Wednesday, February 25, 2015

In other news

So the other day I finished off one of my WIPs.  It was the latest in the “Life of Rage Cycle” of stories, which so far includes Pekra and The Orc Way.  This story came out a little lighter on the word count, as well as on the subject matter.  It’s almost a sit-com kind of situation, with an orcish spin. 

It’s pretty rough, and I am not all that happy with the very end.  But, I have my primary beta-reader looking at it (soon, I hope…), so I expect there will be some revisions forthcoming. The plan is to Kindle this one as well as any more involving this lovable cast of scamps.  Eventually I may wrap them all together in a single volume, and make it a POD offering (either through CreateSpace or Lulu).

I’ve also been struggling to get a military sci fi book off the ground, but I keep faltering.  In theory, it sounds fun.  But, when I sit down to work on it…meh.  So, I took a step back and re-evaluated the effort.

In the process of doing this, I came across a document I had created detailing the Snowflake Method of book-writing.  Suddenly I had an epiphany (the first of a few involving this project).  So, I started “filling in the blanks” according to the Method’s instructions.  And it was going well, when I suddenly had another insight. 

What if the main character was female?  And what if her situation was one not of her choosing?  Working from that, it’s coming along nicely.  I’m incorporating ideas from long-abandoned efforts from my past, and it is all working out well.  I’ll probably have a complete outline within a couple of weeks.

I also started reading Master Sergeant by Mel Odom.  Saw it on his blog a while back, and found it at the library this weekend.  So far, it’s pretty dang good.

Of course, I currently have just under a month to write a 12-page research paper on Operation: Market Garden for my very last college course.  In April I will be enrolled in a prep course designed to prepare me for a comprehensive exam on History.  Assuming I pass, I will be done with school!  Well, probably only until I start my teaching certificate training in the Fall.

All of this, and I am still working on a few RPG projects, including some revamping of my Supers game, and another issue of my fanzine.  You’d think I keep myself really busy with all of this, huh?  Well, my lazy evenings of NetFlix watching and other such nonsense might contradict that.  It’s a good thing I have a full-time job.  If I had to write to live, my family would probably starve.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Robert E. Howard

On this day, the 109th anniversary of his birth, I feel compelled to post my own thoughts on good ole’ Bob Howard.

Like many of my generation, I discovered Howard’s work through the 1982 Conan the Barbarian film.  And while it can be argued that the character was nothing like Howard wrote (which I agree with, but I still love him anyways), just seeing the film, and the possibilities it represented was enough to hook me.

I had been playing D&D by that time for about 2 years.  Having just moved to Okinawa where my mom was stationed in the Air Force, I had a lot of time on my hands because I wouldn't start school for a few more weeks. 

My mom let me watch a lot of movies while she was at work, and made some suggestions based on my love of D&D.  Conan was among them.  I probably watched it over a dozen times during those first few weeks.  And throughout the rest of high school it was often playing on my own TV, even if just in the background.

Then I took a Sci-Fi/Fantasy class, and I had to pick a book to read.  I found the first Lancer/Ace book, and mistook it for the book based on the movie.  I read it, and was immediately hooked even deeper.  Within a few months I had all twelve volumes, and had read them all, some more than once.

About 10 years ago, I started exploring the other works of Howard.  I have my favorites, among them is Steve Costigan and Cormac Fitzgeoffrey.  I haven’t read all of his work yet, but there’s time.  I own almost all of the Del Rey editions, and several of the various paperbacks that have been published over the decades.

Interestingly, his high-octane short-form writing has defined my reading tastes.  I can’t read GRRM or his ilk, simply because those books feel so plodding and slow by comparison.  Howard only produced a single novel-length work, The Hour of the Dragon (there is some debate about whether he completely wrote his other credited novel, Almuric).  I have read HotD probably five times, and consider it among the greatest fantasy novels ever written.

Others have worded this better than I can (Howard Andrew Jones and Keith West), but there is something about Robert E. Howard’s writing that just grabs the reader and drags them along for the ride.  His knack for action, dialogue, dialects, unique characters, and fantastic settings, all blend to create a reading experience that many have tried to recapture (including myself), but few can match.

It’s probably a safe bet that if you are reading my blog, you have read some of Howard’s works. But, if by chance you haven’t, get thee to the book store, and find some Howard to read!  I promise, you will be entertained at the very least.
Here's to you, Bob!  Your legacy lives on!

Friday, January 16, 2015

I'm stumblin'

So, my goal of writing every day is already faltering.  Due to work stuff, school stuff, kid stuff, and just plain being tried and unfocused, I am finding more days with 0's than not.  So, I think I am going to not worry so much about it for now.

As I've stated, school is a big distraction right now.  I have a Critical Review and a 12-page research paper coming up, on top of weekly postings.  The Critical Review is basically a book review with a specific focus in what I am looking at.  Initially I was going to do one of the books I am using a source for my research paper.  But, it's a 400+ page tome.  And while interesting (it's a comparison of Rommel, Patton, and Montgomery), there's no way I will be able to read it all and critique it in time.  So, last night I found a much shorter book that still qualifies, and is even on a pretty interesting aspect of WWII.  So, that should alleviate some of my tension.

My health is starting to effect me more too.  I'm carrying around about 30 extra pounds (and it all seems concentrated in my gut), plus a couple of my important "numbers" are off.  Basically, I just need to eat healthier and exercise more.  So, I am also going to be trying to focus some of my efforts on that.

All of this kind of leaves writing fiction and games out in the cold for a bit.  I'm still going to try to write often.  But I'm just not going to focus on my word tally at this time.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Being a Patron

For centuries, the main way artists of all kinds made a living was to have a Patron.  Someone who would sponsor the artist, and basically pay them to make art.  Whether it be painting, sculpture, poetry, or prose, artists were prized members of ancient societies for their expertise and creativity.  But, somewhere along the way, the idea of “Patronage” fell out of vogue.

In recent years the internet has sort of reintroduced the idea to us.  Through crowd-funding, and other means of direct payment, those who enjoy the work of artists can give them a little (or even a lot) for their efforts.  Personally, I have backed a couple of Kickstarters, and donated to a couple of pages.  And today I’m here to talk about another such opportunity.

Those of you who have followed my blog for a long time may recall that I like to gush a bit about Scott Oden.  He’s a personal friend and an inspiration.  We share a common love of all things orcs and Robert E. Howard (to varying degrees, and we do have our good-natured disagreements even on those subjects).  Scott is a very talented storyteller, and I was fortunate enough to be on the beta-reader list for his latest work.  An historical fantasy entitled A Gathering of Ravens.

I will start by saying that it is an amazing story, well-written, filled with action, danger, intrigue, and some pretty thought-provoking ideas.  I could go on and on, but I think I should let him talk about his book himself (once he settles on a blog for it, I will share that).  Suffice it to say, I am as eager for you to read it as I am to read the final product.

Anyways, back to the whole Patron thing, Scott has opened a GoFundMe site, Keep the Words Flowing.  Honestly, I think he should set his goal higher, but he’s pretty humble.  So, I urge you, as would-be patrons of the arts, to visit his page, and donate what you can.

Friday, January 2, 2015

First steps

In an effort to start 2015 off right, I have embarked on a project inspired by Mark Finn. Last year he strove to write 1 million words. He didn’t quite make it for reasons he details in his own blog, but he did accomplish a lot. Now, I’m not going to be so bold as to make the same promise. But I am going to make an effort to get as far as I can.

Virtually all writers agree that the most important part of writing is writing. And that you should do it EVERY day. Whether it’s a sentence, a paragraph, a page, or even a whole chapter, every word you commit to paper/file/etc. is a word closer to The End. I’ve tried in the past to hold myself to this standard, and a bit more. I’ve often set myself a daily word count minimum. Sometimes it’s been 1100 words a day (which is what you need to do to get a 50k word novel in a month, according to NaNoWriMo). Sometimes I’ve pared that down to 500 a day, or even less.

Well, I’ve decided to chuck the number minimums out the window. I created a simple spreadsheet with columns for Date, Word Count, and Project. Ideally, the Date column will have an entry for each day of the year, starting with today. And more importantly, the Word Count column will have a number greater than “0” next to each date (and on days when I fail to write anything, I plan to put a big, fat “0” in there). The Project column will be so I can see where my efforts are most often going. At the top of the sheet will be a running tally that will automatically update every time I enter word count.

And that’s it. Not going to hold myself to a standard that, frankly, I’m not prepared for. Instead, I’ll just be happy if I very few zero’s in that Word Count column. And I want those to stand out. To glare at me in admonishment. I think I’m off to a good start. Did 1018 words today, and I may be able to get a few more in by the time I hit the sack tonight.

It should also be noted that these word counts will be fiction only. Blog posts, social media rants, and homework assignments won’t count.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Another year

As another year comes to a close, I look back at this blog and wonder “Where the hell have I been?”

This blog has suffered long spates of inattention. A lot of it is due to my other blog (that totally geeky gaming one), and some of it is due to school, work, and life in general. But, I have to admit, a lot is due to just a general malaise that has taken over my mental self.

I don’t know if it’s the academic burnout I know I am feeling. Or if it’s the apathy I often feel when I start to think that nothing I write, or dream up, is any good. Or maybe even the recurring health-issues that just sap my energy. Chances are, it’s a combination of all of that and more.

But, the year wasn’t a total loss. I did manage to complete one short story and submit it to a publisher. I made progress on a handful of other shorts, one of which is very close to completion. I did a lot of game-writing, actually. I self-published an entire superhero RPG, a couple of small supplements, and the first issue of a gaming fanzine (which flopped like a trout in a boat). So, there’s that.

2015 does promise to be a bit better, though. I expect to have my Master’s degree by summer. Though the prospect of having to start paying back student loans soon after frightens me, I have done some research on some opportunities that the degree will bring. And once I no longer have to stress about writing stuff I have to write, I can focus more on writing stuff I want to write.

One thing I’m not going to do is announce publically what my writing plans are. Every time I do that, I can almost hear the collective eye-roll as my readers think “Yeah, sure you will.” Instead, I will make announcements about what I have done. Which, if history serves, means that my announcements will be few and far between.

I would also like to read a lot more. For pleasure. I probably average maybe four novels in a given year. I’d like to double that. Maybe even triple it. I have stacks and stacks of books, and more keep coming in as I “comfort shop” at Half-Priced Books a lot. Their bargain section is downright dangerous for me.

That being said, I think I am going to pare down my book collection. I might even post titles I want to get rid of, and see if anyone is interested in buying or trading for them. And that includes Roleplaying Games. I have a ton that I will probably never play. I’m going to keep all of my D&D core books (from every edition), but some of the other games will probably just go away.

All-in-all I’m hoping to make 2015 a year of forward momentum. Making progress and improving my life in general. Lately I have been very stressed out over a lot of things, and it’s high time I start trimming the fat, and streamlining my life.

Monday, December 15, 2014

New Movies Watched

This weekend I ended up with some uninterrupted time with the TV. So, I watched a few movies that I hadn’t seen yet, but had been wanting to. Here are my thoughts on these…

Sabotage (2014) – This Arnold Schwarzenegger actioner was actually pretty good. Very bloody and violent, with a cast of interesting characters, and a pretty interesting premise. Basically, a “bad boy” DEA Spec Ops team pulls off a heist in the middle of a Cartel raid. But the money ($10M) goes missing, and the hunt is on. Seemed like it was just going to be a straight-up chase film, but things get really mucked up really fast. After a few plot twists that I honestly didn’t see coming, the end is kind of a shocker. At least it was for me. But, I’m usually not very good at spotting plot holes, plot twists, or anything like that during my viewing, so YMMV. Probably the only problem I had with it was that this supposedly elite DEA team couldn’t hit shit. And there was a lot of unnecessary lead flying about. But, that was minor, and it did keep the tension pretty high. (3.5/5 stars)

War of the Worlds: Goliath (2012) – This animated film seemed like a western attempt at anime. Over all it succeeded, and it did manage to cut down on the amount of superfluous dialogue that plagues most anime. The premise was pretty damn cool. Basically, Martians invade in 1899, but we are able to beat them back thanks to Nikola Tesla (who only had a sadly brief appearance in the film) being able to reverse-engineer Martian technology. 15 years later, ARES is a multinational military unit (like SHIELD or GI Joe) set up to fight the Martians should they ever return. When WWI breaks out, ARES almost falls apart, but the Martians show up just in time to give them renewed purpose. Some of the plot points were a bit contrived, but the steampunk tech was cool. And any movie that features Teddy Roosevelt as an action hero is aces in my book. (4/5 stars)

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) – I had never got around to seeing these films, so when I went to the library and saw them both available, I checked them out. Watched this first one yesterday, and enjoyed it. Andrew Garfield is a fine Peter Parker, though a bit TOO goofy-looking for my tastes (with that HUGE hair!). The plot was good, though I did miss some of the elements that define the character, such as Pete being a scientific genius. In this one he kind of learns a bit of science here and there as he goes. Over all, it was a fun movie. Decent acting, cool visuals, and a serviceable story. And although I still prefer the first two Toby McGuire films (the third just doesn’t exist to me), I look forward to seeing the second one this week. (3.5/5 stars)

I, Frankenstein
(2014) – This DTV film by the creator of Underworld, Kevin Grevioux (who also wrote the graphic novel, and played a part in the film) was actually pretty cool. Basically, it turns Frankenstein’s monster into a demon-hunter, who is backed (initially) by a coven of Gargoyles. The mythology is pretty solid, and grounded in Christian mythos. I liked the gargoyles a lot, and Adam (the name given to Frankenstein’s creation by the leader of the gargoyles) is a bad-ass character, played wonderfully by Aaron Eckhart. I’m sure there were plenty of plot holes, but I just didn’t notice them. I was having too much fun with the spectacle of it all. If you liked the Underworld films and Van Helsing, you’ll probably like this one. IMHO, well worth a rental (or a library checkout, like I did). (4/5 stars)