• Category Archives Storytelling
  • The Amazing Spider-Man

    TheAmazingSpider-ManI was not looking forward to this film when its marketing push first started. We already had one of these didn’t we? Good ones even.

    And the actor playing Spider-Man looked like a goof. Especially his neck. I didn’t like the look of his neck. It was way too long.

    Then as we got closer to the release of the movie and more story details crept out my ears perked up and it started sounding more interesting. As Lou Anders pointed out in a tweet there were details about this one that were ineffably right. Peter stayed in High School and had to deal with bullies and being a bully. He lived at home. He had a New York accent. His girlfriend was a blonde Gwen Stacy. He made his own web shooters. The list goes on. The film looked like it was staying far more true to the source material than others had.

    Staying true to the source material is, of course, not a recipe for automatic success in a movie. It’s usually a recipe for disaster, books and comic books being so very different from film. But this one worked.

    It worked well. I loved this movie. I will own it.

    The acting was good. The action was good. The effects were good. It was all good.

    Which makes me think about originality. How original can such a film be? Nothing about it was original. Not the story nor the characters nor the concept itself. It was a complete retread.

    Yet I loved it. And I did not feel like I was watching something I had seen before.

    It’s certainly possible to be unoriginal with something like this. It’s been done. Yet this one worked.

    I think I’m starting to understand what Brandon Sanderson means when he says that originality for originality’s sake is vastly overrated.

    Whatever you’re doing, do it well, and you’ll be fine.

     


  • First Fanmail

    Armored CoverThis only ever happens once in a writer’s career. The first fanmail arrives and your world changes forever.
    Maybe I’m making too big a deal of it. I don’t know. It feels like a big deal to me. There’s someone out there, whom I’ve never met, that likes the story I wrote. Likes it enough to go to the trouble of emailing me to tell me so.
    Huge.
    The email in question came in on Jan 5 2012. It was short and to the point:

    I just finished reading ‘Heuristic Algorithm and Reasoning Response Engine’ in E-arc of Armored and wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it. Thank you and keep up the good writing. I can’t wait to find more of your work.

    He bought the e-arc of Armored from Baen, here:  http://www.baenebooks.com Notice that there are many other e-books from other excellent Baen authors also available.

    So, a huge shout out to my first fan, JM.  Thanks dude, I will literally never forget you, creepy as that sounds.

    If it makes you feel better I will probably never forget my first hatemail either. There’s no way to tell when it will happen but, given the nature of the internet, it surely will.

    I’m kind of excited about that too.


  • Hugo Awards 2011

    I have voted on them. This is the first year I’ve managed to read a lot of the works up for the awards and thus felt good about judging the categories.

    I’m not going to detail some of the categories. Some I will.

    I put “Feed” by Mira Grant in the number one slot for Best Novel and I felt her vision, clarity, and sheer pizzazz carried it by a wide margin.  The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin came in second. Not much to say about the others. They were all good books.

    I wanted to punch Connie Willis in the face when I got to the end of Blackout, or rather, the non-ending that tailed off that side of the book. But I understand that’s her publisher’s fault for splitting the book at the last minute rather than her own. That’s the rumor I heard anyway. I’ll go with it because punching old ladies in the face isn’t really an option.

    For Best Novella I tapped “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window” by Rachel Swirsky because it was awesome, sweeping, and painted so concretely for me that I feel like I was there. Again, all the entries were fine, fine stories, a few nearly as good as Red Flowers.

    Best Novelette, went to “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” by Eric James Stone because it struck so close to home for me. I can’t truly occupy any viewpoint but my own and Eric sits right next door. The story spoke to me and he’s a brave man for bringing religion into it. Bravo, sir.

    Short Story totted up in favor of “For Want of a Nail” by Mary Robinette Kowal  very closely followed by “Ponies” by Kij Johnson. Nail stands on its own, Ponies may take a bit of explaining. It’s one of those stories that could be brushed aside as merely shocking for shock’s sake if it wasn’t so horribly resonant with my own experience of the world. Let us not be the bully ponies in our own lives…

    Big fan of Writing Excuses and Schlock Mercenary, no surprise there.

    Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form I gave to Inception, followed by Toy Story 3. I put Scott Pilgrim at the bottom because I wasn’t equipped to appreciate it. I’ve never lived the shallow bachelor life, sometimes to my regret but not very often, and the characters all fell flat for me for, probably, that reason.

    I voted on a couple other categories  but my reasons are shady and kind of blurry so we’ll leave those alone.

    Best new Writer? I’m friends with two of the nominees so I’m not saying who took 1 and who took 2. One of them is liable to shoot me from more than 300 yards out and the other just might bury me alive in his backyard. I don’t need that kind of pressure.

    Next stop Worldcon! Kind of…


  • Hugo Voter Deal 2011!!!

    The deal of the century!

    For only $50 you can get a $larger dollar value!

    Unbelievable!

    Sign up now to be a Supporting Hugo Voter and receive free digital copies of all the works nominated for the Hugos!

    Impose your will upon the outcome of this historic contest!

    Read the works before you vote!

    OR NOT!

    Keep the digital copies and only read them after you’ve cast your ballot of ignorance! Long live the counter-culture!

    Woohoo!


  • Schlock Mercenary

    I know Howard Tayler, the creator, author, and artist of the web comic “Schlock Mercenary.” He’s a great guy, smart and fun to talk to. A few years ago a mutual friend recommended that I read the comic as I’d probably get a kick out of it, I being in the military and the strip being about mercenaries and all.

    I looked up the site, went to the beginning of the strip, and did not read it. Aside from being an arrogant typer of words I fancy myself an artist. Strictly part-time and amateur, but I do draw. The art in Schlock Mercenary was terrible. So terrible that I didn’t like looking at it. I feel guilty saying this now because, for heavens sake, here was a guy drawing a comic strip day-in-day-out and making money at it and all I’d ever done with my drawing was sketch in my little sketch books that I never show to anyone. But it was bad.

    First Strip

     

    So, jump to March of last year. I’d finally met Howard and we got on famously. I decided to try again on the strip, just jump into the middle as it were and start with the current strip and keep reading every day until I had a handle on the story line. Joy of joys the art was no longer bad. It was, in fact, fantastic. And the story, which I hadn’t really given a chance on my first attempt, was fun and smart too.

    Strip I Read Last Year

    Which brings us to today. I still read the current strip everyday. Howard is apparently famous, and rightly so, for posting a new strip everyday without fail since day one (12 June 2000).

    Now, however, I’ve started over at strip one and kept going.  I’m watching his art evolve as I do. I’m talking both story and line art here. It just gets better and better.

    Nicely done Howard. Nicely done.

     


  • Unforgettable Again

    Well, it definitely did not go to hell. I liked this book.

    Everything I liked about it in the first 8 chapters: Hard SF sensibilities, a cool central premise, the fast moving short story pace, were maintained for the entire novel. All good. Highly recommended.

    And in other news, Eric James Stone’s story “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made” has been nominated for a Hugo award in the “Best Novelette” category. Huge congratulations, Eric!


  • On Writing 2: The Man Behind the Curtain.

    I’m a pretty straightforward guy. I say that with a little bit of my tongue in my cheek because I’m a fairly accomplished liar. Working for years in the intelligence community will do that for you. It’s definitely a learned skill though, not one that I was born with.

    Author’s are accomplished liars. That statement is true on many levels. Fictioneers get paid to make stuff up that is patently not true. Lying, making up stories, is what we do, by definition. At the same time, everyone knows it’s all lies so we’re not deceiving anyone.

    But authors are liars in another sense too. We deliberately mislead and deceive our readers. Lately, I’ve been thinking of this as ‘operating behind the curtain.’ And I’ve been thinking about it because I am not comfortable operating behind the curtain yet, as an author.

    There’s something in me that feels that if I know it, the reader should know it. I think it comes from being a reader for so long that I naturally occupy the reader headspace. In the reader headspace the reader must know at least as much as the characters know, usually more, or the story feels false and contrived. An author who lets his characters know something that the reader doesn’t and uses that to build tension or mystery is breaking the agreement that I, as a reader, expect him to adhere to. I hate it when authors do it and I really don’t want to do it as an author. It leads me to feel that if I, the author, know it, the reader should know it. But that’s obviously ridiculous when I say it out loud like that.

    This gets particularly silly when I feel that I should be surprised, as a reader would be, by my own stories. It’s not something I do consciously, but I’ve started to identify this tendency in myself as an author. Heck, looking back, it makes it obvious why I didn’t know how my first novel was going to end until I was actually faced with writing the last few chapters. Discovering this about myself is good in a ‘knowing is half the battle’ kind of way, but also bad in that it’s a problem I have, since it binds my hands as an author.

    Intellectually I know that an author manipulates his readers through misdirection and manipulation but I’ve been having trouble doing it. I daresay Tolkien knew Gandalf wasn’t really dead, or at least that he would come back, long before he wrote that bit. Operating behind the curtain, keeping secrets from the reader, is something I have been unconsciously avoiding when, as an author, I should be embracing it.

    As I say, now that I can see what I’ve been doing I can fix it. Heck, I can turn it into a strength. I thought it was interesting, though, that I had the trouble in the first place, considering how much I lie.


  • John Steakley, RIP

    John Steakley, author of Armor and Vampire$, as well as quite a few short stories, has passed away after a five year bout with cancer.

    I first encountered John Steakley when I read his novel Armor. It’s a brilliant science fiction piece about a troubled and driven man fighting as a soldier in power armor against an inhuman and terrifying enemy. It’s also about Jack Crow, a con man, and his marks. The two worlds intersect in fascinating and compelling ways. Brilliant.

    I’ve been through more than a dozen copies of Armor, re-reading them until they fall apart or loaning them to friends who never return them.

    I never met John Steakley, which I regret, and I wish mightily that he had written a few more books.

    Godspeed, sir.


  • Michael Chiklis, The Shield, and No Ordinary Family

    Michael ChiklisI first encountered Michael Chiklis in The Shield. The Shield is a very violent cop show with dark, anti-heroes for protagonists. It’s also one of the best cop shows I’ve ever seen with one of the best endings of all TV in my opinion.

    I didn’t see Chiklis again, really, until No Ordinary Family came on. I was pulled into trying the show by the premise, as advertised on Hulu, of an average family developing super powers. I’ve watched three episodes now and, I think the writers are getting lazier.

    They’ve made the same mistake one too many times in my book. Moving the plot along by making the characters do stupid things is just awful.

    I realize now that it was really the combination of the super-power premise with Chiklis himself that led me to try it out. I kept imagining The Shield with super powers thrown in. But Chiklis does NOT play Macky with super powers. Which is too bad, because that would have been super cool.