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.


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.


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.
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.

*- 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.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Promise of the Asterisk

So, I've been on a bit of a clean and organize binge of late, and in doing so pulled down my copy of The Sorceress of Darshiva.  I bought this book right when it came out, so the conclusion to The MalloreonThe Seeress of Kell was still a year away, and the new series, The Eleniumwas just getting started.  And all that was reflected in the front matter of the book.

Oh, there was something ever so tantalizing about that asterisk and its promise of a book that was Forthcoming.  It let you know that there was a PLAN in the works. 

So I've always gotten excited when I get my author copies of each new book, and right there in the front matter it lays out a little more of a promise, a bit more of The Plan. 

I don't know why, but it always thrills me.  I think because it is that explicit promise I'm making to the readers: More is on the way.  And that promise is a thing I take very seriously.  I don't like to tell you that a book is coming unless I know it's coming.  I make good on what I tell you I'm going to do. 

So I need to get back to it, so I can keep fulfilling that promise.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Power of the Review

Reviews are a critical part of a novelist's life.  We get them, we obsess over them, and we need them. 

I mean, I read every one that I see.  Every one.  Even the ones that hurt-- and oh lord, do some of them hurt.  But I see that as a necessary thing.  The hurtful, rip-the-bandaid-off aspect of the bad reviews are part of the process.  It's part of understanding that you're never going to please everyone.

Remember: even the great classics, even your most favorite, beloved books have 1-star reviews on Amazon. 

But I want to talk to the readers out there: remember that reviews are YOUR tool.  If you have a book you love, a writer you adore, then the best thing you can do is get on Amazon, Goodreads and anywhere else you can go and SCREAM IT TO THE HILLTOPS that you love that book.  You will make that writer's day.

So go do that.  It can be for one of mine, if you're so inclined, or someone else.  There are plenty of worthy writers who need a bit of your love.  So go give some, because it doesn't cost you anything.  Love is a self-replenishing commodity, spread it around.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Quick Check In

Hello, readers.  Finishing up many things on this end, including the final edit of A Parliament of Bodies.  It's a heavy time in the word-mines, and once that's turned in (and a few organizational/cleaning projects at home), it'll be time to focus on What's Next.  In the mean time, here's the new cover banner with Way of the Shield added.  I'm really excited about this cover, this book and this new series. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

My Favorite Line for Inspiration

Quick post here, as I'm pretty busy this week, but the question of the week over at SFF Seven is for favorite inspirational quote.  And mine is my perennial answer whenever this comes up, Jimmy Dugan's response from A League of Their Own when told that baseball "just got too hard".

"It's supposed to be hard.  If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it.  The hard is what makes it great."

That's a line I remind myself of whenever I need that push, whenever things feel too much of a challenge, too unsurmountable.  And with that, I push through.

Monday, March 12, 2018


There is something about a hero with a shield.

There is something about a hero who strives to not just protect people, but to be a beacon, a symbol, a source of hope for those around them. 

When I was figuring out the four different story paths we would see in Maradaine, I know one of them was going to have be something of a "classic" hero-- that big boy scout of a hero that is the heart of and spirit of what the best of Maradaine and Druthal could be.  A person who not only understood the ideals, but tried to live by them-- even if they stumble.

They needed to be a character that embodied hope and light, even as things went dark around them. 
That's what a hero who carries a shield means.  That's why Dayne is part of the Tarian Order, who pledge to put themselves between the helpless and harm.  And that's what I wanted the cover of the first book of this new series to evoke.  And did Paul Young deliver.

The Way of the Shield comes out on October 2, 2018.

Dayne Heldrin always dreamed of being a member of the Tarian Order. In centuries past, the Elite Orders of Druthal were warriors that stood for order, justice, and the common people. But now, with constables, King’s Marshals, and a standing army, there is little need for such organizations, and the Tarian Order is one of the last remnants of this ancient legacy. Nevertheless, Dayne trained his body and mind, learned the arts of defense and fighting, to become a candidate for the Tarian Order.

When a failed rescue puts Dayne at fault for injuring the child of a powerful family, his future with the Tarians is in jeopardy. The Parliament controls the purse strings for the Order, and Dayne has angered the wrong members of Parliament. He returns to the capital city of Maradaine in shame, ready to be cast out of the Order when the period of his candidacy ends.

Dayne finds Maradaine in turmoil, as revolutions and dark conspiracies brew around him, threatening members of Parliament and common people alike. Dayne is drawn into the uproar, desperate not to have one more death or injury on his conscience, but the Order wants him to stay out of the situation. The city threatens to tear itself apart, and Dayne must decide between his own future and his vow to always stand between the helpless and harm.

Goodreads Page for THE WAY OF THE SHIELDAvailable at AmazonBarnes & NobleIndieBound and more!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Different Mediums of Writing: I Once Was A Playwright

So, my bio says "playwright" evening though I've not done much playwriting of late.  And most of my plays have been short ones, which is funny, because I don't think I'm very good at short stories, but I can do short plays pretty well.

For a long while, I regularly participated in the "Out of Ink" project, where we would receive a set of three "ingredients" for a play on Friday evening, and by Sunday afternoon we were supposed to have written a ten-minute play based on those ingredients, and then eight were chosen for a workshop production. Here's a smattering of my favorites from those plays.

2000:  Last Train Out of Illinois  My first year with Scriptworks, the rules involved boots, a character directly addressing the audience, and someone performing an “aria”.  I had, at the time, had the vague idea of a Tom Waitsish Musical called “Last Train Out of Illinois”, but all I had was Atmosphere and an Ending. Which is just fine for a ten-minute piece.
2003: Danger Girl’s Night Off  The rules dictated 1. something involving superheroes and 2. a seduction, so I immediately thought of a grown-up sidekick who just wanted to have a date night.  This was a lot of fun. 
2007: Hourglass  I’m really pleased with this one.  The rules involved 1. A physical transformation on stage, 2. a secret and 3. a piece of music connecting to a memory.  This may have been, for me, the most synergous set of rules.  The discovery of an old hourglass reminds an old woman of the true paternity of her child.  Hannah Kenah did really lovely work on stage going from 107 to 20.
2008: Ten Minutes Ago   The play goes backwards!  That was the rule that had to define this one.  The idea I was struck with here was having an innocuous instigation (a woman answering her door) lead to events that had disastrous consequences (her husband and a stranger dead in her living room), and then show it Consequences-Events-Instigation.  This one was challenging to stage, but enjoyable.
2010: Entropy  “Time is Running Out”, “Use the Beginning and End of Finnegan’s Wake” and “A Ceremony of Forgetting”.  How does this NOT say “two people stuck in a time loop”?  OK, it does to me, because I’m a sci-fi geek.
2011: Slept the Whole Way Again, the rules sent me to an SF place: the play needed to span 3000 years and have 300 characters.  So a cryosleep ship that missed its target and kept everyone in stasis for 3000 years made perfect sense to me.
2013: The Observer Effect This grew out a strange idea of someone being labeled "history's greatest monster" due to a mistake-- and ultimately not even their own mistake.  It's deeply silly. 

So, here's the thing-- if you're in a play-producing mood?  You got a need or hankering to put on a ten-minute play?  Especially in a science-fictional venue, as most of these are sci-fi plays?  HAVE AT 'EM.  Seriously, you want to produce them, go for it. They're silly, they're fun, and they tend to be production-cost light.  Only rule I have is: let me know. That's it. 

I do kind of miss playwriting.  Someday I'll do another one, or pull out one of the ones I wrote and never produced and give it another polishing pass.  But right now, I've got enough things on my plate.  Back down to the word mines.

Monday, March 5, 2018

We're finally here at the launch week for LADY HENTERMAN'S WARDROBE-- the second Streets of Maradaine novel and the seventh novel total in the full Maradaine sequence.*  I'm thrilled and excited, as always.  I really love this book-- but of course, I love all of them.  But it was a lot of fun to write, as I loved getting back to writing Asti and Verci Rynax and all their friends.  I wouldn't say they're my favorite characters to write-- because how can you decide something like that-- but I do love writing them talking to each other.**

And I'm thrilled with the response the book has been getting.  RT Reviews calls it a Top Pick with  .  IO9 named it one of the books "Well Worth Checking Out" this month, and Barnes & Noble SF&F Blog listed it among the best fantasy books for the month.  Publishers Weekly said it features "a complete and consistent fantasy world populated with lively characters".  The Speculative Herald says, "I’m happy to report that this follow up is just as exciting and fun as the last one", and SF&F Reviews says, "This is kick-arse fantasy."

So what are you waiting for?

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.

Goodreads Page 
Available at Amazon , Barnes & NoblesIndieBound and more!

*- Funny thing, you could list the full Maradaine sequence two ways: release order, or in-world chronological.  Lady Henterman's Wardrobe is the seventh book by either metric.  
**- And I'm excited to get back to writing them, and Veranix, and all three of them together, when I get started on the third Streets novel, The Fenmere Job.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Keeping Stories From Getting Too Complex

The question put forth this week: How do you keep your story from being too complex?

And I think-- you're asking me, the person with four interlocking series running concurrently?  You think I know how to keep things too complex?

Well, in a real way, the multi-series tactic is my way of keeping things from getting too complex. 

Rather than one, enormous sprawling story of epic epicness and a cast of a dozen protagonists, I have four relatively contained, discrete storylines in individual books.  That helps me keep my head clear of the different threads, and hopefully keeps readers from getting to bogged in the weeds, either.

(Though one of my beta readers had a "who is this guy again?" moment with a key secondary character in the draft of A Parliament of Bodiesso that was a good note to reclarify his introduction...)

But I am writing something deeply complex, and it's crucial I keep it all straight.  That's why spreadsheets, timelines (let's hear it for Aeon Timeline!), outlines and other organizational tools are so crucial to me.  Part of the point is making that work seem invisible to the reader, so they just jump on the roller coaster and go.

Hopefully, that's what I'm doing.  Now back to it.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Cover Art, and Working With Paul Young

So, I'm not going to share it, but the first cover art I received for Lady Henterman's Wardrobe was... not good. 
Most of the time when I get a cover art email from my editor, it's very exciting.  I'm thrilled to see what vision has come from my books and artist notes.

When that first Lady Henterman cover came in... oh, no, I did not have that feeling.

But I took action, and wrote to my editor about how I felt, and we communicated our issues with the cover artist, who then produced something else.  Something with similar concepts, but stronger execution.  And that was what became our cover.

And in a little bit-- shortly after Lady Henterman releases (eight days away!), we'll be revealing the cover for The Way of the Shield.  l like it a lot, let me tell you.  It's cover that tells you right away who Dayne Heldrin is, and Paul's once again done an excellent job. 
(Same for the cover for A Parliament of Bodiesbecause we did that work before we decided that Way of the Shield would come out first.  You probably won't get to see it for a while, but: it's cool.)

Let me tell you, I have been really lucky to have Paul Young as my cover artist for all the Maradaine books.  He gets the look and feel that I'm going for, and he actually reads the text of the book looking for ideas and imagery that pops out.  I think he's done me a lot of good with every book, and I'm proud to have his work be the calling card for mine.  
So, thanks Paul. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

On My Mind: Building Community

So, this past weekend I was at Boskone, and it was a wonderful time, as I was reminded what an amazing community we have in SF/Fantasy Literature.  There are some amazing people in this business, who are filled with wisdom and warmth and kindness.   I had the great fortune of sharing the signing table with Mary Robinette Kowal, who all of these attributes in abundance.  We, as a community, are blessed to have her in it.

Sadly, this past week, I've also been reminded that we have a way to go, and there are some people who thrive in being terrible, and making things unpleasant for those around them.  And that behavior, sadly, gets them notoriety.  They get talked about, which serves their ends.  I won't give them the time of day.

Because the people who are wonderful, who do great work and are good people-- they're the ones who deserve notoriety.  They're the ones who should get notice and have their names mentioned over and over.  So here is a large list of great people who deserve your attention. 
First off, some of the people who I have been personally connected to, who have been a wonderful part of my local community: Stina Leicht, who wrote Cold Iron and Black Thorne and the upcoming Persephone Station, and gave back to the community for years by running the ArmadilloCon Writers Workshop before passing it to me.  Rebecca Schwarz, who is running it now.  Amanda Downum, author of The Necromancer ChroniclesPatrice Sarath, author of Gordath Wood and the upcoming The Sisters Mederos.  Ari Marmell, who writes the Mick Oberon and Widdershin books.  Nicky Drayden, who had her fantastic debut last year, The Prey of the Gods.  Chris Brown, who wrote Tropic of Kansas and is one of the nicest guys you'll meet. Alex C. Wrenick, who writes shorts and poems, also as Camille Alexa.  BookTuber Extraordinaire Thomas Wagner.

Also, my fabulous compatriots on SFFSeven: Jeffe Kennedy, James A. Moore (who wrapped me in a great big bear hug this weekend), K.A. Krantz, Marcella Burnard, Veronica Scott and our newest member, Vivian Jackson!  Vivian was a student of the aforementioned ArmadilloCon Workshop, making her another great success story from that program!

Friends, I'm not even scratching the surface.  There are so many more: Caroline Yoachim. Fonda Lee. Annie Bellet. Elizabeth Bear-- someone who treated me like a peer well before I earned it.  Courtney SchaferT. Frohock. ML Brennan. Spencer Ellsworth. Jaym Gates. Laura M. Hughes. Sarah Chorn. Foz Meadows. Melanie R. MeadorsMike UnderwoodPAUL WEIMER, possibly one of the nicest people in this business.

I could go on and on, because we have so many amazing people in this business.  Who else do you think deserves some praise?

Monday, February 19, 2018


The past few weeks have been crazy busy-- as you can probably imagine-- and as I finish up at Boskone (which has been a lovely time), I realized we're only two weeks away from the release of Lady Henterman's Wardrobe.  These final pre-release days are always a bit on the stressful side, but also exciting.  Even on a seventh book, that doesn't change.
But we have early reviews!  And those always make things easier.  For example, over at RT Book Reviews, they said,
"As the second book in this Maradaine series, Maresca has room to let his story breathe without losing its thrills as he continues to worldbuild and reintroduce his charismatic antiheroes. By the time the story comes to a close, you'll be itching for a third helping from the author."
And at Publishers Weekly, they've said:
Fans of the series will welcome this enjoyable return to its colorful setting.
It was kind of challenging to find a pull-quote from that one, because the review is a bit spoiler-y.  So click at your own risk.
But this leaves me feeling pretty good as we come up onto the release.  And you still have time to pre-order it, so get to it!

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.
Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and more!

Thursday, February 15, 2018


With the release of Lady Henterman's Wardrobe just a few weeks away, you still have time to read The Holver Alley Crew so you are up to speed when Lady Henterman comes out.  And why wouldn't you want to fall in love with Asti & Verci Rynax, and the rest of the crew? 
Look what people said about it:

From the Bibliosanctum:
Certainly, fans of caper stories should be making The Holver Alley Crew their number one priority. A strong start right out of the gate, this series opener is a well-written and brilliantly executed example of the fantasy heist genre, and of all the novels written by Marshall Ryan Maresca so far, this might be my favorite one yet! The Rynax brothers and their crew are so good at their jobs that they will steal your heart from the very first page, and I simply can’t wait to see what the gang will be up to next.
From The Speculative Herald:
Maresca crafted a fresh and thrilling heist story that moves at a great pace. This is the type of book you just feel the need to read cover to cover, looking/wishing for the pause button on real life until you finish.
From JBrondar Book Reviews:
This is my first book from Marshall Ryan Maresca and I loved it. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next books in the series. I will be on the lookout for Maresca’s other books too.
There’s some fantastic planning scenes, as the team pieces together exactly what they’re going to do and when. Then there’s the tension of the job, and this is something which is brought out to perfection – each action is watchmaker-precise, and each failure can lead to a cascade of other failures – watching the team anticipate and deal with these (or not) is agonizing and wonderful.
The neighborhood of North Seleth and Holver Alley are well-written and thoroughly described environments that I could visualize being in any city. The alley is a close-knit community where the neighbors help each other out and everybody knows everybody else.  The reader gets to be immersed in this little segment of Maradaine- bars, churches, sewers, the chemist shop, a bakery… you name it. This whole world has depth equivalent to the most well-known and loved fantasy works on offer.  The final verdict: You’ve GOT to read this book!

Mixing high fantasy and urban fantasy, The Holver Alley Crew is the first novel of Maresca’s third interconnected series set in the fantasy city of Maradaine.

The Rynax brothers had gone legit after Asti Rynax’s service in Druth Intelligence had shattered his nerves, and marriage and fatherhood convinced Verci Rynax to leave his life of thievery.  They settled back in their old neighborhood in West Maradaine and bought themselves a shop, eager for a simple, honest life. Then the Holver Alley Fire incinerated their plans. With no home, no shop, and no honest income—and saddled with a looming debt—they fall back on their old skills and old friends.

With a crew of other fire victims, Asti and Verci plan a simple carriage heist, but the job spirals out of control as they learn that the fire was no accident. Lives in Holver Alley were destroyed out of a sadistic scheme to buy the land.  Smoldering for revenge, burdened with Asti’s crumbling sanity, the brothers lead their crew of amateurs and washouts to take down those responsible for the fire, no matter the cost.

Available at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and more!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Randomness and Fire

It's been a busy few weeks, and that busyness isn't stopping any time soon, since I've got to get plenty of ducks in a row before going to Boskone this weekend.  I've got the usual pre-conference prep, including practicing my reading selections (Friday, 5pm!) and making sure my family has plenty of food for the days I'm gone.

So, here's a fire dance.  Enjoy.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Why You Aren't Writing That Novel

OK, time for some hard truths.  You haven't finished writing That Novel.  You've been talking about it for years, and you can visualize all the elements of it so easily.  You know it, back and forth, inside and out.  It's there, waiting.

But you haven't written it.

Why is that?

I could tell you it's about discipline-- and it is, no doubt.  It takes discipline, it takes putting your ass in the chair (or feet at the standing desk), and just plain doing the work.  It takes not going to that party, not binging that series, not spending yet another night refreshing Facebook every twenty minutes.  It takes just digging in and getting it done.

But most of you don't want to do that.
Here's the ugly truth, dear reader, and look deep inside yourself and ask yourself if this is why you haven't written That Novel.

You don't want to write a novel.  You want to have written it.

I get that.  I get wanting the glory of having it in your hands, being able to say, "Oh, I wrote a novel", but not having to do to the unsexy, daily-grind part.  I'm in the process of drafting my tenth novel (thirteenth if you count the ones that are sitting fallow on  hard drive), and I always wish there was a way to fast-forward this phase of it.  At this point, I know what I'm doing in terms of writing a novel, but it's still hard, grinding, go-down-to-the-word-mines work

And you're never going to write That Novel until you come to terms with that part of it, and get down to doing it. 

So what are you waiting for?

Monday, February 5, 2018

And now the next work begins...

So, now that I've made the big announcement, I can stop being cagey about what I've been working on.  The Way of the Shield  has been turned in, and next up I finalize edits on Parliament of Bodies.  

Plus, I've got the draft of Shield of the People well underway.  I'm driving forward with that, and laying down the groundwork so once that's done, I can jump right in on The Fenmere Job.  Plus, Lady Henterman's Wardrobe comes out in one month, and while the book is done, there's the usual book-launch promotional work to be done.

As you can imagine, that's plenty on my plate.  My upcoming year is pretty well penciled in, and February is going to be a busy month.  But I'm so excited about what's to come.  Lady Henterman is a fun one, people, and you're going to get your hands on it very soon. 

As for me, I'll be down in the word mines.  There's a whole lot to dig up now.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Grand Announcements for Maradaine

I've been hinting for quite some time about big news, and finally I'm ready to tell you about it. 
First, the slightly sad news: the third Maradaine Constabulary novel, A Parliament of Bodieswill not be released until Spring 2019.  I know many of you have been anxious for the next installment with Satrine and Minox, and it is going to come out, just a few months later.  This is entirely due to production schedule and release strategy-- because we've got something else planned for release in the fall of 2018.  And so much more.

What is going on?  Well, I've signed a contract for FOUR new books!

First off, coming out on October 3rd, 2018, we have THE WAY OF THE SHIELD, the first novel of the fourth Maradaine-set series, called The Maradaine Elite.  What is THE WAY OF THE SHIELDand The Maradaine Elite?  Glad you asked!

Monday, January 29, 2018


So, last year I launched the third Maradaine series, The Streets of Maradaineto a fair amount of praise and acclaim:

"The charming antiheroes will leave you rooting for them long after the dust settles." -RT Book Reviews
"A strong start right out of the gate, this series opener is a well-written and brilliantly executed example of the fantasy heist genre, and of all the novels written by Marshall Ryan Maresca so far, this might be my favorite one yet!" -Bibliosanctum"The final verdict: You’ve GOT to read this book!" -Powder and Page
"The whole narrative is tightly plotted, and each page makes you want to turn to the next – it’s got fires, knife fights, brawls, daring escapes, explosions, and a lot of heart – and as such, I’m looking forward to seeing what adventures the Holver Alley Crew go onto from here." -SF&F Reviews

That's a lot to live up to, and hopefully Lady Henterman's Wardrobe does the job.  I can tell you, way back when I first wrote Holver AlleyI was talking it over with one of my beta-readers, and the comparison to Firefly came up, which makes sense.  Both are about rag-tag teams of hero-theives who form a psuedo-family, and Asti and Verci manage to be like Mal and Zoe AND River and Simon to each other at the same time.

So, I told her, "Well, along those lines, the next book with them would be sort of a mash-up of [EPISODE], [EPISODE] and [EPISODE]."  (I'll keep which episodes to myself, because: spoilers.)  Her response: "I will not be satisfied until that book is published."

Well, only five weeks to go.

Many things are afoot, and if you join my mailing list, you’ll stay up to date.  So why not?

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Balancing Health While Writing

If you've been following me for any length of time, you know that January is a hard time on me, health-wise.  January in Austin is when the cedar pollen starts up, and that always does a number on me.  One year it hit me so hard, I had vertigo for a week. 

Of course, this sort of thing affects creativity, affects the work.  I try not to let it too much, and it does become a matter of powering through and just getting it done.  Which I've been making a point of doing, even if right now I'm highly medicated and a little out of it.  The point is I need to focus on the work, I need to get it done, because... well, not doing it is worse for me, emotionally.  A few days without writing or other creative work, and I get very testy.  That was the worst part of that vertigo bout-- I literally couldn't work. Eyes couldn't focus.  I couldn't do much of anything but lie in bed and watch West Wing.  It was terrible.

So thus I stay highly medicated right now to avoid that.  And keep working.  Which I've been doing: manuscript delivered to my editor this week.  Now onto the next things. 

There's always the next things.

Many things are afoot, and if you join my mailing list, you'll stay up to date.  So why not?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Boskone Schedule (Feb 16-18)

Hey folks-- as I've mentioned before, I'm going to be at Boskone in a few weeks, and now I've got a schedule!  I've been to Boskone twice before, and it's always a really good show.  The overall schedule, and mine in particular, is quite excellent, so I'm looking forward to it.  So if you're in the Boston area in the middle of February, come check it out.

Reading by Marshall Ryan MarescaFormat: Reading16 Feb 2018, Friday 17:00 - 17:30, Independence (Westin)Marshall Ryan Maresca

Fresh Fantasy WorldsFormat: Panel16 Feb 2018, Friday 20:00 - 21:00, Marina 4 (Westin)“High” fantasies in much of western speculative literature lean heavily on the European Middle Ages for inspiration. Pastoral landscapes, Camelottian castles, noble knights, distressed damsels. All much loved — all done to death. (Or killed off by George R. R. Martin.) Why do we still cling to them so? What’s it take to create a fresh fantasy world? Besides European models, what other options are there? And how do you enliven tropes, settings, and situations that have become old hat?Gerald L. Coleman, Andrea Corbin, John R. Douglas (M), Marshall Ryan Maresca, Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Autographing: Jeffrey A. Carver, Theodora Goss, Mary Robinette Kowal, Marshall Ryan MarescaFormat: Autographing17 Feb 2018, Saturday 11:00 - 12:00, Galleria - Autographing (Westin)Mary Robinette Kowal, Jeffrey A. Carver, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Theodora Goss

Parable of the Sower by Octavia ButlerFormat: Panel18 Feb 2018, Sunday 12:00 - 13:00, Burroughs (Westin)Octavia Butler's prescient dystopian novel Parable of the Sower was written 25 years ago. Set in the 2020s, it presents a society beset by climate change, social and economic collapse, corporate greed, wealth inequality … need we go on? What did Butler’s masterpiece get right — and wrong? How do her beleaguered characters cope? And what can the novel teach us today?Jennifer Pelland (M), Vandana Singh, Kenesha Williams, Scott Lynch, Marshall Ryan Maresca

Ending a SeriesFormat: Panel18 Feb 2018, Sunday 14:00 - 15:00, Burroughs (Westin)After writing three novels (or more!), how do you pull all your loose ends together to provide a satisfying conclusion? What are readers looking for in the final book of a series? And if you leave openings for another triptych or two, can it really feel like The End?E. C. Ambrose (M), Marshall Ryan Maresca, Debra Doyle, Walter H. Hunt, Sarah Smith

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Tertiary Characters Taking the Stage

So, I've often said how my time acting on stage has, in part, informed my writing.  Namely, to treat characters as a part that an actor would enjoy playing.  That means, when I bring in a tertiary character, I usually plan to have some fun with them.  Give them a deep, inner life that isn't necessarily on the page.  Sometimes to the point that they take a greater role in the narrative than I ever intended.  For example, when I was writing The Thorn of Dentonhillthe character of Hetzer literally only existed at first so Colin had someone to talk to when standing on street corners or sitting in the turnabout.  But as Colin ran headlong into the big confrontation at the end of that one, I realized Hetzer wouldn't let him go alone, and suddenly Hetzer became a crucial part of the climax.

I had plenty of opportunity for those kinds of characters in Lady Henterman's Wardrobe.  Part of the plot demands that the Rynax Brothers and their crew do a pit of con-artistry, and that means there are always the random people who they do that to.  Be it a guard at the office building they want to get into, a public servant they want to get information out of, or a head butler they want to hire them, they're constantly interacting with people briefly, and I strive to make those people pop.

But, for me, the ones that definitely took a life of their own was a pair of boys on the street.  In Lady Henterman's WardrobeMila continues to have her "Bessie's Boys" to run errands for the crew, be an extra pair of lookout eyes, or whatever else she needs.  In Holver Alleythey were largely a nameless group of young boys she bossed around.  Here, we get to meet a few of them, and two of them-- for me at least-- kept coming back into the plot. 

The youngest, the tiniest of the Bessie's Boys, the twins, Tarvis and Jede.  Both of them, at the tender age of six, are possibly the most savage and cold-hearted little bastards you'd ever meet.  And, oh my lord, were those two just a delight to write. 

And you'll get to meet them both soon enough, when Lady Henterman comes out in March.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Secondary Projects - 2018 Edition

I've always maintained that having secondary projects are an important and valuable thing for a writer to do-- usually as something else to work on when the words aren't flowing on the primary.  And that's a system that's worked for me.

Right now, my head is wanting to run down the road after ALL THE PROJECTS and I wonder how much of that is because it's January and I'm hopped up on allergy meds all the time.  Focusing on one is a bit of a challenge right now.  I think, though, once I clear a few things off the decks, then I'll have a better sense of the landscape and how to focus on multiple things at once.

One thing I am doing right now is focusing on some shorter form work.  Now, I'm still rather longwinded, so I'm talking novellas, not short-stories.  Most of them that I've been fiddling with are on the fringes of the greater Maradaine sequence.  This includes:
  • A story that shows some of Reverend Pemmick's backstory, namely how he knows about Kellirac. 
  • A story focusing on the island Kaiana was born on, after the Druth abandoned it to the Poasians.
  • A story following Phadre and Jiarna as they go to their new academic appointment.  
That's a sampling of what I'm working on right now, as well as edits on the next two novels, drafting the novel to come after those, and...

There's a lot on my plate, and my brain wants me to eat it all at once.

If that's a metaphor that makes sense.

Anyhow, that will give you some sense on what to look for in the future.  But not to the detriment of the planned novels.  Everything is on track for those.  More soon.  For now: back to work.

In the meantime: If you want to stay up-to-date with ALL THE THINGS, I have my newsletter, which you can subscribe to here:

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Leveling Up Goal This Year

So, this is going to sound a bit strange, but my goal for this year, as a writing, is to train myself at being more efficient.

Now, I know some of you are like, "What are you talking about, Marshall?  You put out two books a year, you're a machine." And that pace is going to continue, of course.

And while I like the label of, "writing machine", the machine could be more efficient.  I could do better.  More to the point, I feel like I need to.

As I've mentioned before, I kind of fake being "superfast" with planning and outlining.  There's a long building, planning and germinating process that takes me a long time, and much of that for the Maradaine books was frontloaded well before any of you even heard of me. 

So, some of the building, planning and germination for other projects have now reached the point where they're blooming.  Stories that have been just sort of percolating in the back of my head have now starting coming out.  Of course, I also have to do other work, work that's under contract.  Work you all are looking forward to.  Heck, work I'm excited to finish and get moving on.

For example, this week I wrote several hundred words on two different secondary projects, one of which is Maradaine-tangential, they other is something else entirely.  I've also finished hand-written edits on a manuscript, and I'm about to start putting those into final edits.  So I should be sending a finished manuscript out in a couple weeks.  And then I need to start hand-edits on another manuscript.  PLUS drafting another new novel.

That's a lot of creative juggling.  I can do it, but right now, it's clumsy juggling.  I can do better.  And that's the goal for next year.

So, I better get to that.

Monday, January 8, 2018

OH GOD, YOU DEVIL!: A Bad Movie I Watched Many, Many, Many Times

Oh God, You Devil was the third movie in the bizarrely fascinating Oh God! series, starring George Burns, and for several months, I did not believe it was real.

See, the first time I had seen a commercial for it, I was 11 years old, and it aired during Saturday Night Live.  I had known, in my limited experience with the show at the time, that SNL aired "fake" commercials, and the idea of a movie where George Burns played BOTH God and The Devil was just SO ABSURD that I presumed it was a joke that the SNL people cooked up. 

No, it was real.

So, a bit about the Oh, God! movies, which were a deeply strange vehicle for George Burns, where he plays God.  In the first two movies (Oh, God! and Oh, God! Book II), the pattern is more or less the same-- God shows up in someone's life, and that person is the only one who can see and hear him.  God expects them to act as a modern day prophet, and while they do, it creates enough of a stir that some form of legal hearing is held to determine that person's sanity and welfare, and God shows up at said hearing to show up the doubters, and then leaves the person's life again.

The only real difference is, in the first one, it's John Denver's life he upturns, and in the second, it's a little girl.  Burn's God is kind of a blandly non-denominational, vaguely-Christian God that the kind of person who says "I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual" could be comfortable enough with.  You could even argue that God's choosing a form that would appeal to the middle-American vaguely Christian crowd, but that doesn't necessarily represent who God truly is.  It's a movie that strives not to offend by showing God but being non-committal about it.

The third movie breaks the formula, so you kind of have to give them credit for that.  Instead, it focuses on Ted Wass's Bobby Shelton. You remember Ted Wass fro previous Bad Movie entry Sheena, right?  This was his career heyday, I presume, which wasn't much.  I do have a strong recollection at the time my aunt once declaring, "Why would you make a movie starring Ted Wass?"  This is the extent of his infamy.

We start when Bobby is a little kid and very sick, and his father prays over him.  Said praying means God explicitly watches over Bobby. 
Jump ahead twenty-some-odd years, and Bobby is a happily-married-but-deeply-struggling musician. After missing out on yet another contract opportunity, he mutters the fateful words, "I'd sell my soul for a record deal." 

Enter Harry Tophet, aka The Devil, played by Burns.  He decides to buy said soul, even though the Watched Over By God red flag pops up on his computer. (For real.)  He ignores that and gets on Bobby to make the deal, which Bobby takes because the Devil presents himself as a music agent instead of the Devil.  As soon as the deal is signed, everything changes.

Everything.  Bobby suddenly finds his identity shifts to "Billy Wayne", rock-and-roll superstar.  He's suddenly huge, playing massive concerts, everything going amazing.  Confusing, but amazing.  Everything he wanted.

Except he wanted it as Bobby Shelton.  What's worse, since he's lost his identity, he's lost his wife, which is what he realizes he really wants in life.  He even stalks his wife, finding out she's pregnant, and there's just some guy there who's "Bobby". 

There's definitely some strangeness in this movie that there's a person-- presumably a real person with a soul (within the context of this movie's rules) who WAS Billy Wayne.  Some other person "becomes" Bobby,'s just confusing.  But, the point is, his wife isn't actually missing him.

When Bobby wants out, the Devil just laughs at him.  There's no out, because: Devil.  So Bobby prays to God to help him.  And then drinks heavily and takes a ton of pills.
And then we get the Big Scene that we've been building up to: the Split Screen of George Burns playing God and The Devil together. 

It's pretty nothing.

I mean, time freezes where they are, but at the same time we keep cutting to Bobby in his overdose thrashing, to give us some stakes.  But then, that makes you wonder, why is time only freezing in one place?

Anyhow, God and the Devil play one hand of poker for Bobby's soul.  One hand, five-card draw, just that.  So how does God win this over the Devil?  He raises.  He puts all of his "watched over" souls on the table.  The Devil decides that's too much, and folds.  Then God shows he had a busted flush. 
Bobby suddenly finds himself watching on the sidelines as "Billy" is found dead of an overdose.  They even flip "Billy" over to show he has another face, and... who is it?  What happened to that guy?  I'm not sure.  He doesn't matter, because God didn't come save him. 

I mean, God comes off as playing some serious favorites here, I'm just saying.

God chats up Bobby and takes him home, where everything is "normal" again-- his wife knows who he is, and as far as she knows, he went to Billy's concert that night to play in the band.  (Because Bobby, as "Billy", offered a gig to Fake-Bobby, because... reasons?) 
Finally we cut to a few years in the future, where Bobby's daughter is sick, and like his father, he prays for her, and sings "Fugue for Tinhorns" to her, which God joins in on, because that's what God does.

I mean, so much of this movie is all about that poker table scene, and when you come down to it, it's just George Burns doing his George Burns bit opposite himself with a slightly more sarcastic version of the same bit.  I mean, George Burns was a great presence, but he didn't exactly have range, you know?  So Two George Burns isn't really that exciting.

Fun story, this script apparently came about because the studio wanted another Oh God movie, and the writer had an abandoned script about a musician selling his soul to the devil on hand, so he polished it up to make it a movie.  Actual quote: "Not a good play, but it was there sitting on my shelf"

Not good, but it existed. 

That's about right.