Monday, October 16, 2017

The Future of Maradaine

So, now that The Imposters of Aventil is out in the world, it's time to look further ahead.  Fortunately, I have a good idea what that's going to look like.

First off, next March we have the second book in the Streets of Maradaine series, Lady Henterman's Wardrobe.  This is a rollicking adventure with Asti and Verci Rynax and the rest of the North Seleth Crew, as their quest for vengeance takes them WELL out of their comfort zone...
Mixing high fantasy and urban fantasy, the second novel of the Streets of Maradaine series follows the Rynax brothers’ crew of outlaws as they attempt their biggest heist yet and restore justice to the common people. 
The neighborhood of North Seleth has suffered–and not just the Holver Alley Fire. Poverty and marginalization are forcing people out of the neighborhood, and violence on the streets is getting worse. Only the Rynax brothers–Asti and Verci–and their Holver Alley Crew are fighting for the common people. They’ve taken care of the people who actually burned down Holver Alley, but they’re still looking for the moneyed interests behind the fire. 
The trail of breadcrumbs leads the crew to Lord Henterman, and they plan to infiltrate the noble’s house on the other side of the city. While the crew tries to penetrate the heart of the house, the worst elements of North Seleth seem to be uniting under a mysterious new leader. With the crew’s attention divided, Asti discovers that the secrets behind the fire, including ones from his past, might be found in Lady Henterman’s wardrobe.
Following that, later in 2018 will see the release of A Parliament of Bodies, the third Maradaine Constabulary novel.  Inspectors Satrine Rainey and Minox Welling investigate a series of gruesome murders, leading them to a horrific situation on the very floor of the Druth Parliament, where the only ally they have is a member of the elite Tarian Order, who believes he's crossed paths with the deranged mind behind the murders.

And then what's next?

I will be telling you very soon.  But rest assured: more will be coming.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Short-term, Long-term Juggling Act

Writing the Maradaine books takes a certain degree of juggling.  Fortunately, that's something I learned to do back in the stage-acting days.*

Fundamentally, each book has to serve three masters, in order of importance:
  1. Tell its own exciting, interesting and complete story.
  2. Seed/move forward plot points for the arc of its series.
  3. Seed/move forward plot points for the larger arc of Maradaine as a whole.
Early on, numbers 2 and 3 were very minor, but as the needs of each series arc and the larger Maradaine arc has increased, they've needed to take more precedence.  Imposters of Aventil and the upcoming Lady Henterman's Wardrobe and A Parliament of Bodies all have this challenge, and it's only going to grow as I move past that. 

What's the trick to pulling it off?  How do you keep serving the second and third goals from being too much of a distraction?  For me, the big thing is making sure every scene in the book still fulfills the first goal, regardless of the other factors.  For example, all three of those books have scenes near the end that are largely about the greater Maradaine arc.  But they still also serve as epilogue for the story of the book they are in. 

Hopefully, that series-arc and Maradaine-arc seeding has its hooks in you, and you want to know more about what comes next.  There's going to be an announcement pretty soon, so watch this space.


*- A circus-themed production of Brecht's The Life of Galileo, in which I not only had to learn to juggle, but do knife-spinning tricks, and a host of mild acrobatics.  I could even walk on my hands back then.  Now I am old and creaky.

Monday, October 9, 2017

THE LAST DRAGON: A Bad Movie I've Watched Many, Many, MANY Times

I should say, for the point of accuracy, that the actual title of this movie is Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon. Berry Gordy, of course, was the legendary record producer, songwriter and founder of Motown records. He is a giant of the music industry.

He was not a giant in the film industry. Mind you, his earlier forays into filmmaking are not lacking in prestige. Lady Sings the Blues and The Wiz are solid works. The Last Dragon was, to date, his last time in the movie producer’s chair, and it’s somewhat infamous in its absurdity.
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The story is… well… it’s essentially “Kung Fu Fighting”, dramatized.

We start with Leroy, a young African-American boy in Harlem who has somehow trained in martial arts from the kind of wizened old master who only exists in kung-fu or Tarantino movies. This is not karate classes at the YMCA.  This is an old dude is shooting arrows at Leroy.  That's the kind of martial arts we're talking about.

So, old dude shoots arrows at Leroy,  which he blocks adeptly, until he catches one. The right one. How did he know it was the one? He just knew, in that kung-fu movie way that all martial arts are magic. So the master is like, “Yup, you’re done. Can’t teach you any more.” Which, fair point. Once you’re catching arrows mid-flight, you’ve really moved past “student”.
Despite this, Leroy is convinced he has something to learn, so his teacher begs him off to finding a secret master somewhere in Chinatown who will teach him “the Glow”. And now to the plots!

There are essentially two plots in this movie, and by all rights they should have NOTHING to do with one another. The first involves Leroy seeking this mastter, while his neighborhood and friends are terrorized by a local kung-fu street gang led by “Sho’Nuff”, who is possibly THE GREATEST VILLAIN EVER COMMITTED TO THE MEDIUM OF FILM. He literally walks into a pizza parlor, has his flunkies shout his name, and then breaks shit because NO ONE WILL STOP HIM. Including Leroy for some mumble-mumble-be-peaceful reason. Which makes NO SENSE if you consider that Leroy has no qualms beating people up in the other plot. But Sho’Nuff’s entire goal is “fight Leroy”. That’s all he wants. But Leroy won't fight him, because reasons.
Why do things like this not still happen?  We need more of this.
 Why do things like this not still happen? We need more of this.

Other plot involves a pseudo-Soul Train show hosted by Vanity and a two-bit record producer who is trying to get his talentless girlfriend’s video on the show. Vanity refuses because Integrity, and the producer counters her Integrity with Armed Mooks. Because, why react when you can overreact? However, Leroy becomes aware of this and rescues her from the armed mooks by playing Superhero Ninja.

Leroy and Vanity start something resembling a tepid romance, in which she plays him Bruce Lee videos in her studio, and he worries because girls are strange and mysterious creatures. Seriously, his main concern is the fact that, despite being a superhero ninja, he doesn’t have any “moves” for the ladies.

Leroy also seeks out the secret master, but: spoiler: it’s a wild goose chase. He’s literally led to a fortune cookie factory, and some guys try and keep him out, but it’s all just a waste of time. His teacher pretty much tells him: there’s no master, because you don’t need one. Because, seriously: YOU CAN CATCH ARROWS MID-AIR.

Things finally come to a head when the producer and Sho’Nuff decide to team up for evil. How and why this happens is something of a mystery, but it is a good match: the producer wants someone to beat up Leroy, and Sho’Nuff wants to beat up Leroy. How can they lose?
vanityWell, they lose because they’re crazy, and because Leroy’s kung-fu class all shows up to help. But what matters is the Big Fight between Leroy and Sho’Nuff, where first Sho’Nuff taunts Leroy with videos. Then he smacks Leroy around, showing his superior skills and THE GLOW.  For reasons never adequately explored, Sho'Nuff actually has THE GLOW.  I kind of want the movie that tells us Sho'Nuff's origin story.  

Come on, Hollywood Industry: you're already giving us reboots and prequels of everything else from the 80s.

After playing with his food a bit, Sho’Nuff stuffs Leroy’s face in a convenient water tank and screams “WHO IS THE MASTER?” a few times, and being drowned gives Leroy a chance to reflect on the lessons his old teacher was trying to impart. And with additional help from the soundtrack-- because this is a movie from a record producer, so it's all about the soundtrack-- Leroy figures out the answer to Sho’Nuff’s question.

WHO IS THE MASTER?
“I am.”
Yeah, who didn’t see that coming?

So Leroy beats Sho’Nuff, saves the girl, and everything is awesome.

Except he still needs some “moves”.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

On Shorts and Anthologies

I'm not much of a short fiction writer.  That's OK.  I have a few novella-length things set in the larger world of Maradaine that are cooking away in the back of my skull, but on the whole, I don't think in Short Fiction.

So when the question is asked, "Who would you want to be in an anthology with?" my brain kind of grinds its gears.  I mean, I don't usually think about that, because I don't tend to write the sort of thing that ends up in anthologies.

Unless, of course, you count my first pro sale, which is a short story in pretty cool anthology of Texas writers, Rayguns Over Texas.  And it's got a few big names in there: Michael Moorcock, Joe Lansdale, an introduction by Bruce Sterling.  Plus (in addition to myself), there's great stories by Stina Leicht, Nicky Drayden, Chris Brown and many more.

Plus, I'm pretty proud of this short, Jump the Black.  It's a tight four thousand words that does a lot in a small amount of story.  I occasionally will get an email asking if I'm ever going to do a full novel-length version of it.  And....it's in there, cooking away in my skull.  It'll come out when it's ready.

Monday, October 2, 2017

IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL comes out TOMORROW

Folks, it's finally here: the release date for THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL is tomorrow, and I'm just thrilled we're here at this milestone Maradaine crossover event of a book.  I'm super excited, especially since Locus Magazine says it's "a fun, fast-paced adventure with lots of disguises, secrets, tragic romance, humor, goofy sports, and a big hint of bad things to come."

So what more do you need?  Another excerpt to entice you?  All right, if you demand it.


Delmin Sarren didn’t even have to look in Almers Hall to know that Veranix wasn’t there. Not that he had expected him to be there, but he needed to at least make the appearance that he was looking.
More to the point, Delmin realized that he didn’t, in fact, need to look. His magical senses had always been his strongest asset as a student—Professor Alimen had even said that Delmin was one of the most gifted he had ever taught in that regard—but over the course of the summer he had grown even more adept with understanding what those senses were telling him.
Specifically, he had learned Veranix’s unique flavor—that seemed the best word to Delmin—to the point where Delmin could sense whenever Veranix was nearby. That might have been due to the incident at the end of the semester with Cuse Jensett’s numinic batteries, fueled with Veranix’s magic. Delmin had been so inundated with Veranix’s numinic flavor he couldn’t help but notice even a hint of it.
Not unlike how a scent would trigger a memory of nausea.
Now Delmin was thinking of Veranix as Aunt Iasta’s mushroom soup, instead of doing the thing he actually needed to do, which was find Veranix before the Grand Tournament opening ceremony began.
A glance around Almers and the other dorms—just looking at the buildings themselves—told Delmin all he needed to know.
Delmin ran down the walkway toward Bolingwood Tower, and more importantly, the carriage house. If Veranix was anywhere on campus—besides where he was actually supposed to be, which was the opening ceremonies—he would be at the carriage house. But there was no sign that he was currently there.
Delmin felt the faintest whispers that he had been there recently, and the tendrils from those whispers—delicate smoke of numinic traces—left the carriage house and went off to the campus wall. Delmin could barely sense them, but if he really needed to, he could probably follow them along whatever route Veranix took once he left the carriage house.
If nothing else, this had convinced Delmin that his numinic senses were, in fact, more sensitive and finely honed than any other mage on campus—student or otherwise—including Professor Alimen. If the professor could sense Veranix with this much detail, he would have long ago figured out about Vee’s secret life as the Thorn and put a stop to it.
Delmin ran back to the Haveldale Center. Veranix knew where he needed to be, and when he needed to be there. Even though “when” was ten minutes ago, there was nothing more Delmin could reasonably do.
He was capable of tracing Vee through the streets of Aventil and Dentonhill, following himinto whatever dangerholes See decided to jump into in his quest to stop every effitte dealer in town. But actually doing that, going there—that was not something Delmin was emotionally prepared to do. Twice he had put himself in danger, and that was two times too many.
What he could do was report back to the opening ceremonies and honestly say that he couldn’t find him, and hope that Veranix wasn’t bleeding in a ditch somewhere.
Crowds were still filing into Haveldale Center, but they were all using the main entrances, not heading to the loading entrance that led underneath. That was where Delmin needed to get to. Just as he was approaching the wagon-sized tunnel, he felt the sharp, distinctive taste of Veranix suddenly come up on him, strong and hard.
A moment later Veranix Calbert was standing in front of him, as if he had flown in with the wind.
“Saints almighty!” Delmin shouted. “How— what— why in the blazes—”
“Sorry,” Veranix said. “Didn’t realize how late it was, had to cheat a bit to make it.”
“Cheat?” Delmin asked. He noted that Veranix was, if nothing else, dressed appropriately for the ceremonies, in his University of Maradaine uniform, with gray-and-red striped scarf and hat, fourth-year pips on his collar. All just like Delmin was himself. But something seemed off about Veranix’s appearance.
“I’ve got to be honest, I don’t fully understand what I’m doing when I do it. Am I making myself fast, or everything else slow, or am I changing how time works around me? I don’t know.”
Delmin didn’t even have the words. Changing time? Could magic do that? Could Vee do that? And so casually to not even realize? It sickened Delmin to think, yes, if anyone could be so skilled yet so careless, it would be Vee.
“The point is, I ran here, really fast. I don’t recommend doing it often.”
Delmin grabbed Veranix’s arm and pulled him into the entrance. “Vee, do I have to remind you that we actually have to perform magically in about five minutes? I’m kind of counting on you not to make me look like an idiot up there.”
“I’ll be fine,” Veranix said. “This is showmanship, not real magic.”
Something was off in Veranix’s numina flow. Delmin was surprised he didn’t notice it at first. “Vee,” he said quietly. “Are you wearing it?”
“Do you mean—”
“Yes.” Delmin’s annoyance was surely coming through in his clipped tones.
“I did say I to rush to get here on time.”
“You said you had to cheat.”
“And I’m not going to take it off while doing delicate and powerful time-changing magic,” Veranix said. “That would be crazy.”
Sometimes Delmin wondered if anything worked properly in that addled skull of Veranix’s. That Veranix even owned a smuggled, Poasian-made cloak woven with napranium, the incredibly rare numina-drawing metal that fueled him with incredibly powerful levels of magic when he was being “the Thorn”—that alone made Delmin deeply uncomfortable. Delmin didn’t even want to think about its intended owners and the original intent behind making it. The idea that Vee was about to wear it—this thing that in no way he should be in possession of in the first place—in front of a crowd of thousands was enough to make Delmin want to scream.
“Fine,” Delmin said. “I mean it’s not like if something goes wrong, you’re dressed as the Thorn under all that.”
“Umm—”
“Of course you are. You probably even have your weapons.”
“I’m not losing another bow—”
“What am I—”
“There you two are!”
Madam Irianne Castilane was an official from either the College of Protocol or the Office of Intercollegiate Relations—or possibly both—but she missed her true life’s calling as a parade sergeant. The opening ceremonies were her orchestration, planned in meticulous detail. And part of that detail involved a display of spectacle and wonder performed by the two fourth-year magic students she was informed were Professor Alimen’s best students.
And she utterly refused to listen to any argument regarding how Delmin and Veranix were Alimen’s “best students” in completely different, perhaps even contradictory, ways. She did not care for one moment that Delmin was not her man to perform a display of spectacle and wonder.
Delmin had pleaded to Professor Alimen,, who merely suggested this was an excellent opportunity for him to test his practical skills.
“I managed to find him,” Delmin said meekly.
“Madam Castilane, I deeply apologize—”
“Spare me, Mister Calbert,” she snarled. “You missed nearly every rehearsal, so I’m not interested in hearing your apologies. What I want is you up on that platform ten minutes ago.”
“Yes, of course,” Veranix said. “Delmin, do you think I could do that?”
“What?” Delmin asked.
“Get there ten minutes ago.”
Delmin bit his lip to keep from screaming in horror. “Sweet saints above, don’t even joke about things like that.”
They hustled through the tunnels to the backstage area, where a myriad of random performers from the University of Maradaine were all gathered—athletes of some sort, some army cadets with drums, and the Girls’ School Ovation Squad. Delmin had a hard time believing that the last thing was something that actually existed.
“You’re late,” Vellia Sansar, captain of the Ovation Squad said with a sneer.
“Impossible,” Veranix said, matching her sneer with a smile. “We can’t start without us.”
Vellia Sansar was definitely not a mage, because her gaze would have set Veranix on fire.
Veranix clapped his hands and looked around the gathered group. “All right, let’s do this! University of Maradaine! U of M! U of M!”
Vellia’s sneer melted away, turning to the rest of the Ovation Squad. “U of M! U of M!”
The squad, athletes, and cadets all joined in. Delmin started doing the same, despite himself.
Veranix was still going strong, and there wasn’t any sign on his face that he was doing this as a facade or joke. Right now, in this moment, he was giving his full energy to the performance, the ceremony.
He kept clapping as the athletes ran up the steps to the stage, followed by the Ovation Squad.
Veranix pulled Delmin closer to him. “All right, Del. Like we practiced. Track me and follow the energy, use that to guide you.”
“I know that,” Delmin said.
“Good.” He looked out at the stage as the athletes did a series of acrobatic maneuvers across it. There was something in his expression that was almost wistful. Then he turned back to Delmin. “One of us is supposed to be on the other side of the stage, right?”
“Yes,” Delmin said. “It’s you.”
“Right. And it’s blue, blue, white, fire, blue, white, blue, lightning, and then the big finish?”
“Switch the lightning and the fire,” Delmin said. “Like every single other time you asked.”
“I’m telling you, it’s dramatically better—”
“Vee! The drums are starting! Other side!”
“Right.”
A buzz of numina wrapped around him, and then he was gone. For half a moment, that signature flavor of Veranix’s magic was a solid wall of energy stretching to the other side of the stage.
“All right,” Delmin said to no one in particular. “Blue, blue, white, lightning. You can do this.” He almost believed it as he stepped up to the stage.
* * *
Even from her place high up in the topmost level of Haveldale Center’s seats, Kaiana Nell found the opening ceremony performances awe-inspiring. She had never seen its like, and from the sounds of the packed audience, many of them felt the same way. Bodies flipped and bounded in unison, as the Ovation Squad leaped from one part of the stage to the other, clapping and chanting. The drumbeats punctuated each moment, each stop of a foot, and each one hit Kaiana deep in the center of her body.
And then there was the real show.
Veranix and Delmin had refused to talk about what they were assigned to do. Veranix had refused out of his love for drama, milking the surprise out of it. Delmin, on the other hand, had kept quiet out of sheer terror.
The two of them took their places at opposite sides of the stage—from her vantage, two tiny figures in school uniforms—and then the stage lit up.
Of course, a series of oil lamps, lenses, and mirrors were already lighting the stage, but it changed completely when Vee and Del took their places.
An arc of blue light stretched between the two of them, which then pulsed and burst into a bright blast of blue that shot out over the crowd. Shouts and shrieks pierced the air as the blue light flew over their heads.
Then again with a white light, and then blue again, and then a blast of lightning that danced over the performers and the crowd.
A tap came on her shoulder. “Miss Nell?”
She turned to see Ebbily, one of the new young men on the campus grounds crew. A good forty more people were hired just for the games, and they were going to need every one of them to keep the playing fields and the rest of the campus in shape.
And once the games were over, most of them would be out of work.
“What is it, Ebbily?”
“We, uh, found something that requires your attention. At least, I was told it did.”
Kaiana sighed. “Requires your attention” was the game the old hands on the staff were playing on her. Most of them resented her promotion to grounds supervisor, second to Master Bretten. Bretten, of course, had been grounds supervisor when Master Jolen was killed, but Kaiana had almost never interacted with him.  Jolen had made a point of keeping her isolated from the rest of the staff.  Now she was dealing with all of them.
The staff all hated and resented Kaiana’s promotion—the Napa girl living in the carriage house, the new supervisor? But the school administration wasn’t hearing any of that. Kaiana, as far as they were concerned, had saved the whole university from Cuse Jensett, and the promotion was her due.
So the game: she was the supervisor, so any and every annoyance or problem “required her attention”. They were all going to make sure she never got a moment’s peace again. Pulling her away from the opening ceremonies was more of that.
“All right,” she said, getting up from her seat. She slipped her way down the back stairs of the grand auditorium to one of the service exits, and then followed Ebbily to the problem.
Down on the lawn outside the Haveldale Center two of the old hands—Lash and Rennie—were standing around, leaning on their tools, smug expressions on their face.
“Sorry to disturb you, Miss Nell,” Lash said. “It’s just, we’re cleaning up the mess these kids made—”
“Yes, of course,” Kaiana said, striding over and glaring at him with everything she had. Her eyes were the one weapon she knew she had—she was going to lock on to the gaze of every damn one of these men and hold it until they broke and stared at the ground. They wanted to intimidate her, but she’d fought Red Rabbits and Jensett. These guys weren’t going to scare her one bit. “What’s the situation?”
“Well,” Rennie said, “we’re used to the regular junk and mess they all make. But we found something different, and thought maybe you should take a look at it.”
This had to be a joke, she thought. Someone threw up in the bushes, or a student passed out, or some other absurdity.
“All right,” she said. “What is it?”
“Right here,” Lash said, pointing to the ground at his feet. “These.”
Kaiana crouched down, keeping her eye on him. She wouldn’t put it past him to do something crude. As soon as she down all the way, she looked at where he had pointed.
Even in the moonlit night, it was clear what she was looking at. Three glass vials.
She grabbed one and stood up, holding it up to the light of the moon to get a better look at it. A thin film of fluid lined the inside of it.
Effitte. Here on the campus.
She crouched down and grabbed the other two vials. “Thank you, this is very important, indeed. I appreciate you bringing it to my attention.”
“You do?” Rennie asked. He wasn’t sure what to make of it.
“Yes. In fact, if any more of these are found, I want to know about it immediately. Am I clear?”
“Yes, Miss Nell,” Ebbily said.
“Well, sure,” Lash said. “We’ll let you know. You going to stop it, Miss Nell?”
“Maybe she’s the Thorn,” Rennie said, laughing.
“That true, Miss Nell?” Lash added. “You been out there, killing gang boys?”
“Pardon?” Kaiana asked. That was unexpected.
“You didn’t hear about that?” Lash asked. “Yeah, everyone was talking about it. The Thorn killed some gang boy, and the sticks are going All-Eyes on him.”
“When?” Kaiana asked, not bothering to hide her interest. “This was tonight?”
“Why do you care?” Rennie asked.
“Because I like to pay attention to what’s going on, Rennie,” she said. “That’s how you stop trouble before it happens. Now you must excuse me.”
Holding back her anger, she walked as quickly as she could until she was confident she was out of their sight, and then broke into a run around the Haveldale Center to the service entrance. Veranix should be done with the performance by now. He needed to know about the effitte, and she needed to know who he killed and why.
The performance had ended by the time Kaiana reached the backstage area. Veranix was engaged in animated conversation with no fewer than four members of the Ovation Squad, who all fawned over every word he said. Delmin hung about a few feet away, clearly intimidated by everything around him. He spotted Kaiana and came straight over.
“Did you see it?” he asked.
“A bit,” Kaiana said. Seeing his face drop, she added, “What I saw, you did wonderfully. I got pulled away. The usual game.”
He nodded. “Sorry about that.”
“This time it actually was important.” She glanced back over to Veranix. She was not catching his eye, which she could understand, him being engulfed by Ovation like that. All four of them, traditional Druth beauties, with fair skin and light brown or honey blond hair. Kaiana would have stuck out standing with them, with her tawny complexion and dark black hair.
Not that Veranix really cared about things like that. He just loved an audience, no matter who it was.
She gave a sharp whistle, and he immediately took notice. With a polite word, he extracted himself from the quartet and came over.
“Did you see it?”
“You were fine,” Kaiana said. “We have a situation.”
He nodded and kept walking, until the three of them were out of eavesdropping distance from the rest of folk backstage.
“What’s up?”
“Two things,” she said. She opened her hand to show him the vials. “These were found on campus.”
His eyes hardened, and for a moment his entire appearance seemed to ripple. “When?”
“Just now,” she said. “There’s more, though. You’re going to have to be careful—”
“I’m always careful, Kai . . .”
She declined to remind him of the incident two months ago where she had to rescue him from Cuse’s device.
“Apparently the Aventil Constabulary has called an All-Eyes out for you tonight.”
“They have?” A look crossed his face that seemed both perplexed and proud. “I wonder what that’s about.”
“I hear it’s about the person they think you killed.”
Now his face was just confusion. After a moment of stammer, he finally said, “Tonight?”
Delmin looked uncomfortable. “You were just out there, Vee. I mean, maybe someone—”
“No, that’s not right,” Veranix said. “I didn’t kill—I didn’t even fight—anyone out there tonight. Blazes, I wasn’t even in Aventil.”
He looked back and forth at Kai and Delmin, as if he needed to find reassurance from the both of them.
“I swear, whatever it is that happened . . . it wasn’t me.”

THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL
Summer and the Grand Tournament of High Colleges have come to the University of Maradaine. If the heat and the crowds weren’t enough to bring the campus and the neighborhood of Aventil to a boiling point, rumors that The Thorn is on the warpath—killing the last of the Red Rabbits—is enough to tip all of Maradaine into the fire.

Except Veranix Calbert, magic student at the University, is The Thorn, and he’s not the one viciously hunting the Red Rabbits. Veranix has his hands full with his share of responsibilities for the Tournament, and as The Thorn he’s been trying to find the source of the mind-destroying effitte being sold on campus. He’s as confused as anyone about the rumors.

When The Thorn imposter publicly attacks the local Aventil constables, the Constabulary bring in their own special investigators: Inspectors Minox Welling and Satrine Rainey from the Maradaine Grand Inspectors Unit. Can Veranix find out who the imposter is and stop him before Welling and Rainey arrest him for the imposter’s crimes?

Goodreads Page for THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL
Available for Pre-order at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and more!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Perils of the Writer: Letting Fandom Set Your Sails

So, yesterday I had a nice long chat with one of my beta-readers about A Parliament of Bodies.  Yes, she gets to read it a year before the rest of you, but what she reads is an imperfect draft.  And we talked a bit about what happens in the book versus what her expectations as a fan were, and how either fulfilling or subverting those expectations result in reader satisfaction.

Pictured: Me.
Because sometimes there is an urge to ignore what the story needs to give the fans "what they want".  And, I'm against doing that for two reasons.  One, I'm kind of a believer in that old Joss Whedon quote about not giving them what they want, but what they need.  This quote is sometimes treated with derision, in that people complain, "Oh, [Bad Plot Point] is what we 'needed'?"  I can understand that to a degree, especially when plots make characters suffer, characters the readers care about.  They don't want to see them suffer, because they want Good Things for the characters.

But my job is, as J. Michael Straczynski so eloquently put it once, to chase them up a tree and throw rocks at them.

Pictured: Also me.
The second reason I'm against changing with the winds of fandom desires is simple.  When it comes to Maradaine (or any other world of mine) and the characters within that world, no one is going to be more of a fan than me.  I love this setting, these people, and their story so much, and I hope that love comes through in what I'm writing.  It hurts me when bad things happen to them, but I also know... that's the path they're all on.

So what does that mean?

It means that I'm that #1 Fan, so I'm the one who gets to tie myself to a bed and break my own legs if I don't do right by the story.

So now I need to get back to work.  There's a certain fanboy who insists that I clean up this manuscript.  See you in the word mines.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Post-FenCon, Pre-Imposters

I've come back from FenCon, where I had a wonderful time, despite a few minor glitches (highway traffic making me a few minutes late for my first panel, sound-pollution disrupting another panel). I always enjoy FenCon a lot, and seeing the usual crew of Dallas/Forth Worth/greater Texas writers. Plus I got to visit with some other old friends who used to live in Austin (who were kind enough to offer their hospitality to me for the trip, for which I am ever so grateful.)

I would love to just fall down and leave this blog post at that, BUT... The Imposters of Aventil will be released in a mere eight days. It's funny, because I said a while ago I commented on how the New Release thing would never get old, and while it doesn't... it's no longer this momentous event of panic. I know the steps to this dance now. But it means I've got to write some guest posts and a few other things to get my ducks in a row for the release.

But, in the mean time, you can still pre-order The Imposters of Aventil, the book the Tenacious Reader says, "carries forward with the fun and excitement I’ve come to expect from the Maradaine series" and SF&F Reviews calls "a sharply observed investigative thriller in a mature and well crafted fantasy world".

THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL
Forthcoming October 2017

Summer and the Grand Tournament of High Colleges have come to the University of Maradaine. If the heat and the crowds weren't enough to bring the campus and the neighborhood of Aventil to a boiling point, rumors that The Thorn is on the warpath—killing the last of the Red Rabbits—is enough to tip all of Maradaine into the fire.

Except Veranix Calbert, magic student at the University, is The Thorn, and he's not the one viciously hunting the Red Rabbits. Veranix has his hands full with his share of responsibilities for the Tournament, and as The Thorn he’s been trying to find the source of the mind-destroying effitte being sold on campus. He’s as confused as anyone about the rumors.

When The Thorn imposter publicly attacks the local Aventil constables, the Constabulary bring in their own special investigators: Inspectors Minox Welling and Satrine Rainey from the Maradaine Grand Inspectors Unit. Can Veranix find out who the imposter is and stop him before Welling and Rainey arrest him for the imposter’s crimes?

Goodreads Page for THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL 
Available for Pre-order at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and more!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

How Much Worldbuilding Is Too Much?

As much as I talk about Worldbuilding, when it comes to the actual writing of books, I don't put too much on the surface.  Sometimes it's out of fear of boring my potential audiences.*  Sometimes it's out of presumption that the things I know about the world are just so screamingly obvious that I don't have to actually explain them. 

But a lot of the time, it's because the worldbuilding details aren't necessarily relevant to the story at hand.  That's the challenge, is making those details come out as organic and natural.  Even if it isn't boring.  Heck, I could easily drop into any one of the Maradaine-set books a few thousand words on, say, the 7th Century disintegration of the Druth Kingdom, or the Mad Kings of the Cedidore Line in the 8th Century, or the coup against Queen Mara, complete with a stirring account of her fruitless last stand in her own throne room.***

But what would those have to do with the story at hand?

Not a whole lot.

What my underlying philosophy has been with translating worldbuilding into actual writing boils down to the Iceberg Principle: 90% is unseen under the surface.  One of the reasons I love using food as a worldbuilding reference point is it provides all sorts of under-the-surface information subconsciously.  If someone is eating sheep-kidney pie with parsnips and turnips it conjures a completely different cultural image than quails stuffed with dates and walnuts, or roasted goat and sweet potatoes, or mango chutney pour over broiled fish and brown rice.  Each of those dishes gave you a very distinct idea of the kind of person eating it, and what kind of culture they came from, yes?

Small, telling details.  That's the key. 

____
*- Who hasn't been reading something by a, shall we say, less meticulously edited author, and reach a point where we go, "Oh, infodump" and just scan until something actually starts happening again.**
**- I can think of one example where an author/series lost me completely, in that an entire chapter was a huge infodump on the history of genetic enhancements-- which didn't play into the plot of the book at all-- and all that happened in the chapter is a tertiary character walked across a spaceport terminal.
***- Come to think of it, any of those might make fun short stories or novelettes.  File that in the back of the brain.

Monday, September 18, 2017

FenCon Schedule and other Musings

So, this past weekend I taught the worldbuilding class with Amanda Downum, and I felt it went rather swimmingly. And the students seemed pleased with it as well, so all went well.  It's the sort of thing I enjoy doing, and I hope to get more opportunities in the future.

But this weekend I'll be at FenCon, and you're there (or thinking of coming), then come say hello. I've got a schedule for my appearances:

Steampunk, Has it Run Out of Steam as a Literary Genre 
Friday  3:00 PM  Chinaberry   
Are you still reading steampunk?  Is there still an audience of readers? Many steampunk folks enjoy the costumes and cons and parties but are they reading steampunk?

My Name Is Inigo Montoya… 
Saturday  10:00 AM  Trinity VI   
Guilt and vengeance have always been a motivation in fiction - from Shakespeare all the way to Harry Potter. Tragic death may start a hero's journey, but what is the basis for this? Is it merely a tried-and-true trope of the writer's toolbox, or can it actually lead to enlightenment for the character instead of more death and tragedy? 

Autographs 
Saturday  12:30 PM  Dealer's Room   

One, Two, Three, Four Can I have a Little More? 
Saturday  2:00 PM  Trinity VII   
Your favorite series ended at 3 books and you want more. Your favorite movie stopped at 4 but you need more. Authors have obliged and now your series is up to 18 books. Your movie has now had 3 remakes with 3 movies each. How many books should a series go before it jumps the shark? How long should you wait for the next one? 

20 Years of Harry Potter 
Sunday  10:00 AM  Red Oak   
Harry Potter is 20, well the books are. How timeless are the books? Are you reading them to your children/grandchildren?  Where is the Harry Potter Franchise headed? Are you looking forward to Prequel movies and more books around the cauldron! 

Reading with Marshall Maresca 
Sunday  12:00 PM  Pecan   
What do you think I should read from?  Preview for Imposters?  Special sneak from Lady Henterman’s Wardrobe? Or do I just play Freebird?

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Interacting with the Busy Writer

Geez, is September nearly half over?  Is 2017 three-quarters done?  How did this happen?
Anyway, I've got plenty happening for the rest of the month.  This weekend I'm teaching a Worldbuilding Class with Amanda Downum.  Next week I'm going to FenCon.

If you are attending either, please come up and say hello.  Now, I say this all the time, but now I feel like I should give details.
  1. Really, come up and say hello.  I'm there to interact with people.
  2. I actually quite like it when people do.
  3. Especially if they offer to buy me a drink.
While #3 is completely true, it is not required.  You want to ask me a question, pick my brain about something, or even just gush about Maradaine... I'm there for you.

I get why it can be intimidating.  Heck, even now, I don't always go up to people and say hello myself.

But for now, I need to get back to work.  A Parliament of Bodies won't finish itself.

Monday, September 11, 2017

JUST ONE OF THE GUYS: A Bad Movie I've Watched Many, Many, MANY Times

Some movies are pretty easy to pitch on a High Concept level.  “High school girl pretends to be a boy” is all you really need to know about this movie.  I mean, once you know that, you pretty much have the gist of where it’s going.

wg5czqBM1R46vqoCJFR7IcojByrNow, usually any “person of one gender pretends to be the other” story needs to gloss over WHY the person does it with a good reason.  Most of them tend to be a sports thing-- for whatever reason, the person can't play on their gender's team, so they craft a persona to play on a different team.  That's not what this movie does, but it does a decent enough job with motivating the decision.  We start with Terri (Joyce Hyser), a high school senior with a passion for journalism, who writes a article to compete for an internship at the local newspaper.  However, her journalism teacher sends the articles of two boys (since the internship should go to someone who is “serious” about journalism), so she’s out of luck.  Convinced that his decision is gender-based, Terri decides to invade the neighboring school as “Terrence” and submit the same article there.  (For some reason, their deadline for submission is two weeks later).

Now, a little bit about the set-up.  Terri, for the purpose of the movie, only lives with her younger brother, Buddy (Billy Jacoby).  Their obviously affluent parents have vanished on some long-term vacation that effectively renders them meaningless to the story.  This is largely so Terri doesn’t have to answer any awkward questions at home about why she suddenly vanished from high school and is now going to the wrong one.  Seriously, where is the school administration on this?  And I know she’s a graduating senior, but doesn’t she have to at least show up until the end of the semester?  Who knows, but the point is: her parents only exist as one-sided conversations with Buddy, in which he more or less tells them exactly what’s going on (or is just vulgar), and they appear to think he’s kidding.  Maybe.  For all we know they perished in a plane crash and Buddy is hiding this from Terri, who is far too wrapped up in her own stuff.

I should point out now that Buddy has his own subplot here, in that he’s a fifteen year old kid who is obsessed with getting laid.  Which is normal, of course.  But his logic is right now he’s living with no parental supervision, so he might as well get on it.  Pretty much, that’s his entire character: obsess about sex, and say funny things on the phone.

just-one-of-the-guys-capAnyhow, there’s no actual logistical problems presented in vanishing from her high school and enrolling in the other high school as a boy, and no one questions the logic of a new kid at school who is going to graduate in two weeks.  In fact, the only real problem that Terri seems to have in terms of the managing her “real” life during the whole movie is her college boyfriend.  She, of course, doesn’t tell him “I’m doing this crazy thing” like she does with her brother and best friend.  She never articulates why she does't just tell him, but it's clear that she knows he would be unsupportive.  Really, the movie bends over backwards to present this guy as a BAD GUY who smacks around Buddy and treats Terri like arm candy who should devote herself to being by his side.

Anyhow: Terri chops her hair, throws on baggy clothes and pretends to be a boy at the new school. Her plan is to just submit her article to the journalism teacher there, but he also thinks it’s weak sauce—and Terri can’t claim it’s gender-based now—but since he’s not deciding anything for two weeks, he tells her to write a new one and get back to him.  He does not say, "Why is there a new transfer here at the end of the school year, and why are you trying to horn in on the students I've had all year?"
Guy on the right is not in this movie as far as I know.
Guy on the right is not in this movie as far as I know.

So now she has to Really Attend the new school for a while.  As hot girl Terri with college boyfriend, she was at the top of the social ladder.  New boy in school Terry is a nobody, put on the same level as the guy who carries around multiple lizards, and the two pseudo-Trek nerds who speak in a sci-fi language to each other.  She has to deal with a bit of the standard fish-out-of-water stuff, mostly involving gym class.  First she has to deal with being forced to change for gym—which she deals with by pulling the fire drill and changing when everyone else is outside.  Then when put skins for shirts-and-skins basketball… she falls over with a “stomach cramp”.

A bit of friendly interaction with the Most Popular Girl Deborah earns the ire of Senior Class Jock Bully Greg Toland.  Greg Toland is played by Billy Zabka at the true apex of Zabkasity.  He is the Ur-Zabka in this movie.  Like, in Karate Kid, you could buy that Johnny was a product of the Cobra Kai brainwashing, that he had some three-dimensionality.  Here he is literally nothing but bully, strutting around the school threatening anyone and everyone, including a bizarre practice of lifting lunch tables at random to make several people’s food fall on the ground at once.

The only person Terri initially connects with is loner and proto-hipster Rick.  Rick, played by Clayton Rohner, is the quintessential “good guy”.  He and Terri strike up an easy friendship, which Terri decides will be the focus of her new article.  Her main plan is to play matchmaker to Rick, getting him a date to the prom.  I should point out that the movie does go out of its way to establish that Rick is not a loser in the only coding movies from the 80s understand: by making it clear that he is Not A Virgin.

Terri's plan gets entangled because Sandi—played by a very young Sherilyn Fenn—decides that Terry is just the man for her, and goes full bore to seduce, er, him.  Her first plan is to set up a double-date with Terri, Rick and her cousin, who is “so cute”.  Finding a prom date for Rick was Terri’s only motivation for going, and since Sandi’s cousin is pre-adolescent, that’s a wash.  Sandi wastes zero time when alone with Terri, divebombing into her pants and pulling out the rolled out sock she’s keeping in there.  And I have to give Sandi this credit: given that she thinks Terry is compensating for a micropenis with a rolled up sock, she's still into him.

You have to admit, she's working that tux.
You have to admit, she's working that tux.
In fact, Sandi stalks Terri to her house—just when Terri is girled up to go on a date with College Boy.  Rather than going for the obvious, “I’m Terry’s twin sister Teresa” when Sandi comes in, she does a panicked boyificaiton, pretends Buddy’s porn-spackled room is her own, and then tries to throw Buddy at Sandi when she starts getting undressed. That doesn’t work out for Buddy that time but: spoiler, they eventually end up together.  So that’s their happy ending.

Meanwhile. Terri pumps up Rick’s confidence enough to go for broke, first emasculating Greg with a withering speech about his lunchroom bullying, and then going after Prom Queen Deborah.

Anyway, Rick is into Deborah, and she’s more or less over Greg and seems to be into Rick.  So they go to prom together.  Terri takes her best friend (whose main character trait is “pathetic love life”, noting that going to prom with Terri is the best option she’s had for a while.)  But Terri is kind of miserable because she’s realizing she’s into Rick, but she doesn’t want to get in between him and Deborah, in no small part due Rick thinking she’s a guy.
So it’s off to prom!  Everyone has a date, even the Nerd Twins and the Lizard Guy.  I have to admit, I’m fascinated by Lizard Guy’s date.  She more or less a non-speaking extra, but she’s playing it like she's only there because she lost a bet.  Seriously, there’s no sense that she’s even remotely fond of him.  Anyhow, Deborah wins Prom Queen, because of course she does, and Greg wins Prom King, because people in this school are idiots.  Seriously, there’s no sense that ANYONE even remotely likes Greg, given the thunderous applause when Rick takes him down in the lunchroom, so how does he win Prom King?  Deborah is having none of it, eschewing tradition of King and Queen dance to just dance with Rick instead.  This is more than Greg can take, and he starts fighting with Rick—a fistfight that leads INTO THE OCEAN.
Point made.
Point made.

Seriously, between this and his Diving Team jerk in Back to School (a movie I will be getting to), I think we, as a culture, missed our window for an 80s-era Aquaman movie starring Billy Zabka, and that’s a damn shame.

Terri tries to join in the fight (as does Buddy, who shows up at the prom with College Guy), quite pathetically, but eventually Rick puts Greg down.  Soaking wet, Terri confesses her love to Rick, who is genuinely kind and understanding when he thinks Terri is a gay guy, but flips his shit when Terri flashes her breasts to prove that she’s a girl.  He stalks off (with Deborah), Terri breaks off with College Guy, and she eventually stumbles home—first to find Buddy in bed with Sandi – and then sits down to write her Real Serious Article about her two weeks as a boy.  This article convinces her original journalism teacher that she’s got the stuff, that she’s serious, and it gets her the internship.

We get an epilogue where Terri has her internship but is kind of miserable, and then Rick shows up and it’s like a happy ending or something for them.  Which makes me feel kind of bad for Deborah.  I mean, she was into Rick, he was into her, so… what happened there?  The movie doesn’t care.
I’m wondering if an earlier draft was more focused on the social pecking order, that Terri was, essentially, the Deborah in her school, and as Terry she found a new appreciation for the misfits she looked over.  I mean, I can see the Nerd Twins and Lizard Guy being carry-overs from that version (they get a fair amount of screen focus for characters who are essentially speaking extras), and when she’s back at her school, a dork whom she wouldn’t have given time of day to in the beginning asks her out, and while she turns him down, its with genuine kindness.  In the same light, Deborah and Greg work as a parallel to Terri and College Guy; it could have shown that through seeing how Greg treats “Terry”, she gains insight into the kind of person College Guy really is.  But the movie isn’t interested in any of that.  The movie definitely isn’t all that interested in why being a boy is a different experience for her.

There’s a sense in the beginning here that Terri feels she’s not taken seriously because she’s a girl, but that isn’t followed up at the end.  At most you could tilt your head sideways and squint to get the idea that Terri actually wasn’t taken seriously because she was always privileged and coasting.  She had never really pushed for anything because everything had always been handed to her for nothing, and no expectations were placed on her. But her belief in herself and that she wasn't taken seriously is proven wrong when she first becomes Terry: the article just wasn't that good.  So we have to presume the experience itself brought her writing to the next level, but I can't see how.

I mean, what did she learn, really, that led her to write that winning article?  What insights did she have about being male?  How did it open her up to a new perspective?  I mean, as a point of comparison, I’m not going to say Soul Man was a great movie (I’ll probably cover that here as well sometime soon), but at least it has pretending to be black give C. Thomas Howell's character a new point of view.  He went into it with presumptions of what it would be like, and ended it with those ideas shattered and a new perspective.

Here, we’ve got nothing, other than gym class is a challenge when you’re a secret boy.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Subgenre I Can't Write

There's an idea I've seen pop up and get some traction in my circles lately.  A very simple thing, really:
The opposite of grimdark is hopepunk.
This simple phrase was like a lightning bolt to me.

Let me step back a bit.  You see, "grimdark" is a subgenre of fantasy that just doesn't work for me. What is "grimdark"?  If the name wasn't cue enough, from the wikipages: "Grimdark is a subgenre or a way to describe the tone, style or setting of speculative fiction that is particularly dystopian, amoral or violent."

And, yeah, for me and my fantasy, this represents everything that doesn't work for me. I don't begrudge anyone who writes or likes it, mind you.  It just doesn't work for me.
So when I saw the post that expanded on the idea "the opposite of grimdark is hopepunk", I was immediately invested in it, because "the opposite of grimdark" is exactly the kind of fantasy I want to do.

Now, this doesn't mean fantasy that's light and fluffy and consequence-free. Bad things happen.  I mean, I like to put my characters through the wringer.  Fundamentally, with each of my various Maradaine series, I'm exploring heroism at different angles, and each of my protagonists are capital-C Champions who aim toward the light.  They may miss, they may have a journey through the darkness that threatens to break them.  But what I want to write, what drives me, is fantasy where no matter how bad it gets, it's worth trying to make it better.  No matter how hard my characters fall down, they're still going to stand up, tie their hair back, set their sails and get their Moana on.
Because hope is always the star that guides them.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Four Weeks to THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL



Sometimes I'm just amazed at the speed things have gone with my writing career.  A few months ago, I was interviewed by the Austin Chronicle (with a whole lot of other great Austin SFF writers), and the interviewer, who's known me from the playwriting days, said, "All of a sudden, you have all these books!"  And while, for me, this has been a long challenging road, now that it's fully underway, it feels a freight train.

I mean that in the best possible way.

So now here we are with THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL, the third Novel of Maradaine, and the sixth book of the Maradaine Sequence.  A whole lot of time, energy and planning went into all of these books, setting up the dominoes, and now we're getting to the first big payoff, where the Thorn meets the Maradaine Constabulary.  Putting Minox and Satrine in the same book as Veranix was a thrill to write.

IMPOSTERS also marks the midway point of what will, hopefully be Phase I of the Maradaine Sequence.  After this, of course, we've got Lady Henterman's Wardrobe coming up in March, and A Parliament of Bodies later next year, and then the next four books I have planned, which I hope to be telling you more about in the near future.

Until then, though, there's still time to catch up on the Maradaine and Maradaine Constabulary books, and pre-order The Imposters of Aventil, so you're ready to jump in when it comes out next month.

Summer and the Grand Tournament of High Colleges have come to the University of Maradaine. If the heat and the crowds weren't enough to bring the campus and the neighborhood of Aventil to a boiling point, rumors that The Thorn is on the warpath—killing the last of the Red Rabbits—is enough to tip all of Maradaine into the fire.

Except Veranix Calbert, magic student at the University, is The Thorn, and he's not the one viciously hunting the Red Rabbits. Veranix has his hands full with his share of responsibilities for the Tournament, and as The Thorn he’s been trying to find the source of the mind-destroying effitte being sold on campus. He’s as confused as anyone about the rumors.

When The Thorn imposter publicly attacks the local Aventil constables, the Constabulary bring in their own special investigators: Inspectors Minox Welling and Satrine Rainey from the Maradaine Grand Inspectors Unit. Can Veranix find out who the imposter is and stop him before Welling and Rainey arrest him for the imposter’s crimes?

Goodreads Page for THE IMPOSTERS OF AVENTIL
Available for Pre-order at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and more!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Series over standalone

It should come to no surprise to anyone that I'm far more of a fan of writing a series over a standalone.  I am, however, also a big fan of the kind of series where each book tells a complete and cohesive story, while at the same time turning the wheels of a larger arc.  This is the kind of storytelling that appeals to me.

 
AMurderofMagesMaresca - An Import of Intrique Lady Hentermans Wardobe

Back at ArmadilloCon, I was on a panel about plotting and planing a series, and in part of that, we talked about defining the different things we call "series".  Because there are three different things:
  • SAGA: Where the series is One Grand Tale, which takes multiple volumes to tell.
  • SEQUENCE: Where each book is its own individual story, but there is a definitive order and progression, and should be read in that order to make sense.
  • FRANCHISE: Where each book is a complete and discrete story, and each one can be read with no prior knowledge or expectation.
Clearly, I'm writing a Sequence, and I like to refer to all the Maradaine books combined as the Maradaine Sequence.

Now, people have been asking me, "What's the best reading order for all the Maradaine books?"  There isn't a perfect answer to that, though even still, right now, release order is fine.  Though once we get past A Parliament of Bodies, that's going to get more complicated.

You could also read each series in a run, just as pictured above.

However, I think a lot of value can be gained by reading the books in in-world chronological order.
  • The Thorn of Dentonhill
  • A Murder of Mages
  • The Holver Alley Crew
  • The Alchemy of Chaos
  • An Import of Intrigue
  • Lady Henterman's Wardrobe
  • The Imposters of Aventil
  • A Parliament of Bodies
And that list will get adapted as more books get released/announced.  Now, you don't necessarily have to do that.  Especially since that listing would advise you to wait until after you get LHW in March before you get Imposters next month.  And, no, of course you shouldn't do that.  You should get Imposters as soon as you possibly can, because you're super excited about the Thorn/Constabulary crossover event.

Right?

Right.

Monday, August 28, 2017

GOTCHA!: A Bad Movie I've Watched Many, Many, MANY Times




Bad Movies
It's high time to get political, or at least political in terms of bad 80s political movies go. Well, sort of political.  Gotcha is kind of a genre grab-bag of movies, in that it tries to be equal parts political thriller, coming-of-age romance and absurdist comedy.  Yeah, it's pretty strange.

We start out with Anthony Edwards being the king of some sort of campus-wide paintball assassination game that could only happen in the eighties.  I mean, you needed that strange combination of casual neglect and reckless behavior that existed only in college in the eighties.  Or, at least, movies about college in the eighties.  The point is: you have a bunch of college kids running around campus with realistic looking guns, and no one really bats an eye about it.  It makes no sense, but it’s a set-up we need so the finale works.  Which is… well, I’ll get to that.

Having established that, we also establish that Anthony Edwards is a complete failure with the ladies.  I mean, I KNOW, who would have guessed that a guy who plays with toy guns in college wouldn’t be a total babe magnet? We see his failure in play when he tries to ask out the girl whose sweater gets ruined by a stray paintball, and she (obviously) doesn't think this is a great prospect for her.  They even have Anthony Edwards complain to his actual babe-magnet friend (Manolo) and roommate about this in the middle of a college lecture.  The only purpose of this scene is so he can say, “I’m never gonna get laid!” loud enough just when everything in the lecture hall gets suddenly quiet.  Which is absurd, but that’s the movies for you.  Although I kind of love that the professor, played to dorkish perfection, says, “As a future veterinarian, you should know that every dog has his day.”  And says it in such a way as to convey, “Hey, I look like a nerd, my friend, but nowadays I am hip deep in the ladies.  Hip. Deep.”   The real purpose of this scene, though, is to let us know that there is a tranquilizer dart gun on campus.  That may come up later.

 
There's no way this can be mistaken as anything other than a fun college game.
There's no way this can be mistaken as
anything other than a fun college game.
Then the plot starts to move along: Anthony Edwards is traveling to Europe with his horndog friend for Spring Break.  In Paris, they split up, as Manolo decides to pursue a Swiss girl by—and I’m not making this up—pretending to be a terrorist on the run.  THAT’S HIS ACTUAL PLAY.  Meanwhile, Anthony Edwards goes to some bar and has a Monty Python bit with the waiter.

I mention that because it is indicative of how this movie has no consistent tone.  It gives us farcical comedy one moment, sappy romance in another, and deadly serious drama after that, whipping around between these poles.  Seriously, this movie has Russian spies shooting real bullets at Anthony Edwards in one scene, and shortly after that he’s doing “Dave’s Not Here” bits with his parents’ maid on the phone.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

After getting his French drunk on, he meets Sasha, played by the alluring-but-never-quite-got-her-full-due-in-Hollywood Linda Fiorentino.  They have a bit of charming interplay and end up in bed together.  And then we’re in full on romance movie mode, as they have a montage of romancing around Paris, with really, really horrible music scoring it.  This song will kill your soul.  There’s also a whole bit where she “teaches him Europe”, and in turn he "teaches her America” which somehow involves slurping root beer floats.  Given that—SPOILER—Sasha is really an American spy from Pittsburgh, I can’t imagine she doesn’t think he’s a total schmuck for this whole thing.

She convinces him to change his travel plans and go to Berlin with her (while Manolo goes off to Madrid alone), and off they go.  She confesses that she’s a courier, so he knows he’s dealing with a low-level spy, and then they go into East Berlin for the real job.

Now, I have to admit the way Sasha pulls off this job is pretty clever.  She finds an innocent-looking patsy, takes him into East Germany.  Then she gives him a fake “package” (a strudel) that’s nothing, while slipping the real thing (a roll of film) into his bag without him knowing.   Then she ditches him, having given him the code phrase for “GET OUT OF EAST BERLIN”, and lets him smuggle the thing across.  With all his nervous energy focused on the strudel, he doesn’t even realize he’s got an extra roll of film and the custom agent thinks nothing of it.

And then there's a bit more comedy: once he’s back in West Berlin, and confirms that with the American soldier standing there, he turns and screams “FUCK YOU!” to East Berlin, and the soldier deadpans, “I been wanting to do that for six months.”  And then even more: he goes into a Burger King in West Berlin to get the real, American food he so desperately needs.  He was in East Berlin for a day.  ONE DAY.

Hhe goes to meet Sasha at their designated rendezvous, but someone else is there in her stead.  Since he doesn't know what's going on, he gives the strudel to Sasha’s contact, and while she's busy being confused, she gets killed by the Russian spies after him.  He gets chased and shot at, but manages to escape by hitching a ride with a bunch of German punks who inexplicably love Randy Newman songs.

Back home, shit gets real as Russian spies are after him, and his apartment has been tossed by mysterious people, and he realizes he has an extra roll of film.  He tries to talk to his parents, but they just think he's on drugs. He tries to go to the CIA, but he realizes that Sasha is there, working with the guys who trashed his apartment.  So, wanting to get to the bottom of things, he has Manolo use his LA Street Gang connections (WHAT?  Yeah, just roll with it.) to send the CIA on a bit of a wild goose chase, all to put Sasha in a car with him while ditching the rest of the CIA.

And really, as much as I love a “we don’t need no stinking badges” joke, there’s no way a sequence where several dozen Hispanic gang members pull guns on a few CIA agents doesn’t end HORRIBLY for everyone.  But we’re led to believe Manolo can flash a smile and say, “Remember the Alamo” and drive off, rather than end up with ten to twenty in a federal prison.

FINALLY, we get the point where Anthony Edwards and Linda Fiorentino are back on campus, with Russian spies after them.  Anthony Edwards goes back to the lecture hall and gets the tranq gun BECAUSE OF COURSE HE DOES, and we’re at the point where he’s playing the game from the beginning of the movie BUT FOR REAL.

Seriously, the whole movie is an elaborate set-up for this bit that’s only the last five minutes of the movie.  It’s like a complicated joke told by an eight-year-old, and it isn’t that funny.

He takes out two of the Russians, but the head Russian captures Linda Fiorentino, and there’s a tense stand-off where he’s got Anthony Edwards dead to rights.  But then some fratty choad who almost got Anthony Edwards in the game-playing part at the beginning of the movie sees this from a distance.  We’re supposed to remember this guy who looks like his picture could be in the dictionary next to “average white guy”, but he decides this is his moment.  He takes out his paint gun and shoots Anthony Edwards, and the sudden appearance of a red splotch confuses the Russian long enough for Anthony Edwards to make his move and tranq the guy.

THE DEUS EX MACHINA IS THE RANDOM, FORGETABLE GUY FROM THE BEGINNING.
The CIA has caught up with everyone, finally, and there’s hints that they might be interested in Anthony Edwards once he’s done with college.  Plus, despite figuring out that Linda Fiorentino is not a sexy European spy, but a sexy Pennsylvanian spy who had to have been dying on the inside during that whole "SLURPING ROOT BEAR FLOATS IS AMERICA" bit,  they seem to intend to stay together.

And then Anthony Edwards shoots the girl-with-the-stained-sweater in the ass with a tranq because she told him to get lost.  That is literally the final image in the movie: entitled misogynistic assault, played for laughs.

America! Fuck yeah!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Worldbuilding with Amanda Downum

Hey all-- right now I'm pretty busy, but next month I'm teaching a worldbuilding class with Amanda Downum, through the Writers' League of Texas.  It should be a fun and informative class.
Need help introducing the world of your speculative fiction novel or stories without dumping an encyclopedia of background information on your readers?

Want to learn to integrate your worldbuilding into drama and character?
Strong worldbuilding is the foundation for fantastic fiction, from Middle-Earth of The Lord of the Rings to Hogwarts of Harry Potter. But when and where do you add details, and how much is too much? This class will focus on tools to build rich, believable worlds and techniques to integrate that work into your fiction, whether you’re starting a project from scratch or want to add nuance to an existing story. 
 
In this class, learn techniques to build a rich, immersive world, without infodumping or overwhelming readers. Particular focus will be given to worldbuilding without dry infodumps and on incorporating worldbuilding into characterization and description.
 
If you live in the Austin area, come check it out.  More details here.