Monday, January 2, 2017

Goodbye 2016

As a whole, 2016 wasn't that good of a year for me.  I mean, yeah the number of celebrity deaths that hit me hard last year was pretty bad (right up until the very last, with William Christopher).  But that was just one part of it.

There's also the fact that, politically, the country took a turn that, to me, seems like more of a nose-dive, with the election of Trump, and the supporting of current Teabagger Republicans in office.  In short, I don't think people really thought things through, politically.  And I am honestly afraid of the potential consequences.  My hope that I am wrong is there, but it's like a small glowing ember in a dark and scary forest.

On a more personal front, I started a new job in January of last year.  And while that seems like it should be a good thing, in hindsight it kind of wasn't.  Sure my salary is a bit more, and the fact that I will actually get raises every year is a huge plus.  But really, that's where it ends.  The job itself is tedious and mind-numbing, and often frustrating and depressing.  We're understaffed, and micro-managed by a management team that is too disassociated with the processes in the trenches to see how stressful the job is.  But, I'm muscling through it.  All the while on the lookout for something actually better.

Then there's the fact that my wife was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  And while it's not currently as debilitating as it could be, it did require a lot of adjustments on our part.  We're getting through that, though.  And while there are certainly bad days, we know how to handle them now.  Of course, my daughter was diagnosed with a learning disorder as well, which makes things just that more complicated.  But, while her behavior issues sometimes exacerbate bad days, like with the MS, we're learning to cope and adjust there too.

And finally there's my writing.  Or, I should say, lack thereof.  2016 started off bad, with me failing to muster up the ability to write my Senior Thesis.  So, I still have that hanging over my head.  All I need to do is write that thing, and I can graduate with a Masters Degree.  But, it looms so large in my head, that I feel like I'm facing a dragon with nothing but an old baseball bat.  It's not helped by the fact that I have retained so little of what I learned in getting to that point, that I feel like the entire effort was a complete waste.  And that all I managed to get out of it was a huge amount of student debt.

This bled directly into my fiction writing as well.  I was unable to write anything all year.  I started many times, but everything felt like eating dry, stale bread.  I wasn't even able to crank out a single 10k word story for an anthology I was supposed to be in (and had six months to write).  And now I feel like a failure, and that I let people down.  I know they probably aren't judging me for it, but I'm judging myself.  And that's bad enough.

Heck, even just reading has been a struggle.  I have started about ten different books this year, and I think I managed to finish two, maybe three of them.

But, that's all in the past, right?  Onward and upward, as they say?

This year I really want to focus more on writing.  I would like to actually do the Thesis sometime, and just get that monkey off of my back.  I would also like to complete a few projects.  But, mainly I just want to write more.  So, I'm going to try to set aside my distractions more often than I have been, and pound my keyboard until it vomits out some tales.

I also plan to read more.  I set up a goal of 25 books this year over at Goodreads.  I think it's funny that a lot of my friends are setting goals of 100+ books.  But, considering how slow of a reader I can be, and the fact that making myself just sit and read is difficult, 25 is pretty lofty for me, personally.  So, that's what I'm aiming for.

I also want to get more active, and get these health issues under control (just like most everyone else, I suppose).

And finally, I just want to learn to enjoy what I have more.  2016 saw me wrestling with depression and lethargy on a nearly daily basis.  I really want to change that.  I've never been a very motivated person, and not much of a "self starter" or "go getter" type.  So, I know it will be an effort.  But, with the support of my wife, and my friends and family, I think I can take some good strides forward in 2017.

So, here's to crankin' out some good tunes, and dancing on the grave of 2016, as we move forward into these "interesting times."

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Jumping Genres

So, I finished reading the novelization for the Warcraft movie yesterday.  Loved it.  Noticed a couple of loose-hanging plot threads, but they are kind of minor.  Oddly enough, they could be really good hooks for a sequel. But if the movie doesn't warrant one, I'm not sure another book will ever come along either.

Overall, though, I greatly enjoyed the book.  The characters were all very fleshed out, and with the added benefit of internal narrative, it allowed a better view of the characters' various backgrounds.  The action was exciting, and the world-building was more than adequate.  It's clearly meant to be the first in a trilogy or series, building on a modified variation of the Warcraft video game lore.  If you saw the movie (or even if you didn't), you might enjoy the book, as well as the prequel Durotan.

After I was done, I knew I wanted to keep this reading momentum going, so I immediately went to my shelf for another book.  I have many, many unread books, and I seem to gain new ones at least every week on average.  So, there was no shortage to choose from.  But, having just finished an epic fantasy, I kind of wanted to go in a different direction.  Mainly because I knew that another fantasy would probably suffer by comparison.

I briefly considered a Mack Bolan book.  I even read the first few pages.  But, it didn't really grab me, so I slid it back and perused some more.  Then I lit upon my small collection of westerns.  They're mostly Louis L'Amour, so I grabbed those and read the backs of each.  After some contemplation, I decided on Brionne.  It's hooked me right away.

One thing I have to say about L'Amour, he doesn't screw around.  He likes to build his world through narrative, giving the reader everything they need at the moment, and not much more.  He's also not afraid to hit you with tragedy early on to set up his hero's journey.  Brionne is a former Army officer who turned down a post to President Grant's cabinet, in order to travel out west with his son, after his wife is killed by outlaws who were hoping to catch him at home.  But, his journey west is already nerve-wracking, and he suspects he's being followed.

On a broader note, I've been having little crises about my life a lot.  My job is not doing anything for my mood and happiness aside from providing a paycheck.  So, I'm already looking at other options.  I am one class away from a MS in History, but that class is basically me writing a Thesis.  And when I tried to do it last time, it was not going well.  I ended up dropping in order to not fail.  I need to figure that out, because being this close and not being able to finish is killing me.

I started looking into what it would take to become a teacher.  After going to back-to-school night for my stepdaughter, I started thinking that I could probably do that.  And I might even enjoy it.  So, I'm looking into the various avenues of getting certified.  However, right now it looks like another 2 years of schooling, which I dread having to pay for.  Yet, a part of me says "Why worry?  You already have a mountain of student dept, what's a few thousand more?"

I'm still thinking about all of that.

In the meantime, I'm trying to get myself to write again, but it's slow-going.  I did manage to submit a story for publication, so I'm hoping that will pan out.  And I have a few other projects, as always.  Including one with an actual deadline.  In fact, I should probably be working on that instead of this blog...

Friday, September 2, 2016

Recent Reads

As often happens I have been waffling back and forth between what to read lately. I had started and stopped a couple of things (if anyone is paying attention to the right side of this blog, they probably noticed that). I'm very much a "mood" reader. Meaning, I need to be in the mood for something. Otherwise, regardless of how good it is, it won't capture my interest.

So, anyways, I was in the mood for some D&D-based fiction. To that end I polled all my geeky friends, just to see if they had some favorites that I hadn't read. Unfortunately, I had read the majority of their suggestions. So, I scoured the used book store shelves for something, and I landed on a volume from the series that Wizards of the Coast put out in support of D&D 3E. I have blogged about one of these before. And I have read one or two of the others, but not this one. So, I gave it a go.

This one focused on Mialee, the elf wizard, and dealt with the undead. The main villain was a wight, with a lot of abilities that your normal wight from the Monster Manual doesn't have. In reality, he was probably more of a lich than a wight, but I just went with it. The story was pretty cool, and the characters were all fairly interesting. Not a lot of characterization, but about what you would expect in a 200-pager.

The plot was somewhat predictable, but that was fine. The main purpose of these books has always been to showcase the stuff you can do in the game. So, there were some neat little things that you could easily plug into your own game. Which is really what makes these books fun for gamers to read. Honestly, this was probably the coolest marketing strategy I have ever seen for a game. I plan to collect all of them (there were 8 or so of these).

In other reading, I read a couple of Thor graphic novels, The God Butcher and Godbomb. These two collected the first 11 issues of his recent series. I had already read Goddess of Thunder, where a woman takes up Mjolnir and becomes the new Thor. I knew her identity, but it was cool to see how the story unfolded anyways.

These two took place before that, and involved a being known as the God Butcher. Very interesting story involving the slaughter of immortal beings who serve as deities across the cosmos. At one point, you had three versions of Thor fighting side-by-side, thanks to the wonders of time-travel. Over all, highly recommended.

My current reading is The Summer Tree, by Guy Gavrel Kay. One of my co-workers dropped the whole trilogy in our book-trade box, so, after some gushing reccomendations from friends, I grabbed them all up, and have started in on the first book. Haven't gotten far enough into it yet to form an opinion. But the setup is a proven winner for me, so I have high hopes.

I also started reading the first issue of Skelos last night. I had backed the kickstarter at the level that gets me every issue in eBook format. So far, so good. the first story was a bit disturbing, but seems to fit into the theme of the journal. I suspect I will enjoy the Sword & Sorcery-style stories more than the horror ones. But, that's just me.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Gathering of Ravens

I feel like I have been along for a lot of this ride with my good friend, Scott Oden.  This book has been in the works for a while, and I've seen the trials and tribulations associated with trying to write novel through him.

This will be Scott's fourth novel, and a departure of sorts form everything he's done previously.  Having been privileged to read his first draft, I can hardly wait for this release.  And I think a lot of people who may mosey by here will also enjoy it.

So, to that end, have a look at Scott's blog, subscribe if it interests you, and gather among the rest of us who wait with great anticipation for what is sure to be an amazing literary experience.

 A Gathering of Ravens

Monday, July 4, 2016

5 Characters I’d like to see in the MCU

…but none of them are likely to happen.

I love the MCU movies. And while I have my favorites, even the worst of the bunch are still fun and entertaining.  But, as a long-time Marvel fanboy, there are some characters that I would love to see in the MCU, but I know are just not going to happen.  Here are five of those.

1.  Will the REAL Nick Fury please step forward?
Now, I love Sam Jackson.  And as much as it rankled me at the beginning, I understand why they went with the Ultimate Universe version of Nick Fury for the MCU.  But, I still kind of long for the classic Nick.  You know, the white guy who has been kicking ass since WWII?  There is even a way they could integrate him into the current MCU continuity.  And it involves a trope that has been bandied around for James Bond several times in the past.  "Nick Fury" is just a name.  It's handed off to a new SHIELD leader every so often.  I had started writing a screenplay about this where the old Nick came out of retirement to help out the new Nick.  I think it would work really well.

My fan casting:  Bruce Campbell

2.  From the Captain to USAgent
One of the best story lines from Captain America during the 80's (IMHO) was when Cap ran afoul of an upstart would-be replacement named Super Patriot.  John Walker has superhuman strength and durability, granted by a process he went through at the hands of The Power Broker.  Long story short, the US government decided they owned the name and identity of Captain America, and when Steve Rogers gave up the mantle out of a desire to not be beholden to the whims of an ever-changing government, they recruited John Walker to take over.  In the end, it wasn't a good fit.  Steve came back to the role, and John eventually donned Steve's old black and red uniform that he wore when he called himself simply The Captain.  As the government's version of Captain America, John has had a long and varied career as USAgent.

My fan casting: John Cena

3. Behold the Prince of Power!
With Thor making such a huge impact on the MCU, I understand why they don't want to bring in Hercules.  I mean, to the average viewer, what's difference between one super powered warrior-god from mythology and another?  But to us Marvel fans, we understand that the two characters couldn't be more dissimilar.  First of all, Herc is half-mortal, and he spent the majority of his life on Earth.  So, even though his appearance and attitudes hearken back to his mythological roots, he has an understanding of humanity that Thor never will.  Plus, Hercules, as Marvel presents him, would add the element of fun and levity, as he is the resident "party boy" superhero.  Plus, wouldn't it be cool to see a tussle between Hercules and Thor?  Or even Hercules and Hulk?

My fan casting: Joe Manganiello

4. The Master of Tasks
In his first appearance, the man known as The Taskmaster managed to take down and capture most of the himself!  Born with the mutant ability of "photographic reflexes" Taskmaster can mimic perfectly any physical action he witnesses (within human capabilities).  Thus he can fight as well as Captain America, is as agile as Spider-man, can use a bow like Hawkeye, etc.  He has picked up a plethora talents, and always seems to be able to find new ways to use his power.  Usually portrayed as a villain, he sometimes comes in on the side of good, thus becoming somewhat of an anti-hero over the years.  He is responsible for training John Walker in the fighting style of Cap, as well as in the use of his shield.

My fan casting: Scott Adkins

5.  Tea time for Union Jack
As a British version of Captain America (sort of), Union Jack as a persona actually dates back to WWII, as his first incarnation was as an alter-ego of  James Montgomery Falsworth, who was featured as one of the Howling Commandos in Captain America: the First Avenger.  There have been a few incarnations of the persona over the years, including James' son, but the character is still basically the same in the modern incarnation.  Union Jack is a skilled soldier and commando, who carries a pistol and dagger, and is a highly trained combatant and spy.

My fan casting: Jason Statham

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Recent Reads

On a whim I picked up a copy of Andrew J. Offutt's Conan and the Sorcerer at the used book store last week.  I just finished reading it, and I was pleasantly surprised.  The story was suitably Conan, if a bit "fluffed," and the writing, while not quite up to the Howard standard, was still a pretty good entry for the genre.  I'd say Offutt would place about three notches above DeCamp, and a notch above Lin Carter.  Overall, a fun read.

The edition I have was laden with illustrations by Esteban Maroto, who was largely responsible for how I viewed Conan in my minds eye early on (aside from the Frazetta covers, and before I discovered Buscema's work).  This volume had a lot of action shots, and not a few depictions of the naked female form.  And although I could tell that they were there to plump the page-count, I didn't really mind so much.  I may hit up the book store again and get Conan the Mercenary and The Sword of Skelos, as I am told they form a loose trilogy with this one.

In other reading, I've been digging into a few graphic novels from the library, as well as a few comics.  In the same trip where I grabbed the Offutt Conan, I also grabbed a few old issues of Marvel's Conan the Barbarian color comic from 1977.  These were pretty cool to read, but the real treat was the Buscema artwork, inked by Ernie Chan.  Man, I really wish I had discovered Conan at that time.  I'd love to collect a bunch more of these issues, if I can find them.

I also recently read Captain America - Man out of Time, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  A really fun take on Cap's first few days after being thawed out.  Paired with some scenes of WWII, it really gives you a good picture of how Steve Rogers has had to cope with sleeping through so much history.  The artwork was pretty good, and I found myself really engaged with the story.  Highly recommended.

And finally, I breezed through Skull Kickers Treasure Trove Volume 1.  I had been collecting this series, but only managed to grab the first 4 or 5 issues before having to stop.  So, it was cool to see the whole story play out.  This is a really fun comic, filled with action, humor, great art, and snappy dialogue.  Also highly recommended.

Aside from those, I have started and stopped a couple of books.  They were interesting, but they weren't what my brain craved at the time.  Right now I'm still on a Sword & Sorcery kick, and more specifically, a Conan kick.  So, from my own shelf I grabbed Conan the Marauder by John Maddox Roberts.  Back in my days at the forums, people often mentioned his were the best that the Tor series had to offer.  So, I thought I would give him a go now too.

Not much in the way of writing.  I have been thinking a lot about it lately, but I can't settle myself on a specific project.  I did manage to submit a sci-fi story that had seen a few rejections to another magazine, so there's that.  I'm also reading Steven Pressfield's latest, Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t.  It's as chock full of good advice as his previous works.  And it's actually helping me organize some things in my head.

Friday, May 20, 2016

No one is to blame but me

As a writer, my art has suffered greatly over the past few months. I have barely had the energy to put words to screen beyond the occasional pithy Facebook post and political rant. There are many reasons for this.

First and foremost is the new job. Let me just start by saying that it is boring and tedious. However, the pay is better, the potential for advancement and raises is MUCH better, and it is pretty steady. This last part is what keeps me from writing much. My job keeps me working on stuff all day, unless I consciously take a few minutes (like now) to not overwork myself. Trust me, they are getting their money’s worth with the amount of time that I do actual work.

In my previous job, I had the luxury of having a lot of down-time that I could use to work on my own stuff. That’s how I managed to write so many RPG products, and several short stories over the last few years. But, alas, those days are gone for the time being.

So, you might be asking about my non-work time. You know, when writers with day-jobs usually pursue their passion for wordsmithing. Well, the other downside of this job is that I am mentally exhausted when I get home. Add to that having to deal with various and sundry distractions in our chaotic house, I end up with very little quiet time for myself. And when I do get that, my brain just says “Screw that blank screen! Let’s watch [insert name of show du jour here] instead.” By the time I’ve had my fill of that…oh, look at the time. If I go to bed and fall asleep now *snicker* I can get a solid six hours of sleep before John Mellencamp wakes me up.

So, you see, I have a lot of excuses. And the sad part is, I am fully aware of the fact that they are just that; excuses. But, I’m one of the laziest, most undisciplined people I know sometimes. And unfortunately, my writing is usually the first thing to suffer for it.

So, how can I get through this, and back into a creative groove? I don’t know for sure, but I’m starting by going back to the beginning, and reading for fun. I’m reading all over the place, in the genres that I like to write. I’m also not nailing myself to a single book. I may read a few chapters, then get distracted by another book, and switch over. Fortunately, I can usually pick up a set-aside book where I left off without much issue, as long as it hasn’t been too long. Right now I have four or five books in various states of being read.

I also ran a session of D&D last weekend. For those who don’t play RPG’s, running a game, especially based on your own ideas and worlds, is a very effective way to get creative juices flowing. A lot interesting tidbits came out of that session, and it really got me thinking about made-up stuff.

Anyways, I’m still working on it all. Someday, I think I might even be able to finish something.