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)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Agents of SHIELD

I don’t, technically, watch TV. We have a NetFlix account, and I usually just watch that, or the occasional Blu-Ray/DVD of my favorites. I do occasionally get into a TV show on NetFlix, and have even binge-watched entire seasons. Mainly these have been comic book-based shows. I’ve run through most of the animated series from both Marvel and DC, and have thrilled to the exploits of Oliver Queen in two seasons of Arrow. And my most recent foray was all of Season 1 of Agents of SHIELD.

I have to say, I feel dumb for not watching this show as it was broadcast. This is easily the best show I have ever watched, IMHO (YMMV). It hits all the right notes for me personally, and I have already grown very attached to the entire cast. Not to spoil things, but when the betrayals came about, I felt personally betrayed. It’s that immersive for me.

One of the best elements of the show is the development of Agent Coulson. At the beginning of the season he’s the same everyman agent we have grown to love in the MCU movies. But, as the season progresses…well, let’s just say, for the sake of those who may be interested in seeing for themselves, he goes through some shit. And as that shit gets deeper, Coulson loses is “Coulson-ness.” But, by the end, all is righted (relatively), and we see Coulson transform back into his true self. And it’s amazing to behold.

As always happens, NetFlix didn’t get Season 1 until Season 2 had already started. So, as of right now, I’m several weeks behind. This week is the “winter finale”, which I am hoping signals a period where they will re-broadcast the previous episodes, just so I can get caught up.

I’ve also become hopelessly infatuated with Ming Na Wen. Not only is her character, Agent Melinda May a kick-ass character, but she is arguably one of the sexiest actresses out there, IMHO. So, yeah, there is a lot of “eye-candy” factor to this show as well.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Some reading and writing

Now that my second-to-last class is out of the way, I have a week with no school worries. I start my final full class next Monday. In the meantime, I would like to read a book, and finish writing a story.

I’m reading another Forgotten Realms novel by RA Salvatore. It’s a direct sequel to the last one I read. It’s pretty good so far. And now that I have some time, I’m hoping to be able to really dig into it over the next few days.

Yesterday, on a whim, I opened up one of my WIP stories. This one is the next in line of my Orc stories, and it deals with Pekra (introduced in her own story) and Bofdak the dwarf (introduced in The Orc Way). It’s a bit more light-hearted in some ways, but with plenty of action and some good characterization, if I do say so myself.

It was interesting because, as always, I didn’t plan the story out. I had a basic premise, and I knew some things that I wanted to happen. But some (major) details were still cloudy to me. And that’s why the thing has sat for months only partially finished. I just didn’t know how to proceed with the middle.

Then, when I opened it up yesterday, it hit me. I grabbed a scene from an old and long-dead story, and plopped it in from memory. And the whole thing just fell into place. I suspect that I could have it done in a day or two, if I manage to find the free time. All told it will probably land somewhere between 5-6k in length.

This morning I was ruminating about the story in my head, and I suddenly had the flash of inspiration for the next story in the cycle, with an inkling about the one after that. I think when I am all done with these characters, I will have about six or seven stories. And that just might make a decent book. With some minor edits and maybe some extra cut scenes and details, I could put it all together nicely.

So, that’s what I am going to work on.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Black Panther

In a huge announcement event last week, Marvel Studios let the fans know what to expect from the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The standards were all there; The Avengers, Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, etc. And a couple of new items like Dr. Strange and Captain Marvel. But the one that got me the most excited at that moment was the announcement of Black Panther, both as a key character in Captain America 3 in 2016, and in his own movie in 2017.

Interestingly, I wasn’t introduced to the character through the comic books, but through the Marvel Superheroes Role-playing Game from TSR. Under the description of the Fighting ability, it listed the rank of Amazing as “The ultimate human fighting machine.” And as examples of this level of ability it listed Captain America, The Punisher, and Black Panther. With that, and seeing the little “headshot” of his mask, I was totally intrigued.

For those who may not know, Black Panther, whose real name is T’Challa, is the king of a fictitious central African nation called Wakanda. Wakanda is very isolationist, and for good reason. They have the world’s only deposits of Vibranium (see Captain America’s shield), and are more technologically advanced than any other nation on the planet. Wakanda is also a hereditary monarchy, with the ruler donning the guise of the Black Panther as a symbol and protector of the nation. As such, he is highly trained in combat skills, and, depending on the writer, there are often mystical elements involved as well.

Black Panther has made several appearances throughout the various Marvel cartoons, and has been featured in several of his own print titles, as well as guest-starring in just about every other title imaginable since his creation in 1966 (I think there was even a time where he took over being Daredevil). But this film marks his live-action debut.

For a long time I had championed Michael Jai White to play the character. With his looks, his awesome voice, his underappreciated acting ability, and most of all, his martial arts expertise (in six different styles, no less), he seemed to be born to play the role. And he might have been a major contender had they made these films 10-15 years ago. But alas, he’s in his late 40’s now. Still kicking ass, and in better shape than a lot of actors half his age, but a little long in the tooth for Marvel’s sensibilities. So, instead they went with Chadwick Boseman.

I had never heard of Chadwick, and still haven’t seen him in anything that I know of. But, based on his pictures, and his interviews, I am happy with him as a choice. So, here’s what I think should happen. To prepare for the role, Chadwick should be trained by Michael. And then, if the film calls for a flashback to his origin, Michael should play T’Chaka, T’Challa’s father, and the previous Black Panther. How cool would that be?

I’ll tell you how cool. It would be EPIC!!!


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Goodbyes


Many years ago...
So, today my oldest daughter and her fiancé, who have been living in our house for the last year and a half while she attends school, are moving out. With the help of her mom, they purchased a used van (which I kind of envy), and have been saving up their money for the last month. This morning, I said my final goodbye to them, as they plan to hit the road just as soon as they can get packed up today.

I know it’s not forever. It never has been. And that’s the thing. Ever since my daughter was a little girl, and her mom decided I wasn’t the man she wanted to be married to anymore, I seem to have been saying goodbye to my daughter on a regular basis. Sometimes just for a couple of weeks, sometimes for a few months, and once for over an entire year.

Admittedly, this time it’s a bit different. She’s an adult now, with a promising future, and (I hope) the skills she needs to succeed in life. I’m proud to say that my wife and I had a large part in making sure she was prepared (ok, her mom had some part in it).

But, in the end, it’s just another in a long line of temporary goodbyes. I prefer to think of them more as “see ya laters.” Because we will see them again. After all, they are moving to San Diego. And that’s not such a bad place to go visit.

So, to my baby girl, see ya later. Daddy loves you. And I’m never more than a phone call, Skype call, or silly text about bodily functions away.


High School graduate (with the "daddy" eyebrows).

Beauty School graduate!
These kids are just potheads.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

“Bowie is…”



That's my beautiful wife wearing her Bowie T-shirt,
and sporting her Bowie tattoo.
 
…my wife’s all-time favorite recording artist. It’s also the name of a travelling exhibit whose only North American stop is in Chicago right now. We went on Saturday, and it really opened my eyes (and ears) to an artist with whom I was familiar, but knew very little about.

If you know about David Bowie, his story, and his highly influential legacy in music, you’ll see everything you love about him, and maybe even learn a few new things. It’s a walk-through tour, and you wear a special little device with headphones that is connected to sensors placed over specific parts of the exhibit. As you enter a new area, the track changes to tell you about what you are looking at. All the while, there is relevant Bowie music playing like a soundtrack.

I was peripherally familiar with David Bowie. I knew he had been around the mainstream music scene since at least the 60’s. I knew he had been famous for flamboyant costumes and was a great performer. As child of the 80’s I knew about his popular hits from that decade. And finally, I knew he acted in movies like Labyrinth and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. But I had no idea that what I knew only scratched the surface.

Suffice it to say, I have a new appreciation for his music. Michele owns a lot of his CD’s, but they are out in storage right now, so I’m streaming YouTube compilations for now. He has a compilation CD set coming out next month, and I plan to buy that.

For now, here are my top five Bowie songs, in no particular order:

Space Oddity
Life on Mars
China Girl
Golden Years
Heroes

And there are tons more.