Thursday, April 19, 2018

Mistakes of the First Novel

I'm a bit crunched for time this week, and the SFF Seven topic is about mistakes in that first novel.  And frankly, I'm always learning with every novel I write.  And back when Thorn of Dentonhill was coming out, I owned up to one of its more glaring flaws-- I mistake I wouldn't make if I were writing it now.  As it's still appropriate, I'll put it all out here:
--
The_Art_of_the_Steal_posterSo, I've been holding off writing this post for a while, but with this article recently making the rounds, it's probably high time I talked about this.

I don't know much about this movie (The Art of the Steal), beyond what's shown here on the poster, but the poster is very telling.  We've got eight characters: seven male and one female.  So, a bunch of guys of all different types and The Girl.  In other words, we've got The Smurfette Principle in full effect.  Furthermore, while Katheryn Winnick isn't being overtly sexualized in this image, it still stands out that she's wearing shorts while everyone else gets pants.

(2018 addendum: I've now seen The Art of the Steal, and it's a fun enough movie, but it is VERY much a Smurfette Principle movie.)

Images like this one are pretty common, not only for movies, but for stories in general, especially of the action/genre/sf/fantasy types.  Here's another example. Another. Another. Another. YET ANOTHER.  I didn't even have to remotely try hard to gather those. It's so typical, such a pervasive paradigm, that movies, books and TV shows can have little-to-no female presence, and it doesn't stand out as strange.  I mean, who's the most significant female character in Hunt for Red October?  It's Jack's wife, who only appears for a couple lines in the very beginning.  How about Saving Private Ryan?  I'd argue it's Mrs. Ryan, who doesn't even have lines, but is talked about as someone who deserves to have at least one son come home.

I could go on about this sort of thing, but there's one big problem: Thorn of Dentonhill falls into the same trap.  An image not entirely unlike the Art of the Steal poster could be used to show the main cast of Thorn.

I didn't mean to do that, which is exactly part of the problem.  While writing it, it didn't seem strange that there was only one significant female character.  Now, I could make excuses or arguments that the world we're looking into with Thorn is made of spaces where men intentionally isolate themselves in some way-- the all-male dorms of the University of Maradaine, for example-- but that would be pure rationalization.

The real reason is I wasn't fully aware.

Now, this doesn't mean that Thorn is, in and of itself, a problem. Frankly, I think it's a great book, and the early reviews have been very strong.  But it is part of this problematic trend, and I need to be aware of that as I move forward in my writing career.

I felt compelled to be up front about this.  If this means that Thorn is a problematic read for you, I respect that.

All I can say beyond that is I believe I've done better with each book that's following.

Monday, April 16, 2018

A LITTLE ROMANCE: A Bad Movie I've Seen Many, Many, Many Times

Oh, I'm gonna get it for this one.  My sister is gonna be cross with me.


See, there are basically two types of people in this world: most people, who have probably barely heard of this movie, and my sister and I, who saw it OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

It was made in 1979, and was Diane Lane's film debut at the tender age of 14, and oh lord was it a product of its time.  You couldn't make a movie like this now.  OK, you could, but it would be a fiercely independent thing that no studio would touch, and it might possibly involve child endangerment indictments. Or, OK, it would be Moonrise Kingdom.  But that was filled with whimsy and wonder and childlike innocence, and this has porn movies and tit-and-dick jokes and someone screaming "RICHARD, GET IN HERE, THEY'VE BEEN HAVING AN ORGY!" in regards to 14-year-olds.  My point is, it was a different time, and you wouldn't get something like this today.

You certainly wouldn't get the greatest actor of his generation, and a director with two of the greatest movies of all time already under his belt.
For real, George Roy Hill directed Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid AND The Sting and on top of that has quite a few other notable films like The World According to Garp  and Thoroughly Modern Millie and this film, which is really strange outlier on his resume.

OK, no, the real outlier is his last film, the deeply unfunny Chevy Chase vehicle Funny Farmwhere Chevy eats sheep testicles and fails to write a novel.  Hill tapped out after that one.

But this is a strange movie, about a horny French intellectual kid who pervs on an American girl and then teams up with an old pickpocket to win horse races and then commit an international kidnapping.

I LITERALLY MADE NONE OF THAT UP.

OK, so, Daniel (Thelonious Bernard, in his debut and penultimate film) is a French kid who, at 14, thinks he's way smarter than he actually is.  He's that kid who reads philosophy texts and quotes shit back and is genuinely pretty smart, but has no one in his life to call him on his bullshit.  He meets, Lauren, an American girl living in France, played by 14-year-old Diane Lane.  They immediately hit it off, since she's reading Heidigger so they can both be pretentious together. 

So much of this movie is focused on fawning over Diane Lane as this great beauty, including Daniel's French friend, who is obsessed with tits, commenting on Lauren's.  And I remind you: Diane Lane.  Was 14. 

(Has Diane Lane dropped any #MeToo on the world yet?  I'm certain she's got some stories that would turn your hair white.)
So we spend some time where Lauren and her friend Natalie (Natalie IS AMAZING and some great hero has credited all of her lines on IMDB to "Natalie Woodstein, Lauren's Dorky Friend".  Ashby Semple never made another movie, which might be an actual crime against humanity.  But she's a theater professor, so it's not like she tapped out of acting altogether.) hang out in Paris with Daniel and his pervy friend.  DO NATALIE AND THE PERVY FRIEND HOOK UP?  Yes, of course they do.  But that's not the story that matters.  Which is a shame, because, for real, those two are the magic.

Anyway, Lauren and Daniel hang out a lot and start having, well, look at the title.  They do what kids do: go to the Louvre, sneak into porn movies, chat with pickpockets and develop a system for winning at horse races.  You know, normal kid stuff.

OK, the pickpocket-- Julius-- is Sir Laurence Olivier, and while it's far from his last role, so much of it feels like his last role.  He infuses the part with this sense of someone who is going to die any minute now and wants one last chance to feel young and alive.  He charms our young couple with tales of young romance, including a bit about kissing under the Bridge of Sighs in Venice while church bells playing.  It's Sir Laurence Olivier, so you better believe he sells the hell out of that. 


Meanwhile, Lauren's mother (played by Sally Kellerman) DOES NOT APPROVE.  She thinks this French Boy is a bad influence (and, well, she IS right), and bans Lauren from ever seeing him.  Lauren does not accept this, and she sneaks off with Daniel.  First they use his system for winning at horse races to get some money.  They can't bet on the horses themselves, so they get Julius to help them.  TWIST: Daniel's system actually doesn't work, and the horse he picked loses.  TWIST BACK: Julius is all, "I bet on a different horse on a whim, here's a lot of money".  TRIPLE TWIST: Julius is just a pickpocket who stole that money and all his romantic stories are bullshit.  But that happens later, and it's too late, because since the kids have the money, we're off to the races.

Wait, no-- we already were at the races.

We're off to Venice!

Yes, the kids actually create an international incident by sneaking into Italy with an old pickpocket.  They get to Venice and still plan to kiss under the Bridge of Sighs while the bells are ringing, despite learning that all of Julius's stories of young romance were a pack of lies.  Because that part doesn't matter-- they were still good stories.  So they plan on doing that, but have to evade Interpol until sunset because, yeah, a known felon crossed a border with two minors.  Julius eventually makes a distraction and lets himself get caught so the kids can get away, rent a gondola to the Bridge of Sighs at sunset, assault the gondolier when he won't go under it (because they only paid him enough to go TO the Bridge of Sighs).  But it's OK, because they manage to have that perfect moment of kissing under the bridge as the sun sets and the bells play and it's beautiful and they'll know that they'll be together forever.

Except then they're caught and dragged back to France.  And Lauren's family is all, "We are going back to America away from that horrid French boy".  They get to have one last awkward goodbye in the driveway, and make that promise they have no intention of keeping to stay in touch.  Because of course they won't.

You can imagine, thirty years later, they both found each other on Facebook, had one exchange of, "Man, crazy times!" and then only occasionally liked each other's cat pictures.  Because that's probably what happened.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

But Does Your Wife Read Them?

So, when I met her, my wife was not a fantasy fan.  She literally did not know the conventions of the genre.  So often times, especially early on in my writing process, she couldn't make heads or tails of what I was doing.  What is this about?  Where is this city supposed to be?  Why do you have centuries of fake history?  Why don't you write something like One Hundred Years of Solitude?

Actually, as strange as that last one was, magical realism did prove to be the gateway toward some common ground.  She understood the rules of that genre, and through that I could show her how fantasy worked.

OK, there was also Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings as huge worldwide phenomenons.  That helped, too.

That isn't to say she doesn't read my work.  She definitely does.  But let's be real: she mostly does because it's mine.  She isn't seeking out the rest of the genre.

That said, she's more of a fan of short stories, and Jump the Black is probably her favorite.  She does nudge me, gently, to create a novel-length version of that story.

I think it's there.  I haven't found it all yet, but the novel length version exists.  It'll come.  I've got time.  And I've got someone to read it when it's done.

Monday, April 9, 2018

ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES: A Bad Movie I've Seen Many, Many, Many Times

Let's be real about something: the 80s and 90s were not all that mass-media friendly to your average fantasy fan.  If you wanted to see something with heroes with swords, bows, quarterstaves and possibly a sweet scene where someone gets a mace to the face, your options were decidedly limited.  You had Beastmaster and Conan and a couple other things, but for the most part: not much.

So Robin Hood: Prince of Thievesbeing the big-ass blockbuster movie starring one of the biggest actors working at the time?  Yeah, I ate that up with a dull spoon that would hurt more.  I watched the hell out of this movie.  I saw it multiple times in the theaters, and when it came out on video, I got a copy of it and watched that tape over and over.  I cannot blame this one on "Well, it's on HBO, so... why not".  I MADE ACTIVE CHOICES.  And on so many levels, this movie is really Not Good-- we could go on and on about how wrong Kevin Costner was for the part of Robin Hood, for one-- but yet it's got some magical alchemy that just plain works.

One thing on its side is how Robin Hood is one of those properties that is kind of perfect for reboot and reinterpretation.  It's a character in the public domain, and people have a decent sense of what "Robin Hood" is supposed to be, but it's all broad brush strokes. You've got Robin, bow-wielding outlaw-for-justice, you've got Sherwood Forest where he lives, you've got the Sheriff of Nottingham as his enemy, and Maid Marian as his love interest, and his band of Merry Men-- but the details of the story?  There is no "definitive" version of Robin Hood, so you can fill in the details however you see fit.   Within reason.


Well, the makers of RH:POT took a look at "within reason" and said to themselves, "Then let's get Morgan Freeman to be awesome" AND BY GOD THEY DID.

So, if you've never seen the glory that is RH: POThere's the rundown.  It starts in a prison in Muslim-controlled Jerusalem, where Robin and his doomed friend are about to be executed, but Robin stages an escape and rescues Azeem, played by Morgan Freeman, and they get out, but doomed friend doesn't make it.  Because of this, Azeem pledges his life to Robin and they go back to England.

And England just SUCKS because the Sheriff of Nottingham-- played by the fantastic Alan Rickman, back to him in a bit-- has, in the absence of a active king, just plain taken over, declaring anyone who gets in his way a devil-worshipper and executing them.  He does this to Robin's father, played by the fantastic Brian Blessed in a tiny cameo. (I could go on with "played by the fantastic..." in this.)

Robin comes home to find England sucking, his father dead, his home and fortune stolen, and everything terrible.  Short version: he makes an enemy of the Sheriff, and then hides out in the forest with the common folk whose lives also suck because of the Sheriff, and whips them into an army to make things terrible for the Sheriff.  All the while, Azeem is at his side, but not being a sidekick, but being the smartest damn person in on the entire British Isle.  He's literally called "Azeem, The Great One", which he utterly lives up to throughout the movie.  He's got a telescope, he's making gunpowder, he's delivering babies, and he know that great love is worth dying for.  That's possibly my favorite part about him-- another movie would have a point where the movie just stops dead and tells you his backstory about him or his doomed love story with Jasmina and how that got him a death sentence, but NOPE.  This movie just tells you "Here is AZEEM THE GREAT ONE and you know that's some truth because MORGAN GODDAMN FREEMAN so BUCKLE UP." 

Robin gets some specific friends in the forest: Little John, Will Scarlet, Friar Tuck, some guy named "Bull" because why the hell not, and then of course there's Marian.  Marian is there to be the love interest, but she starts out in full armor beating the hell out of Robin-- mostly because the movie's main philosophy is WHY THE HELL NOT?  It's awesome.  She fights him with a set of antlers, people.  ANTLERS.
She's also the person who, while relatively aligned with Robin, has to put on a good public face with the Sheriff, who is getting more and more frustrated with everything going wrong, thanks to Robin and his army making his life difficult.  Like I said, the Sheriff is Alan Rickman, and this is the role that cemented him as an absolute glory in the hearts and minds of the movie-going public.  Die Hard  let us know who he is, but Robin Hood is where he showed us he could not only steal the scene every single time he is on screen, but he would also take that scene he stole, wrap it up in a bow and hand it back to everyone else.  He could have easily overshadowed the movie completely, but he instead elevated it.
And let's be honest, it needed elevation.  Kevin Costner has a natural charm and charisma, especially back then, but "13th Century British Nobleman" was not really in his wheelhouse.  And I'd like to say, "Well, he tried"... but did he?  I mean, performance-wise, Robin Hood Kevin Costner is not significantly different from Bull Durham Kevin Costner.  But that's OK.

I think the producers knew they would have this problem, because they had the foresight to ask themselves, "Who can we cast as Will Scarlett who will seem even MORE utterly out of place than Kevin in a British period piece?"  And they found their answer in Christian Slater.

But, man, I do love Christian Slater to bits in this part, because he looks like he's having a great time.

Funny story: in college, I was trying to chat up a young woman who was cute and nerdy and into all things SCA, and that went to hell because we got into a HEATED argument about Will Scarlett's line in the big finale when he sends Robin and Azeem over the wall via catapult.  She fought tooth and nail, insisting he said, "Bugger me, he cleared it!"  And I stood my ground that, no, that wasn't what he said.

YOU OWE ME A DOLLAR, BRIANNA.

The whole climax is delightfully batshit, with Azeem mixing up barrels of gunpowder so the movie can have far more explosions than any previous version of Robin Hood.  It's got trick shots, it's got rousing speeches, it's got a teleporting witch BECAUSE WHY NOT. 

Like I said, there is no "definitive" version of the Robin Hood story, so everyone kind gets to pick which one is "theirs".  And for better or for worse, this one is most definitely mine. 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

How I Plan The Future

So, this should surprise no one, but I plan out a LOT for the future.  That involves tracking the projects I have active, where they are in the production process, what needs to be done next in each of them, as well as projects that are on the backburner or planned for the future, either definitively planned (i.e., under contract), or prospective plans. 

To give you an idea, here's a filtered-and-redacted glimpse at my Productivity Worksheet:

And that's minus the things that have a Status of "Pending" or "Planned".  (Plus I blurred some stuff that's "secret" because I don't like to talk about things that aren't either done or contracted, if not both.  But I'll let you stew on my project codes.)

So, my time management takes into account the big things I need to do next.  Namely, draft Shield of the People and get geared up to write The Fenmere Job and The People of the City over the next eighteen months, all while taking into account my own workflow and reasonable expectations.  For example, I know I'm not the kind of writer who can pull off 100K in three weeks in an explosive flurry of words, so, yeah, don't schedule that as The Plan.  I prefer the steady pace of regular progress to the deadline.  And for that, I'm on track and in good shape with everything coming up. 

Plus some other stuff.  As you can see.  And there's a lot you can't see, because it's far future or just a bit too vague.  But even the vague stuff I track, just in case.  (Plus if I put work into the vague stuff, I like to track that THAT is what I worked on.)

And speaking of work: back to it.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Ideas Never Wait Their Turn

So, despite having an overfull plate of Things To Do, my brain has been on overdrive of late.  In the past couple weeks, rather than go full out with Shield of the People (note well: I still went, like, half-to-three-quarters out), I went and wrote a novelette that's tangential to all the Maradaine stories.*  And then I had one of those 2am ideas where you must jot down some notes on a project that you really do not have time to write.  And despite not having the time, my brain was all, "Well, we need to at least lay down some particulars" before I can let it rest in the mental crockpot and simmer while I work on other things. 
But this is how my brain goes in moments like this:
Me: OK, new idea, let's just write some notes--
Brain: Perfect. First step, understand what's happening in every part of the world as they transition from neolithic to early bronze.
Me: That's absurd!
Brain: You're right. It's neolithic to chalcolithic.
Me: I don't need any of that! That's, like, 8000 years before this story would be set!
Brain: Well, sure, then: half-ass it. Just decide cultures based on your whim without any sense of historical build up!
Me: That doesn't--
Brain: I mean, if you want to just cheat, sure.
Me: How is that cheating?
Brain: You have no idea what cultural or technological influence those two continents to the southeast might have.
Me: I don't even know what's there, yet.
Brain: Exactly my point. Cheating. So where were we? Ah, yes, neolithic era!
Me: Wait, but I just wanted a---
Brain: You're right, that's still taking the easy way. First a common origin point of humanity-- just humans on this world?-- and then their diaspora to fill the world and the effects that has on megafauna and other natural life.
More
Me: No, that's... I just had an idea for a story with deiselpunk motorcycles!
Brain: Oh, is that what you want?
Me: Yes!
Brain: Then we're going to have to go back even further and figure out the Mesozoic equivalents to justify oil deposits.
Me: I hate you so much.
But this is how my brain always works.  I've accepted that.  The point is: I had to exorcise some ideas this weekend.  But it's all good.  And now, for real: full steam ahead on Shield of the People.  And editing that novelette.  And maybe something else.
Maybe.

*- It's set on the island where Kaiana was born. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Design of a Workspace

I do not have an idealized writing space.  At all.  I mean, I don't have a space-- I have two rolling bags that serve as my rolling-office.  Now, I do have mobility, and that can be great.  I can work anywhere.  Coffee shop.  Book store.  Back of the car.  Right now I'm on the walking desk in the bedroom, which is the most "permanent" workspace I have.  But I share the walking desk with my wife-- because we both need it and enjoy it.  And it's less than ideal.

For one, it's in the bedroom, which isn't great working energy if you can avoid it.  I mean, like I said, I can work anywhere and do, but if you are going to craft an ideal space, it's a space that is explicitly for working.  The space serves that purpose alone. 

So, what would that look like?

First is the desk.  It needs to be large enough to have the laptop and a couple notebooks spread out.  I need to be able to work on the computer and work by hand on it, sometimes back and forth at the same time.  Also, good legroom underneath.  I've learned the hard way that that is critical. 

Next, the chair needs to be right.  I've had a lot of bad chairs.  Good back support for long hours sitting in it.

Third, a separate chair for reading.  That's a comfy, lounging chair.  Or maybe a small couch.

One wall is windows with good natural light.  One wall is bookshelves.  One wall is white boards, corkboards, maps- a space to plan out the work in a large format. 

Enough floor space to pace around, lay out notecards on the floor.

And a door that stays shut when I'm working. 

That's what would be ideal for me.

For now-- work wherever.  Work however.  The work is what matters, not the space. 

But the space would be nice.