Monday, October 23, 2017

Once more unto the breach!

It's almost November again.  And you know what that means.  That's right. No shaving for an entire month!

Oh, and I'm also going to try to write 50k words in 30 days.

Yep, NaNoWriMo is upon us once more. And, even though I have failed several times in the past, I am going to give it another go. But this time will be different.  Why, you ask?  Because this time I'm doing something different.

I have always kind of been a "pantser" when it comes to writing.  I start with a cast of characters in my head, some general idea of the "world" involved, and a basic plot. I know what I want to happen by "The End" but not in a detailed way.

This time, though, I am going to be working from a relatively detailed outline. I started by writing a one-sentence description of each chapter. And now I am about 2/3 of the way through expanding those into 1-2 paragraph expositions. Interestingly, I have added a few chapters as I have gone along, and now it's a much more complete story. I have a feeling that, when I finally finish the final draft, the book will probably weigh in much heavier than the projected 50k word rough I will write next month.

In short, I'm going to write this book like a real* writer.

The story is one that I have flirted with for many months. In fact, I'm pretty sure I have mentioned it here a few times. Basically orc mercenaries in space. And I even came up with some ways to integrate the magic and high-tech without it seeming forced. I think it'll be cool. And really, that's why we write anyways, right? Because we write the stories we want to read.

I even started a Facebook group for a few of us to post word counts and try to keep each other motivated. Heck, my wife is even going to try it. You know, among all of the other plates she's spinning (what with running for governor and all).

I'll probably post about my progress here as well, so stay tuned!

*"real" as in "more successful than me"

Monday, September 11, 2017

Military Science Fantasy

Military Science Fantasy. That’s what I am currently writing. Again. Some of you may recall that many moons ago I had decided to write a book about orcs in a Science Fantasy setting. One friend mentioned calling it the “Orcspendibles,” basically being a mashup of the Expendables with orcs. I loved the idea, and have jotted notes, made false starts, and even started an RPG project related to it.

Well, I think I may have made some REAL progress now. A couple of weeks ago I laid out the entire plot for the (first) book in bullet points, with each sentence describing a chapter. I ended up with 15 chapters. I later added a few more to flesh out the plot with some subplot points. And today I’m starting to expand those one-sentence descriptions into 1-2 paragraphs each.

One of the things that I was stumbling with was where I was drawing my inspiration. I know most writers will say “Find your own voice; do your own thing; etc.” And while I totally get that, I find a lot of my own writing begins with what is inspiring the story in general. When I write Sword & Sorcery, it usually starts with some Conan elements. Fantasy often draws from D&D and the related novels I have read. Planetary Romance usually draws from Burroughs. So, where were my Orcspendibles going to draw from?

Initially, I was digging into military sci-fi and stuff like that. But that wasn’t really doing it for me. Then it hit me, I needed to attack it from a different angle. Instead of focusing on the Sci-Fi elements, I looked to the Military part. And that came to me in the form of all of those Mack Bolan novels I’ve read, as well as other modern military action novels. I’m also looking at movies of the same bent, with the obvious choice being the Expendables films, and even a few plot points borrowed from The Wild Geese.

It seems, in hindsight, like a “duh” moment, especially considering the whole things started with the Expendables with orcs. But I just needed to cycle through the other elements until I came full-circle back to where the idea was born.

I think as a writer, I do that a lot. But, in the end, while some elements may seem familiar, I’m hoping to put a new spin on it all and make something unique. Because, really, isn’t that what writing fiction is all about these days anyways?

Monday, August 28, 2017

Reading Habits

For 2017, I set myself a goal on Goodreads of reading 25 books. I’m currently sitting on 14/25 completed. I am including in that list books I read to my son before bed, and graphic novels. So far, I’ve stuck a lot to my normal reading habits. A couple of Men’s Adventure, some Sword & Sorcery, etc. However, I am trying to force myself to branch out a little bit.

My current reading is The Dragon’s Path by Daniel Abraham. This is kind of a departure for me. Initially, I started reading it because several friends recommended it when I asked about Epic Fantasy with non-human races. And, while technically it meets those two requirements, it deviates greatly from my previous experiences with that sub-genre (admittedly mainly D&D-based fiction).

This book has a lot of political intrigue, and characterization. The first is something I usually don’t get into (and it’s why I never really had much interest in Game of Thrones). However, I am kind of digging it this time around. And that’s probably due to the second item above, characterization.

Like any good book in this genre, there are multiple plot-lines developing at once. Abraham revolves each plot-line around a single character, or small group of characters. And each chapter shifts to a new focus from the previous. As the story progresses, some of them cross over with each other, but the plot-lines remain distinct. I find that I like that. Mainly because all of his focus characters are very interesting. And I find that when I reach the end of a chapter, I look forward to getting to the next chapter about that character. But that eagerness is tempered by the fact that the intervening chapters are just as interesting.

Does that all make sense?

I think the one thing that really sets this apart from my usual fare is a lack of combat and action. Not that it’s absent. It’s just more sparse. Normally if someone isn't getting their skull split within the first chapter, I’m put off. But this time I’m not minding it so much.

I also always have a Kindle on tap to read on my phone when I don’t have my book handy (what I refer to as my “bathroom reading”). I recently finished Charles Gramlich’s Under the Ember Star, and am now working on Ashe Armstrong’s A Demon in the Desert (Grimluk, Demon Hunter Book 1).

Overall, I think I may be able to hit 25 books (maybe more) by year’s end. I’m happy about that.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Iron Fist on Netflix

Today I am going to re-open my long-dormant blog with a rant.

For those who may not recall, I am a huge Marvel Comics fan. And I have diligently watched everything they have put on screen (there’s a couple of cartoons I haven’t seen yet). For the most part, I have enjoyed the vast majority of it. But, today I want to talk about Netflix’s Iron Fist, and subsequently, The Defenders.

Let me start by saying that among the Netflix Marvel shows, Iron Fist was the weakest. It had the most issues that made it difficult to stomach at moments, and I think there could have been some better choices made in casting and filming. That being said, I still give it a solid 7/10. It had a lot of exciting moments, a few surprises, and some good action. But there are some issues that others always bring up that I just want to put my own take on.

“Danny should have been Asian.”
I hate this one the most, so I will start here. First of all, the character in the comics isn’t Asian. That in itself is reason enough. I am very against recoloring existing literary characters, personally. The only time it has ever worked in the context of comics is Nick Fury, and that is only because he is based on an alternate universe version of the character, and is totally separate from the “original” character. But, aside from that, there are social issues that make Danny being white more relevant. Danny represents the dichotomy of a privileged white kid being raised in a disciplined and Spartan environment. This plays into another point I will make later on. And finally, making him Asian would have been so stereotypical. You may as well say that only Asians can master the martial arts. By that logic, everyone in the entire show should have been Asian, and it probably should have been set in Hong Kong, rather than New York. Here’s another small tidbit: Kun’Lun is not Asian. It is an extra-dimensional location that is home to people of all colors and ethnicities. Which should have been made amply clear in the first few episodes of The Defenders.

“Danny is a whiny kid who never acts mature.”
Or some variation. This is a legit complaint on the surface, but it’s easily explained if you put the character in the proper context. As stated above, Danny spent his first years as a wealthy, privileged white kid. He had that torn away, and spent his formative years in an isolated environment that was the polar opposite in almost every way to what he knew before. That alone would cause some emotional confusion for him when he returns to the normal world, and tries to resume his former life. Add to that the fact that during his time in Kun’Lun, he was immersed in tradition, prophesy, and mysticism, and then later, once he became the Iron Fist, it was hammered into him that he had a destiny to fulfill. In his mind, that is all that matters. He is focused and driven by this “destiny” to the point where he has tunnel vision, and can’t see the realities of the outside world. The only lens he has to view that outside world is through the eyes of a small child. Given time, he will eventually reconcile the two. And you can even see hints of him getting there in The Defenders. I think in Season 2, he will be a much more relatable character.

Honestly, my complaints are mainly visual. First of all, Danny should be much more fit-looking than he is, IMHO. This IS a comic book movie, after all. I get that they were going for the sleek, slender look (probably because of Bruce Lee), but he could have done with a bit more muscle. I also wish that he could look more adept at martial arts. He looks a bit better in The Defenders, but you can still tell that Finn is pulling a David Carradine for this character. Casting a real martial artist would have been a much better choice.

The one thing that all of the shows suffer from is poor lighting. Each of them have scads of fights that happen in dark places (night time alleys, tunnels, etc.). Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to see what is going on. In the opening scene of Defenders ep.1, my screen was practically black during the entire fight. Just poor filming technique.

Am I disappointed in the overall portrayal of one of my favorite comic book characters? Maybe a little. But I also think that is partially due to the others being so well-done. Both of Daredevil’s seasons are top-notch, Jessica’s show is a great view of the darker side of comics, and Luke’s show is a fine example of updating a characters roots without changing anything about his core. Each of them had problems too, but they were far outweighed by the good. Iron Fist comes up shorter in that balance, but it’s not horrible.

In short, I enjoy the character for how he is portrayed in the context of the Netflix/marvel universe. And I look forward to finishing up Defenders this week, and to seeing the subsequent seasons already slated.

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.