it's fun to write about.

But I want to do it right.

I'm going to be putting up a few tiny animal video clips from youtube over the next few days. I want to share what I'm doing. I've probably logged 20-30 hours of watching documentaries this past week.

A book would be more informative, but raw video I find to be inspiring for conveying imagery. Movement, behavior - that's stuff you have to see. I'll take my own African Safari after the book has sold.

Currently Reading: Infinite Possibilities by Mike Dooley, from my mother. Not sure if I've mentioned this book or not yet, but it has really helped me get over the writer's block I had, and stay focused on the end game. It's arguably "new age", but he presents things in such a way as that they are pretty easy to understand. More later.
The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams. I'm having a hard time with this one. Either it's slow to start because it's part of a trilogy, or it's a YA book and I missed that in the description. It's an older book, and I've heard very good things about Williams, so maybe this one just takes a while to get into, or it's not a good sampling of his work.

*

Interesting discovery of the week: Raptors, as made popular by the movie Jurassic Park, were incorrect in one depiction - they should have had feathers. Cool, huh?

This world that we live on is so full of fascinating geologies and biologies, cultures and histories, that I really don't understand why we don't see more of it in fiction. Maybe I haven't read enough.

Why create an imaginary creature when the ones that used to (or still do) walk earth are infinitely more interesting? I think centaurs are cool as a semi-intelligent creature goes, but dinosaurs and poison frogs and ambushing snakes and bears, wolves, giant cats that will stalk humans and eat them? So much better! Ah, you'll see. I got some fun videos coming up.

Til the next.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wednesday Writer's Report

Back to work for me. My little summer break did me well, and now it's back to the grind.



"Grind" makes it sound like a bad thing, but it's not. I'm having fun. Probably writing too much material in relevance to the plot and storyline, but that's okay for now. I can edit more later.

As I was telling Raine yesterday, I'm reaching the part of the story that I have fantasized about for months (if not years), the key conflict/tensions that leads to the climax. I have been writing scenes for this part of the story for months; my desk and walls are filled with notes and many of them are related to this next section.

So, yes, I'm busy.

There's always some threads about writer burnout or why authors take so long to finish the next book in their series. I came to a realization of sorts over the break. Much of my writer's block was self imposed. Life always gets in the way. It's really a matter of not allowing it - and that's the discipline that agents and editors and successful authors are always going on about.

For me, though, it was more of a revelation that when I actually sit down and type, it turns out okay. Often better than okay. It's just pure belief in myself and the process of creativity. I think that can be hard to find sometimes, and I think that's why some writers take longer than others.

I'm as subject to burn out as anyone, I suppose. In planning for my "world", I made it overly diverse. My theory is that if I get tired of writing about Elves, I can pop over to another section of the world, and write about another culture or race.

I'm a little windy today, as it's been awhile since I've gotten to chat about the WIP, and I'm excited. Can you tell? :-p

But, let's talk about you! How was your break, what are you up to, what are you reading/watching?

Don't want to talk about yourself? Let's talk genre. Some random questions I came up with while lying in bed last night. No right or wrong answers, in theory.

1) Dragon Pregnancy: From the time two dragons mate, and the egg is laid - how long does a dragon need to sit on its egg before it hatches? How big is a newborn dragon?

2) If the author is writing in an era before modern measurements, we already assume that the dialogue won't include words like "foot, inch, yard, meter, pounds", etc. But what about description? Is it acceptable to say, "The giant stood 6'6"" or would you rather read descriptions like that from the POV of the protagonist: "The giant stood a full head and shoulders above them both."? The debate being the ease of understanding versus immersion into character POV.

3) What do you think about foreign words in dialogue, to show regional flavor? My observation is that fluent multi-lingual people, where English is not their first language, tend to color their English with the occasional word from another language, particularly in casual speech. If the meaning can be deduced from the context, then it should be bueno. Thoughts?

Or just say hi. Whatever. We have a few reviews that just went up and some more are scheduled, as I whittle down my TBR list.

Til the next.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Not a Review: The Once and Future King by T.H. White




Amazon: The Once and Future King


The whole world knows and love this book. It is the magical epic of King Arthur and his shining Camelot; of Merlyn and Owl and Guinevere; of beasts who talk and men who fly; of wizardry and war. It is the book of all things lost and wonderful and sad. It is the fantasy masterpiece by which all others are judged.


I meant to write this back in June (it now being August). For those unfamiliar with this story, let me point out the wikipedia page, which basically sums up the gist of the novel.

The language is complicated, and the story is filled with anachronisms, of which the author is not only fully aware, but indeed, points them out to the reader throughout the tale. It was a very slow read, for me.

As a reflection of my own narrow view as a reader, I'd only heard of White in the context of the comparisons made of Tolkien to him. Sure, I'd heard the title of this book - I had no idea it was a take on the King Arthur tale.

Recent posts by Larry, on being a good reader, have provided the spark by which I could put my thoughts to words on this work. I respect that this is a classic in its own right, and that my reader background is perhaps not up-to-par to offer a fair and critical eye to the author's intentions.

In short, in a modern dialogue, I am positive that this telling would fail under a critical eye, mine own included.

White runs amok with modern references (for the 1940's and 1950's, which made them difficult to place)(and jarring for a child born in the 1970's), using Merlyn's "reverse agism" as a vehicle to do so. Additionally, throughout the text, he does a theatrical aside to the reader, essentially stating that if you want more detail, you can go read La Morte.

I picked up the story because it's considered a classic. I felt it was my due diligence as an aspiring fantasy author to do so. I finished the story, not regretting the decision. Recommending it to others: you should read it.

Jarring flaws aside, the story is so much more entertaining than any of the modern, romanticized versions of Camelot.

The characters are so tragically flawed as to be endearing. Those flaws complicate the story, time and again, adding tension and complexity that are breezed over in modern retellings. This alone is an element that I think modern storytellers, and readers alike, could either enjoy or benefit from, or both.

Arthur, from the beginning, is good of heart, yes, like all the tales would have you believe. He is also a bit of a simpleton.When he matures and grows and comes to realize his oversights and errors - he still defaults, in his responses and actions, to his basic (simple) world view. It's a tragic consistency of character, to understand the ramifications of allowing certain events to unfold because it fits better with how you think the world should be.

That is the Arthur I wish was portrayed more often in modern stories - and I'm confident the world would think the great King Arthur was little more than a loveable idiot. Let's see Sean Connery in that role.

Guinevere never loves Arthur (though she grows to fear and respect him), and White displays the marriage for what it was, what was more common in the Dark Ages, that of political necessity. She is a girl who never grows up, going from dutifully impassive to gaudily petulant; she's an emotional wreck, torn between her duty as a Queen to her first childhood love. Her essential flaw is wanting her cake and eating it too, to have all the rights and power that comes with her marriage - and the love and passion that every little girl dreams of. At best, she's pitiable, and every decision that she makes that might show character and maturity is later reversed.

At the crux of the conflict, we have Lancelot. For starters, he's not beautiful, he's not charming. Lancelot is misshapen and ugly. When the reader first learns of him, there's a strong, underlying love and admiration between Arthur and Lancelot that borders on homosexuality. They maintain a dedication to each other until the very end.

This is at direct odds, of course, with Lancelot's affair with Guinevere (and Arthur's slow realization and further blindness to the same). The love triangle is so wickedly convoluted as to be frustrating and unimaginable. Indeed, Lancelot loses his mind, more than once in the story, which again (to me) makes him all the more interesting as a tragically flawed character.

What Lancelot does have, what is consistent with modern tellings, is a remarkable ability to win. He is a swordsman without equal, and thus his role as a hero of the realm is even more appropriate (and summarily more complicated).

What is consistent with Arthur, in old tellings and new, is his obsession with Right, with equality, with chivalry and purposefulness for war and battle. The lessons learned by the King in his almost-naive world view, are a brilliant and insightful subtext throughout the tale - no doubt T.H. White infusing his own political beliefs into Arthur's inner conflict over the matter.

If I were back in school and had to critically analyze some of the themes within King, I might go with Arthur's love of country over his own love of self; Lancelot's strengths vs his crippling flaws; Guinevere's duty vs her passions; Arthur's understandings of truth vs his inability to accept them. And so on.

The telling itself was irregular, yes. The premise of the tale, that of the relationships of terribly flawed characters that yet persevere - and even succeed - in achieving greatness in spite of themselves - this is what makes this story a classic.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Summer Break!

Oh, how time flies! I forgot to mention last month that I (we) had a bunch of stuff going on...

I moved into a new apt with a roommate, had some family come to visit, my roommate skipped out on the lease... very busy summer!

Needless to say, this has taken its toll on my health and writing, but... not to worry. Ever. Not about me, no way, nope.

Seriously, I'm just enjoying the NC summer, and taking care of some other things. I will get back to writing, and reviewing and chatting with you on this blog in the near future. For right now, I'm just taking a little break from that.

Until then (and afterwards too), be safe, be happy, and live your life.

Til the next.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Why I Write

An interesting guest post at the Mad Genius Club, prompted this reply.

One can, a la Sigmund Freud, pontificate on one's own childhood and upbringing and rationalize one's own current outlook and motivations. In this, my reply is that I was an only child raised by a workaholic father, which left me with the time, means and necessity by which to entertain myself. Within sight of whatever adult authority figure was appropriated to my "care".

So, I read. Lots. Unlike other (like omg, dude, every) vigorous writer/reader that I know of, I cannot cite great influences. Oh yes, I read Tolkien and Asimov very young, and they linger with me conceptually, in world building and storytelling.

My childhood was also dotted with stage bound performances, acting, and that also remained as a vague theme of something influential (successful performances became validation of self-esteem queries); again, I could not tell you the names of the plays I did.

Back to the question. Why do I write?

In my sin-filled twenties, I was a performing Emcee, a DiscJockey who could sing, dance, tell jokes and run contests. Fame and glory were mine for the taking.

I did not care. I still do not care.

Ladies and gentleman, there is something greater than fame, glory and power (and even slightly better than the women who love the same) - there is satisfaction.

That satisfaction, to this day... let me describe a cheesy scene.

* * *

Winter. Pinellas County, Florida. The Canadian retiree population is there en masse. It is Tuesday evening. Karaoke has started early, with another host, and I have taken over for the night time festivities. The night is still young. The crowd wants to leave, because I am a young kid, and I do not sing doo-wop hits of the 50's. But, I give them a smile, remember their names, encourage them to stay a bit longer.

I am young and full of energy. It pulses. It washes over the crowd like the scent of wildflowers in a midwest meadow. I play music with a heavy bass line and dance like no one is watching. I know they're watching, but that's not why I dance.



I savor their moments with them, I see their little grey heads bob up and down to the tunes of choice. They smile freely, without worry.

The thirty somethings begin to show up. They've worked hard all day. They just need a few drinks to take the edge off. I greet them with a knowing grin.

An hour into a show where people mostly entertain themselves, and I am simply the conductor, the emcee, the host - the energy mingles. The group unwinds. The pulse of energy is contagious, it is a virus of passion, of desire to forget what we think we know.

I see a retiree doing the Electric Slide. Then another. I see the corporate executive loosen his tie and serenade his girlfriend with a horrific rendition of some angsted 90's alternative rock ballad - and the crowd goes wild, and the girl looks about to cry.

One by one, over time, they forget who they think they are, and become something that's okay to be. Unburdened by societal pressures, by the nuances of age. They laugh, dance and smile. One by one, I watch them, encourage them, indulge them, their momentary escapism.

That is my job.

The night lengthens, and reality calls from its faraway corner in the shadows of their mind. Work, responsibilities, budgets. Slowly, some leave. Never without thanking me for this or that. Me, I'm still bouncing around, I'm a jester, a fool without a care in the world as far as they know. But, I drop the mask for just a moment and thank them for stopping by, for allowing me to entertain them.

There is no greater satisfaction in the world, in that single moment of connectivity with an absolute stranger. That I have provided the salve of escapism that soothed the worries of their day, week, life.

* * *

In writing, I can take that one step further. Back to my love of psychology, I can help a reader escape - AND - I can force a reader to think, to consider, to ponder their own what ifs.

In my childhood, that was my benefit from reading. When I read a book, I imagined myself the protagonist, living the world that the author provided, pondering the notions - and for a time, I forgot that I was maybe bored, or lonely or whatever else was on my mind as a son being raised by a workaholic father.

I can do that. I know I can. I can bring the best experiences of my life, the satisfaction I got from seeing that smile; and take it one step further, into unlocking the mind, letting the mind escape.

I create - in writing, in real life - a world where the possibilities are within reach. I provide a window to escape. Sometimes, let's face it, life/living is pure hell. When I see that I have allowed someone to escape their own shackles, I swear there is no greater satisfaction. It is gift given and gift received in one.

That is why I write.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Marjorie M Liu Bookcast 2

Live, (okay, so it was edited) from the Great Wall of China. That's just too cool for words. When I grow up and get published, I want to do this - standing in the middle of the mountains with my giant skull axe. (I haven't shown you that, have I? Future post!)



(This is where I omit my looming crush on the author. Shh.)

The rest of the article is here.

Editorial: I realize that many people attend book signings and events and such, in order to meet their favorite artists, etc. That's all good.

But this notion of a bookcast, particularly if the author is even remotely charismatic on video (as Liu), can generate an interest. Interviews are not usually video'd, for starters (except late night TV or Oprah, and this genre does not oft appear on the Daily Show, etc.). Secondly, there's this sense of candor, of sincerity, in simply talking about the book, in an inspiring locale, that can potentially connect an author to new readers, and engage previous readers.

Maybe I'm just a new kid on the genre block and all that, but I find this brilliantly clever. I wish more were being done - at the same time, I applaud Orbit for their ingenuity.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

FTA: What makes a great fictional Villian?


In response to a series over at Magical Words, today I'd like to chat with you about bad guys, particularly in epic fantasy.

I'm not talking about "antagonists", per se, though often these are one and the same.

Let me organize my thoughts for a moment. Undoubtedly this has been bounced around a bazillion times on the internet, so we can skip the redundant.

Types.

1) The GREAT EVIL. Taking our cues from Sauron in LoTR, what we have is someone bent on world domination, through the most destructive means possible. Non-sympathetic. Never in the story, do we get the impression that Sauron is misunderstood. (Notably, in Silmarillion, he at least has an interesting backstory, but he was always hungry for power.)

Thoughts: Necessary evil. Generic, in a sense. However, I think they can be written right, given some intelligence, some interesting vulnerabilities (drop the ring in some lava and it's all over!)

Overall, I don't mind reading about an overpowered megalomaniac, but I am not inclined to write about them.

2) The OTHER ONES. They are not us, therefore they are evil and must be destroyed. The Canids in Jim Butcher's Codex Alera, (evil) Saxons in Roman Britain, Spartans vs . (evil) Persians, etc.

Thoughts: This is far more common. The villians are sympathetic, they have followers, people who believe in their philosophies. This becomes a conflict based on economy, on religion, on geography - in short, the history of the world was built on this sort of conflict.

This villian is always in the telling. In my own writing, I prefer to make them understandable, to the point where the conflict lies between a fence as thin as a single strand of diplomacy. The cultural divide between warring nations often - if not predictably - falls upon the head of one despotic character (which again, history confirms). Kingdom of Heaven comes to mind as a movie which shows both sides of the conflict.

3) MAN vs NATURE. Nature as an external force, not internal urges. Even if you believe in creationism, Darwinism has a solid view in that the natural world will seek its own sense of balance. Hurricanes will come, Volcanoes will erupt, and predators will protect their hunting territory.

If you're considering mythological semi-intelligent creatures who follow the laws of nature, this makes for what? Understandably sympathetic aspect? Training, domestication, the fencing in of the natural world - the conflict is built right in to the perceived "correct" actions of the humanoid biological imperatives to thrive and survive.

Where this gets fun, in fantasy, is the usage of semi-intelligent "natural" creatures, who are capable of a degree of civilization - but are still bound by the very balancing laws of nature - versus the more Human nature of taking what is needed. Going back to LoTR, we have Ents.

*

Ah, there's more. I'll go on all day.

In my current WIP, there is an "evil", but they are not the antagonist of the main story arcs. The fact that there is any major conflict in what is an established paradise, is the issue.

In reading about villians, though, it occurs to me that I will have to go back and make them more sympathetic (More "other" and less "great evil"). The WIP is slightly a bit of a prequel, so the goal is to portray the possible lines of future changes.

My goal, as a writer, is to make all characters sympathetic (eventually). Some will be more interesting than others, and others that are doing the "right" thing will be easy to dislike.

We don't live in a moral vacuum, you know. That's the thing to remember. How wrong is the man who kills to protect his family, or who steals in order to not starve?

A Great Villian heightens the reader's moral compass, teaches a lesson about the portrayed path of actions and consequences, provides fuel for thought and introspection and self awareness - above and beyond the action/adventure the story portends.

Tell me about your favorite fictional villians, and why you remember them so.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Heard at the Water Cooler: May 25

The "to be continued" implication from yesterday's post (written yesterday, in fact).


We recently mark the 30 year anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back. To show my age, I can attest that I do recall seeing it in the theatres, and Star Wars toys were one of my childhood indulgences. You can ask my mother how I impersonated the ... nevermind.

Fun picture!



Harrison Ford spoke about the movie at a fundraising event. He's been historically quiet, so this is mildly newsworthy, moreso if you're a big fan.

* * *

Author stuffs!

Mark Charan Newton commented on his recent signing event at Forbidden Planet.

Moreso, and what caught my attention, was that he dumped on Drum & Bass. Say it ain't so, Mark! More props for "tripleclarke Mieville" for the funky tune that would be his entrance song.

Novelists get entrance songs? They totally should. This has been one of mine,in previous lives.



* * *

Okay, forget about the entrance music for authors at signing appearances. How about, which favorite character would you invite to dinner? Over at Borders Blog, Adrian Tchaikovsky asks just that, with some interesting considerations.

The genuinely good heroes would be insufferable and highlight everyone else’s flaws (c.f. Superman), the dark, brooding heroes would just be waiting for an excuse to kick off (Tisamon). The stiff-backed military types would be stuffy (Temeraire’s Will Laurence), whilst the genius types like Isaac dan der Grimnebulin and Baltazar Casaubon would just get annoyed at how slow everyone else was. Meanwhile the detectives, like George’s Maurice Newbury, would be watching you all the time, and by the end of the meal they’d have a catalogue of absolutely everything you’d ever done wrong.


Brilliant.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Heard at the Water Cooler: May 24

Things are busy around here, so you'll pardon my brevity in posting and slowness to respond to comments. I'm not in front of the computer much lately (alas, the writing suffers).

Few things for you today. My last HatWC post was mucho grande, and so I'm going to space these out. If you're busy like me, you don't have an hour to read a single post, sua?

In the "Truth is Stranger Than Fiction" category, this creature was found in Canada, eh.



That's totally a werebear, or a werepig! More information over at Scifiwire.

* * *

Lost! Everyone is talking about it. Never watched it. I won't watch it. Everything I see about it is ridiculous, and confirms my beliefs. Apparently, the final episode is near. Thank goodness.



Oh, Letterman's looking a little rough. Alas.

* * *

A new Daenerys for HBO's A Game of Thrones.



Emilia Clarke. She has some nice features. I hope she can act. Farewell, Tamzin, I felt like we barely got to know each other. *sniff*

The story was exclusive to Maureen Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, but I'm linking you to
Winter Is Coming, because I love that blog.

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Promoting Literacy in Argentina.



Plenty of terrible news in the world. I like the feelgood stuff. Enjoy.

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Speaking of the bad news, apparently someone has created life (Craig Venter). LIFE! CREATED IT. This has gotten a bit of buzz, because essentially, these peoples have either validated or repudiated about a bazillion works of science fiction.

That's not what troubles me. What troubles me is that they created bacteria.

This is undoubtedly the beginning of a horror movie, as noted in the comments at the (easier to digest) story at BoingBoing (Bacteria. Digestion. Get it?!)

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Power of Woman

So, I'm catching up on my blogroll and stumble upon this post about misogyny in fiction, which was a response to an article on the Ms. Magazine blog.

I will add this to my mental notebook of the numerous posts over the past six months about the roles of females in fiction stories, in that, they are poorly misrepresented by male authors.

Aside, you will find that I review as many female authors as men, as I am interested in the strengths and weaknesses of both sexes. Makes for better storytelling.

Where to begin?

Everyone is Hollywood is attractive. Their job is to make money by entertaining, not to be a societal barometer (we used to have the news for that, alas). Likewise, fiction by its nature, is escapist, which means, yes, they employ exaggerated visually appealing themes, etc.

It comes down to choices.

Feminists suggest that Playboy is misogynistic, because it features naked women. Those poor beautiful women, having no choice ... but to be paid lots of money and live in Hefner's mansion and frolick and play at the pool and wear a swimsuit...


Bar Refaeli, from the cover of Esquire magazine.


This is the thing. Who really has the power here? Is it Hefner with his millions? No, it's the random hot girl who knows that men cannot resist the perfection of her form, and she gets to say, "give me what I want." (money, security, glamorous life, etc).

Hefner's just smart enough to understand the balances involved. Ironically - or suitably, because he is so clever - women of all ages flock to him. Many live and breathe just to get him to take their picture.

NO ONE is being forced. All of those in that situation are happy making other people happy. Escapist entertainment. Everyone wins.

It is not a crime to enjoy visual beauty.

Is modern society to blame for the resurrections of the old fables of the past, where the doomed female must indeed be rescued by the HANDSOME, ROYAL PRINCE Charming? Pretty Woman syndrome. She was a PROSTITUTE (EWWWW)! And he could have had anyone (though I find R Gere a little fruity, chicks like him).

It's about choices.

Women choose. Those ancient stories about rescuing princesses - modern feminists see those tales as making women look weak and frail and incapable.

Wrong. Those stories are about the reality of what is desirable (the perfect woman, a princess) and what lengths a man must be prepared to go to win her (kill Dragons, swim moats, face death). That the woman was captured is subtext on the desirability of a female to begin with.

If a man was captured, would women go rescue him? Heck no. Not unless he was the father of her children (or her child), or somehow could provide for her a parallel to home/nest security; otherwise, he's buggered. Men must face death just for the chance of being chosen.

Where did those come from?

Ancient biological imperatives. The women choose the man who is best suited to give her a strong child and protect the home.

Helen of Troy? Anthony and Cleopatra? History is full of stories displaying to what incredible lengths a man must go in order to win a woman's heart, in order to be chosen. All women had to do was be there.

Like the avians, a male's life is spent achieving and portraying, so that we are chosen by a mate for our brightly colored plumes. Do we want to strut like a peacock? No. We have to.

"Well, women don't wanna be barefoot and pregnant!"

Fine. Don't. The species could go extinct, because men can't get pregnant, can't give birth and (in most cases) cannot breastfeed. There's nothing men could do about it, if women say no. (Don't bring up criminal acts, most people aren't criminals - you don't govern rules by the exceptions.) That is the very gist of our species survival, that women have always decided what is in their best interest to persevere, and men, by biological imperative, must abide.

There's no objectification here. There's women going, "I can make a living by looking hot and sexy and men will give me money and security and so forth."

Because, why, we're basically predictable idiots who are biological slaves to the power of a woman.



Feminists seem to forget that part.

Fables and stories are not essays in the weakness of a woman. They are "how to" lessons for being a man. The knight in shining armor is what a man must, according to biological imperative, rise to, if he ever wants to have a princess.

Ms. Magazine rags on Iron Man. He's a narcissistic womanizer. Men see him and go "Wow, look at all the choices he has."

Ms. says that the lesson is, "It is acceptable to treat women as objects."

That's laughable. The lesson is, "If you want to have more choices of women by which to bear your children, you must be mega rich, mega smart, wear a battle suit made of metal and fight evil - and have enough time in the day to be socially graceful."

Women, stop being offended by the portrayal of a weak heroine who needs a man to rescue her. Those stories are written for men, so that they will become strong, honorable and intelligent in order to be worthy of you making the choice of them over another suitor.

The power of your choices perseveres to this very day. Fiction dramatizes, exaggerates and encapsulates the ideology, but the core values are a biological imperative that are hardwired into the human brain.

You can emasculate men and overempower women in fiction, but it would not sell, because it would not connect to the reader. Why deny the imperatives? Centuries of story telling have successfully carried forward the core truths of human relationships.

Does that mean there should be no extraordinary female characters? Absolutely not. It does mean, however, that somewhere, somehow, there will be a similarly extraordinary male for her to choose when she faces biological imperatives. There'd still be a story to tell.