Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Game of Shadows & Stardust

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

First, let me just say, I love the subtitle. I tend to be fond of subtitles, but A Game of Shadows is a great title or subtitle. I wish I'd thought of it. [Because, if I had, I might would use that for my Tib stories, which are still untitled.]

Second, I'm a big fan of Sherlock Holmes. I've read (and own) all of the Holmes stories, so, when I say I like Holmes, it's not just some vague notion of Holmes formed when I was a kid from watching movies and television shows about Sherlock.

Having said that, Guy Ritchie has done an excellent job of adapting the stories into movie format. There have, of course, been some changes (like with Sherlock's fastidiousness), but, overall, he kept all the fundamentals of Holmes and has made a faithful adaptation rather than just making some detective story and calling the character Sherlock as in many of the previous incarnations of Holmes.

Of course, the acting by Robert Downey, Jr. is superb. Looking at these movies through a James Bond lens, I would say that Downey is the Sean Connery of Sherlock Holmes. He's more rugged and less refined. More of a brawler than a fencer, which, actually, also holds true to the character; although, I'd be interested in seeing someone do a Roger Moore version who is more of the gentleman and fencer. This also falls within the realm of Holmes. Okay, so, maybe Pierce Brosnan for those of you out there hating on Roger (but I grew up with Moore Bond films, and I love them most). However, I can't actually think of anyone that would be better at Holmes than Downey has been.

Add Jude Law to that, and you have a pretty perfect team. I'm not a huge Jude Law fan. Not that I dislike him, but I think he often comes off the same from movie to movie. However, I think he's been the perfect pairing for Downey in these movies. Their combination is... well, they make an excellent team.

I've heard a lot of mutterings about how this one wasn't as good as the first, but I don't know that I can agree with that. Sure, they've removed the romantic element (and I was sorry to see Rachel McAdams go), but, really, the romantic element is not exactly appropriate as an ongoing thing in Sherlock Holmes. In almost all ways, Holmes is above romance. Adler was the only woman Holmes was ever interested in even remotely and that was because she bested him. They do add the tension of Watson's wife to the mix, and I think that serves adequately as a substitute for any romance for Holmes. His romance is with "the game."

Jared Harris was an excellent choice for Moriarty. He's not someone I would have thought of, but he was great. Quiet and under spoken, rather like a spider. He was quite chilling.

If you saw the first Holmes with Downey and liked it, this one is definitely worth seeing. For those of you that haven't read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, be aware that many of the smaller details are actually from the stories and not just inventions for the movies. Those kinds of things being included made these movies a very enjoyable experience for me. If you haven't read Doyle, you should.

But don't spend a lot of time looking for Moriarty. He's really only in two of the stories and was an invention by Doyle to provide an adequate nemesis for Holmes in order to kill him off. Which he did. And, then, brought him back later because of public demand. See that thing with bowing to public pressure in writing goes back a long way.


Stardust is another excellent title, but, then, Neil Gaiman tends to come up with some pretty excellent titles. Neverwhere and The Graveyard Book come to mind.

As I've stated previously, I've been a fan of Gaiman for quite a while. For much longer than he's been writing novels. I was introduced to The Sandman fairly early on (definitely before 1990) and often described Gaiman to friends as the best writer in comics (as opposed to Peter David (who also wrote novels) whom I described as the best writer of comic books writing novels)). I waited a long time for Gaiman to get around to the whole novel thing. And, then, sort of missed out on some because I was busy having kids. Good Omens is one of my favorite books, and I caught it right away, but Stardust and Neverwhere slipped past me, and I'm only now catching up.

But I loved the movie! Stardust is a beautiful movie, and I've been wanting to watch it again for quite a while (but it's buried in a box in the closet that still needs to be unpacked). Reading the book, finally, has only heightened that desire.

The problem here is that the movie and the book are not exactly the same thing. Rather like with Coraline. I really enjoyed reading Stardust, but I loved the movie. The book is less streamlined. It has a lot of fairy tale type elements in it, like people showing up to help at just the right moment. But, then, it is set in fairy land, so I'm sure those things are that way on purpose. They do add so amount of whimsy to the plot.

What I like most about the book is that it is unconventional in telling its love story, which is, also, unconventional. The movie makes it more of the kind of love story we expect from a movie, but the book, although containing the same love story, approaches it completely differently and doesn't really provide a happy ending. Not that it's not happy... well, you'd just have to read it to understand, because I'm not giving that away.

At any rate, if you like Gaiman, Stardust is definitely worth a read. I don't think it's as good as what he's been putting out more recently, but the same elements are there, and it's a good story with interesting characters. Be warned, though, if you're a fan of the movie, it's not quite the same.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

How much are you worth?

Writing a book is hard work. Despite what most people think, not everyone can do it. Like singing. Never believe someone that says, "Anyone can learn to sing," because it's just not true. Sure, anyone can learn to sing better than they already do, but that doesn't mean they can actually learn to sing. And, sure, anyone can learn to construct better sentences, but that doesn't mean they can learn to write.

For the writer, though, despite the amount of hard work that goes into writing a book, writing the book is the easy part. It's everything after where it gets hard. Really hard. Amongst all the hard stuff, like finding an agent, a publisher, or marketing your work yourself, there's one thing that can fall through the cracks. Sure, if you're fixated on traditional publishing, this is something that doesn't concern you, because the publisher will make these decisions, but, for those of us going it alone, pricing is something that can end up being overlooked.

I was reminded of how important this aspect of self-publishing is just the other day, but let me give some background, first.

When I first published The House on the Corner, I didn't know anything about pricing other than what I pay for books. It seemed reasonable to me at the time that people should be willing to pay for my book what anyone would pay for a book from a bookstore. Or from Amazon. I knew that wasn't really true, but it bothered me because, darn it, I'd written a book, a good book, and people should value that. Idealism often doesn't fare well when it comes up against reality.

At any rate, I ended up pricing House at $18.00 mostly because I had to. Amazon gives you a minimum price you have to charge based on the number of pages in your book, so I went $1 and change over what they said, which is my part of the profit. If you set it at the minimum, you don't make anything. This, of course, was for the physical copy of my book. You do a little bit better with the Kindle. But there was a wrinkle.

Because I'm an instruction reading kind of guy, I read all the "terms of agreement" stuff. One of the things it said was that I was not allowed to sell my book for a lower price anywhere else or they could choose to not allow you to use CreateSpace anymore. Although, this seemed reasonable to me, I also didn't want to risk having my book pulled, so I set my Kindle price at $18.00, also. See, in my mind, my book was my book.

But I was wrong.

To Amazon, your book through CreateSpace and your book on the Kindle are two completely separate things. Also, if I order copies of my book, the physical book, I'm allowed to sell them for whatever I want to, because I've already paid CreateSpace for them. In a lot of ways, it's all ridiculous, and it took me some months to work out the kinks. And, really, this is a much longer story, but my issues are not what this post is about; they're just to let you know that pricing is complicated. If you look up at my box for The House on the Corner, you'll see what the current prices are which took me months to get to.

And, before I go on, let me just say that I don't believe in $0.99 e-books. I think they are devaluing to the author. Writing a book is hard work, and a book should be valued at more than $0.99. Not that $2.99 is much better, but, hey, at $2.99 on the Kindle, I make more per book than I make for a physical copy through Amazon, so, yeah... $2.99 it is. Let me stress my distinction here: $0.99 is devaluing to the author for a book. An actual novel. It's a perfectly fine price for shorter works.

Which brings us up to the event that brought all this up. The other day, I set off to buy the next book on my list for my Unexpected Applause posts, but I didn't buy it. When I got over to Amazon to do it, I found that the author actually has the book priced at above $2.99. This wouldn't really have been an issue except that he has the physical book priced probably as low as he can price it which made me think, "If I'm going to pay that much for a virtual copy, I should just by the actual book." Not owning a Kindle (I use the app on my computer), I still much prefer actual books to e-books, because it's difficult to drag my desktop to bed if I want to some reading at night before sleeping. And I would hate to drop the monitor on my face if I fell asleep while reading like I did in college with a text book. Let me just say that that will wake you up in a hurry.

After staring indecisively for several minutes, I put the physical book in my cart, huffed,  and went on to the next book on my list (because I'm not actually placing an Amazon order, yet). I get over to the next book, and it's priced at the expected price of $2.99, but, when I look at it, it's hardly a book. When I say that it's hardly a book, I mean that the page count on the physical book is less than 100 pages. I huffed again. It's just $3, right, but I couldn't bring myself to pay that for a short story. Especially after reading the sample, seeing that it's poorly formatted, and full of punctuation errors. I don't know if the story's any good, but I couldn't bring myself to pay the $2.99 the author wanted. I would have paid $0.99 for it without a problem, but I balked at the additional $2.


Honestly, I really don't know. I've been thinking about this question for days, and I don't have a good answer. What I do know, though, is how you price your book is important. Perceived value is important. When I perceive something to be worth $1, yet I'm being asked to pay $3 for it, I won't do it. I totally understand wanting to hit the $2.99 pricing mark for the Kindle, because, frankly, you get pretty screwed by Amazon pricing at $0.99. However, if you want to price at $2.99, you better have a product that says "this is worth $2.99." And that's entirely subjective. Which is the problem.

I mean, it's so subjective that The House on the Corner sold almost as well when I had it priced at $9.99 as it does, now, at $2.99, and I made a heck of a lot more per sale that way.

I guess what I'm getting at is this: you have to decide how much you think you're worth. You also have to decide how much you're comfortable with selling. Then, you have to balance those two things out.  For me, the price of my physical book is pretty much what Amazon says it has to be. I mean, I could lower the price, but, then, it would be priced at something scewy like $14.23, so I figure $14.99 works. Because I believe that the price of the e-book should be low enough to make it worth buying instead of ordering the physical book, $2.99 works. And, like I said, I make more per unit than I do when someone goes to Amazon and buys a physical copy of the book.

As a buyer, the real issue for me is paying for something that isn't real. Isn't tangible. But, maybe, if I actually had a Kindle, I wouldn't feel that way about spending more for books on it. At any rate, all of this has made me start thinking from teh buyer's perspective again, which is what you have to do if you want to sell your book. You can't just decide "people should be willing to pay this, so this is what I'm pricing this at." You'll always price too high (a recent study actually proved this: people tend overestimate what other people will be willing to pay for something even though they themselves are not willing to pay that much). So... am I willing to pay $2.99 for an e-book? Yes, I am. So I feel comfortable pricing my e-book at that. Am I willing to pay $2.99 for something that is not book length? No, I'm not, so I will know to never price short stories or whatnot in that price range. Am I willing to pay more than $2.99 for an e-book? I don't think so. If I'm going to pay more than that, I'd rather own the physical book. Yes, I'd rather pay $10, $12, or $15 for a physical book that I can hold in my hand than pay $5 for an e-book. Maybe that's just me, but I do know that it is me, so I have to keep that in my mind, too. Maybe I'd be willing to pay $5 for an e-book if there was no physical book available. That's something I've yet to discover.

What I do know for certain, though, is that I don't want someone paying $15 for my book and feeling like they got ripped off. In the end, that's probably why $0.99 works for so many people. Even if it sucks, it was only a buck, so no big deal. I'm willing to run that risk at $3, but I'm not really willing to go beyond that. I suppose that's why Amazon has those price points set.

Yeah, I know I didn't answer any questions in this post. I don't have those answers. Hopefully, though, I've pointed out that there is a question. Don't just slap a price on yourself because that's the price that seems good or what everyone else is doing. Look at what you're offering and balance out the variables. When I go to buy your book, don't make me second guess myself because of your pricing. Hesitation is a killer.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why You Shouldn't Trust Traditional Publishing (or Why Kids Should Be in Charge of the Slush Pile)

This isn't one of those posts where I talk about all of the very famous (or merely famous) writers that started out with tons of rejections. No, they weren't really "tons," but any rejection is a heavy load, and, when they start piling up, they certainly seem to weigh tons. If you want one of those posts, there are plenty of them out there, so go find one somewhere else.

This isn't a post that is supposed to make you feel better. Make you want to work a little harder. Make you want to try that one more time. That one more time that will be the time. I'm not really much of a cheerleader, so, if you want that, go look at any of the dozens upon dozens of cheerful blogs that are all about making you feel better about yourself as a writer.

This post might do some of those above mentioned things but not because that's the plan here. It's not what I'm setting out to do. This post is about making you think. If, in making you think, it prompts you to work a little harder or to apply yourself in new ways, well, good, but that's not what I'm trying to do here.

Yeah, I know. I can be kind of a jerk. But, really, I'm just not here to make you feel better about your writing goals. Not that I won't give you advice (if you ask) or tell you what I think about... well, whatever, but I'm not emotional support. I'll help you get the job done, but I'm not going to make you feel good about doing it.

So... here's the thing:
We all know about  the subjectivity of the publishing industry. At least, we think we do. Emotionally, however, we are still invested in the idea that traditional publishing is the Gatekeeper of who is and who isn't a writer. That, somewhere, they have some secret measuring stick that they apply to manuscripts to see  if they measure up. We know this isn't true, but we don't believe it. If we would come to believe that the "professionals" don't know any more about what's good or what will sell than, say, the troll under the bridge down the path from my house, we would ALL abandon traditional publishing forever. But we cling to this... idea... that we can't really be writers unless the publishing industry bestows that title upon us.

And it will... if we just keep at it long enough. As Jim Butcher says about getting published, "You don't have to be faster than the bear, you just have to be faster than the guy next to you." I have to say, though, that getting published doesn't make you a writer. I don't care who's dubbing you "Sir Author." Have you seen some of the crap that's being published these days? And not just these days. Have you seen some of the crap that has always been published? And why is crap published? Because publishers don't know crap from gold. Nor do editors. Nor do agents.

See, I was thinking (and that's the phrase that generally causes my wife to say "uh oh")... Wait a minute, before you think any of this is about me, it's not. You'll kind of have to follow my separate trains of thought to where they collide in a crash almost as spectacular as the one in Super 8.

I had just come home from reading The House on the Corner in my younger son's class (6th graders), and I was out taking the dog for a walk. [Note: I read in some class or other every morning of the week.] They had been upset when it was time for me to stop. They feel like I "always end on a cliffhanger." The thing is, I wasn't reading from one of the "exciting" parts. But, whenever I have to stop, they don't want me to. I'm in the middle of something happening even if it's just exploring. Or a game of hide-and-seek. And there are groans every time.

See, kids have a different way of looking at books than adults do. And I think kids have it right. The publishing industry is really big right now on starting in the middle of the action. Why? Because they say you have to do that to grab a child's interest, but that's just not so. Kids actually have the patience to allow something to unfold in its own time and enjoy it. It's adults that want to just get right into things. Adults who sacrifice story for action. Sacrifice empathy with the characters, knowing the characters, for immediate thrills. It's adults that want to just jump straight into bed and skip the getting to know the other person and the making out. That's not how kids are.

Hold on... I'm going somewhere with this. See! You're all out there thinking, "just get to the point!" Where's the blood? Where are the explosions?

Another thing: kids are pretty honest. This is not to say that they don't lie, but they're not going to come up and tell you they like something that they don't. If you stick a pile of spinach in front of them, they're going to tell you how they feel about it. Even if you are a guest at someone else's house. They don't have the whole lying for the sake of politeness thing down.

Kids like my book. The closest I've had to any of them not liking it is one boy (2nd grade) asking me when I was going to make The House on the Corner into a movie. I asked him why, of course. Didn't he like the book? Oh, yes, he likes it very much, but he likes movies better than books.

This is where I was in my head when my thoughts strayed over to Tolkien. Did you know that The Hobbit and, by extension, The Lord of the Rings only exist (as published works) because of a child? Before I go on, let me state that I've read numerous biographies about Tolkien and C.S. Lewis including one about the two of them together and how their friendship influenced their writings. However, I don't have any of these books available to me at the moment as they are still in boxes in the garage [Yes, only unread books have been unpacked, at the moment. >sad<], so I'm going off of memory here. I'm not remembering exactly why Tolkien was seeking publication for The Hobbit, but it probably had to do with Lewis. Lewis was the impetus for pretty much all of Tolkien's fiction getting published, so it was probably Lewis back there saying, "You need to get this published." However, no one wanted The Hobbit. I don't mean there were a lot of rejections and, finally, someone said, "Yeah, I like it." No one wanted the The Hobbit. It was too different, and no one believed there would be an audience for it. Kind of like with the whole home computer thing.

At any rate, after no one wanted the book, the manuscript was sitting around someone's house. A big someone's house. Like the owner of the publishing company that eventually published The Hobbit. They had already said no to it. But something happened then. Something unexpected. The man's son got a hold of the manuscript, and he read it. He told his dad he should make it into a book. I think there was some discussion involved, but the son was firm in his opinion that The Hobbit be published. So, more to mollify his son than anything else, The Hobbit got published with a small print run of only 1500 copies. That was all. It has never been out of print since.

So here we are at the point. The climax, as it were. Traditional publishers didn't want The Hobbit. At all. It was a child. One boy who believed in a book with a father willing to humor him. The Hobbit is now considered the most influential piece of children's literature of the 20th century, and it almost never was. And this is why you shouldn't trust traditional publishing. The truth is that they don't know what they're doing. They don't know what's good and what's bad. They're not reading the books; they're just comparing aspects of them to what's popular and making judgements on what they think will sell. Any time anything slightly different comes along, they don't know what to do with it, and they tend to just say "no."

Kids should be reading through the slush pile. At least through the piles of things that are age appropriate. Kids don't care about what's popular (they do in that they are attracted to those things, but they don't evaluate new things based on the popularity of other things, not until they're teenagers, generally); they don't care about "how things are done;" they enter each new thing just as it is, a new thing, and they form their opinions based upon their interactions with that thing. It's unfortunate that, as adults, we can't enter into each new experience with those same sets of open eyes. That ability to not pre-categorize everything. That ability to not have made up our minds before an experience as to whether or not we'll like it.

As Yoda says, "Truly wonderful the mind of a child is."

So, really, don't take those rejections the wrong way. Even after the success of The Hobbit, the publisher (the same publisher, mind you) didn't want The Lord of the Rings. The wanted The Hobbit II. Tolkien really tried to give them what they asked for, but he just couldn't do it, and they kind of just published The Lord of the Rings because they knew they weren't going to get anything else, and they demanded severe changes in the text before even that happened. Like dividing it up into 3 volumes, which Tolkien hated and had to do extensive rewrites to accommodate. Of course, The Lord of the Rings is now considered the most significant piece of fiction of the 20th century. So, really, what do traditional publishers know?

It makes me wonder what pieces of literature the world has never seen because there was not a child available to advocate for it. It makes me sad.

[Note: In similar situation, none of the Hollywood studios would support Lucas' new movie Red Tails, which I really wanted to go see last weekend but didn't get to. Several of them completely snubbed the screening and didn't show at all. Lucas said they treated Red Tails the exact same way they treated Star Wars back  in 1976. It's something different. Something that hasn't been done before. Even though it's Lucas, they won't support it. Fox grudgingly agreed to act as the distributor but only if Lucas footed the entire bill. What's the point, at that point? Hopefully, I'll have a review of this one soon, as Lucas says it's going to be his last "blockbuster" movie (other than one more Indiana Jones (if they do it)).]

Friday, January 20, 2012

Bateman, Reynolds, and The Change-Up

Movies are... well... funny, complex, interesting beasts. The greatest story in the world can be ruined by bad acting, bad directing, bad editing. Probably a number of other things, too, but you probably get the idea. Okay, well, a bad screen play if it's a work that's being adapted. On the other hand, a bad story, even a horrible story, can be elevated by great acting. Or an actor with great charisma. Or great directing. I could give examples, I suppose, but, really, why bother?

I suspect The Change-Up is a bad movie. Maybe even a really bad movie. But I can't tell, because I love Ryan Reynolds, and I love Jason Bateman. I don't think either of them are great actors (although, it's hard to be sure with Reynolds), but they both have a certain amount of charisma, and I tend to just like them. Having them together in The Change-Up throws up a really big smoke screen for me, and I'm having a lot of trouble seeing through it, or past it, to the actual movie. I loved their performances so much, that I really enjoyed the movie. Even if, as I said, it's really just a bad movie.

What I do know is that there were some "jokes" in it that were fairly offensive. Not in the "that's offensive but funny" way but in the "that's just offensive" way. Like when Mitch (while in Dave's body) sees Dave's wife breastfeeding and completely freaks out about it. Okay, so him freaking out is funny but not in a good way. There's been a lot in the news lately about the prejudice Americans have against women and breastfeeding, and this kind of thing just upholds those biases, and I find that offensive. Also, again with Mitch in Dave's body, witnesses Dave's wife going to the bathroom after eating something that... disagreed with her. He's disgusted by it and announces (remember, this is Mitch in Dave's body, and Dave's wife thinks it's Dave), "You are no longer attractive to me." While we may laugh at the character (and I'm pretty sure I did), it's not a nice sentiment and not really funny except  in that anyone could actually react that way. Except that people do react that way, that way that says women should not be allowed to fart in public or, even, in front of significant others, and this, rather than challenging that perception, says it's okay to think that way about it.

There are many, many other things of this nature in the movie, but I don't want to talk about all of that. Because, despite these issues, I really enjoyed this movie.

Maybe, I should say I really enjoyed the actors.

There are problems, though, even with that. Not with them in this movie, but in the fact that it's hard to feel like they were acting.

I don't, of course, know either of these men in "real life;" however, the perception is growing that both of these guys are just being hired to play themselves. At least, themselves as everyone else sees them.

Before Arrested Development, my best memory of Bateman is from Teen Wolf Too. Yeah, that was a long time ago. Since Arrested Development, pretty much all he's done is play Michael Bluth. Don't get me wrong, I love that character, and I loved the series, but I'm sure he's capable of more than that. But we don't get to see it. But he's the guy to get when you need someone to play that kind of role. Like in Horrible Bosses (which I loved). Or The Change-Up. It leads to the perception, though, that this is the actor. That he's just getting these roles because this is whom he is and why get anyone else to do it. So far, it's working for Bateman.

Ryan Reynolds, not so much. I'm sure Reynolds is capable of more than just being... himself. At least, the himself that he's established through such roles as Van Wilder and Hannibal King (in Blade: Trinity). And The Change-Up. Don't get me wrong, I love him in that persona (even if it's not really who he is (although interviews with him tend to lead me to think that that is a lot of who he is)), but he's been great when he's stepped outside of that box, too, like in Definitely, Maybe (which actually made me cry) and The Proposal. The problem lies in when he's hired to "be himself" in a role in which he should be someone else. Like in Green Lantern. Because in Green Lantern, we needed to see Hal Jordan, but all we got was Ryan Reynolds in green CG tights.

Whatever the case, Reynolds and Bateman being who they are known to be really worked in The Change-Up, and I overlooked a lot of what I would have said was bad if it had been two other actors. The made it fun, and you just can't help liking them. I do want to say, though, that this idea of the highly divergent socially classed friends is a myth that doesn't work and is getting old. There have been sooo many studies done about why these friendships don't work (and they don't work, which is why they are studied) that's it getting a little overly done to keep seeing them in movies like they do work. They are, I suppose, entertaining to watch, though, and Bateman and Reynolds doing that was certainly entertaining.

As for the rest of the movie, well, the rest of the cast:

Alan Arkin was back playing what seems to be the only role he's any good for anymore: the old, crusty father with issues with his children. He's good at it, but when did that start being the only thing he's good for?

Olivia Wilde was along as the pretty face. Again. Wasn't I just talking about her? I don't see that she can act. Her part was completely interchangeable. And, I suppose, my real issue is that I just don't understand what everyone else seems to see in her. She's not that pretty. Or hot. Or whatever. Maybe, that's just me. At any rate, she didn't bring anything to the role that a dozen other actresses couldn't have brought and brought better.

Leslie Mann, on the other hand, is someone I think is attractive. And she's funny. She would have been harder to replace. Not that the role required too much from her, but she knows her comedy beats and pulled them off quite well. Off the top of my head, I can't think of anyone better for that role.

Anyway... I loved the movie. It made me laugh. And I was pissed off to discover that, because we netflixed it, it was one of those "blocked" dvds where the special features are on the disc, but you can't access them because it's a rental. I enjoyed the movie enough that my gut reaction was "darn, now I want to go out and buy  this, because I really want to see this stuff." But I'm not going to. Even though I want to. I'm not playing that game with those people, and it pisses me off that they make me even think about it! Bah!

If you like Ryan Reynolds, you'll probably enjoy this movie. If you like Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman, you will enjoy this movie. If you like crude and inappropriate humor, you'll love this movie. If you don't... well, you should probably just stay away.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Moth and the Shadow

The new Tib story is posted. Look for new developments soon with the Tib stuff.

The new actual post is not posted. It should be ready tomorrow. A movie review and a bit of actor talk.

Off to teach Creative Writing, now!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Let's go for a walk... Part 2: The Troll Bridge and the Dragon Crossing

I think my family is not like other families. That's my suspicion, at any rate. Of course, I have no empirical data to back this up. However, I am the frequent recipient of comments such as
1. I wish my kids were as smart as yours.
2. I could never eat the way you do (i.e. giving up sugar).
3. How do you manage to bike to school with your kids every day? I could never do that.
[Although, to be honest, there has been a biking hiatus going on since we got the dog. Not really because of the dog, not at this point (although it did start out that way). My bike just needs some work. Specifically, the brakes. Because it's not a great idea to bike when your brakes don't work. I'll get to it! Really, I will.]
Knowing all of that, though (and I have always known it and taken it for granted (because I was always different as a kid, so I'm used to that whole thing)), has never really made me think about it. Not until my daughter's big "we have a new house Halloween sleep over party" back in October. (Yes, I've been holding onto this post (in my head) for almost three months. That's just how I do things (there's always more in my head than I have time for).) As of Halloween weekend (since Halloween was on a Monday, it counts), we'd only had the dog
(remember her?)
for a week. Walking the dog was still an occasion for a (whole) family outing. Pity, that is no longer the case. But my daughter is an... issue.

She's always the quickest to say, "Yeah, I want to go!" But she's also always the quickest to say, "Can we go home now?" This doesn't just apply to dog walking. She's just an on-the-go kind of girl, and she's always ready to move on to the next thing. In an effort to engage her more in the walking experience, things started coming out of me, the first of which was, "But we can't turn around... I have to take you and throw you to the trolls at the troll bridge!"

Her response was, "Why are you going to throw me to the trolls? What about them?" (them meaning the boys)

What interests me about the exchange is the automatic acceptance that there was, in fact, a troll bridge. And not just by her but by the whole family. And, of course, then, the kids wanted to see it, which they hadn't before (my wife and I have been using the path for biking for a few years, so we're familiar with a goodly portion of the trail but especially the portion near where we now live, so we already knew all about the troll bridge).

from a distance, my family approaching the troll bridge (despite the warning that the trolls would eat them up)

a troll's bed among the rocks under the bridge (along with discarded loot)

more troll nest

Then, it got dark. When it's dark, of course, you can see the flames of the dragons crossing the bridge. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get a picture of this that looks like anything other than blurry dark, but it's very impressive, the dragons racing back and forth across the bridge. My daughter wants to know what they're doing racing around like that, so I told her she should go ask them. So far, she's resisted the temptation to do that. She may not be scared of trolls eating her, but, evidently, she is scared of being eaten by dragons.

And this is where it gets complicated and the apparent difference between my family and other families becomes noticeable (which is not to say that there aren't others of you out there with families like mine):

Saturday morning of the great sleep over, after I fed all the girls and the dog, I needed to take the dog out, because that's what you have to do after feeding a dog unless you want to have to do extra cleaning in the house. My daughter asked me how far I was going, and, without thinking, I responded, "probably to the troll bridge."

The other girls immediately got all excited. "You have a troll bridge?" "We want to see it!" "Can we come?" So my daughter started boasting about the troll bridge and the dragons that cross it, and the girls wanted to see the dragons, and I had to explain that you can only see the dragons at night. At any rate, from all of the... well, for lack of a better word, conversation, I realized that the idea of a troll bridge or dragons or, well, pretty much anything fanciful of this nature was pretty foreign to the other girls. Not that they hadn't heard of these things, they just weren't part of their everyday vocabulary. It just wasn't the kind of thing they get in their homes. So... I took them with me. Against my better judgement.

It was quite the adventure, and, honestly, I'm surprised I can still hear. I'm also surprised that we didn't get complaints from the houses off the trail. Or in the next county.

I did make one mistake. Well, it was less of a mistake than failing to think the whole thing through before agreeing to bring them along. See, homeless people often sleep under the bridges at night, and we were well on our way before it dawned on me that I couldn't actually take them down to the bridge, because it was early enough that there might still be people sleeping down there (my wife and I often see them when we bike through). Not only did I not want this gaggle of incredibly loud girls to wake them up, but I didn't think the other parents would appreciate me taking their 8-year-olds to gawk at a bunch of homeless men sleeping under a bridge. I also want to say, at this point, that in no way did the troll bridge idea have anything to do with homeless people. At any rate, I had to announce to the girls that I would only take them far enough to see the troll bridge, but I couldn't take them down under it.

The oldest girl (the only one a grade ahead of my daughter (the others were from her grade)) wanted to know why, so I explained that sometimes there were people sleeping under the bridge, and I didn't want to wake anyone up. Her response was, "Oh! So you call homeless people trolls!" Wonderful. I couldn't wait for that bit of information to go home with her and whoever else may have been listening. And, you know, there's no point in trying to explain. I know, I tried. She went back to singing the "squirrel club" song (that my daughter started the night before) as soon as the words left her mouth, and I'm pretty sure she didn't hear a word I said.

In the end, we didn't actually quite make it even close enough to see the bridge. Not really. We only made it as far as Jumping Jack Flash. He was kind of scary to several of the girls, and I wasn't quite sure he wouldn't be able to jump over the fence (I'm still not completely sure he won't one day come over the fence, but, back then, I was really worried about it). You can just see where the bridge is from there, but you can't really see it. I turned them all around, and we headed home. I think they got over their disappointment at not getting to see the trolls.

Still... it was the first thing out of the mouths of several of the girls when their parents came to pick them up. (And I heard about how much I scared several of them by telling them the story "The Masque of the Red Death" before bedtime later in the week. But (mostly) in a good way. No one was mad, at any rate.) I suppose I provided a pretty scary Halloween sleep over between the two things.

But to get back to the point, not that I've really strayed from it. Much. Okay, to make the point: these kinds of things are fairly typical around my house. We have all kinds of landmarks and stories about things on the trail (more about Jumping Jack Flash later), and this is all normal to us. It doesn't seem to be normal elsewhere. I think that's kind of too bad. In some ways, everyone needs a troll bridge.

And the threat, "We're going to sell you to the gypsies..."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Unexpected Applause: The Missing Link

In my last post, I interviewed the guys, Bryan and Brandon, from A Beer for the Shower about their new book, The Missing Link.
Okay, so the interview was less about the book and more about them, although we did talk about the book. Now, I'm going to talk about the book. First of all, the Kindle edition is only $0.99, and, at that price, it's an absolute steal. Don't let the cover fool you.

Oh, the cover... I love the cover! Back in the 80s, I used to play Rampage upon occasion, and this cover, which is reminiscent of that game, is totally appropriate for this book. It might look kind of goofy, but, considering the book is about technology and rampaging monsters, it totally works.

The Missing Link is probably not a book for everyone. Not that any book is a book for everyone (although there are two books I think everyone should read), but this book is even less a book for everyone than most books. Mostly, I just think a lot of people won't "get" it. A good test to see if it might be for you is to follow the above link over to their blog and read a few of their posts. If the humor doesn't grab or turns you off, the book is not for you. However, if you find yourself laughing despite yourself, even if you hate yourself afterwards, you should give the book a chance, because it's full of the same humor and crassness as their blog.

The technicals: The front half of the book is marvellously edited with hardly a misplaced comma. Well, except for that pet peeve of mine with commas following a sentence starting conjunction and an independent clause behind. This seems to be a fairly widespread error in comma usage, and I'll browbeat the boys about it later. Other than that, though, the front half of the book is almost squeaky clean. Definitely "A" work, and there were hardly any red marks on their paper when I got finished with that portion. However, the further through the book you go, the more errors crop up. Missing words or mistyped words, like "than" instead of "that." A few incorrect tenses here and there. Unstable formatting, mostly in that the indentations start wobbling back and forth. It's enough to drop the technical grade down into the high "B" range. Still, everything considered, it's a pretty good job and nothing that should give anyone any real problems. Especially the commas. There aren't a whole lot of other people out there that are likely to notice any problems with them.

As for the book, well... I don't like to actually talk about what the books I'm reviewing are about, because you all are quite capable to read that stuff for yourselves. However, I feel compelled this time. Bryan and Brandon give us a look at the chaos that could result from a technological collapse in society. My feeling is that most people looking at the book will think that their take is a bit extreme, outrageous, and over-the-top. I'm not so sure...

Just within the last couple of weeks, I was reading about some problems at some hotel chain or other (I forget which one, and, honestly, it's not important). At two of their hotels (one of them was in Hawaii, the other somewhere on the main land), they had a computer issue which caused all of the guests to be locked out of their rooms for several hours (6-8 or something like that). The hotel uses key card locks, and the computer locked down all the rooms, and no one could open them (this should be a lesson to have manual back-ups available for the staff). Really, this should just be a minor annoyance. Yes, an annoyance, but nothing worthy of violence. Within the first hour (maybe half hour?), police had to be called in because of brawling in the hallways. Widespread brawling. Not, like, just one fist fight. People freaked out and started beating each other up because they couldn't get into their hotel rooms. What the crap? Seriously. What the crap?

So, when violence breaks out in The Missing Link over the loss of the Internet, I can hardly say that the boys have exaggerated.

The characters in the book are largely stereotypes, but they're not the kind of stereotypes that happened because the authors didn't know what they were doing. They're there to give the readers something easy to latch onto, "oh! I know what this character is like!" And, as they said in the interview, they are more caricature than cliche. They're magnified examples of people, but, also, they're there to show us that people are capable of going beyond our stereotypes for them. I'd be hard-pressed to choose a favorite. (Although, I have to admit, I have a lot of empathy for Brent and the blank looks he gets any time he tries to explain anything.) Okay, I'm lying, I love Sir McAffery. Not so much his character within the book, but just the concept of his character. It's genius. And I would say more, but I can't do that without ruining elements of the story.

Also, I love the Alice in Wonderland elements of the story. Admittedly, I was bit put off by it right at first. Molly's experience in going down her laundry chute follows Alice's trip beat for beat, but, as you get into the story and see the analogy at work, it does. Work. And it's a great analogy (as they said in the interview). The Internet is a Wonderland, but it's not a Wonderland that's a paradise. It's insane. Even more insane than Lewis Carroll ever could have imagined. The melding of Carroll's work with other familiar pop culture phenomenon like World of Warcraft and The Wizard of Oz is pretty clever, and I really enjoyed it.

So here's the thing: go over and check out their blog. Do that now. If you like it, buy the book. It's only a buck. It'll make you laugh. Yeah, there are some parts that seem a bit absurd, but, you know, like the deal with the hotel I was mentioning? I'm not so sure that they are. Bryan and Brandon have actually offered up a fairly powerful piece of social commentary, and I think people should really stop and take a look at it. How dependent are you on your iGadget? Is your dependency healthy? Maybe think about spending some time away from it. In fact, put it down right now and go download the book. Oh, wait, you need it to download the book? Curse you Internet!

My grade? I give it an "A-." It's clever. Well told. Interesting. The only thing that drags it down a bit is that they do sort of run a few of the gags a bit too hard. And there are a few redundancies toward the end, but it's just a few. Overall, it's a very enjoyable read with an actual message trapped in there. I'm sure they tried to hide to keep their reputations intact.

Twiddledum loves this!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

An Interview Out of the Shower

The boys over at A Beer for the Shower have a new book out. It's called The Missing Link, and it looks like this
(but you can't open it here. You  have to follow the link over to Amazon to do that). In an effort to get to the bottom of what it's all about, I had a small chat with the boys, Bryan and Brandon. Yes, I made them get out of the shower for it; they were getting a little pruny, anyway. I think the coloration was due to the fact that they used up the hot water weeks ago. After waiting for them to sober up a bit, here's what followed:

How did the two of you meet, and how did you discover your mutual desire to write?

Interestingly enough, we've known each other since elementary school. However, neither of us knew the other to be a writer until we brought it up about 5-6 years ago. We'd both always been writers but never really talked about it with anyone. After that, we started critiquing each other's work and eventually decided, just for kicks, to collaborate on a novel. We found that we worked together really well, and the rest is history.

Well, that's pretty cool, then. I guess you know each other pretty well considering how far back you go together. What kind of writing partnership do you have? For example, in the partnership of Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis (who created and wrote Dragonlance among other things), Hickman is sort of the creator and Weis is the writer. I'm not sure how far into plotting Hickman goes, but I do know that he created the world and the characters while Weis did the actual writing. However, in the collaboration of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett on Good Omens, they split up the writing chores so that each one of them wrote particular scenes/characters. Prachett wrote most of the material revolving around the kids while Gaiman wrote the angels. Do you have a particular method?

We don't quite fit any of those pairings. While we do both create our own characters that we tend to gravitate towards initially, the writing is all split up 50/50, and all characters are fair game. We've written together long enough that we can find a unifying "voice" when we're writing, so that characters/descriptions don't sound different from scene to scene. Plus, when you want high quality writing, you quit kissing each other's asses really quick and learn to say, "Look, that scene could have been written better," or "I think that character probably wouldn't do that." If either of us were stubborn or selfish about our writing, I'm sure we'd probably be butting heads constantly. Thankfully, that's never been a problem.

So, if you split it up 50/50, do you plot it all out ahead of time or do you just work on it as you go and see where it takes you? And what was your inspiration for The Missing Link?

When we first started out, writing our first collaborative novel The Dead Don't Play Slots, we shot pretty much from the hip. It was our first time writing together, and most of the time we were just trying to make one another laugh. It was like running through the forest with a blindfold on. It's funny as shit watching the other guy bash his face into trees, but ultimately the story winds up aimless, bloody, and disoriented. Basically, our story structure was horrendous, and yet we still somehow managed to get an offer from a major publishing house on the manuscript. The deal fell through, but we learned to pay a lot more attention to structure. With The Missing Link, we definitely plotted the story out ahead of time. It's still a bit hectic, with our multiple-storyline style, but definitely much improved. We usually do a broad plan for about 1/3 of the novel at a time, and then just fill in the gaps as we go. That way, we have a solid goal, but are able to let the story take whatever turns it needs to without being on a choke collar.

The inspiration for The Missing Link was twofold: Beer and cell phones. We do most of our story idea spit-balling in bars. When we were trying to figure out what to do for our second collaborative novel, I think we just looked around, saw something annoying, and ran with it. Most of our work together is crassly satirical, so we draw our material and characters from whatever social dumbfuckery seems to be ripe for ridicule at the time. 

Okay, before I get into questions about the book, what are each of your favorite books and what would you say are the books that have been the biggest influence, first, on you, and, second, on your writing?

Bryan: I've got 2. What's Eating Gilbert Grape, the first novel that was serious, and touching, but also made me laugh. I think that helped me realize that you can write humor into a novel without having to be like a Dave Barryish, "What's the deal with guys standing next to each other at a urinal, huh?" 

Also, the Dark Tower series by Stephen King. Even today, in the world of 'I can't sell it if it's too unique and doesn't fit a particular genre' (Um, cough, agents) I love that something this strange and this unique, even for a Stephen King book, is so wildly popular. I mean, a cowboy travels through multiple universes and picks up a schizophrenic black woman, an 80s heroin addict, a dead 11 year old boy, and a talking badger as they seek out a big tower. Can you imagine trying to pitch that to a literary agent in this market? You'd probably be laughed at, and yet, look at how well received it was by readers. 

Brandon: That bastard stole The Dark Tower! Alas, I have to say that Stephen King is one of my biggest influences and has been from childhood. In my solo efforts, I write a lot of horror fiction, but I also do a lot of dark fantasy. It would be a three way toss-up for my favorite novel: American Gods by Neil Gaiman, The Shining by Stephen King, and (in the humor realm) A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore.

Hmm... now, I have to admit that I've never read any Stephen King. Not that I've meant to not read Stephen King; I've just never gotten to him. I do see the Dark Tower series pop up on a  lot of lists, though. And, as a total aside, Brandon, have you read Anansi Boys? It's even better than American Gods.
Neither of you mentioned Lewis Carroll, but he was clearly an influence on, at least, part of The Missing Link. How did that come about?

Bryan: We can no longer be friends until you read some Stephen King. Actually, King gets a bad rap for being a generic horror writer, but all of my favorite stories of his have nothing to do with horror. Also, I can assure you that while Lewis Carroll did "influence" the story, it's hardly a flattering comparison. Carroll writes a flowery, goofy tale that is extremely nonsensical and at times hard to follow. This, more than anything, is why we felt it made for a perfect embodiment of the Internet, because we imagine if someone got trapped in the Web, it wouldn't be a happy place full of endless knowledge, it'd be a madhouse full of clashing thoughts, misleading information, and more than anything, nonsense.

Brandon: I have read Anansi Boys and pretty much all of Gaiman's stuff. I liked American Gods because of the depth, seriousness, and Gaiman's unparalleled usage of archetypal mythology. Anansi Boys was really great, too, but was definitely a humor novel. Even if loosely related, for me they existed in two completely separate worlds, as well as genres.

I didn't really get "humor novel" from Anansi Boys, but that's probably a conversation for another time.
I do agree with you about Carroll, though. I always felt the Alice story lacked something because of the lack of a plot. Maybe it was the lack of a plot. From that standpoint, I'd have to agree that it is a great parallel for the internet; it, also, lacks a plot.

Which brings me to "World of Battlecraft." Another confession: I've never played World of Warcraft (I know! I know!); although, I did play EQ2 for a while, so I "got" what's going on there (and really love your idea of trolls. heh). What brought that into your story?
[And I promise I'll get some King at some point. I'm just trying to get through this towering stack of books I already have before delving into an author with a library like his.]

Brandon: As for The World of Battlecraft, that was all Bryan's doing. He's a closet gamer geek.

Bryan: Actually, that would be my wife, whom Molly is based on. And how can you have a book about Internet addiction without online gamers? The two often go hand in hand.

Admittedly, to get the feel for the book, I joined my wife in gaming for a bit... and wow, it's so easy to get caught up in the game and spend a whole day clicking your screen in vengeance as you blow other people up with magic. And, more than that, it's a social experience. It's amazing how many friends she's made just purely in this game, that talk to you and help you out and get mad when you accidentally lure a troll back to your camp and he kills everyone (that happened ONE time).

Closet gamer, huh? I can't imagine there's much light in there to see with.
Sorry... couldn't resist. We'll stay away from my gaming habits for the moment. Especially since they are pretty much restricted to Farmville and have been for a few years, now. 

Looking at your views on Gaiman and Carroll, how comfortable are you with "The Missing Link is like Good Omens meets Alice in Wonderland"?
Also, have you had to deal with any criticism about dealing in stereotypes?

Hah, I'd never really thought of it that way before. I don't know if I'd ever be comfortable comparing anything of mine to Neil Gaiman's. It might even be a smiteable offense. Not going to risk it.

We haven't really met with much criticism about dealing in stereotypes, either in the book or the blog. In the novel, I do feel like our characters are much more "caricatures" than "characters," but that's something we did intentionally. The stereotypes are definitely obvious, and we use them to not only deliver jokes, but to exaggerate the fundamental in our own warped version of satire.

Knowing that you guys have been seeking traditional publishing for a while, now, how do you feel about going the non-traditional route?

Well, there's always this stigma that you're "going it alone." You don't have a big multi-million dollar corporation backing you; all you have is yourself. But is that really so terrifying?

Firstly, what DO you get when you have a multi-million dollar corporation backing you? From what I've heard, most authors are still responsible for marketing themselves. I mean, I'm not going to drop any names, but we have a few friends who are authors under big publishing companies that are selling fewer books than we are, simply because the publishing companies are doing nothing to promote them. Without bragging too much, we'd like to think we've done a pretty good job of promoting ourselves through our site, and that steady readership is really helping to get our book out there.

Secondly, all we were doing, while waiting for traditional publishing, was exactly that--waiting. Days to hear back from queries. Weeks to hear back from samples. Months to hear back from full manuscript reads. I could go on, but you've heard our horror stories. Now--no more waiting. Our book is out there getting read, and by going through Amazon, all rights remain ours should a traditional publisher see what we're doing, see our potential, and express interest.

I have to emphasize that we are NOT against traditional publishers. I'm preparing to show my whiteness here, but it's like the old rap adage, "Don't hate the player, hate the game." The problem isn't the people. It's just the way things are done, and we're finding our way around that

For example, almost every rejection we've gotten from agents stated, "I loved this book, it was funny and well written, and it was a really hard decision, but I think it would be too hard to market, so I have to pass." So instead, we're doing the marketing ourselves and showing them it CAN be sold. Again, it's nothing to stop the presses about, but in our current state we're selling consistently higher numbers than small name authors working directly under the Big Six of publishing, so we have to be doing something right. And once we can snowball some momentum and get a solid, respectable sales number, I think we'll have some serious leverage in the publishing world.

I'm not sure that I'm not against traditional publishers, at this point. I think they need to change their game, and, until they show us they're willing to do that, I'm kind of just against them. Which is not to say that I would turn down an offer, because, frankly, we could use the money. However, it would have to be a lot of money. But I digress...
This next question is kind of obligatory, but that's not why I'm asking it. I'm asking it because I'm curious as to how the two of will answer it in particular. So, yeah, I want an answer from each of you:
Boiling down all of your experience with writing so far, what is your best single piece of advice to writers?
Actually, let me split that up:
What is your best writing advice (just to help people get the writing accomplished)?
What is your best publishing advice (for once people have a manuscript they feel is ready)?

Bryan: So I have one answer for both of those: write for yourself. It sounds simple, and it sounds stupid, but I see so many people look at an agent's website: "Currently looking for: a dark YA fantasy about werewolves with a touch of humor." And then they say, "Okay, maybe if I want to be sold by an agent I should write that!" Ummm, no, that's not what you want to write, that's what an agent wants written. Instead of catering to agents, write a novel for yourself, and then find the agent most likely to want your type of novel. Imagine spending a year writing a novel you're not 100% into, and then sending it to said agent, just for them to say, "Oh, I don't want that anymore! Now I want a romantic epic fantasy where the main character is a 20-something woman." When it comes to what's "hot," agents change their minds like they change their underwear... which, if they're like me, is at least once a month.

Brandon: Bouncing off what Bryan said, I agree that you have to write from the heart. If you try to write to some kind formula, or better yet borrow and butcher previously successful story ideas, it always shows through in the reading. You have to write for you and not for the prospect of future fame. Being unique and bold is what caught the attention of agents and editors for us in the past. To answer the first part of the question, all I can say is you have to establish a writing routine. Plant your ass in the chair. Type. Rinse. Repeat. The more often you write, the easier it becomes to stay in routine. And the longer you go procrastinating, the harder it is to start again. I think I first heard that in Stephen King's On Writing, which even if you're not a fan of his work, is by far the best motivational book on the craft that I've ever read.

Yeah, I keep hearing that about the King book, but, from everything I've read about the way King writes, it's not the way I write, so that has made me less inclined to read it. Maybe, when I'm finished with my current projects, I'll take a look at it.
Let's flip that last question around:
Of writing advice that you see on blogs or in articles or in books or wherever, what is the thing that bothers you the most? The thing that makes you say, "That's stupid!" or "How could anyone listen to that garbage?"

Bryan:  Probably what makes me cringe the most are these two things:

1) "That sounds great!" (when it clearly doesn't). 

You don't have to tell someone "you suck," but if their writing needs work, you aren't doing them any favors by giving them the idea that it's perfect as it is. Don't be afraid to critique. Just say it nicely. And on the other side of that, as a writer, if you ask, "What do you think?" and someone says, "It's good, but you could use a little work with ____," don't get your panties in a twist. You asked for advice, so take it graciously.

2) "Oh, just keep trying, you'll sell it eventually!"

Now before everyone gets out their pitchforks, let me elaborate--in most writing circles, there's a guy who's "been working" on a novel for 5-8 years. It's long, it's been edited 400+ times, and no agent will touch it, so he keeps rewriting it constantly. And yet, rather than try and work on something new, he keeps beating this dead horse until he's all worn out on writing and gives up completely. 

I say don't be afraid to move on to another project if you've given your current project a valiant effort and it doesn't work out. Hell, with a novel I'd been working on for 3 years, I was almost on the verge of becoming "that guy," but one day I decided to sit down, write something completely different, and it landed me a huge agent. Only after was I able to see that the original project I was tangling myself up in wasn't right for me at that moment, and really, I was just scared of 'trying something different.' Change is good. And hey, if it IS a genuinely good story, just save it for when you're published. Then you can dig it up and give it the readership it deserves, with your name standing behind it.

Brandon: I once heard a Creative Writing professor profess that "editing is vastly more important than writing." The point she was trying to make was that no matter how bad something may seem after you've written it, it can always be made better with careful, laborious editing. This isn't so. Editing is hugely important, to be sure. But, no matter how much wax and upper arm strength you have, you just can't polish a turd. Some writing is just plain bad. I think there comes a point where, like Bryan said above, revision becomes an exercise in futility. If you have to spend five times as long giving a chapter a facelift than you did writing it, you're addressing the wrong problem. You need to work on being able to convey your thoughts more clearly, not hatchet a piece to death until it no longer has a natural voice.

Yeah, I think sentences, paragraphs, chapters can be made better through editing, but you can't edit a bad story into goodness. When you start "editing" the story, it's no longer that story but some new story you're turning it into. I do have to say, though, as much as you are correct about knowing when to move on, I also get really tired of seeing people that write something, send out a few queries, get rejected, and immediately toss it. If that's all the faith you have in your work, you'll never have any success.
To wrap things up (before I get on to my review), what is the work you are most proud of, both individually and collectively?

Brandon: Individually, I'm not too keen on the solo novels I've produced thus far. I think it will be in my will to burn those after I die. However, I'm pretty proud of (most of) my short stories and novellas, of which I've done about 60. They're mostly all horror, and I kind of miss writing that stuff. I don't know if I'll do much horror in the future, since my currently developing solo novels are all semi-humorous satire. Collaboratively, Bryan and I have written a lot of stuff together, but I'm most proud of our current work-in-progress, titled The Dead Don't Play Slots. Our overall writing is much better than in The Missing Link. Not to say that TML is bad, it's just that as a writer you never stop learning and honing the craft. Practice makes perfect practice, or something like that.

Bryan: I'll definitely agree that The Dead Don't Play Slots is my favorite collaborative story, which is saying a lot because I love The Missing Link. The Dead Don't Play Slots was picked up by Random House, for God's sake (until our deal fell through), so that has to say something. As for individual writing, the project I'm most proud of is Demetri and the Banana Flavored Rocketship.

Fun story: when I first pitched it to the high-profile agent that picked it up and later screwed me over, the story was only 1/3 done. But he wanted it now now now, so I lied and said, yes, sure, it's done... I just need to "clean it up" a bit. Then I went home, locked myself in my room like a hermit, and wrote the entire thing in a week and a half. And it ended up landing me that agent. I think I'm proud not only of the story, but that the whole project snapped together so seamlessly that even writing it in 1 and a half weeks wasn't just 'slapping' it together. It's all high quality writing from start to finish. So take that, NaNoWriMo! (Note: I do not recommend writing entire novels in a week. This was just a very extreme case)

Is The Dead Don't Play Slots something we should expect to see on the horizon any time soon? And, Brandon, what about a collection of your horror stories? Bryan, I'm not even going to ask about why anyone would know the flavor of a rocketship; is that one available anywhere so I can find out?

Brandon: At this point, we're in the process of building something that's going to shake up the publishing world, hopefully in a big way. Can't comment on it much more, at the moment. Meanwhile, we're both trying to juggle a lot of projects right now. Hopefully, The Dead Don't Play Slots will be release ready in a few months. I have short stories in print journals like Crow Toes Quarterly and The Foliate Oak, and in e-journals like Ray Gun Revival, but haven't put much thought into releasing collections any time soon. Honestly, I don't think the quality is consistent enough for pro-level publication, so I'll probably hold off for a while.

Bryan: The title is actually based on the main character, who is a failed (and very terrible) children's author. The book is also, unfortunately, unreleased, and since we don't want to release too many books at once, will remain unreleased for now. But I definitely want to put it out there at some point. If you enjoy my strange sense of humor, you'd like this one. It's basically a love story between a man and a blowup doll, and while on the surface it sounds like a ridiculous gag for a plot, it's actually a sweet story with a lot of heart, and yes, it actually did make my agent cry. And when I think of how much my agent screwed me over on this book, I cry too.

Well, Bryan, I think you know that I like your sense of humor. It's why I read your blog and am enjoying my read of The Missing Link. I'm just sort of assuming that y'all have a similar sense of humor, or does that all come from Bryan?

Bryan: We both definitely share the same sense of humor, however I'd probably say that Brandon's gravitates a bit more toward the clever and mine is a bit more of the random, out-there, nerdy type of humor (like the great Sir McAffery). But I think it meshes well.

Before I get into the review of the book, I do want to say that I love the character concept of Sir McAffery. Especially him being modeled on the klutzy knight from Through the Looking Glass. That's just awesome. So... any last words before I get out my red pen and grade your term paper?

Before you whip out the red pen, we only have this to say: I have years of practice turning an F into an oddly shaped A, so I can re-word anything you say into my favor.

Example: "This is not well written! I would rather take a blast from a shotgun directly into my face than ever read their writing again."

Andrew Leon of Strange Pegs calls The Missing Link: "...Well written!" And "...A blast!"

[Note: There is a review to go along with this; however, the interview is rather longer than I realized (since we did it over days, and it didn't seem so long when we did it), so I'm going to save the review for the next post. That should be up tomorrow or Thursday depending on how things go. I hope you all enjoyed the interview. It was a lot of fun to do, and I enjoyed chatting with these guys. Hopefully, next time, I can get them to wear actual clothes instead of sitting around in damp towels dripping all over the furniture.
Thanks, Guys!]

Monday, January 9, 2012

I'm in... Paris?

Just a quick note:

Back during the Third Platform Building Challenge, Michele Helene of A Wanderer in Paris interviewed me as part of her getting to know the author series, but, due to circumstances (don't you just hate those!), it never got posted. Until now. So, if you'd like to see what I had on my mind back then, well, at least as far as the questions I was asked go, pop over and take a read.

See you guys tomorrow where I'll be having a special interview of my own.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Cowboys & Aliens and a Small Favor

Cowboys & Aliens

I finally saw Cowboys & Aliens. It was one of those things that, even though everyone says it's bad, I had to try anyway. Everyone was right. But I don't think it was bad for the reasons I heard. Actually, I didn't hear a lot of concrete reasons; people just didn't like it. I get that. But I think there are some very concrete reasons for how bad it is.

First, though, the good:
Harrison Ford. As I said way back in this post, any time he appears in a role that is not completely heroic, there are often bad things said. What I find most curious about that, especially from people that were old enough to have seen Star Wars: A New Hope when only Han shot (none of this "Han shot first crap), is that Harrison Ford made his name playing characters that, sort of, straddled the edge, and his character in Cowboys is exactly that kind of character. I thought he did a great job; although, it was criticisms of his role that I heard most often from people talking about the movie.

Also, Daniel Craig. However, the thing that made Craig good in the role is that he was playing the part of Harrison Ford. And he did a great Ford impersonation. It really felt to me that the producers (or whoever) wanted Ford for the lead role, but Ford is too old, so they put him in as the mentor-ish, quasi-bad guy and got Craig for the lead because Craig could do a good job of being what Ford was 20-30 years ago. They were fun to watch together; although, it was a bit like having chocolate mixed with chocolate instead of, say, chocolate and peanut butter.

The other good: Sam Rockwell, Clancy Brown, and Walton Goggins.
I love Sam Rockwell. He doesn't get enough credit. Go watch Moon if you really want to see what he's capable of. And, of course, there's always Galaxy Quest. He didn't do much in this one, but it was nice to see him in it.
The same with Clancy Brown. The same in that it was nice to see him in it. He's not around enough.
I hope Walton Goggins is someone that is up and coming. He's SO good in Justified, and he brought that same intensity to his part here, "I always did like you best."

The bad:
Olivia Wilde: Not that she was bad, but she was completely interchangeable. She could have been any of at least a dozen other actresses. And her character was... well, it was one of the things that made the movie bad. The "alien" that chose to look human to blend in in order to kill the other aliens. Oh, and she's the last of her race. Of course, she is. The character was only in the movie to give Craig a love interest, but it would have been better (more believable) if she'd just been human.

The aliens:
Everything to do with  the aliens is bad and wrong. When did the whole trend start with aliens just being ravening monsters? Was it Independence Day (I hate that movie)? Is it because of Alien? Whatever the reason, it doesn't make any sense. The idea that there are aliens that invented technology that give them interstellar flight but they are just beasts (with barely the intelligence to use their tech) is completely ludicrous. I'm more than a bit tired of it, at this point. I think Super 8 is the last movie that gets a pass on this from me (because in that, at least, it made sense).

Oh, and, yeah, they're just here because of... gold. Gold? Really? That's the best they could come up with? But these guys that landed, they're just scouts. If they're just scouts, why have they set up a whole mining operation? That doesn't sound like a scouting trip to me. And they're experimenting on humans to discover their weaknesses, but they view the humans as insects and, therefore, beneath notice. Those two views don't go together. Pick one and go with it, but don't try to sell me both of those.

The bracelet:
Craig's character has this nifty bracelet that he got from the aliens. It does things like shooting down the alien ships. Seemingly on its own. But... well, nothing with the bracelet makes any sense. It only responds to Craig's commands, but it acts all on its own. Okay, which is it? And Craig has this amazing hand-to-hand combat ability that you think comes from the bracelet, but, well, evidently not. So, then, the fighting style is completely out of line with the setting. It doesn't work.

But the worst part? The worst part is that, evidently, there's just one of these bracelets. Craig stole it from the aliens, but none of them have bracelets. Why in the world not? Craig blasts aliens left and right with the thing; you'd think the aliens would want to use them against the humans. Of course, then, the humans would have had no chance at all. So they don't have them or don't use them or... well, it's really just unclear. But it's dumb. DUMB!

The Indians:
I have nothing against Indians, but they were just tossed in so that they could lend a bit of mysticism to the movie, and that was... unnecessary. You have this movie with cowboys fighting aliens, such a cool idea, why do you need to add in mysticism? Just to complicate the plot a bit more? Or to fluff it up? Whatever the reason, it didn't need to be there.

The plot:
Cluttered and completely predictable. What should have been an interesting story was reduced to the mediocrity of being exactly what you expect. No, wait, it was worse than what you expect. But the story arc was completely what you'd expect. Including the fact that if they kill this scout ship then no more aliens will come. Why? If I was an alien and I sent a scout ship to a planet and it didn't come back, I'd send someone to investigate. But, no, according to the "human" alien, if the scouts are destroyed, they'll just leave the Earth alone.

Overall, it was just a huge disappointment. Mostly, because the idea had such potential. And the lead actors were, actually, really good, but the rest of the movie was a huge train wreck. Unfortunately, not in a spectacular way like the one in Super 8. Maybe, that would have been worth watching. This was the train wreck that's been out rusting for months that wasn't even worth cleaning up. The one that kids poke around in when there is absolutely nothing else to do. And, you know what, it wasn't even bad enough to get worked up over it. You can't hate it. It's sort of too bad for that. You just feel sorry for it. Like the kid that should have won the spelling bee but accidentally spelled "of" incorrectly (true story).

Small Favor

Small Favor is the 10th book in The Dresden Files series and another solid entry. In saying that it's solid, I'm saying that I liked it. All of these books are quite above average and surprisingly good considering the genre and that they are, basically, pulp fiction. As I've said before, the thing I appreciate most about the Dresden books is that they are not static. Most books of this sort resort to returning everything to the status quo at the end of the novel so that each successive novel really starts at the same point. Instead of a series of books, what you really have is what I'll call a wheel of books in which each book starts at the same point and proceeds out along a different spoke.

Not so the Dresden novels. Although you could probably just pick up any book and start reading, you really wouldn't want to. Stuff from previous books come back into play, and, honestly, I think it would just leave you feeling a little lost. Take my advice, start from the beginning.

All of that said, let me talk about where Small Favor fails:
Jim Butcher has always used Dresden as his own voice. Used him to pontificate about various topics that actually have nothing to do with the story (or only loosely) but that Butcher wanted said. Generally, this has happened in small doses and has been (mostly) easily overlooked. However, it seems with Small Favor, he got a little carried away with this or his editor/publisher didn't rein him in enough. For instance, he goes on for three pages in chapter 28 in what he sums up with, "We're ostriches and the whole world is sand." He really didn't need to say more than that, and he certainly didn't need to go on about it for three pages. Especially since he's talked about that same subject in other books. I guess he felt like he needed to remind us more strongly this time. He also goes on at one point about how dolphins are smarter than people. And it's not that I disagree, but I don't need him to quote research at me about it when the dolphins in question barely have anything to do with the story. There are more instances, but these were the worst. I found myself annoyed at these much more than usual with this book.

The other place of failure with this book was in the handling of one of the side characters. Remember how I said that Butcher has been really good at allowing growth and change with Dresden? Well, he's also been really good about it with the side characters. Bad things happen, and he allows them all to suffer the consequences. Or good things happen and they take a step forward. This time, though, he decided to lock one of the side characters into a static condition that seemed (completely) unrealistic. Given the choice to do her job better, she refused. And for the flimsiest of reasons. I see that Butcher wants to keep this character a "normal" so that we "normal" readers will have a character that we can relate to, but this time it felt really forced.

Still, I highly enjoyed the book. Just not as much as I have the ones that have gone before it. After 10 books, though, I guess it would be a little unrealistic to expect that there's not one that takes a slight dip.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Unexpected Applause: The Greatest Xmas Story Ever Told [plus news and a smart cookie]

Back in December, Briane Pagel of Thinking The Lions wrote a short story for a contest. The problem here is that when the contest said "short," it meant short. The word limit was a measly 500 words. Briane couldn't do it. Instead, he wrote a serialized story on his blog over about a 10 day time period at 500 (at least) words a day. I didn't count. And what came of it is "Santa, Godzilla, and Jesus Walk Into A Bar...", a/k/a The Greatest Xmas Story Ever Told (By Me). Yes, even the title is a mouthful (the general consensus is becoming that Briane can't say "hello" in under 1000 words (which makes me wonder what he'd be like subtitled (go watch Wayne's World 2 to get an idea of what I mean)).

If you've ever wondered what Douglas Adams would have been like if they'd locked him in a room for weeks at a time to get him to write... oh, wait, they did lock Adams in a room for weeks at a time to get him to write. Okay, if you've ever wondered what Adams might have produced if he'd been locked in a room for weeks at a time with only Twinkies and Jolt cola, you should read "Santa, Godzilla... You know, that's just too long to keep typing; let's just call it SGJWIB. It has that same frenetic energy that Adams has only weirder. Yeah, I know; how can you get weirder than Adams?

Does SGJWIB have flying couches or falling whales? No, but it does have carnivorous trees, and that's saying something. It's also saying something that it really is a Christmas story. Or Xmas, as Briane says it. Or, really, an origin of Xmas story. Except a sci-fi, futuristic story that somehow takes place in the past so that it is an origin. You know, "A long time ago in a galaxy..." No, wait. "A long time ago, right here on Earth..."

Somehow, Mr. Pagel manages to weave all of the essential elements of our Christmas traditions into a linear story. There are the trees, mistletoe, Wenceslas... I think he missed the wise men, but he gets a lot of it in there. No, it doesn't always makes sense, but, then, that's why it reminds me of Adams. I mean, if I could fly because I somehow got distracted from hitting the ground while falling, I would totally do that! And SGJWIB has those kinds of leaps.

Here's the thing, if you're not someone that likes Douglas Adams, first, "what's wrong with you?" and, second, you probably won't enjoy Briane's... almost book. However, if you do like Adams, as I do, you should definitely give SGJWIB a try. At a buck, you really can't lose.

The story is wild and crazy enough that there's not much you can say about it in a critical way. It's one of those things you like or you don't like. I happen to like. I'd give it an A except for one thing: the ending. It felt a little like Briane decided it was just time to end the story and, so, just did that. It's rather abrupt. However, he adds in a twist that makes it (mostly) okay. It's one of those kinds of things that Briane seems to like and leaves you wanting to say, "So... what actually happened here?" But he doesn't answer those questions, so you'll have to decide for yourself.

Anyway, it's a fun read, and I give it a B+ to an A-. I need to reread it before I can make a firmer decision than that, but I'm in the middle of something else at the moment and don't have the time. The link to make the purchase is back up at the top of the post, and, like I said, if you like Adams, for a measly $0.99, you really can't go wrong.

And, now, on to the news:

1. No new Tib story (again) today. Yes, I know that's twice this month, but, well, what can I say? I just haven't had enough silence to be able to do much writing. I hate that that's an issue for me, but it is. Hopefully, I'll have the next part up next week (since the kids will be back in school) and, maybe, have some other Tib news to go along with it. On the bright side, though, this gives all of you another week to read about Tib's first meeting with the Man with No Eyes. And I know you all need that extra week, because I know only two people clicked through to it (stat counters... a blessing... and a curse!).

2. The GREAT peanut butter and peppermint experiment!
We have results. All three children have tried this... concoction, for lack of a better word, and they liked it. All three of them, which is fairly significant since they never all like the same thing. In fact, my middle child says that all of them liking something is a sign of the end of the world, so, maybe, 2012 really is the end.

I can't just let y'all go on the word of my kids, though, so I tried it, too. It's... odd. I can't say that I liked it, but I also can't say that I didn't like it. It's one of those things that makes you say, "wait, let me try that again." My experience with those things is that you usually end up liking them. Sometimes, it takes 30 tries, but you can't ever pass up trying it again which just leads to liking it. More experimentation is required.

3. The Smart Cookie Award

Michael Offutt handed me this award a few days ago. I've gotten to the point where, generally, I try not to continue the viral spread of these things, but I'm making an exception for this one:
1. because I like the name of it.
2. because Michael said he needed to give it to me so that I would have something to talk about other than my dog.

The gimmick with this award is to share four little known facts about anything. Anything is a rather broad category to choose from, so I think I have that covered. Unlike Briane Pagel, who also received this award from Michael, I'm going to stick to "little known" rather than "unknown," because I knew at least one of Pagel's unknown facts thereby discrediting his entire list (he has, thus far, refrained from commenting about this).

Four little known facts:
1. Michael Offutt is envious of my dog ownership which is why he wants me to stop talking about my dog. It's like a little thorn jabbing at him every time I mention

Isn't she SO cute?

2. Although closely related, "envy" and "jealousy" are not direct synonyms despite the generally incorrect usage of "jealousy" that has permeated our society. Mostly, people use "jealous" when what they should be saying is "envious." You are not "jealous" of someone else's success; you are "envious" of  it. You are not "jealous" of someone's new high-priced gadget; you are "envious" of it. Michael could only be "jealous" of my dog if he was envious of the relationship I have with my dog or if, say, it was his dog, but she liked me better.

3. The misuse of the word "jealousy" and its various forms is a particular pet peeve of my wife's. You should all learn to use it correctly so she will not chastise me for it when one of you slips. heh

4. Michael should get his own dog. Dogs have been shown to improve the quality of life of their owners, especially in regards to people that live alone. If Michael got his own dog, not only would it be good for him, but he could quit being envious of my dog and, instead, we could swap dog stories until all the rest of you were sick to death of it.

>sigh< I feel so much better now. It's all in good fun, right Michael? Right? It was a joke! Really! Hey!

Come on... it was funny, right?

Um... on that note, I'm not going to choose anyone specific to pass this on to. If you feel like you have four little known facts that you would like to pass on to the world, please, feel as if you've been granted the smart cookie award. I encourage it!

You know, now, I want a cookie.
Hey, Michael! Where's my cookie? Why didn't I get a cookie with this award?
What do you mean you ate it?