Reading Goal Accomplished!

posted in: Fantasy, Reading, Review, Storytelling | 1

For the second year in a row, I’ve achieved my goal to complete my reading goal on Goodreads.  Last year, I was ambitious and did 25 books.  This year, I lost my mind and doubled that, thinking I could do 50.  I did it, but it was not easy.

Let me first say that while I reached 50 books read, the majority of those were audiobooks.  To be honest, I’m not a fast reader so audiobooks definitely help me both on my commute and while at home if we’re keeping the TV off.  Now, I learned some very valuable lessons when approaching these reading challenges and finding success: don’t over-extend yourself.  What I mean by this is I got to the point where I realized I could reach my goal but only if I read or listened to shorter books.  The problem here is I had books I really wanted to read but felt they would take too long to finish.  Obviously, I knew by the end that I needed to rethink my reading goal.

So for next year, I am giving myself some leeway and going to shoot for 30 books.  I’ll very likely read more than 30 but I hated feeling the pressure of finishing a book just so I could keep on track.  Reading in general is essential for me to not only learn but keep my mind active, not depending on stimulation by screen only.  I’m not proud of it but I am one of those people that can always have the TV on.  It doesn’t bother me to have it on just for background noise (this drives my wife crazy and is why we institute “no TV nights” in our house).

If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter then you are unfamiliar with my book reviews.  I like to  write three reviews for my favorite books I read for the last four months (Newsletters are released at the end of April, August, and December).  Below you will find some recommendations not included in any of this year’s newsletters:


The Gunslinger by Stephen King

The first book of The Dark Tower series has been around for awhile and was on “To read” list for years. I finally got into it and really enjoyed the book. It’s not a tough read and establishes interesting characters in an even more interesting world. Action and conflict are not lacking here. For fantasy lovers, it’s a must.


Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

This was a fun listen since Anna reads the book. She’s the Pitch Perfect girl if you’re unfamiliar with her. She’s also full of spunk and her personality comes through as she reads. I was not aware of her background and her journey to acting and becoming an Oscar-nominated actress so this kept me interested and made me laugh a lot.


Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I did a longer review of this one a few months back but with the movie adaptation coming out soon, I wanted to highlight it again. It’s a fast-paced virtual adventure with loads of geek-speak and 80s references, which is definitely trending again with Stranger Things Season 2 fresh in our minds. Check this one out even if you’re not a gamer or geek aficionado.

Call to Action: I encourage you to sign up over at Goodreads and take your own reading challenge for 2018.  It’s a lot of fun and if you’re like me, setting a challenge for yourself might get you to set aside time each day to put your nose in the pages.

December Update/Christmas Traditions

posted in: Film/TV, Life, Review, Storytelling | 0


My plan is to keep the normal schedule and format for the blog this month. 
The next flash fiction for the ongoing Shoals to the Hallowed series will be released on 30 December (this also happens to be my bday so I expect high praise in the comments section. If you don’t want to give that, I accept Amazon gift cards).  The third and last newsletter of the year will be released on the 31st.  If you want to sign up for that, please do so when prompted on the website or send me your email address and I’ll add you to the list.

For the month in general (we’re half way done already!), you’ll see a lot of Christmas themed posts.  I’m a big fan of Christmas.  The season (I prefer cold to hot always), movies and music (there’s just so many good options), food and drink (nothing like carbs, coffee, and whiskey to keep me comfortable), and traditions.   It’s these last that I want to explore a little today.


I can only speak for myself and my heart goes out to those who don’t care for the Christmas season for whatever the reason. 
I understand and get it.  However, I have pretty much nothing but good memories of the weeks and days leading up to Christmas.  My family never did anything crazy or outlandish (far from the Griswold experience).  We did the tree and lights.  Maybe a few other decorations around the house.  What I remember best was going to my grandparents’ house Christmas Eve to eat dinner and exchange gifts.  My grandpa would read the Christmas story from the Book of Luke and we’d all go on our merry way (no pun intended).  Christmas morning was getting up way too early (I was one of those kids who could not sleep no matter how late I stayed up), getting into our stockings first and waiting the appropriate amount of time before waking up my parents so we could get to the good stuff.

After we made a mess of the living room, we would eat breakfast and get ready for the day.  Usually we were out the door after noon and heading to the gift exchange locations with friends and families.  Dinner was usually at my grandparents’ house again with or without other family members who came in form out of town.  We ate, played games, and had the 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story playing in the background.  All in all, it was an easy traditional holiday season that I have fond memories of.

Now that I’m married, my wife and I have our own traditions that we’ve put in place and hope to carry on the rest of the way.  Our children will grow up with these and even have a part in adding to our family’s plans and activities from December to December.  Traditions are one of those things I really enjoy and Christmas allows for them to be focused and anticipated every year.

I’ll leave you with some do’s and don’ts:

Don’t spike the eggnog

Don’t stand under icicles

Don’t sit on Santa’s lap in an alleyway

Do spike your coffee

Do bundle up if it’s snowing

Do watch Christmas Vacation with a room full of friends and strangers (if you can)

Call to Action:  My hope is that you all have a great Christmas this year.  Even if past ones have not been worth remembering, I hope this one is.  Be with the ones you love.  Make sure to let them know how much you appreciate their being a part of your life.

How Pixar and Disney Help Me Appreciate Different Cultures

Let me start by saying I don’t come from a distinct cultural background.  As far as I know, my families on both sides came from European immigrants (that’s really a best guess).  So I don’t have much to work with when it comes to traditions or heritage that I use to identify with.  What’s interesting though is I have a continuing growing interest in different cultures.

Writing fantasy is the perfect outlet for me to be creative and create new cultures and peoples, coming up with languages, cuisine, fashion, traditions, holidays, religions, etc.  All of these require some foundation of how cultures develop and evolve over generations.  Some are forgotten while others are passed on from generation to generation with little change occurring.  For example, language in the United States is constantly evolving through pop culture and technology.  A hard drive back in 1940 is not necessarily the same thing as it is now.  However, in Iceland and other countries, language has remained mostly unchanged (see https://theculturetrip.com/asia/india/articles/the-10-oldest-languages-still-spoken-in-the-world-today/).

My interest in cultures (both fictional and real) has been bumped by Pixar and Disney’s recent push to explore times and places otherwise not touched in their expansive catalog.  We have Brave and Coco (Pixar) and Frozen and Moana (Disney).  I’m going to be honest here.  I really enjoy all of these films (most of all Moana, which my wife likes to tease me about).  Why do I like them?  Because you can tell the filmmakers truly wanted to explore the cultures of these peoples and introduce them in a celebratory way.  I can’t help but be drawn to this aspect of storytelling.

In my own writing and those of fantasy books I enjoy, I love how cultures (mind you made up ones) add a layer of reality to the story that pulls me in and keeps me engaged in the story.  There’s beauty and intrigue to be shown.  As we often see in the Pixar and Disney examples, it’s heritage and tradition that drive the protagonist to see their goal completed.  A theme I often explore is identity and there’s a great focus of pride in identity when it comes to these characters and where they come from.

For a guy (myself) that feels left out when it comes to heritage and culture, I love to immerse myself in these places and peoples who have vibrant traditions founded by their ancestors.  I love seeing these stories celebrated and shared with greater audiences because the diversity of the world is worth noticing.

Call to Action: It should still be in theaters, so I encourage everyone to go see Coco.  It’s a great film about family and the importance of remembering those who came before us.  You can’t go wrong.

Flash Fiction: A Boon of Opportunities

Old sweat and bubbling stew filled the abandoned farmhouse with their potent presence as the circle of mercenaries let a lull step between the lines of discussion.  There was a third scent and Chasiel, the Bloody Dove, could practically bite into it.  Anticipation.

“So,” said the lean and gray-haired man to her right, “you think it’s likely?”  Half his face bore the scars of a burning accident when he was a young man.  Whatever his real name was, Chasiel did not know it.  He had only ever been called Crisp to her knowledge.

Crisp’s question was not directed towards her but to the bull of a man across from her.  Feller Crowne held the honor of longest tenured among the miscreants making up the dozen or so Shivering Souls.  “Without question,” Crowne said in his high voice, famously unexpected to those who first met him.

Fenroe, to Chasiel’s left, was next to speak.  “Breshtk is broken.  Good opportunity to get our fingers in there and feel around.”

Chasiel smiled, knowing Fenroe could not help himself and his knack for using colorful phrases in any situtation.  He would try to make his grandmother blush if given the opportunity.  Chasiel took the small piece of kindling and set its end into the flames of the cook fire, eyes mesmerized by the flickering flames.

Crowne coughed.  “I care more about seeing who comes out alive once the dust of this hell storm settles…  The Holds may turn on Breshtk but it’s not weak.  Not in the least.  As long as Wielders live and Ki’Tanil, bastard fool that he is, breathe, Breshtk can come out of this mess.  Chasiel,you’re too quiet?”

She had kept silent, biding her time.  The constant talk of Breshtk and whatever nonsense the kings and queens of the Holds were bickering about had gotten bland on her tongue.  What did interest her however were opportunities to go unseen where otherwise eyes would be watchful for sell swords.  The sound in her throat preceded her words.  “The Silver Way had the contract and now we have it.  This noble of Teras expects mercenaries.  We can mimic that stupid symbol of the Silvs and do what we please once we’re sent on our merry task.”

“A boon of opportunities,” Fenroe said before whistling.

Crisp tok the handle of the stirring spoon in the cookpot and blew on the creamy meal.  Crowne rubbed at his eyes after some smoke invaded the brown orbs.  “A boon perhaps but still a damn risk.”

Chasiel agreed but preferred to think of it as more than opportunities to take gold out of the pockets of the Teras coffers.  No, for her, she saw a window to hamstring the noble bastards who continued to play their privileged game.  After she inhaled the segda smoke from her pipe, her namesake throat sound followed, serving as the reminder of her rage.

Reviewing the Punisher

posted in: Film/TV, Review | 2

Gut punch.  That’s what it felt like to watch and experience Netflix’s The Punisher Season 1.  Before I go into my review and impressions of the show, I need to say this is not a show for everyone.  Definitely not for kids and probably not for some adults.  If brutal scenes of violence are not your cup o’ tea, then don’t drink.

We got our first dose of the vigilante antihero of Frank Castle aka the Punisher in Netflix’s Daredevil Season 2.  He’s a mysterious figure fit with an arsenal befitting a small army who crosses paths with our friendly blind lawyer Matt Murdock aka Daredevil.  The latter doesn’t kill, feeling morally and spiritually convicted by his choices to fight crime whereas the Punisher pulls the trigger first, contemplating morality after the fact.

Actor, Jon Bernthal, gave a performance as Frank Castle that took everyone by surprise.  There have been previous feature film adaptations of the Marvel skull-symbol wearing badass.  Those have been somewhat true to the source material but lacking in impact.  Bernthal gives us a full drenching that embodies the Frank Castle of the comics.  He’s a US Marine vet whose family is murdered as collateral damage depending on the origin story of the comic run.  In all though, Frank’s birth as the Punisher is consistent.  He loses his family, battles the guilt and pain of losing them, and takes on a personal code to eliminate those responsible and any other scumbag who may cross his path.

The themes in the Punisher (I’m talking both broad and in the Netflix show) center around vigilante morality, PTSD, grief, etc.  The show does this extremely well.  The first season fully features Frank as he searches for those involved in the deaths of his family after he learns that the CIA is behind some shady practices involving drug running and assassinations.  All throughout his mission, he is faced with questions of right and wrong, family, healing, and justice.  His interactions with friends and allies help ask questions and explore these themes, making the viewer question if rooting for Frank is just or not.

I’ve watched all of the Netflix Marvel shows up to date and the Punisher is by far my favorite and I think the strongest entry in the growing catalogue.  The acting and plotting are superb and where I think the other series’ wane and struggle is weight and believability.  The Punisher is visceral (such a good word).  You feel the impact of every emotion, punch, and bullet impact.  There are no “superpowers” in this show which helps it immensely.

As I said before, this show is not easy to watch.  The violence goes where other shows do not.  It’s rough but true to the comic and character of Frank Castle.  What the film, Logan, started is a trend to see these superhero properties move from a place of PG-13 action to one that makes us feel the weight of the choices and lives of these people.

Call to Action: So while I highly recommend this show, be advised.  Try out the first few episodes and see if it’s something you can handle.

To Doubt is to Progress


Let’s dive in.  As I get closer to finishing my recent revision of So Speaks the Gallows, the creeping whispers of self-doubt interrupt the process.  These are not words of castigation but instead subtle pricks of critique that make my hands pull away from the keyboard and seriously consider the words on the page.

Revising is difficult.  You think just writing a full novel is hard, try going back over what you’ve spent years shaping and being excited about and then questioning why entire sections come across as borderline tissue paper in strength.  You wish it was more than single ply but instead, you get this thin sheet that could disintegrate at the first sneeze.

No, I have not given up and I have not put my toes over the ledge to look down into writer’s oblivion.  (It would take a lot for me to reach that point of disappointment.)  I think I’ve simply come to a section of the book where I’m not impressed with the writing (granted it’s my writing).  I know I am more than capable of girding up the paragraphs and dialogue where it suffers most but I find myself wondering about the strength of the writing as a whole.

What if the beginning is strong but it begins to wane and lose its clout the further we go to the right towards that back cover?  It’s an honest question and, I think, a natural one to explore.  Maybe it’s strong enough in the beginning to hold up any weaker sections.  Maybe an agent will get to these weaker sections and say, “Well, this needs to be reworked but I think you’re more than capable of doing it.”  These are the questions that like to poke at my confidence each time I return to revise.

As I’ve said, I’m okay with rewriting entire chapters (I actually did rewrite the first five chapters and feel they are extremely strong now) but I wonder if I should do it now or simply try to fix the weaker prose as is.  Either way works to be honest.

All this is to say doubt is a very natural and, I think, healthy emotion to go through as an artist.  For me, it keeps me in check and forces me to look back at certain sections of my book and ask questions like, “Can this be better?”  Most of the time the answer is a big fat “Yes!” and so I need to be willing to strip down the prose and rework.

So to any of my fellow artists who lay awake or stare blankly at the page or canvas, do not become bitter or agitated.  Embrace the pain of being mediocre (only at times, not always) and let creativity fizzle and reset.  I have no idea if this is sound or good advice but I know it works for me.

Call to Action:  Here’s a fun exercise to consider when in doubt, ask some simple questions and answer as truthfully as possible.

1)  Why do I have this sense of doubt in my work or abilities?
2)  Is there truth to this?  If not, what is the lie behind it?
3)  What can I do to strengthen confidence in myself again?

Try these out and see where it gets you.

On This Day – 18 November 1985 – Calvin and Hobbes First Published

My first exposure to Calvin and Hobbes came when I was probably around thirteen years old at my grandparent’s house.  My grandpa had recently received or bought one of the collection books and had it on the living room table.  I picked it up and was pulled into the world of the precocious six year old and his imaginary best friend/stuffed Bengal tiger.

Suffice to say, Calvin and Hobbes will always remind of my grandpa.  I have great memories of growing up and creating outlandish scenarios with him (his imagination was just as a vast a child’s).  This coincides with my love for Calvin and Hobbes because the comic strip is more about imagination than it is about a misbehaved child.  Just peruse the examples I’ve included in my post.

As a thirteen year old (I’ll remind you I was not reading a whole lot during this time of my life), I naturally gravitated more to the pictures and art of comic strips to understand Calvin’s current escapade.  As I grew up though, I began to read beyond the more minimal scenarios and found a great intellect and wonder in the kid.  His alternate personas (Spaceman Spiff, Tracer Bullet, and Stupendous Man) exemplified my own imagination as I played with action figures and created several different characters and worlds faced with conflict (a precursor to my days of writing).
We’ve been blessed with ten years of Calvin and Hobbes by the great Bill Watterson.  I continue to revert back to the comic strip whenever I need a quick laugh.  In my mind, there is no better cartoon strip for children and you can bet my kids will be introduced to it at a young age.
Call to Action: What are your memories of Calvin and Hobbes?  I’d love to know how others first encountered the strip and how it has affected them in life.  Also, check out the great documentary, “Dear Mr. Watterson,” if you can find it.  It’s a great exploration of the comic and its creator.

Truth of Evil

posted in: Life | 2

I’ve been struggling for about a week now thinking about how to proceed with this blog.  It’s my blog and I can’t say for sure who reads it all the time (aside from family and close friends).  However, I am very conscious about what I want to write about and how to provide content that I think is worth posting and reading.  If I had it my way, I’d love to stick to writing tips, movie/tv reviews, etc.  That would be fun and hopefully entertaining to not just me.  Unfortunately, I am very present in the happenings of the world and cannot continue to keep those things from my thoughts and furthermore from my blog.

Now, I have stated in the past that I have no interest in debating or converting based on my personal views.  They are “my” personal views based on my experiences, beliefs, and understanding.  This also means I do not think I cannot learn more and have these views changed based on evidence and conviction.  Let’s jump in the heap!

Evil is very real.  In fantasy, we have great extremes manifested in forms like Sauron, Voldemort, and for you Wheel of Time fans, the Dark One.  All of these represent the deepest of antagonists to our literary heroes: Frodo, Harry Potter, and Rand al’Thor (again, Wheel of Time reference.  I am purposely avoiding the Game of Thrones example, ha!).  These forces represent the main conflict and must be destroyed in order to assure peace to not only our heroes but the world they live in.  This puts a lot of weight on the story and we as readers only want to see the evils defeated by the end.

A common element in fantasy right now is the use of grey characters who have both vice and virtues equally.  These are men and women we can both trust and revile depending on the situation.  Part of me enjoys these characters because I think they are complex and better represent real life people.  No one can say they are completely good, having no drop of selfishness, anger, hate, etc.  And while these kinds of characters can be fresh and enjoyable to read due to their unpredictability, I personally expect to see consequences for their choices.  Otherwise, we’ve run into another issue entirely.  Consequences whether good or bad represent reality and realism should be woven throughout the tapestry of the story (even more so in fantasy).

Coming back to the reason I am writing this post, I do not think I should be silent on the evil seen in the last weeks of various independent acts throughout the States.  Las Vegas, New York, and Sutherland, TX.  I am not going to go into the details of each situation.  If you’ve paid attention even a little bit, then you know the basics: men took it upon themselves to kill innocents.

My heart is broken at the moment.  I take days to process the full weight of these things because I don’t find it healthy to react instantly.  My heart breaks for those affected.  Families and friends have lost loved ones unexpectedly and for reasons they cannot fathom as they grieve.  There’s been a lot of hubbub about people offering prayers and thoughts to these people whose worlds have been turned over. I sincerely say and express these words because I sincerely believe there is power in prayer and thought directed at the healing of pain and grief.  If you don’t, that’s fine.  I would not hold that against you and would hope you would not hold my beliefs against me.

What we’ve witnessed is evil (plain and simple) and if we can draw anything from these recent horrifying events, it’s that no matter the method or tool used, evil will find a way to exact its violence and chaos.  I’ve been asking myself what can be done to keep these things from happening but after days of contemplation I am truly not convinced legislation cannot stop it.  So long as evil’s influence and madness can burn in the hearts of people, methods and tools can be improvised upon (gun, knife, vehicle, they all do damage).

For myself, at this moment in time, I come to a place where I think more than ever, we need to be vigilant about being aware of evil.  How?  By the signs it effuses.  If you’ve ever taken any kind of Active Shooter Training for a workplace environment, then you are told what to look for.  Changes in behavior are often there.  Now, I know there are likely outliers (there always are) but all too often, evil and its signs can be seen and recognized.  But we have to be willing to pay attention and speak up when noticed.  More and more, after these horrifying acts of evil and violence, we learn after the fact that there were “red flags” and yet no one acted.

I understand that many will say this is not enough and that legislation needs to be implemented to prevent further incidents but I am not convinced of that yet.  I’m not saying some legislation could not help because I think it could, but I have to posit the question: can legislation prevent evil from being enacted?  No.  It just can’t.  Time and time again, those who wish to do others harm will do so in any which way that they can.  History testifies to this.  Good standing citizens, however, can and are more than capable of interceding and preventing evil if we are willing to pay attention to those within our communities.

I am demanding this of myself.  It’s obvious safe places no longer exist.  Churches, concerts, sidewalks.  If these horrible acts of evil can teach us anything, it’s that we need to be paying attention to the world around us more.  Take an interest in your family, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances.  I have to hope that doing so will in some way prevent more evil from being carried out.

Call to Action:  Don’t react out of emotion when these horrible acts of evil happen.  I only say this because I see it every day.  So many react without taking a moment to ask questions.  Reach out and talk to someone you trust and work through whatever emotions have stirred up.  Adding to the vitriol does nothing to propel us forward, instead setting us back.

Stranger Things: Rewatch Final Thoughts

posted in: Fantasy, Film/TV, Review | 0

I won’t go into further rehash of the first season of Stranger Things (I’ve exhausted that enough, I think).  I apologize if those first few episode posts were too play-by-play also.  I wanted to avoid that but felt I needed to call out a lot of important moments and details as we moved deeper into the story.

With the first season finished and moving into season 2, I think this show was primarily successful due to several factors.  The nostalgia and call backs to our favorite 80s pop culture memories definitely act as a foundation but I think to recognize the direction, production, acting, and storytelling of the show is equally important.  The show never feels like a parody of the decade but instead, it’s a heavy hitter in its own right that could have been developed and given to us by Spielberg himself back in 1983.

Much like the recent IT movie, the child actors kept this experience grounded.  They are not only great actors but they represented what early 80s preteens were (based on my memory of older kids).  I feel that I could safely argue that without their stellar performances and believability, the show would have been sub par.

Looking forward, Season 2 has a lot to live up to but if we are to go by the trailers and clips released, I think this show will continue to be strong (I’ve also heard good things from people who’ve seen early screenings of the first few episodes).  It will delve deeper into the characters and their struggles having to adjust to the incidents and experiences of the first season while opening ways into more mysteries and oddities that we love and cannot wait to experience.

Part of me is curious as to how they will keep up the nostalgia without touching upon the same ones they’ve already referenced.  Some that I noticed based on the info we’ve been given, we can expect Ghostbusters, Mad Max, Dragon Lair (the arcade game), and even Michael Jackson (Thriller primarily) all to come into play.

What to expect from me regarding Season 2 is most likely a review after I’ve seen all the episodes.  Whether or not I do another rewatch for next year (as far as I know, there will be a season 3), I haven’t decided yet but I’ll definitely consider it.

In all, this was a fun month of blogging.  A bit exploratory and experimental but still enjoyable.  I’m not sure there’s another show I would want or be able to this type of rewatch/review with to be honest.  Netflix has a great format for their tv seasons, keeping episodes at a low number.  Thank you for sticking around and reading.  Hope you enjoyed it and if you did (or didn’t), make sure to leave a comment.  I’d love to see more activity here on the blog and interact with everyone!

Call to Action: Check out the awesome Season 2 trailer below!

Stranger Things: Rewatch of Episode 8

posted in: Fantasy, Film/TV, Review | 2

The Upside Down

Recap:

We’ve come to the last episode finally!

Joyce and Hopper find themselves separated and questioned by the Lab folks.  Brenner does his best consolable routine and Joyce ain’t buying it.  Meanwhile Hop is getting the less than cordial treatment and gets the business end of a tazer.  Hop has a plan though.  He makes a deal with Brenner and makes it so he and Joyce can go into the Upside Down to rescue Will.  Brenner tells his people he doesn’t expect them to live and we find out Hop’s deal included telling the Labbies where Eleven is so long as the boys aren’t hurt (not cool, man).  He’s putting a lot of trust in these people but I guess it makes sense so they can get to Will.

Nancy and Jonathan are at the Byers house going full Monster hunting, rigging up traps and preparing for the encounter.  This has shades of Nightmare on Elm Street again as the teens realize they have to pull Freddy Krueger (the Monster) into the real world to defeat him.

While Joyce and Hopper are in the Upside Down, we get our best view of the alternate dimension of Hawkins.  We also get flashbacks of Hop with his daughter, Sarah, and his ex-wife, finding that Sarah got sick unexpectedly and that has taken a traumatic toll on our cop Hop, making him the man he is today.

Nancy and Jonathan draw blood to gain the Monster’s attention and guess who shows up?  Stevo.  Oh, Stevo, do you have the worst timing ever.  He’s there to apologize to Jonathan for being a royal douche and is surprised to find Nancy there too.  Stevo forces his way inside, totally confused and not sure what to make of what’s going on especially when Nancy pulls the gun on him, urging him to leave.  The lights start going crazy and the Monster breaks through the wall.  This is such a great sequence because we get Stevo’s freaking out while Nancy and Jonathan are keeping calm and trying to kill it so Hop and Joyce can navigate through the Upside Down without encountering the Monster.

The Monster leaves but not for long.  Nancy tells Stevo to leave and he does but at his car, he hesitates.  The Monster attacks again and pins Jonathan to the ground, getting a decent supply of Demagorgon saliva on him.  But, we get a great surprise as Stevo returns grabbing a bat with nails pounded through the end.  He swings away and this is when Stevo becomes Steve, redeeming himself completely (at least to me).  The Monster ends up in the hallway, caught by the bear trap where gasoline has been poured.  Jonathan throws in a lighter and the Monster gets roasted (or so we think).

While all this happening, the boys and Eleven are waiting in the middle school.  Dustin continues his win streak, finding hoarded chocolate pudding (isn’t that always the case).  Mike and Eleven share a kiss (awww) but the calm tender moment is short-lived when the Brenner and his cronies show up.  Everything goes full red dawn and the kids are running for their lives.

Back to Joyce and Hop, they are on their way to the Byers house (Upside Down version) when they cross the path of some very ominous egg-like things that look as if something has hatched from them (yep, Aliens reference here.  Thank God there are no facehuggers running around).  They find Will’s fort empty and we get another Hopper flashback that shows us Sarah had cancer.

The Monster is injured from its confrontation with the teens and leaves a trail of blood.  This leads to the middle school in the Upside Down where they find Will cocooned to a wall with something in his throat (gross).  Hopper pulls it out and it looks like some kind of worm/snakelike creature (nope!).  Between more flashbacks where Sarah is dying and attempting to being resuscitated by the doctors, Hopper is doing the same for Will.  The whole sequence is intense but after Will breathes to life, we not only get the great reunion between Joyce and her son but there’s this triumph for Hopper, finding closure and not losing another mother’s child.

We’re not done yet though.  Things intensify at the middle school as the Lab folks catch up with the kids.  Eleven saves them by making many of the baddies die by brain scramble or something (they all bleed out of their eyes and noses).  However, lights flicker and the Monster is drawn to the school.  It shows up and attacks killing many of the remaining Lab folks, including Brenner.  Eleven is extremely weak and the boys take her to a classroom.  The Monster finds them and the boys do what they can as Lucas uses his wrist rocket (again, reminiscent of the Losers Club wounding Pennywise in Stephen King’s, novel, IT ).  As it gets closer, one of Lucas’s shots sends the Monster flying back into the chalkboard.  The boys are surprised and then realize Eleven made that happen.

She holds the Monster against the wall as it fights against her.  She says goodbye to Mike and screams (which my guess is intensifies her telekinetic strength) before the Monster disintegrates into flecks and “ash”.  However, Eleven disappears while this takes place and we are left to wonder what happened to her.

In closing, we get some resolution to the strange events in Hawkins.  The boys are back to playing D&D, finishing a new campaign that may or may not hint at Season 2 happenings (remember the name Thessalhydra).  Will returns to the normalcy of life as “the boy who lived” while Mike is sad, missing Eleven.

Hopper is a hero but it looks like he has dealings with the Lab, though we don’t know to what extent yet.  He takes eggos into the woods, making us think Eleven may in fact be alive.

Steve buys Jonathan a new camera and has Nancy give it to him.  It’s strange to see Nancy and Steve together again but we have to wonder if in the future things change.  It’s hard to imagine Nancy and Jonathan not ending up together at some point.

Will is the boy who came back to life.  But things are not as they seem.  During a Christmas dinner, he goes to the bathroom to wash up and he coughs up smoe kind of slug-like thing into the sink and the environment around him flashes to the Upside Down, leaving us to wonder…

Things are in fact NOT back to normal…not at all.  But we won’t find out anything until October 27th!!!

Reaction: Lots to say about this episode but I’ll keep it short and concise.  Any time we get a final episode of a season, we know there are character resolution, answers provided, and possibly new questions offered.  We get all of that in this episode.  The biggest questions however are, I think, the most important things we’re left with.  First, is Eleven alive?  And second, what is happening to Will?  The latter is key to the future of the story because the tear into the Upside Down has obvious affects on Will since he was exposed to it for so long.  What does that mean for him?  What does that mean for Hawkins?

80s Refs: Aliens, A Nightmare on Elm Street, D&D, IT

Call to Action: I hope you enjoyed this month of returning to Season 1 of Stranger Things.  I enjoyed writing these posts a lot and hope my format was pleasing to readers.  My CTA is to rest and get ready for season 2 which will be released on the 27th.  I have a final thoughts post coming that day as well.  Keep on the lookout!

Stranger Things: Rewatch of Episode 7

posted in: Fantasy, Film/TV, Review, Storytelling | 0

The Bathtub

Recap:

We get a sweet moment between Mike and Eleven, finding there are growing feelings there.  Then comes Dustin to ruin their preteen romance in hilarious fashion.  No time to laugh though as they hear Lucas frantic on the other end of the walkie talkie.  They can’t figure out what he’s saying until they finally hear him say the bad men are coming.  Out the window, Mike and Dustin see vans fast approaching.  On their bikes they flee with Eleven and while we get some great action and tense moments, you can’t help but think that infamous sequence in E.T. when Eliot and his friends are riding their bikes to keep E.T. out of the hands of the government.

Then as they think they’ve escaped capture, another van turns the corner in front of them, blocking them off.  Then Eleven makes their bikes fly over the van!  Except she doesn’t!  No, instead we get our expectations subverted and Eleven launches the van over them, making it land upside down on the street to block off the pursing vans.  Another great iconic moment from this show!

The boys and Eleven get to the junkyard and hide out. Lucas joins up and apologizes to Eleven. Friends again!  As helicopters fly overhead, Lucas tells them what he saw at the Lab and they determine the gateway to the Upside Down must be there.

Hopper and Joyce show up to the police station to get Jonathan, learn from the bully whose arm was broken that Eleven is with Nancy’s brother and the group comes together.  Jonathan and Nancy explain why they have the monster hunting gear.  They all go to the Wheelers, see the Hawkins Lab folks there and then go to the Byers house to locate the boys, grabbing Will’s walkie talkie and reaching out.

We get a good moment of Stevo tired of his goober friends, ditch them, and go to the theater to help wash off the marquee.  Good on you Stevo!

Nancy makes contact with Mike on the walkies and after some back and forth, Hopper does enough to convince them to tell him where they’re at.  Somehow, Labbies show up with tranquilizer guns and just as they are about to find the boys and Eleven hiding out in a bus, the Unstoppable Hopper shows up with his fists of fury!

Everyone’s finally together (whew! It’s taken awhile) at the Byers house and after they catch each other up, Eleven tries making contact with Will or Barb in the Upside Down.  It doesn’t work and she eventually realizes she needs more than a walkie talkie.  She needs water.

Dustin comes through again when he calls Mr. Clarke, who is on a date watching John Carpenter’s The Thing (another 80s horror/sci-fi classic!), and asks about sensory deprivation.  Getting the details, they all head to the middle school to set up a kiddie pool and fill it with 15,000 lbs of salt.  Yay science!

Eleven goes in the water, floating and entering the blackness.  There, she finds Barb’s body and then finds Will hiding in his fort in the Upside Down.  After she returns from the blackness, Hop has a plan to enter the Upside Down to find Will.  Joyce goes with him where they get instantly caught by the Hawkins Lab security after getting onto the grounds.  Meanwhile, Nancy is saddened by Barb’s death and tells Jonathan she wants to finish what they started and kill the Monster.

The boys and Eleven hang out at the school and before the episode is over, we see Will in his fort and hear the Monster close by before the wall explodes and we’re left wondering what happens.

Reaction:  Another solid episode that really rides the emotion of our main characters all finally coming together.  The van launch by Eleven in the beginning is definitely a high point.  We want to see our “heroes” succeed and find Will.  Barb’s death is one of those series deaths that bummed out a lot of watchers.  She seemed to have become an instant favorite despite not being in the show very much.

80s Refs: E.T., The Thing

Call to Action:  I want to say The Thing should be revisited.  It’s a weird, crazy sci-fi flick that is in a lot of ways iconic.  I saw it as a teenager and while the practical effects don’t hold up in many cases, for the time, it was a very well done film.  Totally up to you if you want to watch it but if you’re a fan of 80s classics and haven’t seen it, you should set aside two hours, turn off the lights and chomp on some popcorn.

Stranger Things: Rewatch of Episode 6

posted in: Fantasy, Film/TV, Review | 0

The Monster

Recap:

We pick up right where the last episode left off with Jonathan looking for Nancy while she crawled into the Upside Down.  Their calling out to each other, voices all weird and distant, while Nancy is hiding from the Monster.  Just as Jonathan comes across the hole in the tree, Nancy’s hand bursts out for a pretty good jump scare that got me (I feel like I should have called out some of these jump scares in previous episodes.  My bad).

Stevo and his gang of jerks are driving to Nancy’s house so he can see her but upon looking through her window, he sees Jonathan on the bed with her and jumps to conclusions.  Nancy is definitely traumatized by the experience in the Upside Down and the Monster so she asks Jonathan to stay and we get some funny awkwardness between them (I seriously have to ask where her parents are at because this is twice that she’s had guys in her room at night).

In the morning, Jonathan wakes to find Nancy looking at a kids book of animals–predators to be exact.  She tells him how she thinks the Monster has predatory tendencies and makes the connection between the it and being drawn by blood (we’ve known this since Barb was taken but the injured deer gives further proof).

 

Hopper shares his findings with Joyce and when he mentions the kid’s room in the Lab, Joyce asks if a drawing on the wall was “good” because we’ve seen in some flashbacks that Will’s got a decent artist’s touch.  Hop eventually comes back to the story he read about Terry Ives (remember her?) and that she claimed to have had a daughter taken by Dr. Brenner.  More investigative work and Hop gets an address.  He and Joyce drive to Terry’s sister’s house to talk to Terry but find she is not all there after years of drug use.  Some background information from her sister reveals that Terry was pregnant when she was a test subject for Brenner.  We get a direct mention of Stephen King from Terry’s sister, which makes me think of Carrie or Firestarter, which are two stories about girls with telekinetic powers.  They leave without much else to go on.

There’s a quick scene with Mr. Clarke being visited by the lady who killed Benny back in episode 1.  Don’t worry.  Our favorite science teacher is not harmed but we know the Hawkins Lab folks are on the trail of the boys and Eleven.

Dustin is the voice of reason, doing his best to bring peace between Mike and Lucas.  As boys do, they fight and make up.  At Lucas’s house, he listens to Mike and Dustin but he’s not willing to search for Eleven ahead of searching for Will.  So while Dustin and Mike set out to find Eleven, Lucas goes on a solo mission, looking for the gateway to the Upside Down to find Will.

A flashback of Eleven going back into the sensory deprivation tank, assured by Brenner she can’t be hurt, is cut off when she wakes in the woods.  She goes to a nearby grocery store, steals some eggos and causes a scene as the store manager tries to confront her.

 

Jonathan and Nancy are at a surplus store and buying all kinds of supplies including: gasoline, ammo, and a bear trap (all the things you need).  They tell the clerk they are going monster hunting, which is such a good line and moment.  As they’re leaving, someone drives by telling Nancy they can’t wait to catch the movie.  Nancy rushes to the nearby theater and finds that someone spray painted her name and a less than cordial term.  She finds the perpetrators, Stevo and his cronies, in an alley and confronts them.  Jonathan shows up and eventually a fight between him and Stevo ensues.  Jonathan is the clear winner and we get a great Karate Kid moment where one of Stevo’s friends tells Jonathan that Stevo’s “Had enough, man!” (Cobra Kai!)  The cops show up and Jonathan and Nancy get taken to the police station.

This episode finishes strong.  Lucas is off on his solo adventure only to come to the fence line of the Hawkins Lab where he sees military personnel on the facility grounds.  Meanwhile, Mike and Dustin are on their bikes, come across the grocery store Eleven just made a scene at, and immediately figure she had something to do with the cops there.  The mouth breathers (the bullies) show up and the boys are forced to run, eventually ending up at the quarry.

One of the bullies has a knife and catches up with Dustin (this reminds me of Henry Bowers in IT and the horrible act he commits against Ben).  The bully tells Mike to jump off the ledge and into the quarry lake or he will hurt Dustin.  Mike complies because he’s just a good friend.  He jumps, shocking them all but when they rush to the ledge, they find Mike suspended in air.  He rises up and we find that Eleven has come to save the day!  She knocks one of the bullies over and breaks the arm of the knife wielding mouth breather (so satisfying…is that bad?).

 

As Mike, Dustin, and Eleven have themselves a group hug, she tells them she thinks she’s the Monster and we get a flashback where she finds the Monster in the blackness facing away from her.  She approaches it from behind and eventually touches the Monster, drawing its attention to her.  Everything in the lab goes crazy and we realize that this action caused the rent in reality.  Her making contact opened the gateway in the lab basement! What?!?!

Reaction: A solid episode once again (I don’t think there’s one that’s not necessarily fast moving, progressing the story).  I remember the revelation of Eleven’s touching the Monster in the blackness causing the gateway to be very satisfying.  I just liked that it was that simple.  Brenner was playing with fire and brought this phenomenon to the real world.  It’s a solid story plot element that doesn’t “reach” and the fact that Eleven thinks she’s the monster is heartbreaking and a great character moment for depth.

80s Refs: Carrie, Firestarter, Karate Kid.

Call to Action: Just because, go back and watch Karate Kid.  Such a classic.  Sweep the leg!

Stranger Things: Rewatch of Episode 5

posted in: Fantasy, Film/TV, Review | 0

The Flea and the Acrobat

Recap:

We’re half way through season 1!  I really consider this episode to be the turning point.  At least for me, it was here that the show took a turn that I wasn’t anticipating and it was for the good.

Hopper breaks into the Hawkins Lab accompanied by some epic synth. You kind have to wonder what his background is before Hawkins because he’s got a knack for sleuthing about.  Security eventually catches up to him at a locked door but you can’t stop the Hop!  He punches his way to gain access through the door and finds himself in a quarantined area where there’s a room that’s clearly a kid’s room.  Security is on his tail though and he takes the elevator down in to the basement where he gets a big eyeful of the portal on the wall before being knocked out.

 

Joyce is being “comforted” by Lonnie and we can quickly tell this guy’s up to no good.  He tries telling Joyce she’s grieving from Will’s death and she’s delusional.  Jonathan comes home to find the house in more disarray and Joyce’s recent axing of the wall doesn’t shake him as we might expect now that he’s leaning towards believing her.  We get a quick exchange between Lonnie and Jonathan where Lonnie tells Jonathan to remove an “Evil Dead” poster from his wall because it’s “inappropriate” which I find humorous and poignant as it’s a classic film about evil crossing into the real world.

The boys and Eleven are back in Mike’s basement discussing what they heard Will say over the ham radio.  Two distinct descriptive things were that he was in a place “like home” only it was “dark”.  Eleven tells us what that means by saying “upside down”.  Still confused, Mike recalls Eleven flipping the D&D board and placing Will’s wizard figurine and the Demagorgon on the black field.  Dustin, whose much smarter than people give him credit for, calls it the Veil of Shadows and gives us an explanation of a bleak and desolate place that mirrors the real world (sound familiar?!).

Will’s funeral takes place and then a wake and while the majority of the attendees are sad and grieving, we see all our main players putting on a show because they know or at least are convinced Will is not dead.  Jonathan and Nancy are especially not interested in the event, steal a gun from Lonnie’s glove compartment, and prepare to search Mirkwood, believing the sightings of the monster will lead them to find “something” that will help them locate Will and Barb.

We get my favorite part of the episode when the boys find Mr. Clarke and ask him about alternate dimensions.  Always willing to teach, Mr. Clarke explains to them the metaphor of the flea and acrobat, explaining how an acrobat can only go backwards and forwards on a tightrope.  A flea, however, can go along the sides and upside down (wink wink) on the rope.  The boys ask how they can do what the flea does and Mr. Clarke explains that a lot of energy would be needed or in this case a doorway or gateway would need to be opened in order for them to access that point of entry.  Such a portal would mess with the gravitational field of the real world and the boys have their lead!

Hopper wakes up in his place, not knowing how he got there.  He goes full paranoia and begins searching for a surveillance bug, breaking, ripping, and cutting his way until he finds one in the ceiling light.  His deputies show up to tell him more people have gone missing in Mirkwood and that Barb’s car was found at the bus station.  Something stinks like last years gym clothes…

Joyce finds some legal paperwork that looks like Lonnie wants to cash in on suing the quarry company for negligence and Joyce’s suspicions are confirmed.  She kicks his butt out of the house.  Hopper shows up later, telling Joyce to say nothing.  They check the Christmas lights (all of them apparently) and find no bugs.  After the all clear, Hop tells her he’s being watched. He tells her he went to the morgue and “Will’s” body was fake. She was right the whole time!  Hop’s on the scent.

 

The boys try to explain the flea and the acrobat to Eleven but she doesn’t know where the gateway to the Upside Down is.  Led by Dustin’s testing of compasses, they set out in Stand By Me fashion, following train tracks as they follow the compass.  During this time, we get a flaskback where Eleven is fit with a diving suit and descends into a water tank that reminds me of James Cameron’s Abyss.  Back to the present, Dustin says they made a loop, cutting through a junkyard and Lucas blames Eleven of sabotaging their efforts, saying he saw her wipe her nose.  Fresh blood on her sleeve confirms she was messing with the compass with her powers and an all out fight ensues between Lucas and Mike.

Eleven uses her power by screaming (eh what?) to keep Lucas from hurting Mike, launching him backwards and hurting him.  Back in the sensory deprivation chamber, Eleven finds herself in a strange place that is all black with water on the ground (not the Upside Down but I’ll call it the blackness).  She finds the man she’s supposed to find for Dr. Brenner and his words transmit into the lab. Next, Eleven hears the Monster, knowing she’s not alone and runs, waking in the water tank.  Lucas comes to and he’s extremely pissed off, storming off.  Mike and Dustin notice Eleven has disappeared and we see our group fractured.

Nancy is in her garage swinging a Louisville Slugger around (choke up, Nancy!) when Stevo shows up.  He’s trying to make amends and asks about Barb but Nancy’s in no mood as she prepares for her and Jonathan’s plans that night.  Not even Stevo’s saying he looks like Tom Cruise and singing Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock n Roll” will make her budge.

After Jonathan shows us he can’t hit the broadside of a barn with the gun and  Nancy can shoot the wings off a fly, they go off into Mirkwood with some kind of a plan (I’m still trying to figure out what their goal was even if they found Will or Barb).

 

Night has fallen and they come upon a deer that looks like it was hit by a car.  Wanting to put it out of its misery, Jonathan aims the gun but before he can pull the trigger, the deer is ripped away into the brush (one of the better jump scares in the show).  They follow the blood and look around before they get separated and Nancy notices what can only be described as a hole at the base of a tree.  It’s got some oozing grossness happening and like an idiot, Nancy crawls in (watch a horror movie, Nancy!).  Bad idea.  She finds herself in the Upside Down and comes across the Monster chomping away at the deer.  She steps on a branch and the monster jerks around opening its face which is reminiscent of a flower’s petals opening.  But this isn’t your traditional daisy.  No this things got rows of teeth!  We end on that chilling note.

Reaction: This is probably one of my favorite episodes.  The flea and the acrobat metaphor is one of those iconic things about the show and something I think will be relevant throughout the series.  I can’t help but think characters just do dumb things though.  Nancy crawling into the opening at the tree base into the Upside Down is one of those brainless things writers have characters do to move the plot.  I would have written it different. I haven’t had any moments of that so far but this one makes me mad as a writer.

80s Refs: The Evil Dead, The Abyss, any teen horror slasher, All the Right Moves with Tom Cruise

Call to Action: Watch Mr. Clarke’s explanation of the flea and the acrobat.  Such a great moment! (Sorry about the spanish subtitles…)

Stranger Things: Rewatch of Episode 4

posted in: Fantasy, Film/TV, Review | 0

Episode 4: The Body
 

Recap:This is a sad one because we fall into the emotions of Will’s body being found in the lake at the bottom of the quarry.  Hopper does his best to deal with Joyce and her continued downfall into supposed insanity.  She remains convinced she’s talking to Will through the lights.  He uses the loss of his daughter as a means to assure her that she’s grieving and should do so.  The addition of saying the monster with no face coming through the wall (there’s no evidence of this as it looks like the wall “repaired” itself) does Joyce no good either.  Once the cops leave, we see Jonathan dealing with everything in his own way (trapped in music like teens often do) while Joyce is grabbing an axe from the shed, ready to protect herself if the monster returns.

Mike is grieving in his own way down in the basement, pushed further into anger as Eleven sits off in her makeshift tent, messing around with his walkie talkie.  Things change rather quickly though when Will’s voice breaks through the static, singing “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”.  Eleven’s nose bleed suggests her powers go beyond just the telekinesis.

Mike stays home yet again (good thing he has such understanding parents) and reaches out to Lucas.  After some effort, Lucas agrees to get Dustin and bring him over to Mike’s who knows Will’s alive.

Police Chief Hopper is at the morgue and discovers state police performed the autopsy on Will’s body which doesn’t fit and prods his suspicions.  Joyce and Jonathan are there too to identify the body.  Jonathan gets sick and leaves while Joyce asks about a birthmark.  Hop and Jon talk a bit about Joyce and her strength before she storms out, screaming that that “thing” on the observation table is not her son.  We see a heated argument between Jonathan and Joyce out in the street (for all to see!) and they’re at definite odds about the body and what to do next.

The boys are altogether and listening for Will on the walkie talkie as Eleven tries locating him again.  Dustin compares Eleven to Professor X (this kid’s the best with his moments of levity) as she tries to connect to Will but as she’s unsuccessful, they form a plan to take her to their school to use Mr. Clarke’s ham radio.  Paying homage to E.T. once again, we see Eleven dress up like a “normal” girl with a blonde wig and dress in order to break her in.  When Eleven looks in the mirror, you can see the joy in her face as she says she looks pretty, a compliment she gave when first seeing Nancy’s picture.

Things go Poltergeist yet again when the Hawkins Lab folks send one of their own, a guy named Shepherd, into the fungal portal in the basement.  Fit with a retractable steel wire get-up, he goes in and things get weird fast as he runs his hand over the portal opening, tearing away the “gunk” only to see it reform on its own.  He goes through, loses communication with Dr. Brenner on the other side, only to finally report in, be attacked by something, and we never see him again.  All that’s left is the bloody harness at the end of the wire as it retracts.  This sequence also kind of reminded me of Dallas going into the venting system of the Nostromo in Ridley Scott’s “Alien”.  I think if we could have seen Shepherd in the portal dimension, we could have got some good old fashioned suspense!Nancy tells Stevo about seeing a guy with no face in his yard, to which he’s more concerned about the cops investigating and finding they had booze at the party (way to go with those priorities, Stevo).  Nancy leaves him angry and unable to concentrate in class when Hopper’s deputies question her about Barb.  Nancy’s mom is there too and tries to get more information out of Nancy afterwards.  Full meltdown sees Nancy confess she and Stevo did the deed but the more important matter is Barb.  Alone in her room, Nancy puts the torn picture of Barb on the diving board back together and notices something strange behind Barb in the photo.

Copper Hopper puts on his detective garb after talking to the Hawkins mortician about the state police showing up to do Will’s autopsy.  He notices a state trooper on tv giving an interview about finding Will’s body.  Hopper finds the guy in a bar (not sure how but he’s a small town cop with big city cop skills) and strikes up a conversation, gathering info before going to far and spooking the guy.  Outside the bar, Hop uses his fists to get straight answers before noticing a suspicious car nearby and driving off once he goes to confront whoever is in the car.

The boys and Eleven make it to school but can’t get into the ham radio room before Mr. Clarke shows up and promises the boys can use the radio after the school assembly taking place in light of Will’s body being found.  Mike is not happy about the bullies making fun of the situation and confronts them afterward, growing a pair and pushing one from behind.  Before retribution can be delivered, the bully freezes in mid-stride.  Humiliations galore follow when the kid pees himself so the gym full of students can laugh at him.  Mike turns to see Eleven wipe blood from her nose (straight up gangsta!).Jonathan is alone picking out a coffin when Nancy shows up.  She shows him the picture but he’s not sure what the form is standing behind Barb.  She tells him about what she saw at Steve’s place.  Jonathan asks what he looked like and as she struggles to explain, Jonathan completes the description by saying he didn’t have a face.  Connections happening!

They go to enlarge the picture of Barb in the darkroom at the high school and we get some angsty awkwardness between them.  The picture shows the monster and Nancy says that’s what she saw at Steve’s.  They think if Will’s alive (based on Joyce’s claims) then so is Barb.

The boys and Eleven are at the ham radio.  Cue a flashback and Eleven is being told by Brenner to locate a man and relay what the man is saying.  To Brenner’s surprise, the man’s voice comes on over the PA system in the room.  Her nose bleeds yet again and the lights start doing weird things.  This girl just gets the raw end of a childhood, doesn’t she?

All the while, Joyce is blasting The Clash and calling for Will to talk to her.  This is intercut with Eleven doing her thing and Will’s voice coming through the ham radio. The boys call out to him but he doesn’t hear them as he’s talking to Joyce.  She tracks Will’s voice to one of the walls in the house, pulls back the wallpaper and tada!  Will is there behind some pinkish translucent wall.  He says he’s home but its dark and different (different dimension theory coming more and more true).  He runs when he hears the monster is coming.  Joyce goes full Jack Torrence from “The Shining” and takes the axe to the wall but there’s no Will on the other side.  Just daylight.  So, Will’s alive and Joyce and the boys know it to be true.Jump back to Hopper and we see him punch his way to the morgue room where Will’s body is.  Conflicted and maybe somewhat sickened at the idea of cutting open the body, Hopper touches the body, finding something wrong.  He cuts into the chest and finds the body is stuffed with cotton.  Conspiracy alert!  Can’t stop the Hop goes to Hawkins with bolt cutters and begins to make his way through the fence when the episode ends.

Reaction:  There’s a lot happening in these episodes now and you can easily get lost in the craziness.  For me, this episode showcased great emotional performances.  From Eleven’s seeing herself dressed up to Hopper’s struggle to cut into fake Will’s body.  Nothing has to be said in these scenes.  Read the characters and you see so much happening internally.

80s Refs: Poltergeist, The Shining, Stand By Me based on Stephen King’s novella, “The Body”, Alien, Professor X.
Call to Action: The title of this episode, “The Body”, is the same title as a short story written by Stephen King.  Four friends hear about the body of a kid hit by a train and go out into the wilds to find it.  Sound familiar?  Well, it would since it’s the amazing film, “Stand By Me”.  You can find many similarities in the boys of the movie and those in Stranger Things.  There’s this idea of adolescence lost and friendship strengthened that speak volumes.  Revisit it if you have a chance!

Stranger Things: Rewatch of Episode 3

posted in: Fantasy, Film/TV, Review | 2

Chapter 3: Holly, Jolly

Recap:

Poor Barb… We start off with her in a place that looks like a gloomy nightmare, reminiscent of what the xenomorphs do to the colony in James Cameron’s “Aliens”.  There’s strange fungal, creeper vegetation all over like what we see in the basement level of the Hawkin’s Lab.  What’s more is, we can clearly see that she’s trapped at the bottom of an empty swimming pool.  Let’s recall she was taken by the monster while sitting on the diving board of Stevo’s pool.  Interesting…

Something is there with her and we get our first full look of the monster for a brief moment.  Cue Barb’s survival instincts and she does all she can to escape her nightmare situation.  Meanwhile, Nancy is losing her religion to Stevo with Foreigner serenading them.

Again, I say poor Barb because the last we see of her is trying to climb out of the pool and being pulled back in, screaming for Nancy and for help.

 

Jump to Jonathan waking up the following morning and he hears his mom talking to someone, which he thinks is Will.  What does he find instead?  His mom talking to the lights in full belief that Will is communicating with her similar to the adults talking to the little girl through the tv screen static in Spielberg’s “Poltergeist”.The boys got a plan, thinking Eleven knows where to find Will.  Lucas goes on the offensive with supplies, most notably the wrist rocket, which calls back to Stephen King’s IT (the novel).  Dustin, however, is quite the practical one, gathering food supplies, providing some levity in a show that could use quite a bit.

 

We get more levity from Dustin as he asks Eleven to make a toy Millennium Falcon float in the air (reference to Luke Skywalker making the X-Wing levitate in The “Empire Strikes Back”).  She does but only after the boys leave for school.  Alone in Mike’s house, Eleven begins to snoop about, which is what any of us would do–let’s be honest and truthful here.  She goes to the tv and we see her exposed to President Reagan, He-Man, and a Coke Cola commercial that triggers another flashback, showing us her ability to crush a can with her mind but also causing her nose to bleed.Eleven continues to explore and finds herself in Nancy’s room.  There’s a lot happening in this moment as Eleven looks at the life of another “normal” girl.  Lots of emotions are taking place.  She has no idea what it is to be a girl in the real world.

Nancy at school reveals she’s somewhat self-conscious about her night with Steve and also worried about Barb after she doesn’t show up for class or school for that matter.  Jonathan is developing film from the party night, gets caught by another student, and runs off with the pics.  That, however, doesn’t stop Stevo and his friends from finding out, confronting Jonathan and breaking his camera.  Nancy shows up during this, tries to stop it, but fails only to find a picture of Barb on the diving board and taking the ripped pieces, leaving Jonathan to mourn the loss of his camera (maybe don’t be a creeper taking pics of Nancy while she’s changing… yeesh).

Hop the Cop and his deputies go to Hawkins Lab to see what’s going on there.  Hop does the cop thing and gets in to talk to the head of security.  They assure Hopper there’s no way Will came through a drain pipe to access the grounds.  Security cameras show nothing but Hop is suspicious after the video feed does not show the storm of the night they searched for Will.  He knows they’re lying and gets his investigation on.  He goes to the library and goes through old newspaper clippings looking for leads on the Hawkins Lab.  He gets the names of a Dr. Brenner (white-haired Matthew Modine) and a woman named Terry Ives.  More on those two later.

The boys collect rocks at school but not before getting bullied; Mike is tripped, cutting his chin open on the ground.  They catch up with Eleven after school where she learns a new term “mouth breathers” for the bullies who hurt Mike.  Before she leads them to where Will is, Eleven has another flashback after seeing a cat that shows us the Lab folks were trying to get her to kill a cat with her powers.  She refuses, gets hauled off to the dark room but manages to hurt one of the orderlies and kill the other (mental neck snap!), which garner her some affection from Dr. Brenner, which just makes us all hate the guy.

A lamp just isn’t enough.  Joyce decks the inside of the house out with Christmas lights in order to better communicate with Will.  Mike’s mom shows up with a casserole (WHY IS IT ALWAYS CASSEROLE!!!).  And things get creepy as Mike’s younger sister, Holly, walks around the house, following the lights and gets super close to being swiped by the Monster through the wall (that Freddy Krueger in the wall effect is crazy!).  I did not like watching this part.  Too freaky!  But nothing happens to Holly, thank the Lord.

Nancy ditches Stevo and finds Barb’s car where they left it.  She checks Stevo’s back yard–just in case, I guess.  She doesn’t find any sign of Barb but she does get a nice glimpse of the monster before running away.  She’s convinced now more than ever that something horrible happened to Barb.

Coming to the end of the episode, we get a lot of cuts between story lines.  Hopper gets a call while in the library and he hurries off.  Eleven takes the boys to Will’s house leaving them confused while she says he’s hiding there.  They see and hear the sirens of the cops and follow on their bikes.  And Joyce is talking to Will again through the lights (great call back to Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the communicating through lights in the Spielberg classic).


She fashions an alphabet on the wall so Will can spell out words to her and we come to my favorite part of the episode.  Joyce’s talking to Will with the alphabet is one of those things that becomes iconic to the show.  He tells her he’s “RIGHT HERE” which confuses her and then when she asks what she should do, he tells her to “RUN” and she does after the monster manages to burst through the wall this time.  Such a great suspenseful moment!!!

The episode closes however on a very sad, heartbreaking note as the cops and the boys get to the bottom of the quarry to find Will’s body being fished out of the lake.  Mike is furious at Eleven, believing she lied to him while Lucas and Dustin can only try to console their friend.  Hopper is just as defeated as he looks upon the body and knows things have changed dramatically for them all.

Reaction: So I don’t think I can talk about my reaction to this episode without talking about the beginning and end.  Barb’s situation and apparent demise is one of those sequences where you just want more.  She’s in this crazy place that looks like a nightmare inverse of the real world and I want to know more about it.  Then at the end, I have to go with the tragedy of Will’s body being fished out of the bottom of the quarry.  At this point, you want to believe Joyce is indeed talking to Will yet here is his body.  You can’t help but push play to watch the next episode.

80s Refs: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Poltergeist, IT

 

Call to Action: I want to recommend revisiting Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  I was too young to “get” this movie as a kid but I think if I watched it now, I would appreciate it so much more.  I’ll see if I can track it down online.

Stranger Things: Rewatch of Episode 2

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Chapter 2: The Weirdo on Maple Street

Recap:

The boys bring Eleven out of the rain and into Mike’s 80s kid’s dream room basement.  The interaction is full of humor as the boys try to talk to Eleven and learn what they can.  While Dustin and Lucas think parents need to be brought into the loop, Mike has the decency and good sense to hold off on the notion, directing them all to the possibility that the inclusion of parents would get them all confined to their houses (isn’t it always the case) and no longer able to search for Will.

Also, we should be asking, “Why does Eleven have the tattoo of the number?  Are there ten others who have similar markings?  If so, where are they?”

The next morning Mike snags some Eggo waffles for Eleven, which becomes a staple for her and slightly reminiscent to E.T. and his love for Reeses Pieces.  Most of these interactions with Eleven early on are similar and pay tribute to E.T. with more to come in later episodes.  Mike’s plan to have Eleven sneak out and ask for help is shot down once Eleven convinces him that bad people are looking for her, making the universal gun hand sign very clear to him that she must remain hidden.

This leads to Mike staying home from school where we once again get some great moments between him and Eleven as their friendship grows.  He introduces her to the norms of life and she struggles to understand.  Mike shows Eleven his awesome 80s action figure collection.  These were the best growing up.  Quality, lol, and I was a fan of 80s action figures.  Don’t judge.  When Mike’s mom shows up, he hides her in a dark space which she’s not a fan of and leads to a freaky flashback of her in the Hawkin’s Lab hallway dragged and thrown into a dark room with no explanation while a white-haired Matthew Modine looks on.

Poor Jonathan.  You really start to feel for the kid as Joyce falls deeper into hysteria and what some might call frantic frenzy.  Our favorite Police Chief, Hopper the Copper, shows up with no Will and no belief that Joyce actually heard Will on the other end of the zapped phone.  Tensions rise when she jabs him with another reference to his deceased daughter that hits him hard.

Good Jonathan.  He takes it upon himself to go to his estranged father’s house in search for Will, not wanting the cops to show up, knowing Will could bolt if he sees a black and white pull up.  But first, he goes to school to put up some posters.

Nancy and Barb are at the school and get invited to a party (always a bad sign in 80s slasher flicks) by Stevo.  He and his friends notice Jonathan and prove their cliché douchery by making fun of him while he puts the posters up.  We’re all thinking it: “Let Stevo and his goons be the next victims of the monster!”.  Nancy, however, has a heart and goes to assure Jonathan that everyone wants Will to be found (duh, Nancy, duh).

So, is Jonathan the “Weirdo on Maple Street”?  You get that sense throughout the episode though I missed whether or not the Byers house is on Maple Street or not.  Yeah, he’s awkward and totally shoulders the brunt of responsibility helping his family with finances, going to school, and helping take care of his little brother.  We get another flashback where he is showing Will the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go”.  Once again, this show (if you haven’t noticed so far) does a great job of establishing characters and their relationships.

Meanwhile Joyce will not be swayed.  She heard Will on the other end of the phone before it was zapped and will do everything she can to make the connection again.  She goes to get a new phone and we find out the Lab folks have been eavesdropping on phone call and get a lead to go to the Byers’ residence where they do shady government work in their trusty HAZMAT suits and are led by Ghostbusters technology to the shed to get positive readings.

(Yeesh… there’s a lot that happens in this episode!  Almost done)

Hopper the Copper and his deputies find Benny’s body in what looks like an apparent suicide (shady Lab folks pulling no punches!) but Hopper’s not convinced Benny would off himself.  After some interviews, he finds that some kid was found stealing food in Benny’s diner kitchen and automatically wonders if it was Will.  It’s inconclusive but Hopper seems convinced Will was there and things just got more drastic.  Eventually, the search party leads them to Hawkin’s Lab.

Back to the boys and while they think Mike is nuts for believing Eleven, they realize she’s more than what she seems when she closes a door with her telekinesis.  Freaked out now, they decide to tread lightly around her but do explain to her what friends are as she continues to try to understand the norms.  This all leads to what is my favorite part of the episode.  She goes to the table where the D&D board sits with their figurines scattered about.  She flips the board over and places Will’s wizard figurine on the black surface of the board and then places the figurine of the Demagorgon alongside Will’s.  I can’t explain the significance of this yet but we will be getting there.

The great intensity and creepy factor of this episode comes full throttle as we return to Joyce, having installed a new phone, gets a call from who she thinks is Will again and is confirmed when he says, “Mom?”.  But then the dang phone gets zapped again!  The Clash goes on full blast in Jonathan’s room which leads Joyce to do what you don’t do in horror movies: investigate the strange thing or sounds coming from another room in the house!  All the while, lights are going nutty in the house and once in Jonathan’s room, something presses against a wall and we’ve got a Freddy Krueger moment!!!  She freaks and runs outside, ready to drive off, but when the music starts up at full blast, Joyce goes full crazy mom and heads back inside.  Fate unknown (for now).

Nancy being the great friend that she is convinces Barb to tag along to Stevo’s totally rad party (come to think of it, there’s only five people at this party so…not really a party).  Shenanigans take place with what you would expect.  We’ve got loud music, shotgunning beer from cans, and jumping in the pool fully clothed.  These 80s good times draw Jonathan to the unfenced yard of Stevo’s house while he is out in “Mirkwood” looking for Will with his camera (why he has a camera in the dark taking pictures, I’ve yet to figure out but you know, be the weirdo, Jonathan.  Embrace it.).

Barb is not having the time of her life and cuts herself badly while taking part in a shotgunning of her own.  Nancy is drenched from the pool and decides to go upstairs with Stevo and partake in some underage coitus.  Jonathan exemplifies his weirdo creeper vibe by taking pictures of all this (why, man, why?!).  Barb is alone and sitting on the diving board of the pool, still dealing with the cut she suffered.  A droplet of blood hits the water which is far too reminiscent of Jaws for my liking.  Something approaches from behind, the Monster, and snatches Barb away.  Jonathan is messing with his camera while this goes down, hears a sound but doesn’t see Barb anymore.

This show is going to end on creepiness every episode, isn’t it?!

Reaction: So my reaction to this episode was vamped to an 11 (no pun intended, lol).  So many great moments for the characters and understanding them better in light of the tragedy of Will’s disappearance.  More mystery enshrouds Eleven, the Hawkins Lab, and whatever else is happening in rural Indiana.

The moments with Joyce and Barb at the end of the episode totally freaked me out.  If you’ll remember from my “Why I Watched IT” blog post, I’m not drawn to horror but man there were some scary intense moments in this episode.  Things pressing against the wall, trying to push their way out are not something I want to see.

 

Best 80s References: Title similar to The Nightmare on Elm Street, Eleven is like E.T., The Clash send us a message.

Great Storytelling Moment: The moments with Eleven and Mike were my favorite in this episode.  Her innocence and naivety are done so well by Millie Bobby Brown and you see the world through her eyes in a way that tugs at the heart.  She has no one and you want to see her protected, while at the same time wondering if she can protect herself with her telekinesis abilities.  She needs friends and family.

Call to Action: Go back and watch E.T.  I admit I haven’t seen it since I was a kid and I need to revisit it.  I do remember the relationship between Elliot and E.T. and the love between them.  True friendship!

Stranger Things: Rewatch of Episode 1

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Chapter 1: The Vanishing of Will Byers

Oh happy day!  We’re here in October with Fall on the horizon and Stranger Things happening.  So here’s how it will go down through the month here on my blog.  I will give a recap of the episode that should not read like a play by play but a “what’s going on here” portion with plenty of my thoughts mixed in.  Then I’ll give an overall thought of the episode followed by a list of my favorite references and maybe even some trivia if its warranted.  The Call to Action will be the last bit of the post.  Hope you enjoy and thanks for reading!

Recap:

We start with some “no namer” running through a creepy lab/hospital-like hallway which makes me think of a scene from Joh Carpenter’s “Halloween” where masked-killer Michael Myers is casually in pursuit of one of his victims.  Our “no namer” gets to an elevator safe and sound about to get away from whatever he’s running from.  We learn quickly what this show is going to be when we hear creepy sounds of what makes me think of gremlins above him.  Then…no more “no namer”.

Strange and creepy.  Here we go!

Meet the boys.  They’re the Goonies, the boys of Stand By Me, the Losers Club, etc.  Except not.  Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will are in a basement playing Dungeons and Dragons.  Now, I was not allowed to play D&D growing up.  By the time I could even conceivably sit at a table surrounded by Coke and Dorritos for twelve plus hours rolling dice and collecting hit points, D&D was of no interest to me.  As I grew up, I was told it was forbidden to play for “religious” reasons.  I don’t blame my parents for this line of thinking.  It was pretty common if you were a church-goer in the 80s/early 90s.  (That’s okay, my role playing experiences came later with RPG video games and I preferred those to any game board experiences I’ve had as an adult.)

However, the use of D&D in the show is essential which we will see throughout the series.  There are elements that act as allusion and metaphor but we’ll pause on that for now.  Just remember the name, “Demagorgon”.  It’s important.

This first episode introduces a lot of characters and sets up relationships.  I’ll try to hit on all these as best as I can without becoming droll.

Keeping our focus on the boys (they don’t have a name like the Goonies so I’ll be calling them “the boys” throughout these posts).  The D&D game ends without a resolution to the attack by the Demagorgon and they all leave Mike’s basement to return home for the night.  Things get creepy as Will takes a route home through the woods the boys call “Mirkwood” (Lord of the Rings reference!) but he doesn’t encounter Legolas or some other elven character.  Instead, something tall and lithe is in the road and causes him to crash his bike and run for home.

Whatever the “thing” is, it follows Will and a whole bunch of creepiness happens.  Lights are affected by the presence of the thing (let’s just call it a monster) and Will does the only thing a twelve year old boy should do in this situation: run to the shed and grab a rifle.  However, the monster gets in somehow and the next thing we know, Will is gone.  No scream or nothing.  Just gone.

Cue perfect title sequence! (The synth music here is reminiscent of Carpenter’s iconic Halloween theme.)

More introductions happen after this.  We get our favorite police chief. Hopper. who shows us plenty of things: he likes pills and beer in the morning.  We also get to meet Will’s mom, Joyce (Wynona!), and brother, Jonathan, who realize Will’s gone and that’s not good.  Mike’s older sister, Nancy, and her best friend Barb (#savebarb) let us in on the high school scene and all those fun instances of angst and conformity (I blame the clothes and hair styles personally).

We also see that Nancy, the smart girl, is in a budding relationship with Steve Harrington (whom I will call Stevo), the popular boy, reminding us of John Hughes and most notably “Sixteen Candles”.  More or less, we get a pretty picture of fictional Hawkins, Indiana where things are peachy keen until strange things start happening.  Typical but nostalgically amazing!

Nefarious dealings are happening in the lab we first see at the beginning with the “no namer” as we go back to the Hawkins Laboratory.  HAZMAT wearing dweebs (these guys are always at fault) go to the basement and find spores in the air and nasty, gross fungus-like growths on the walls.  One of these is extra big and pulsating looking far too much like an infected wound.  Gross.

Police Chief Hopper does the appropriate police work and begins to investigate Will’s disappearance at the frantic request of Joyce (she and he have obvious history together).  It takes a while but Hopper eventually realizes this is not a kid who ran off and is hiding somewhere.  He’s gone without a trace.  The search commences and the town begins to band together to find Will.  Also, we are told Hopper had a daughter who died but that remains a mystery.  Joyce and Jonathan do their best to console one another and when the phone rings, Joyce hopes for good news.  Instead, she hears weird sounds, which includes breathing she believes is Will, but before she can get an answer, the phone gets a level-10 electric zap.

And now your star of the show arrives walking through the woods shoeless and in a hospital gown.  Eleven!  This girl’s got spunk.  One kid vanishes and another appears.  We know things are not good for her as she steals food and can unabashedly stop an annoying floor fan with her mind.  Telekinesis powers is always bad-ass.  I don’t care who you are, it would be an awesome super power to have.  Suffice to say, someone, Benny the diner owner, tries to help her and dies in the process but at least she gets away, forced back into the woods while the appropriate 80s cliché of a rain storm hits the night.

Back to the boys and they want to find Will, thinking like boys do, and wonder if the previous night’s D&D game had something to do with his disappearance.  Will had a choice to cast a protective spell against the Demagorgon or cast a fireball.  He chose fireball but his di roll was inconclusive.  This comes off as strange but this is how boys think (trust me).  They go full Goonies and hit the night, enduring the storm on their bikes to look for their lost friend in “Mirkwood” where they eventually run into Eleven!  Episode over.

Reaction: I remember first watching this episode last year and being gripped by it immediately.  There was so much of my childhood wrapped into those 50+ minutes that I had to keep watching.  Also, the music is perfect.  You have to watch the episodes a few times but you truly appreciate the tone of scenes when you focus on the crazy synth sounds produced.

Best 80s References: X-Men 134 (First appearance of the Phoenix that takes over Jean Grey who is a telepath like Eleven), Mirkwood, Goonies, Sixteen Candles, E.T.

Great Storytelling Moment: It won’t come into full affect until later episodes but the use of D&D in Stranger Things Season 1 actually plays important roles as a foreshadowing device.  As a writer, these are the things I love to see utilized and done well.

Call to Action: Here’s the first 8 minutes of the episode for your enjoyment!  If it’s not your cup of tea, then I’d advise against watching the show but you can definitely keep reading my episode rewatch posts!  Far less creepy but plenty strange.

Flash Fiction: “Guarded Offerings”

The melodic voices of the unmarried women of the Ajjuun beat against the outer walls of Hijeneva’s maiden hut.  Per tradition, her peers circled around her dwelling as she sat in silence, examining the gift offerings provided by the unmarried men of the tribe.  They sought to woo the celebrity born from the triumph of collecting the bones of a deceased god.

Baskets lay before her on the collection of cow skins that made up her hut’s floor.  In each of the twenty or so bend-wood woven containers were weapons, supplies, and armor crafted by the men who hoped to be her husband.  The quality of each marked each young man’s value.  She did not know whose name was attached to each basket of gifts.  The anonymity leant itself to the expected surprise of a worthy mate.  So was the Ajjuun way.

Too often, her mind strayed to wonder if Imko was the owner of the basket gift but the tragic death of her friend breached her forgetfulness to give sting to her swollen heart.

Despite the proposals before her—a grand example of her value to the tribe—she was drawn more to the laid out items taken off of the corpse she managed to pilfer in the clearing weeks ago.  The body had been burned and the ruined clothes buried but it was the other items she now possessed that grasped her awe and curiosity.

She did not touch the items but used iron prongs belonging to her father to take each and place them in her hut.  Inside a finely crafted box upon a polished stand, placed in a row were the four shining coins, an armlet fit with a dull gold-colored stone set in it, and a small hand mirror made of silver.

From several feet away, she could sense the power imbued in each item.  The functionality or level of each had not been discovered yet but she would learn the secrets they possessed.  She considered each basket and wondered if the one she chose would serve in the discovery.  Would a potential husband be willing to risk his life to earn her proposal?  The thought gave birth to a smile and a growing plan.

Stranger Things Are Coming

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We’re almost there!  We’re a month out from Stranger Things Season 2 and I have been so excited!  I figured I would take a moment to explain how this is going to work.  Here’s the schedule:

Stranger Things: Rewatch of Episode 1 – 03 Oct

Stranger Things: Rewatch of Episode 2 – 06 Oct

Stranger Things: Rewatch of Episode 3- 09 Oct

Stranger Things: Rewatch of Episode 4 – 12 Oct

Stranger Things: Rewatch of Episode 5 – 15 Oct

Stranger Things: Rewatch of Episode 6 – 18 Oct

Stranger Things: Rewatch of Episode 7 – 21 Oct

Stranger Things: Rewatch of Episode 8 – 24 Oct

Stranger Things: Rewatch Final Thoughts- 27 Oct

Each post will cover my impressions of the episode from a few perspectives: as a nerd, 80s kid nostalgia, and a writer.

I’ll say here that I love this show.  It hit me in so many ways and I truly felt it was a show made for me and my generation.  I was born in ’84 but watched so many of the movies and tv shows referenced that I completely related.  I remember the technology, music, and culture of the US.

What’s funny is there are elements to the show that I did not understand or experience in that time period growing up but was later drawn to just because I naturally drifted towards those influences by some way or another.  I’ll go more in depth in the episode reviews, of course.  You’ll learn more about me from these blog posts.  That’s for certain.

If you have not watched Stranger Things, then I encourage you to give it a try.  It has some creepiness and definitely crosses into horror/sci-fi at times but overall, the show is a cross between The Goonies/E.T./Alien with many shades of other 80s films.  If it’s not your bag, I don’t blame you.  To each their own.

Call to Action: Brush up on your 80s pop culture!  So many of the references in the show depend on that (at least in my opinion).

Why I Watched IT

posted in: Film/TV, Review, Storytelling | 2

I will start by saying this is not an open endorsement to go and watch Stephen King’s “IT” in theaters.  Instead, I want to explain why I had the desire to watch it.I watched the 1990 miniseries (more like two made-for-tv movies to be honest) back when I was probably close to ten years old.  At the time, it was creepy and definitely had moments that scared me.  However, this was back in the time when tv would edit out a lot of mature things, which is no longer the case.  Nevertheless, the miniseries still had its moments.

The book of “IT” is extremely violent and has some very mature themes that could not be put on tv.  Looking back now, the miniseries has various levels of campiness and the acting is subpar save for Tim Curry’s performance as the iconic clown, Pennywise.  His performance has remained a staple of his career and also in the horror genre.

Twenty seven years later, we are introduced to the film adaption of the novel and it is more true to the book despite many liberties being taken.  The horror and gruesome imagery in the book translate to an R-rated film much easier and the director, Andy Muschietti, did not hold back.  Believe it or not there are scenes in the book that even by today’s standards could not be filmed and put on the screen.  I won’t go into the details but King introduced some troubling things and to this day people are not keen to (as well they shouldn’t).

Now, why did I want to watch this film?  I am in no real way a horror fan.  I have tons of memories of scouring the tv as a kid and finding horror movies (all edited for general viewing, of course) and daring to watch them even though I was not allowed to.  Why?  Mostly because I was curious.  I never had nightmares from doing this but those images do stick with you.  Part of me definitely did it to get the rush of adrenaline one gets but I’m not a junkie for that sort of thing.  I’m more a fan of suspense than horror.

For “IT”, my draw was partly due to nostalgia because I remembered the mini series and I also remember reading in-depth synopses of the novel (I never dared to read it) so I was curious as to how this film was going to turn out.  I paid close attention to the trailers and tv spots whenever they were released and watched them on YouTube and I even watched the breakdowns of these clips.  Again, all out of curiosity more than anything else.  After listening to reviews from multiple critics, I gauged their response to the film as well and the high regards for it tugged at my interest more.  If they had all said it was crap and not worth their time or money, then I’d probably be like, “Eh, maybe I won’t see it then.”  Alas, that was not the case.

When it came time to watch the film, I was apprehensive but knew plenty about the source material and even heard some spoilers that I felt prepared.  Hahaha, I know, I know.  Why watch it then?

I have to say the film is well made and the acting performances by the young actors are spot on great.  Bill Skarsgard’s portrayal of Pennywise the Clown was different than Tim Curry’s previous portrayal and every bit intense and scary.  A very good job.  The creepiness factor is there throughout and at times so subtle that I only knew what to look for because of some of the reviews I listened to.  Some seemed specifically aimed at the theater goers.  Was it scary?  Yes and no.  Was it violent?  Yes and yes.  Was it worth my time?  I think so.

Let me explain why.  As I’ve done this whole writing thing, I’ve been drawn into storytelling no matter the medium.  Whether its movies, television, comics, video games, etc.  If there’s a great story with even better characters, I am interested.  It doesn’t matter the genre either.  I kind of equate my experience watching “IT” to my experience of playing “The Last of Us” which I reviewed in a prior blog post.  “The Last of Us” was an intense experience!  There are so many moments where the intensity of the environment and situation have my adrenaline up and flowing.  If you’ll recall, I loved the experience of the gameplay but even more so the characters of Joel and Ellie.

For “IT”, the kids make the movie.  Yes, Pennywise and all of his eerie creepiness are more spectacle than anything else because he’s a shape shifting other worldly entity of evil that feeds on the fear of children.  What they fear, he becomes, which as you can imagine produced some frightening things.

I think what draws myself and audiences to “IT” is essentially the kids and their banding together to beat this evil that adults cannot see or even sense.  And this threat is very real since we see at the beginning that it preys on children, feeding on them once their fear meets its needs.  There is a very real sense of danger to them and we cannot help but root for their survival and defeat of evil.

Call to Action: Don’t watch “IT” unless it’s your brand of entertainment.  I can honestly say that while I enjoyed the film for some reasons, I don’t feel the need to see it again.  One and done until the sequel comes out (yeah, I forgot to mention it’s a two-parter film as well).

Dealing With Plot Holes

Have you ever been watching a movie, tv show, or even read a book and thought, “Wait what about (blank) or what happened to (blank)?”?  For example, did you ever wonder about why the eagles didn’t just take the One Ring to Mordor and drop it into the lava from on high?  Did you ever wonder why Marty McFly’s parents didn’t recognize him in the present after he impacted their lives back in the 50s?  Oh, and what about Buzz Lightyear freezing like all the other toys when humans come around?  I mean, he thinks he’s a real space marine yet he acts like a toy!  Childhood ruined…  Do these instances drive you crazy?  I can keep going if you’d like.

As a writer, this is something I often have to consider and pay close attention to while I plan, write, edit, and revise.  Early on, it’s easy to write yourself into a corner or come up with a convenient climax to force your main protagonist into success.  This is just another example of growing as a writer to be honest.  Lessons learned is the best way but you won’t get there unless you have some astute beta readers looking for these faux pas.

Thankfully, I’ve managed to find some very good beta readers myself.  In fact, I would actually encourage (I know this is weird but track with me) you to write into your story small and large plot holes (or inconsistencies), making sure you are aware of them and see if your beta readers come across and puts a big giant “?!?!” next to them.  If they do, then I think you’ve established finding a beta reader worth keeping around.  Plus, you can trust they will find the plot holes you’ve glossed over yourself.

Caution/Warning!: Make sure you go back and fix those deliberate mistakes before you send your story to an agent.  Trust me, they will pick up on it and if it’s especially glaring, they will chuck your query in the waste bin faster than a dog scarfing a burger tossed in the dirt.

How do you fix a plot hole?  By writing of course.  It may take some passes but the solution will eventually come to you.  The best thing to do is not feel overwhelmed if it takes a while.  Be willing to sit on it for awhile, letting your creativity go to work while not sitting in front of the screen.  In fact, grab a notepad and write down the plot hole.  Let yourself do some manual writing for a change and see what comes.

I ran into a minor but glaring plot hole in the first chapters of So Speaks the Gallows after my main beta reader brought it to my attention.  I actually had to talk it out with him in order to find the fix.  It was actually a simple solution that didn’t require too much rewriting but it did need to take place.  I’m glad it did because it actually allowed me to add a layer that otherwise would never have been there.  (I’ll reveal what this was later down the road once the book gets published.  I’m planning on releasing some behind the scenes/commentary posts in the future but you’ll have to wait for that.  Hopefully, not too long of a wait.)

Consider plot holes, mistakes, inaccuracies, etc. to be somewhat a natural occurrence if you’re a storyteller.  It will happen because the more complex your story is, the more likely you will forget to consider a plot, setting, or character aspect that will lead to your audience giving you a big red “?!?!”.  Try not to get upset or discouraged by these instances.  Shrug it off and begin the search for the solution.  Once it’s there, insert and revise accordingly.

Call to Action: If you want to seriously treat yourself to some fun plot holes in movies and tv shows, simply go to Youtube and search “plot holes”.  You will not be disappointed.  Avoid the Disney videos though because these will inevitably ruin future watching of your favorite animated films.  But if you’re a diabolical glutton, watch with and then test your children to see how smart they are once they watch those same movies.  See if they have the beta reader/critique knack.

Book Thoughts: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Something I rarely do (pretty sure I’ve never done it in fact) is finish a book of decent length in a week.  It helps to have 16 hours of driving shotgun from Colorado to southern California though.

Initially, getting in to Ready Player One was easy.  The main protagonist, Wade Watts, introduces himself in first person and quickly begins to describe the world in which he lives and his personal struggles.  Not to get into the weeds of specifics, he lives in a dystopian future that has resolved itself to log into a virtual world called the OASIS.  Here in this virtual world, people forget the trials and hardships of their real life and become whatever they want by creating an avatar and remaining anonymous by using an alternate user name by which celebrity can be attained.

Wade or Parzival (a play on the name Percival), is what is called a gunter (fun word), which stands for egg hunter.  Already, you’re thinking, “Does that mean he’s some kind of chicken farmer in this virtual world?”  No, unfortunately, that is not what he is.  Gunters are those OASIS users who are searching for three keys (copper, jade, and crystal) which will open three gates that will eventually lead them to the Easter Egg hidden within the vastness of the OASIS by its creator.  Whoever finds it, inherits the creator’s wealth and more.  The problem is, it’s been years since the contest to find the Easter Egg was announced and no one has made headway to discover the location of the first key (copper).

There, I have to stop because otherwise we get into spoiler territory.  Honestly, the book is a fun read with plenty of sub context our society can grab a hold of as we become more advanced in our technology and move into this virtual otherworld.  VR technology for video games is getting better by the year and soon enough, I would not be surprised to see us “plug in”.

A major plus in the book for me is the references to late 70s and 80s pop culture.  The creator of the OASIS was a teenager during the 80s and therefore his difficult home life was medicated through the movies, music, video games, and comics of that decade.  I was born in the mid-80s but I have held onto that decade more than I did the 90s when I was an adolescent/teenager.  So many of the 80s references in the book hit home for me.  From classic arcade games to Rush lyrics, I found myself trying to decipher the clues to the keys and gates, thinking of the 80s and what they could mean.

Ultimately though, the characters were spot on.  Wade and his friends were strong and fun to go on the adventure with.  Anonymity is a huge theme in the book.  People perceive avatars through the OASIS but personality comes through despite appearances.  Wade learns this along the way.  There’s this desire to know who his friends are in reality but the fear that to do so might affect their relationships after being “exposed”.  How much do we see in our society today people striving to fix imperfections and form their identity by any means possible?  Identity is a major theme in the book and by the end, I really felt I understood it and was able to think about it on a deeper level.

In closing and here’s your “Call to Action”, give Ready Player One a read.  If your a fan of the 80s and all things pop culture, you’ll get a kick out of the references.  Plus, Steven Spielberg is directing the film adaptation and I can’t wait to see how the movie turns out!

Plot Twists

Something we often look for (it’s probably been ingrained in us ever since reading fiction became a favorite pastime) in a story/plot is the twist–the unexpected.  We love them as an audience.  Our brains and imaginations begin to search for them both on the pages and on the screen.  Why?  Because we love to be surprised.

Warning: There could be potential spoilers in this blog post but they’ll likely be of an “older” period.  So if you see any examples that spoiled the twist, I apologize but have to wonder why you denied yourself the joy of these great stories and then ask why at least your friends and family did not expose you to the light.  Just saying.

A plot twist is an unexpected revelation.  It can be a character moment, setting, theme, etc.  All of these can be stand as the twist but more often than not, it is character-based.  For myself, the essentiality (I wasn’t sure if that was a word or not when I typed it) of a plot twist is necessary in terms of keeping the reader on their toes.  I have read several books over the years that are straight forward and don’t offer any real twist or surprise but rather a simple telling of the story presented that focuses more on the characters and the things they do and learn.  This is fine.  Nothing wrong with it and quite effective.  One that comes to mind (very random but it popped in the ole noggin’) is that of Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carole”.  There’s no real plot twist by the end of the story.  Scrooge just experiences some existential trips and learns that this “humbug” ways lack happiness and joy.

However, the big plot twists that we’ve come to enjoy over the years somehow enrich our experiences as partakers of fiction.  The Twilight Zone series is consistent when it comes to twists and people flock to it to see if they can guess what is coming by the end.  Then we have what is probably the most famous cinematic plot twist in that Darth Vader is in fact Luke Skywalker’s father and not just the Sith Lord bent on destroying the Rebel Alliance.  What?!  (If I spoiled that for you…well, it’s time to crawl out of the dark hole and join us sunny folks).

I say all of this in that I personally believe and feel a plot twist should only be employed for the sake of enriching the story of the characters.  A great plot twist is one that shocks the characters we are following as they navigate through their conflicts and goals.  If the protagonist is shocked and undone, then even better is the reader who shares in the revelation!

For myself, I think I write knowing that things will be revealed in due time.  I don’t think of terms of wanting to set up a huge twist.  There has to be natural progression to the story in order for these reveals to work as they should.  I could give some great examples of fantasy authors I respect and feel inspired by but I’d have to play the spoiler.  I’d hate to deny people that joy.  Some really good twists that happen in fantasy can by found in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series (I reviewed the first book a while back).  Sanderson does a great job of setting things up and pulling the rug just when you think something obvious is going to take place.

All of this s meant to enhance the reading experience.  There are so many aspects to great storytelling.  Many writers attempt to get there and the opportunity is always there to be grasped.  However, it is a learned art.  Like with so many aspects, including twists and reveals unexpectedly to the reader is not an easy task.  What is disappointing though is when a cheap twist is introduced.  I aim to not utilize this type of trick on the reader.

Call to Action:  Let’s see if I can get a boost of newsletter subscribers.  I’m a few days away from releasing the new one so tell your reader friends.  Thanks!

Story vs Plot: Significant Others

posted in: Fantasy, Storytelling, Writing | 0
Sometimes, as I write, I get lost between the story and the plot I’m telling.  What are the differences between the two?  Are story and plot synonyms to each other?  If not, how do you tell the difference?

I’ll do my best to explain how I view the two and how I approach both as a writer (watch it will be simpler than I expect it to be).

For myself, I view plot as the overall arc of the narrative being told, and the story is the individual journey of each character.  Yep, that’s simple.

We can easily think of a series of stories, told from the perspectives of characters–major and minor–forming a greater plot.  The challenge is always balancing the rises and falls of each smaller story and how it affects the plot.  Characters should have victories and failures (otherwise we fall into the “perfect hero” cliché).

The best thing to develop as a writer is the ability to plan enough of the story(ies) to know the ending but also give enough leeway so as not to strangle the possibility of shifts to the stories or plot itself.  These can often lead to surprises that otherwise could not be planned out.  Sometimes, these surprises are amazing and other times a bit disappointing.  Early on in my writing, I noticed that I could start the story well but without a clear plot, I did not know where to go with the characters.

It’s important not to view the characters within the narrative as plot devices themselves.  Just because their stories make up the plot does not mean they are solely in the service of serving the plot.  Yes, their decisions should add context and even provide obstacles along the way but to have characters conveniently act so the plot comes together as it needs to by the conclusion is a bit a cheat and disservice to the reader.  (Hint: twists, turns, and surprises keep the reader engaged and always questioning what could be coming next.)

I believe it’s a slight slap to the readers if they are able to figure out how the plot and/or stories will conclude.  Sometimes, this is inevitable.  How many actually thought the Lord of the Rings would not end with the one ring being destroyed?  The genius of the plot is how Frodo and Gollum’s stories take turns that affect them as characters.  What are the consequences of their handling of the one ring?  This is story whereas the plot of the one ring being destroyed to destroy absolute evil can only be done by the journey of the characters involved in the common goal.

As I write and create complex characters in worlds of equal complexity, I often have to remind myself that the plot is “x” but the variables of characters (a, b, and c) make up the equation (I’m crap at “advanced” math so if I did that wrong…well, it just goes to show why I got A’s in English and Literature and C’s in algebra and all the other evil math classes I had to take).

Call to Action: Try looking at your favorite books or movies.  Can you spot where stories and plots are different?  Are there bad examples and good examples?  Share your findings!

Also, sign up for the newsletter if you haven’t yet!  The Shoals to the Hallowed short story has a title: The Queen’s Gamble.  Really excited to share the story with everyone.

Creating an Editing/Revising Plan

I try to keep my blog informative and fun but sometimes I definitely want to write more towards fellow writers or even to those who are considering taking up writing.  Whichever you are (and maybe you’re neither but still like to come by and read my beautiful words), I hope today’s post will be beneficial.

If I had to estimate, I would say 40 percent of my writing experience is creating new content.  The other 60 percent is editing and revising.  I can often come up with new ideas quickly and hash out that first rough draft quickly with all the burrs and nicks.  In my experience, editing and revising are essential steps in the process of polishing a story to be ready to read.  Big rule for writers: Don’t let anyone read your rough draft.  Just don’t.  I know you’re excited to share your recent story and want someone else to love it as much as you.  Unlikely.  Just being honest.

In reality, your rough draft is not going to be good.  It may have parts that work really well but there will be wordiness and clunky dialogue more often than not.  Unfortunately…this goes beyond the rough draft.  For the love of all things sweet and shiny, I am seeing horrible mistakes in my fourth revision of my book!  Sometimes, it takes a few attempts to really chisel, sand, and polish before your story is ready to be read by another person.

I’ve been thinking about a system for myself and my own writing when it comes to editing and revising.  What would work best as I go through the process of making it worth reading and not come away having to answer a hundred questions of why this is that or what does that mean?  After a few questions like this, you start to question whether or not you acted prematurely in your earlier years.  So, I’ll preface this plan by saying I have not followed this yet.  This is merely my plan going forward with future books I write.  (Note: This is prone to change as I go through the process.)

Start: The rough draft is the beginning–the blank canvas.  That’s blank pages being filled in with whatever the writer’s mind is creating.  Notes and little ideas of setting and characters are implemented here depending on your level of preparation.  If you outline, then it’s easier but if you prefer the “go and flow” method, then the rough draft will have a definite coarse feel to it.

1st Edit/Revision: This should be done after you’ve finished the whole story.  Beginning and end have to be in place (write down any notes of things you want to change and plan to add, adjust, or delete after the story is done).  Resist the urge to go back and make corrections to page 10 when you are on page 230.  Until then, those changes you thought of while writing the rough draft should not be implemented.  Look for any grammatical errors as well.  Do not skip these.

2nd Edit/Revision: By this time, you know the story very well.  You could probably recite the whole thing to someone.  On this pass, I start looking at details.  Look for descriptions (characters, world, culture, themes, etc.) and make sure these are consistent throughout the story.  You are layering now.

3rd Edit/Revision: Step back and don’t look at or work on the story for at least a month.  If you are on a deadline, then I recommend some look-ahead planning.  When you come back to your story, you will see things you don’t like and will want to change.  Have at it!  One thing you may notice is wordiness.  Be willing to cut where it needs to be.  Rearrange some sentences if you need to.  Make it flow!

4th Edit/Revision: Read out loud.  I’ll be honest here.  I have not done this to a great degree but as I progress forward in my own writing, I have a plan to start reading my stories out loud to myself (not another soul in earshot!).  Why do this?  Because you will notice things.  Word flow will read bloated or stuffy.  You want flow.  Whether read in your head or out loud to a room full of listeners, you want your words to be silky smooth.

5th Edit/Revision: (I know, I know.  Almost there.)  Now, you might be tired of your story.  In fact, you are going to have doubts about it.  Before you convince yourself it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on, take a breath and relax.  You’ve put in the work and it should be ready to be read by others.  Find readers.  I would recommend friends and family who will be honest with you (not always easy to do but you should have some).  Make sure to tell them they need to be honest.  They do you no favors if they tell you you’re writing is the second coming of Tolkien, Dickens, or Milton (it likely won’t be).

Finally, take whatever feedback you get and apply those changes where you deem necessary.  Sometimes, you won’t always agree with the suggestions and that’s okay.  Preferences in readers is not gospel.  Don’t let it be.

There it is.  This is my editing and revising plan for myself.  There are other details but seeing as how this is a long blog post, I’ll leave it there.  Writing requires patience, effort, discipline, and the will to finish.  Being creative is not enough.  I did not know this when I first started and discovered it along the way.

Call to Action:  If you’re a writer or want to write, I’d suggest tucking this post away for reference.  There are plenty of other writers out there with different methods and probably even wrote books on the topic.  Find what works for you and stick with it.  Make changes along the way if you need to.  If you’re another writer and stumbled over here and have different methods, please share!  I’m always looking for ways to improve.

Writing Likable Characters

posted in: Fantasy, Storytelling, Writing | 2
As I’ve stated many times, characters drive a story.  How well the characters are written can bring life to the world and the narrative.  Elements like setting, themes, plot twists, magic systems (for fantasy), etc. are all great but cannot effectively drive a story.  Readers become attached to the characters in the world in which they’re reading but if the reader struggles to care about the characters, it has to be asked if they even care what happens by the end (assuming they even reach the end)?

I’m going to take two examples of two “main” characters and delve into their likeability.  For me as a reader, I’m immediately judging whether or not I care about the character whose journey I am following.  Their personality is being revealed to me slowly, peeling away until I see the inner workings.  What are their motivations, passions, desires, fears, weaknesses, shortcomings, etc.  If I can relate in anyway, then I am definitely hooked early on.  If not, then I am reading in search of qualities I can gravitate towards and maybe empathize with.  If the character has obvious faults (selfish, conceited, proud), then I am reading in hopes that they find redemption and become a changed person whom I’m happy to see the maturation and growth of.

I’ll start with Quentin Coldwater of Lev Grossman’s book, “The Magicians”.  Quentin is a young man, looking to graduate high school and make the next step in his educational career.  He discovers that he has been selected to take a test that would–if passed–enroll him into a secret school for young magicians to learn magic and excel in the “arts”.  It’s not a unique story in itself and Quentin is somewhat the typical main protagonist.  There’s just one problem…he’s a bit of a jerk.

Now, he has not come from a loving family; his parents are often out of the country and having no real relationship with him and that seems to be the cause for much of his attitude towards others and the struggle he has to form relationships.  In this, Quentin makes friends but he really does struggle to have healthy relationships.  Most of this is the basis for his selfishness and insecurities.  Where he does excel as a character is his believability.  I know people like him.  I’ve seen them over the years and treat others as he does, followed by having to face the consequences of his choices and more often his mistakes.

I personally struggled to like Quentin throughout the first book and series (though I did finish it and even now cannot remember if his final moments mattered to me).  He has some redeeming qualities over the course of his story but his angst and “woe is me” attitude (all brought on himself by the way) drove me crazy at times.  So often I just wanted to speak to him and tell him he’s acting like a petulant child and needs to be better at life and treat others with respect and value.  (Of course, I could not do this and therefore read on, shaking my head in continual annoyance.)

Next, let’s take Tyrion Lannister of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series by George R.R. Martin or “Game of Thrones” for TV watchers.  To put it simply, he is quite the character.  There is depth to him that is revealed in such a way that you’re continually finding yourself liking him more and more despite some of his less than admirable qualities.  He’s a lecher and drunk but loyal to his friends and family despite the latter continually regarding him (sometimes quite openly) as being only of value because he bears the family name.  You sympathize with him because you recognize his ability to possess passion for others who have endured horrible hardships.  He abhors cruelty and is not prone to hurting others (cough, cough), often believing he can use his status, knowledge, and wisdom to get the upper hand.

Tyrion goes on a whirlwind of a journey that sees him rise and fall but always remaining who he is.  Specifics would lend way to spoilers so I’ll stray from those but as a storyteller and fan of a good story, Tyrion is one of the best out there in my opinion.

The more I read, the more I recognize these characters like Tyrion who I find enjoyable and surprising despite what I might personally regard as vices in their lives.  Do the virtues outweigh those vices?  In Tyrion, I actually do think this.  He has a propensity for getting out of difficult and sometimes life-threatening situations without comprising his established character.  His sometimes heartless reactions to situations make sense and not out of left field for someone of his capability.

As a writer, I am continually thinking about my characters more than the grand plot.  Do I want to make them likeable?  Yes, but I also want them to feel real to the reader.  They cannot be perfect in every way otherwise where’s the risk and danger?  Even if the reader has a sense that some character(s) won’t die, there still needs to be this burden of wonder that something bad or even horrible can happen to them either by way of outside forces or as a result of their choice whether that choice was honorable or not.

One thing I like to ask beta readers is whether or not the characters were complex, relatable, etc. or the opposite.  Getting that feedback helps me as a writer.  As I revise, I take the time to examine every thought, word, and action of the characters to make sure they are not simply doing something for the sake of the plot.  Rather, everything they do should be based on their reaction and/or response to what is happening around them.  Writing likable characters is forever an exploration and process of becoming a better writer.

Call to Action: Are there any examples of unlikable characters you’ve read?  Or maybe ones you did like in the beginning of a book and then did not by the end?

Managing Yourself: A Simple Principle

posted in: Fantasy, Life, Writing | 0

NOTE: In light of the events in Charlottesville today, I wanted to say I wrote this blog post weeks ago.  I want to make sure that none of the language used in the my writing could be mistaken for today’s events.  I will speak to the events here and say I am appalled at the racist hate displayed and in no way condone it.  I also am surprised by some of the responses on social media as well.  To think such things do not exist shows a lack of paying attention to the space in which our country has assembled.  I am not surprised and do not condone such actions but also am not scared or worried because a small number of hateful people decide to rally.  The small number of participants should remind us all that there are far more who do not stand with the hateful.  Those of us who choose to love our fellow men no matter color, culture, political side, and/or religious beliefs far outnumber the few who embrace hate in their hearts.

As strange as it is and this being my blog, everything stated is my own opinion and based on my experiences, convictions, beliefs, and research into various topics.  I know, you read that first sentence and think, “Oh boy, where’s this going?”  I try to keep this blog grounded in writing and whatever influences I have in my journey.

However, I have noticed something in recent months that has me somewhat concerned but not apprehensive in my pursuit for traditional publishing.  Just some thoughts I’ve been wanting to share.

Twitter is quite the social media tool/outlet to connect with all kinds of people from all kinds of walks of life.  I’ve been able to follow, interact, and have discussions with unpublished and published authors, editors, agents, and others in the book industry.  This has been a fun experience for me and allows me to ask questions, find resources, and even form acquaintance-like relationships.

In spite of all this, though, I also come up against some things that flash warning signs.  Now, I’m approaching this carefully because I don’t want to offend or stir anything.  If this blog post leads to anything, I hope its respectful dialogue.  I have no interest in debating or converting for any purpose.  I want to share some concerns.

If you are unaware (I seriously don’t know how that could be) but there are a lot of dividing lines right now in the US.  Politics, religion, and even sports produce some really nasty things “said” about and to people who may not share the same views.  Now, I could unfollow those who have these different views from me but I honestly like to read what people are saying so I understand where they’re coming from.

My chief concern though when it comes to the writing industry is will I be ignored or attacked if I don’t share the same views so openly expressed?

I do not get political or even religious on social media.  I follow many people who I share different views than and read things every day I do not agree with.  However, I have and hold to a position that I cannot manage anyone but myself.  It’s not easy but it’s a great discipline to have.  Others are very open about their anger and sometimes hate of other people and this makes me wonder if I will be “denied” opportunities if I disagree with those who hold the keys.  I think it’s a legitimate concern for me to have but at the same time I trust that my writing and storytelling abilities will supersede any disagreements.

If I could offer any kind of advice (totally up to you if you want to follow it or not; you won’t offend me if you don’t or call me a name), it would be that I think people need to be careful of vitriol espoused on social media.  Not because you’ll offend someone but because people like me will wonder, “Can I have any kind of relationship with this person if they find out I don’t share the same views as them?”

The writing community is a unique place in that there’s usually a lot of support and few “rivalries”.  When writers announce their successes, I see way more support and congratulations than the opposite.  There may be jealousy but that drives a lot of writers to believe they can be the next one to sign that book deal contract.

However, and I’ve seen this a lot in recent weeks, there are writers and agents that are extremely hostile and sometimes plain disgusting with what they say in response to something outside of writing that they are upset over.  I get it.  There are things that drive me up the wall and boil my blood as well but I don’t think it’s worth my time or effort to say anything on a social platform (part of me doesn’t think anyone cares anyway).

Obviously, I am not saying this sort of behavior should be stopped.  Far from it actually.  Speak and be heard but I know there are consequences for saying things.  For me, I never want to jeopardize future relationships because of a quick response born out of anger or offense.  As I stated before, I can only manage myself and I want to always be mindful of how my words affect not only others but myself in the grand scheme of things.

Call to Action: Now I don’t know if my concerns are legitimate or not but I’ll probably share stories once I get deeper into the agent/publishing levels.  Until then, sign up for the newsletter!  (Yes, you’ll see this push throughout the month.)

On This Day: 09 August – Book Lovers Day

posted in: Fantasy, On This Day, Reading | 2
I was doing some research and found that today is Book Lovers Day.  Well, how could I resist doing a blog post about that!Apparently, the day encourages people to relax with a book and reading to your heart’s content.  Unfortunately, this day falls in the middle of the week and so I’m at work.  That does not mean I will not go the day without reading (I have a personal goal to read 20-30 pages a day and usually meet it).

So, my encouragement to everyone today is to take the book you’re reading or maybe find a new book to read and take some time in a quiet place, get some coffee or tea, and read in peace.  Go a step further and put your phone on silent and in the other room.  Remove distractions for a decent hour at least.

I admit, sometimes I wish our connectivity through technology could be set back a decade or two.  Since that’s not possible, it comes down to our having to be proactive and turn off the connectivity manually.  I mean to do this more, especially on the weekends.  There’s something about reading a book (not an ebook) that is comforting to me.  I think it’s important not to lose this odd connection of immersion into fiction or nonfiction (whatever your preference).

Call to Action:  Do yourself some good peace and quiet and enjoy a book today.  Don’t feel pressured to read a certain amount of pages or chapters.  Just read to your heart’s content.  Share with me what you’re reading too!

2nd 2017 Newsletter Coming Soon!

posted in: Newsletter, Review, Writing | 0
Shameless plug time.  The second newsletter of the year will be sent out the 31st of August.  If you haven’t signed up, I hope you will.  Like last time, it will follow the same format sharing where I’m at in the progress of the Ravanguard series, book reviews, and best of all: a short story from the Shoals to the Hallowed series.

Just to reiterate, if you’re caught up on the Shoals to the Hallowed flash fiction posts at the end of each month, this short story will take place in the same timeline.  It will feature the Wielder, Delya Glassene, who was introduced in the “Binding Sleight” flash fiction post back in February.  As I write the short story, I am excited to say that it will give some context to the world and main plot points.  I’ve enjoyed writing these stories and plan to continue to do so for all of you.

If you know others who might like the series, then feel free to share the previous posts.  It won’t take long to catch up and there’s plenty of time to sign up and receive all the content so you don’t miss any of the story.  I make no promises to release the short stories from the newsletter any time soon.  I’d like to keep and maintain some exclusivity.

So, if I’ve intrigued you at all, hopefully you will sign up when prompted on the website.  You can also go to the contact form and request to be added to the newsletter list there.

Another quick little tease for you.  I will be announcing a big thing I’ll be doing with the blog for the month of October.  Let’s just say it will be strange but an awesome thing for me to write about for that month that will require preparation but full of good stuff.

If you did not receive the first newsletter but signed up, please let me know and I’ll get that out to you.  As always, thanks for dropping by and reading!

Call to Action: For anyone who has received the first newsletter, feel free to leave a comment here if you have any feedback.

Wordiness:  Too Many Too Few

As I revise, I am becoming more aware of the things I do wrong as a writer.  Some of this is chalked up to my first draftiness (ah, fun word play) but as I work on my fifth revision, I have to consider my growth and maturing as a writer.  Today, let’s talk about my being too wordy.

First drafts (in my experience) are serious word vomit sessions where I seem to just pour it on and on because I’m still telling myself the story.  That’s what first drafts are: the writer telling the story to themselves first.  Each subsequent draft of the story should be less of this.  Those drafts need to be approached with the attitude of, “Now I know what the story is so I need to whittle it down for others.”  When I use the word “whittle”, I do not mean to dumb it down.  Far from it, since I believe when revising, the story should be sharpened.  Each sentence should be put to the whetstone until there’s a fine edge.  No burrs or dullness.

For myself, I am revising my book to the point where I am making sure redundancy and over-description are being removed.  I am looking weak verbs like: are, was, is, etc.  Why say someone is running when saying they ran or rushed is stronger?  I am looking for word flow.  As I mentioned in my previous post about word count, I can honestly say my book is not lacking in the word count department, but to cut away the fat is necessary.

C.S. Lewis said, “Don’t say it was delightful; make us say delightful when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, ‘Please will you do the job for me.’”  This and other quotes about writing and being a functional wordsmith continue to linger in my mind.  Writers should strive to evoke and stir the emotions of the readers, remembering to show them what is happening in the story.

Call to Action: Newsletter plug time!  If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter, definitely do so.  Not only will it have exclusive info about myself since the last newsletter and some book reviews, but you will also get the Shoals to the Hallowed short story that will close some gaps and provide context to the flash fiction series.

Happenings: Life as a Writer

Hello all!  Life continues as it does without giving so much as a moment’s break.  I’ve been actively keeping up on all of my projects and won’t rehash any of it here (busyness is a real thing for a writer).

I do have a slight announcement to share.  I am featured on another writer’s blog in an interview that you can click over to read here: http://jamie-marchant.com/blog/

Hope you enjoy that little bit of a tidbit.  It was a fun experience and I hope to do more in the near future.  Yes, that was an actual excerpt from “So Speaks the Gallows” and a great deal of fun to finally share.  (I think I’ll share it here on the website as well over on the So Speaks the Gallows page.)

I am working on the second newsletter set to be released at the end of August.  If you haven’t signed up yet for it, I highly encourage you to do so.  It will contain a “Shoals to the Hallowed” short story that will fill in some gaps and provide additional information to everything what has transpired so far.  I know there’s a propensity to provide exposition but I really try to avoid this while writing.  The information is there but lines do need to be made.  I trust you all as readers to do that.

Also, I wanted to take today’s blog post to recommend a movie to all of you.  Baby Driver (the title of the film may be the only thing I don’t like about it) is such a great film and done so well from a direction perspective.  I know I mentioned it in a previous post but I cannot stop promoting it!  You’ll find today’s Call to Action devoted to a video that dives deeper into the filmmaking that I found fun to watch.

Game of Thrones started back up, so I’m watching that as well as other shows.  Some are guilty pleasures but not things I recommend for their storytelling.  I will say, though, that I’m always looking for new shows.  I avoid procedurals like the plague and really only like those in comedies.  For drama, I love a good serial that has twists and turns.
I’m still behind in my Goodreads reading challenge but trying to catch up.  I find myself in a weird place though as I’m listening to an audiobook of Christopher Moore’s “Lamb”, which is the fictional story about Jesus and his best friend, Biff, as they travel in search of the three magi who delivered gifts to Jesus as a baby.  They go on quite the adventure that is absolutely speculative fictional, not always…kosher.  And, I’m reading the book, “Good Omens”, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, which has a rather satirical take on the apocalypse with the coming of the Antichrist but things are not quite going as planned.  Very strange dichotomy of reading that I did not plan but both stories have crossed over.  I’m not quite sure I’d recommend either book at this point.

Not a main writing focus for today’s blog post but I like to pause and share the things I’m doing and enjoying.  All of these affect my writing in some form or another.  I’m not one of those writers who is always writing/editing/revising or working on my projects.  Breaks are good for my sanity, which is essential for writers to maintain (though, I guess there are some writers out there who would argue the opposite).

Call to Action: Watch the video and enjoy!

Stretching and Testing: Exploring Other Genres

posted in: Fantasy, Storytelling, Writing | 2
While at this time in my life as a writer I am focusing on fantasy, I often wonder what it would be like to sit down and try to write a story (at whatever length) that moves away from my preferred genre.  I dabbled in this in the past with short stories for classes and while they were definitely not fantasy, I always approached them with the desire to explore different characters who had secrets or qualities that were not revealed until the very end (I may have to dig these up and consider revising).

I blame this blog post of a rabbit trail of creativity on my attempt at reading non-fantasy books.  As I’ve stated before, I am looking for different kinds of books to read to help stretch my writing muscles.  So far, I delved into biographies and a few contemporary fiction novels.  I’ve enjoyed these books for various reasons but I can’t help but wonder, “If I were to write a satirical novel or maybe something considered horror, what kind of story would I write?”

So often, I see motivational and inspirational quotes, encouraging writers to write what they love.  I wholeheartedly agree with this but I can’t help but think there’s value in trying new things.  Obviously, my time is taken up by my devotion to my fantasy series but what’s to stop me from taking a few hours and try to write something that takes place in the late 20th century or more recent?  Nothing really to be honest.  It could serve as a simple creative exercise and there are benefits to that practice.

At this time, I think if I played with any kind of new idea, I’d have to keep it to a short story word count.  If I were to stretch myself too thin, I think I could easily become overwhelmed and that could affect my writing commitments.  This would not be good for myself in the end.  So, a short story would have to be limit.

I think writers can sometimes become distracted by fresh ideas, neglecting current stories that are further along.  I kind of attribute it to being like a new pair of shoes.  You love them when you buy them, wear them everyday, and tell yourself you don’t need another pair for years.  Then, you’re browsing online or at a store and boom!  You spot another pair of shoes that convince you immediately your current shoes are worn down too much to be worn much longer.  I would encourage all writers to watch out for this situation.  You are the best judge of your stories but do not trash something that you cherish just for the sake of something new and fresh.

Call to Action:  Does anyone have a good recommendation for a book of short stories?  I think I need to read more to get a better feel for their length and convention.

On This Day: 17 July 2006 – Mistborn: The Final Empire First Published

posted in: Fantasy, On This Day, Review | 3

This month’s “On This Day” post is one I’ve been looking forward to writing for awhile.  I learned of Brandon Sanderson back when I was living in Seattle and going to school.  I learned that my favorite author Robert Jordan had succumbed to his life-threatening sickness and passed on.  While it was horrible news and I felt the pain in my heart at such a tragedy to the fantasy and literary world, I also learned that another author would be finishing Jordan’s grand fantasy masterpiece, The Wheel of Time series.

I reviewed the first WoT book, The Eye of the World, back in January for my first OTD post if you recall or are new to my blog.  Jordan managed to write up to book 12 of the series before he passed.  He wanted to write one more book to close the series but it was quickly realized that final book would need to be three books to do the end justice.

After learning Sanderson would be taking the helm and finishing the series based on in depth notes provided by Jordan and the aid of Jordan’s widow who served as his editor for decades, Sanderson undertook the great effort.

This allowed me time to get to know the unknown writer who would be finishing what I considered the greatest fantasy series ever (part of me still believes this).  So, I went to Sanderson’s book, Mistborn: The Final Empire, and was thrust into a world that I could not step away from even if I tried.

The brilliance of Sanderson’s writing and skill is often found in the originality of his magic systems which I will be focusing on for this post.  Without delving into spoilers for the book (yes, if I went into the fullness of the magic system, I’d be spoiling things), I will cover the basics.

In Mistborn, the main magic system explored and focused on is called Allomancy.  Here’s how it works: men and women, called Mistings or Mistborn depending on their ability, can use types of metals to enhance themselves physically and mentally.  Below is a table with a basic description:

PHYSICAL Pushing Pulling Pulling Pushing MENTAL
External Steel

Pushes on Nearby Metals

Iron

Pulls on Nearby Metals

Zinc

Enflames Emotions

Brass

Dampens Emotions

External
Internal Pewter

Increases Physical Abilities

Tin

Increases Physical Senses

Copper

Hides Allomantic Pulses

Bronze

Detects Allomantic Pulses

Internal
ENHANCEMENT Pushing Pulling Pulling Pushing TEMPORAL

I understand that just looking at this is difficult to understand, which is why I would highly encourage reading this book.  The best I can explain it here is that an Allomancer uses small amounts of these metals (kept in glass vials) and swallows the contents.  Depending on the type of Allomancer and what metal they are able to utilize, they can internally “burn” the metal inside them and carry out any of the functions listed in the table.One great example in the book is the pushing and pulling of metal.  Mistborns are able to launch themselves up into the air by pushing on a piece of metal on the ground and then pull themselves to another piece of metal like an iron bannister of a balcony.  The image truly allows for some amazing action sequences.

I truly do not know if I can do it justice in explanation but this type of magic system upon first reading was mesmerizing.  The creativeness involved (remember, I am simply going over the basics of the system) and the deeper layers explored by Sanderson through the characters inspires me as a fantasy writer.

Magic systems are one of the main attractions for readers of the genre.  Some are extremely creative while others are more arcane and not completely explored as a whole because they serve almost as ancillary roles in the main narrative of the story.  What Sanderson offers (he has a bevy of books, novellas, and short stories to his name now) is a well-thought out system that affects the culture, economy, and other ways of life.  This is not always the case in most fantasy books but Sanderson follows this model in such a way that you cannot help but be entertained by how it’s used and plays a role.

Call to Action: Give it a read!  The world is rich and the action is fast and engaging.  Best of all are the characters who I did not spend any time exploring in this post but they are just as in depth as the magic system.

Keeping Track: Importance of a Glossary

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0

Since I’ve started to focus on revising “So Speaks the Gallows”, my blog posts seem to be centered around that process and things I’m encountering along the way.  That should narrow into specific topics from time to time or at least I hope it does.  Obviously, some specifics will be avoided or omitted for the sake of keeping details under wraps but hopefully the main points of what I’m blogging about will come through.

I know I’ve mentioned it before but my wife has repeatedly expressed amazement and awe (the latter is more my word than hers, lol) that I am able to construct a diverse and enriched detailed world that I’ve spent a great deal of time developing and getting just right.  World building has its merits along with adventurous intrigue, but I would be remiss to say its a simple exercise of the creative mind to keep track of everything.

As much as I love world building, a greater aspect of doing so is recording and keeping a detailed file of everything specific to my fantasy world.  Now, when it comes to the main characters, some supporting characters, and their descriptions, I could throw those out easily.  Even places, cultural details, magic-related items, etc., I can describe those in length and thoroughly.  However, there are smaller aspects I cannot for the life of me always remember.

What was the name of that village/town by that small river where my main character interacted briefly with a traveler whose name I can’t remember and they drank wine from a vineyard and ate a type of cheese whose names allude me…  You get the picture.  Not everything can be stowed away and plucked to the forefront of my memory.

Detailed notes are best kept in a separate file I’ve titled Master Glossary.  It’s this file that has saved me lots of time when researching and going back looking for a bit of information I’ve forgotten.  I would encourage all fantasy writers to do this but somehow I believe they already do.  If they didn’t in the beginning, they definitely did once they had a couple of beta readers point out embarrassing mistakes.

I mention this for today’s blog post because I’ve been trying to polish up my Master Glossary as I’ve gone about revising SStG.  Unfortunately, and I know this set me back some hours, I haven’t even begun to include the many characters, places, and things I’ve written for the other novellas and books rough drafts yet.  That will be quite the undertaking but necessary.

I know for a fact that agents could be very interested in book one but if my world building and tracking of this world is messy and unkempt, they could have reservations about trusting in my ability to see the story continued and wrapped up.  A glossary and detailed note taking is essential to my tightening the writing and making sure consistency is found throughout the narrative.

Call to Action:  Hmm, I don’t have a post-related CTA today to be honest.  I’ve toyed with a few things and came up empty.  So let’s go the charitable route.  If you have the chance, look to help a family member, friend, or even a stranger today.  Even if it’s offering to pay for someone’s coffee, consider doing so.  The world is ugly at times but we can still be courteous and decent despite the atrocities.

Steady Pace: Writing Action Sequences

I’ve recently worked on a long action sequence in “So Speaks the Gallows” and the effort made me think it was a good time to blog about writing action.  This is based on my own experience and in no way a “must follow” instructional.  Just some thoughts, ideas, and practices I’ve found myself able to explore over time.

Writing action scenes is not an easy endeavor to say the least.  When thinking epic fantasy, the images of epic battles similar to what can be found in the Lord of the Rings movies comes to mind.  Visualizing these sequences for the screen has its own set of difficulties (see the Appendices of the movies for further detail).  For novel writing though, it’s a bit different.  The action has to be described in a way that holds and maintains the reader’s attention without inundating them with any confusing language or unnecessary details.

This is a difficult part of writing.  I did not understand this in the beginning and actually prefer smaller scenes of action than large scale warfare.  There are writers that do both very well.  Brandon Sanderson (via the notes and direction of Robert Jordan) was able to do this in the final book of the Wheel of Time series, A Memory of Light, which is a massive final battle that has so many moving parts and elements that it’s amazing to read.

For myself, action sequences need to be treated in a way that moves and does not stall.  Characters are engaged in often life and death situations and have to act in order to survive.  Their choices should reflect this and if they make a mistake, then there should be consequences.  For myself, I don’t like it when the “heroes” are untouchable.  Emotions should be tugged on throughout action sequences both in the characters and the reader.

Something I try to keep in mind while writing action is forward progress and the toll taken on the characters.  Long fights where neither side gets tired is unrealistic (unless we are dealing with superheroes and/or ridiculous fights in the Matrix).  Two guys with swords fighting to the death are not likely to last more than a few minutes.  The best training in the world does not mean the body does not lose energy and grow tired.  And if and when one side suffers an injury, that has an affect on the body as well.  Loss of blood forces the body react in a way to compensate for the wound.  This is something I personally pay attention to while writing any kind of fighting scene.

Let there be a cost.  This is sort of my mantra whenever things turn violent in anything I’m writing.  Violence is a means of entertainment we find in all mediums but we are far removed from any ideology that the good guys never lose.  It’s difficult for me to write an action sequence and write the deaths of characters I know very well after so many years with them but they are not and cannot be untouchable.  There is a difference between killing characters off for shock affect and characters dying because they were bested and/or caught in the crossfire.  This is difficult to pull off and while I could justify the killing of a character (whatever their role in the story), some readers could easily say they feel cheated by the death, arguing it was unnecessary.  It’s up to me to make it justifiable in the end.

Action should pull on the reader in several different ways.  It takes years to practice and become good at it.  My recent revision of the long sequence I mentioned previously revealed a lot about myself when I first wrote it.  Too often, I ran into paragraphs that simply did nothing to push the action forward.  These stilted moments were amateur to say the least and I am pleased with the revision.  There’s a flow–a pace–to writing these scenes and while I continue to test myself and improve, I believe I’m closer to applying my writing style and voice to these difficult scenes.

Call to Action:  So, we recently watched the movie “Baby Driver”.  I whole-heartedly recommend viewing this fine film.  Not only is it fun and original, but it does something for action sequences that is not only entertaining but strikes the creative chord (pun intended).  How?  The director, Edgar Wright, syncs the soundtrack of the film to the action.  Trust me, you’ll love it.

Word Count: Does It Matter?

posted in: Fantasy, Storytelling, Writing | 6
Often, writer’s (especially with their first book attempts) just write, trying to finish the book.  That’s the primary goal with dreams of publication on the horizon.  What happens (and this is my experience) is that writers begin to do research and find information on length of the book and how that may or may not affect the book being bought and published for the general public.

When I was younger, this terrified me because I realized that my first book was very large.  Mind you, I’ve decided to love and write epic fantasy because I like a good storytelling challenge.  Now, if you do any kind of quick searches for epic fantasy novel word count, you will find what is quite the endeavor.  Anywhere from 175K to 225K words seems an appropriate average.  This translates to several hundreds of pages both in hardback and paperback, which is quite the commitment for a reader.  It’s even more so for a publisher though who is putting up the money to pay for a wide release of what they hope will be a bestseller.

Publishers are in the book game to make money.  That has to be realized.  Agents are in the book game to make money as well.  They are looking for writers who write something they believe they can sell for a book deal to a major publisher so that the book will hit the shelves at Barnes and Noble and the virtual shelves at Amazon.  Writers are in the game to write.  Sure some look to make money but I’m of the opinion best selling writers have both the skill to write a great story that other people are willing to pay for to read, but also the ability to tell the story in a way only they can.  We’ve got it in us to put the words on the pages.

In the beginning, I wanted to write, get published, and make money.  Not much of a confession since I was 18 and had no idea what else to do with my life at that time.  Now, 32, I want to write and get published.  If I make money in doing so then that’s just an added bonus.  What does this have to do with word count, you might ask?  A lot actually because I cannot sacrifice my story for the sake of believing it can only be published by a major publisher if I get it under 125K words because that might be what the publisher prefers.

From a cost/profit position, I get it.  It’s not easy to sell a new epic fantasy book that stretches several hundred pages and expect a profit all the time.  It happens but there’s a lot that goes into the effort of the agent and publisher to get that money.

For me, I cannot get hung up on length when it comes to my book.  Is it long, yes.  Admittedly so, it is long.  But that is because it is epic fantasy.  It’s the nature of the beast.  My goal is to write, edit, revise, and polish it to the best of my abilities.  Not only that, but it needs to be the best it can be in order for an agent to believe it enough to invest their career, reputation, and time into it.  It’s no easy task but doable and I believe in my writing and storytelling abilities to reach this goal despite the word count.

To all other writers who may venture to read this blog post (are you out there?  I’m not quite sure to be honest), I would encourage you to tell the story from beginning to end as you see fit.  Be prepared to have to cut and revise if your beta readers make suggestions.  Be prepared to spend more time revising sections if an agent believes it will benefit the book, which will lead it to being sold.  If there’s a section that you disagree needs to be cut/revised for whatever reason, make an appeal and state your reason why.  Trust in yourself.

Call to Action: I’m curious to know if book readers turn away from books based on length.  Do you have a preference?

Recommended: The Last of Us

I’m not the biggest gamer nor would I consider myself well-informed on the great selection of games out there nowadays.  That’s not to say I haven’t wasted many a days staring at a screen and directing an avatar through a dangerous, violent adventure pursuing the ultimate goal or an achievement/trophy.  I won’t be going into a lot of detail about my experience with video games today but I do want to shine some light on a particular game that has impacted me the most in my 20+ years of playing video games across many consoles.

The Last of Us is in my opinion the best narrative of a story in video game form (based on what I’ve experienced; there could be others).  I won’t be getting into gameplay or mechanics of the game itself because I know some readers will not be familiar with that aspect (so let’s keep it general).  However, I think everyone can admire and stand with me when it comes to enjoying a well-told story.  The Last of Us does this.

The game follows Joel–one of our main protagonists–in a future that is decimated by a disease that affects people’s brains and bodies, leading to eventual violent tendencies.  He’s a survivor, suffering demons from the first days of the outbreak.  This leads to his eventual goal for the game.  His task is to escort a young girl, Ellie, to a location across the country where she can be safe from would-be antagonists who seek to do her harm.

Without going into spoilers (just in case any readers have yet to play the game and are planning to), it’s not the most embracing of relationships as Joel is worn down by the world and carries the pain of losing his own daughter years prior.  Ellie is a girl who was born into a broken world and her wonder about the world lost leads her to ask Joel lots of questions and be what a teenager might be in those circumstances: curious.

From setting to setting, the game pits Joel and Ellie against enemies in various forms and they have to do whatever they can to survive and find safety.  Woven throughout this drama and the intense gameplay, you as the player are privileged to be part of the relationship that grows between them.  Joel is a father without a daughter and Ellie quickly becomes the potential surrogate despite his wanting to be done with the mission at hand, struggling to bond with what he thinks might be stolen away from him yet again.

My love for this game comes from the dynamic between the two characters.  I have a soft spot when it comes to stories that involve a parental figure and a child who rely on each other and come out changed for the better in the end (see my review of Logan).  By the end, both Joel and Ellie are different, experiences real growth.  I can admit, but there’s a point in the game that is so emotional that I definitely teared up a little.

A minor narrative detail throughout the game is when the game slows down and Joel and Ellie are going from one place to another (or from conflict to conflict).  Here is where the casual conversations take place.  Ellie will see something or you can direct Joel to look at something in the environment and Ellie will react, asking questions that explore her thoughts, Joel’s thoughts, and end with the two talking as if the world has not gone toes up.  It’s a small detail strung throughout the game but adds a layer no other game has taken advantage of to my knowledge before it.  It’s a genius character element!

Yes, The Last of Us is a video game and while a great many lack in great storytelling, this one sets the standard.  It was funny, I found out a friend of mine recently started the game and I told him I would come and watch him play to witness his experience with the game.  It’s something I cannot go through for the first time again but I love that others can.  Even if they do not feel the same way as I do about it, to me it’s worth experiencing just as much as I think some films or TV shows should be experienced.  It’s storytelling done right and I will always be drawn to those examples.

Call to Action: It’s not a simple, “Oh you should go out, buy a Playstation and the game, and play!”  No, that’s not feasible.  Instead, I’ve attached a non-spoiler review video for your viewing pleasure.  There’s some in-game language and violence in the video so you’ve been warned.

Flash Fiction: “Trust in the Dust”

Red and orange dirt rose in the air, forming a cloud of fire gently falling to the wet cream-colored canvas tapestry laid on the stained floor.  The motes showered along the surface in a pattern unlike any other.  It was the practice of a dust seer, using the fine granule sands found in desolate parts of the Navastle Desert.

Teelee stared in wonder as she kept pressed into the corner of the dust seer’s hut.  Her older brother stood alongside the old seer whose white robes had long since collected flecks of the fire sand, making the man a story unto himself.  She tried not to stare at the seer’s robes whenever she tagged along with her brother but struggled, which often earning the ire of the seer, whose name was Shotra the Twig on account of his slim, bony stature.

“What do you see, boy?” the seer asked.  Along with his robe, his leathery hands and arms were just as stained.  His long nose curved down and slightly to the side.  All hair that remained were wisps of white strands collected at the base of his skull.  Sweat shined along his pate and taut face from the sunlight piercing through the gaps of the boarded walls of the hut.

Teelee’s brother, Dag, bent down as the dust settled in the shades of fire along the tapestry.  His cheap shirt and trousers collected the fire dust as well but their mother’s incessant washing faded the stained material.  He hummed something of uncertainty, trying his hardest to continue on as Shotra the Twig’s apprentice.  If he failed at this apprenticeship, he would have to find another which likely meant having to join the other boys his age water seeking.

“Come now!” Shotra the Twig barked.  “What does the dust say?”

“What’s a Shoal?” Teelee asked.  She had not realized she moved away from her corner, unseen by either her brother or the seer, and toward the canvas as words on the tapestry became clear to her.

Shotra the Twig twisted around to castigate her but stopped short.  He turned back to look on the tapestry himself.  Not speaking directly at her, he said, “What do you see, girl?”

She hesitated, finding Dag staring a blaze of flames at her but the dust seer looked on the verge of grabbing her.  “Disruptions,” the word was strange on her tongue, not entirely sure of its meaning.

“Disruptions in the Shoals.  Violations.  Welders–”

“Wielders,” Shotra the Twig corrected.

Teelee did not know the word or context but trusted him.  None made sense to her; the words laid there on the tapestry, swirled and jagged, but clear and concise.  “Wielders violate the constructs of the Shoals.”  She smiled but her brother, whose eyes filled with tears, made the emotion of excitement die away.

Shotra the Twig turned to look down on her, ignoring her brother who pouted openly.  “Hallowed be praised…  Boy, leave.  Girl, you will stay.”  He readied the tapestry, pouring water across the cream surface for another reading.

Teelee sniffed and sneezed into her hands, excited but terrified of the anger growing in her brother’s eyes.  He would find a way to hurt her; she knew it, but she could not resist reading the dust.

Dag left and Teelee watched as the new batch of fire sand rose in the air by Shotra the Twig’s exaggerated motion, a fresh jubilant air about him.  Her eyes watched the dust floated down, streaks of fire settling, forming words.  Some were the same as before and some were new.

On This Day: 27 June 2006 – The Lies of Locke Lamora first published

posted in: Fantasy, On This Day, Review | 2

This month’s OTD post will focus on Scott Lynch’s “The Lies of Locke Lamora” which is the first of the “Gentleman Bastard Sequence”.  It’s a novel that follows the main character, Locke Lamora, who alongside his best friend, Jean Tannen, get caught up in a caper-like story that they must survive after would-be allies turn on them.

As always, no spoilers will be found here.

While the characters and action are captivating, I want to focus a bit more on the setting.  The story takes place in a Venice-like city called Camorr.  Lynch does an amazing job of thrusting the reader into this new and interesting place.  The world feels expansive beyond this one city but unexplored beyond minor mention.  The layers of world building can be felt in the dialogue/language, history, and religions.  The weaving of these elements are everything a fantasy story needs.

As I’ve explored in past blog posts, fantasy can be a difficult genre to write both in creation and holding a reader’s attention.  There is little familiarity except in more generic of terms.  Elements of culture and society have to be infused within the narrative through observation and understanding possessed in the point of view offered.  Some writers are vague in this exploration while others like Lynch dive deeper in the ocean of world building and succeed!

More to the story itself, Locke and Jean belong to a lesser, smaller gang of thieves surrounded by danger at every turn.  This takes the form of secret police and larger gangs that all have collective agendas of their own.  Throw in the threat of a Bondsmage (a warlock for hire) bent on killing them and you’ve got quite a thrill ride to enjoy!

What I enjoyed most upon reading this book is that it is actually pretty straight forward.  I kept expecting crazy twists that knocked me backwards but instead, there were subtle actions that were consistent and reasonable within the world.  There’s absolutely surprises and double-crosses that will keep you reading but you truly stay engaged in the story because you want to see how Locke and Jean will make it to the end of the book.  Each are skilled in their own right but neither possesses magic or has an ally that does.  They must rely on their wits and knowledge of the culture and city to survive.

It’s a rich world with so many interesting ideas that are fresh.  The technology is advanced to a point where chemistry serves as an almost societal magic embraced by all where the more mystic of arts has to be purchased as I stated before.  For a fantasy novel, it does not have an epic magic feel and those who actually practice magic–the Bondsmage–serve as more a background entity.  It’s a controlled approach that doesn’t spread across the entirety of the narrative.  This is a very cool idea and one I enjoyed.  It put constrictions on what to expect from a fantastical stance.

Totally recommended.  I’ve read the first three books of the series so far and enjoyed each as they explore new places and characters, expanding the world in a way that I really enjoyed.  My only gripe (I realize I probably don’t do that enough in any of my reviews of things) is that I felt like some of the exposition was unnecessary.  I get why Lynch added it (as a fellow writer, exposition is tough to navigate and probably more of a preference thing on my part).  However, in this instance, it’s hard to go into more detail without spoiling anything.  So, I’ll leave it at that.

Call to Action: Read it of course!  (Click on the pic of the book above to purchase.)  Or let me know what you thought about it if you have read it.

Layers Upon Layers: Revising Tips

I’ll get to the topic of this blog post shortly but I wanted to speak a little to the Shoals to the Hallowed flash fiction pieces posted at the end of each month.  To clarify, these are not connected to the Ravanguard series and have remained a writing exercise/foundational laying of the future series.  I apologize to anyone who wishes there was more.  I’m exploring the best way to give you more, which leads to a thought I had but will require an adjustment of sorts to the newsletter cycle.

In a previous post, I had created the main protagonist of the next Ravanguard-related short story for the second newsletter slated to be released at the end of August.  I think I will put that on hold for now (apologies to those who contributed to the character building exercise we shared).  I will come back to it but I think I’d like to use the newsletter as a means for writing a short story for the Shoals to the Hallowed.  You, the subscribers, will receive more context into the world and it will hopefully connect some dots as well.

Also, my previous plan to have 12 POVs is now being cut to 6 so that means in July, we will be returning to one of the characters you’ve all previously been introduced to.  I may even try to squeeze in two flash fiction posts from time to time but it all depends on my schedule.  Thank you for reading and continuing to support me.

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Onto the post!

The more I do it, the more I think a first rough draft of a story is simply pushing from beginning to end.  There’s so much that can happen along the way and the writer can plan and outline and still come away after that last page is finished and be surprised by some twists and turns.  I actually enjoy starting a story and not knowing where it will end.  It allows for growth and space.  When I’m surprised by something that happens, I know the reader will be too.

I could easily go on and on but I wanted to bring to light revising tips I’ve accumulated over the years.  There is no true rule or standard for revising.  It’s simply polishing the rough edges of the manuscript.

One thing I look for as I revise the flow of words.  Is there one?  Or does the paragraph or dialogue read congested or even constipated (bad imagery I know).  There’s a rhythm to language that can and should be utilized in storytelling.  Sometimes, it can be rough but that usually falls in line with a particular character, mood, or tone set before.  Sometimes (in my experience), this requires some adding or removing of words or even rewriting the paragraph or dialogue altogether.  Either way, it’s about not putting the reader in a place where it’s difficult to keep reading.

Another thing I look for when I revise is detail.  Is there too much or too little?  This is a bit of a chess game between me and the page to be honest.  It’s not a simple, “Oh, I forgot to say what color that woman’s dress is.”  No, it has more to do with whether or not the scenery/character/conflict is lacking in any way.

I’ll often find that I use words improperly that I mean to have a specific connotation in relation to the colors or sounds in the scene.  Appealing to the senses is essential as a writer.  We want the reader to be immersed in the action taking place in front of them.  If I fail to provide a detail even as minuscule as the sound of footsteps approaching or the creak of a door when someone unexpected enters a room, I’m denying the reader an experience.

These are just a few of the things I look for and are mindful of when revising.  It’s difficult but when I look back at the early scenes/chapters I wrote for “So Speaks the Gallows”, I have to remember that much of the world and characters were not fully fleshed out at that time.  I wrote the first chapters almost ten years ago now.  So much has happened since then and I’ve grown as a writer, able to look at how I write now to those first rough drafts of chapters and it’s truly gratifying to know I’ve grown and not been stagnant.

Call to Action: I haven’t said it in awhile but you should sign up for the newsletter when prompted on the website.  Maybe the promise of a Shoals to the Hallowed short story will be more enticing to some who have resisted so far.

Urgency for Agency: Search for an Agent

Plans change.  Most often, they change because a previous thought or idea can be influenced by new information.

I recently listened to a Q&A with a literary agent and there were some preconceived ideas I had about the process for publishing for myself that were shattered.  This has opened my eyes and my mind to make some changes.  I’ve sat with it for a few weeks now and I’m willing to say I’ve been approaching my goal the wrong way.

While not going into the deeper specifics, I’ll simply say that I had previously planned to self-publish the first novella of the Ravanguard series and use that as a means for attracting an agent.  In my mind, this was a great idea that showed initiative and forethought.  While I think this is partly true, I think after some processing and reflection, my approach was also in due part based in fear that my writing would not be good enough to attract an agent based on the writing of book 1.

This is the kind of fear every writer deals with.  My wife is gracious enough to help convince me that it’s a fear that I do not and should not worry about.  I agree.  I believe in my writing and the story I have to tell.  I’ve simply suffered a flat tire in the journey but thankfully, the spare is on and I’m on track again.

So, my plan has shifted.  I will not pursue self-publishing “Dim the Veil”.  It still serves as a companion to the series and is canon and will likely be published in the future but book 1 of the Ravanguard series, “So Speaks the Gallows”, is the top priority from her on out.  This is the vehicle for the series and I mean to see it as the selling point for gaining an agent.

Currently, I have been moving through book 1 with a friend, who has graciously offered his time, to fine comb through the book.  Seeing as how this book is over 450 pages, it has been a long process.  However, I’ve decided to refocus my revision efforts based on the feedback and discussions and I will make this final polish before searching for an agent.

Finding an agent is a process in itself.  It requires patience.  I will likely receive rejection letters but I do believe the right agent is out there for me and it will be a person I can partner with for the future.  They don’t make money unless they successfully sell the book to a publisher.  I learned a great deal through the Q&A session I listened to and will likely listen to it a few more times just to make sure I’m fit with the knowledge needed to move forward.

My wife has actually encouraged me to look for an agent for a few years now and I fought it in an attempt to convince her my plan was the right way to go.  It’s never fun to eat crow but everything is better with BBQ sauce (hickory and sweet, not spicy).  It’s an adjustment and those are never easy to realign to but I believe now that this is the route I need to take.

While I am revising book 1, I will also be preparing my query letters for agents and making sure those are top notch as well.  It’s an art in itself.  There are some rules that stretch across the board but a lot of agents have some differences in how they want to be queried.  The list of agents is growing and I have hope that he or she who decides to invest in me is in that list.

Call to Action: Despite these changes, I will continue on as I have been.  The next newsletter is still set for an August release.  Sign up if you haven’t.  Definitely expect a bigger update on book 1 and searching for an agent at that time.  I’m going to limit how much I discuss it here on the blog (if I can).

Wonder Woman: Thoughts and Impact

posted in: Fantasy, Film/TV, Review, Writing | 2

I’m juggling and shifting my blog post schedule around to bring you all my take on the film, Wonder Woman, which Leesie and I went and saw this last weekend.

This is not a review but rather an initial impact on me as a writer and storyteller.  Have no fear, there will be no spoilers shared here!

I went into the movie expecting it to be good based on reviews I’ve come across.  I have not been the biggest fan of the DC comics movies so far (I enjoyed the first halves of Man of Steel and Suicide Squad) but I have held out hope that the trailer I saw for Wonder Woman would hold up for the entire film.

We watched the movie and my first comment to Leesie afterward was, “I am amazed that it took until 2017 for us to get a movie like that.”  Now, what I meant was, “Holy crap!  Why have we not had a movie centered on a woman super hero?!”  Seriously, I loved the film.  It had so much good in it that I’m still processing everything to this day.

What’s more is I truly loved hearing Leesie’s take on it.  In case you all don’t know, I’m a straight white male and that has…interesting connotations in today’s society (let’s leave that ditty for another day though).  My wife’s opinion means a lot to me as a storyteller and I often expose her to movies or shows that impact me as a writer and I want her take on it.  This doesn’t always go over well though because she doesn’t see what I see but that’s not really a bad thing.  I’m just a nerd who gets inspired by things not everyone else does lol.  So, not a knock on her, I just really like to hear her reaction.

But for Wonder Woman, I absolutely wanted to hear her reaction.  To listen to her talk about how it evoked emotion in her to witness a woman who was both powerful and compassionate lead the charge (not a spoiler since it’s in the trailers but that “no man’s land” scene was one of the best I’ve ever seen) tore at me.  As a man, and I like to think I value women pretty well (all thanks to my mom), I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman.  I don’t know how women feel or think.  I don’t know what their experiences are in the workplace and other social constructs.  I just don’t but I love that I can talk to my wife and listen to her talk about these things that are inspiring to her and for different reasons than they are for me.

One other aspect she brought up to me (after reviewing this blog post) was the fact that Diana did not devalue the men she encountered (for the first time mind you) but came alongside them, learning about them as people and valuing what they had to bring to the table.  This idea of co-value is what seems to be missing in a lot of the discussion between men and women’s roles in society.  We are different.  Biologically and mentally there are differences but in action we can carry out the same goals.  I am always thinking about this as a writer and even putting it up against other stories in any medium of media.

Already, my mind is going back to the female characters of my stories.  I’ve never wanted to write ones that feel inferior for the sake of a plot device.  I truly don’t want to tell the story of a damsel in distress who can only be saved by the knight in shining armor.  It’s been done to death and it’s not an interesting story to tell (at least not to me).

As I write and revise the first book of the Ravanguard series, I’m reassessing my main female protagonist’s scenes in which I explore her thoughts and actions in the conflicts she faces.  Yes, she has help from both male and female counterparts but I truly desire to write her stronger than I previously had.  Will she make mistakes?  Yes, because that’s believable and makes her grow as a character but I don’t have to write her into corners or the tallest, darkest tower with way to escape lest their be some chiseled Fabio chump to scale that tower to free her.

Wonder Woman was an amazing film to experience and I highly recommend it to everyone.  I came away extremely impressed with the direction of the film by director, Patty Jenkins (keep an eye on her as a director) and Gal Gadot’s performance as Diana aka Wonder Woman.  Gadot was mesmerizing and embodied a hero with a clear vision of purpose and power.  Ignore the naysayers and pompous twits who feel the need to gripe over sensitivity issues (most of these are results of their own biases).  Form your own opinion and let that be enough.

Call to Action: Go see it.  In fact, if you’ve already seen it, go see it again.  I don’t often watch movies twice in theaters but I would absolutely jump at the chance to see Wonder Woman again.

Pressure Tester: Meeting the Content Quota

posted in: Fantasy, Flash Fiction, Life, Writing | 0

I took the Memorial Day weekend as an opportunity to conduct a little experiment.  Since I started this blog and launched my website, I knew I needed to up my game and produce content.  I knew I needed to have more of a presence on social media (Twitter primarily because of its format, features, and links to other writers).  What I didn’t know though was the amount of time this required of me.

I’ve done enough research to understand how marketing myself as a writer on the interwebz is important as I pursue my dream of publishing my stories.  The blog was a great opportunity for me to write and share.  The benefits have been great (I’ve already shared that to some extent and won’t regurgitate it at the moment).  I’ve tweeted and interacted with other writers as opportunities allowed.  Overall, the experience has been good but… To put it bluntly, I’ve run into a bit of a wall.

Let me explain (No, there is too much.  Let me sum up).  Being that active on Twitter has been time consuming.  I got into a habit where I always had a tab open to Twitter and would continually keep an eye on my feed.  I wouldn’t tweet something every hour on the hour but I tried to so throughout the day because all the research I did told me I had to be a continuous presence in addition to adding content.  Other than tweeting, my blog posts every other day have been the majority of my content.

A little vulnerability I’d like to share with everyone: it has been a bit a let down but only because I think my expectations were too high.  I get way more spam comments (all of these I have to go through and mark as spam behind the scenes of my website) and I see no real evidence that I am gaining consistent followers.  This could be for a number of reasons (everyone’s got a blog nowadays, especially writers, so I get that there are a lot of options) and the one I keep coming back to is I’m still at the beginning stages of this season of being “present”.

This is not to say I do not appreciate the comments I do receive from real people.  I love being able to read them and respond.  If I don’t respond, I apologize.  I am trying to be better about it.

Even on Twitter, I’ve come to this hovering number of followers and wonder what I’m doing wrong.  Am I tweeting the wrong things?  Am I hash tagging wrong?  Am I focusing too much on writing and not other interests I have?  If I tweeted more about sports, music, food, etc. would I risk losing the followers I do have?  These are questions I continually wrestle with and have yet to find an answer.

Please don’t take this blog post as a rant or complaint.  It’s not.  I’m processing my actions and the steps I’ve taken over the last five months of going all in.  I trust that I am very much in the early stages of this leg of the race and need to merely slow to a steady pace whereas I was sprinting and have started to hit the wall (I carbo-loaded on the Twitters).

In my mind, the experiment during the last holiday weekend was to see what it “felt” like to unplug.  I decided to step away and not have my laptop in front of me with a Twitter tab open the entire three days.  It was difficult at first because there’s this odd sense that I will miss something by not staying connected.  But then, I have to ask myself, why do I feel the need to stay connected at that level?  It was ultimately draining and I suffered from something I truly don’t want to fall under the pressure of and that’s always being connected through social media.  I can easily let my posting habits become more organic than forcing myself and putting myself on a strict schedule.

If not, then I will burn myself out.  I’ve done so in other areas and through different seasons.  Trying to constantly put out content and interact through social media is too much for me.  I have so many other interests and priorities that I don’t want to let slip away.  These “others” are what fuel me and give me joy.  Constantly tweeting and trying to come up with content that would attract readers and followers is exhausting and it’s not how I want to live my life.  What I want is to write and share the stories I have in me with the world.  Writers have done that for centuries before we ever got to this place of instant-connectivity.

This is not to say technology and our current culture of content intake is bad but I think I need to take a step back and refocus.  I can do both but I cannot sacrifice my relationships, writing, and interests for the sake of building my brand when I’m not quite there.  At least not at the rate I have been trying to.  It’s too much weight and I’ve been putting it all on my shoulders.  I think once I have “Dim the Veil” ready for release or leading up to the release, I need to step back.

Call to Action: No, I’m not going to encourage you to step away from your devices today, lol.  We get that from all over now.  While I do think it’s healthy, I want to encourage everyone to simply consider what they’re putting out there.  What’s your involvement?  What content are you pouring out?  Is it about sharing your life and being encouraging or dumping your trash for the world to see?  We should strive to be better than the negative ninnies out there.  Let’s be better.  Let’s be uplifting, honoring others wherever they are at in their journey.

Pulp Diction: Writing Dialogue

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0

I cannot tell you how to write dialogue.  There are some standard rules and basic principles attached but in the long history of writer’s writing dialogue for their characters, there is a spectrum of style and usage.  This is not an instructive attempt by me or “how to” post.  Instead, it’s more about how I have come to learn to write it.

A story without dialogue is…well, let’s just say not impossible to write but in my mind difficult and not really necessary especially in fiction.  Readers dive into fiction to experience the lives of the characters in the narrative.  The best way to do that is through the dialogue (external and internal) and actions of the characters.  I cannot for the life of me think any modern story would be a fun read if dialogue were removed.

(Actually, something tells me Tolkien could have done this but the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings would have been a fantasy history rather than an epic.  See the multiple appendices for Middle Earth for reference.)

When I started out, my dialogue writing was less than stellar (as it should have been by an eighteen year old with no experience).  It has taken years for me to learn the discipline to do so.  And I’m far from being what I’d like to be when it comes to dialogue.  I think my current venture into writing the film treatment/screenplay for my movie idea will help since dialogue plays a huge role in the telling of the story (no interior monologues included and all visual storytelling methods are used).

It’s easy for me to say all my characters in the beginning of my writing journey sounded the same (that’s just an easy way to describe it).  What I mean by this is, I did not understand how to write the “voices” of different characters very well but that’s because I did not have the practice or skills of diving deep into the characterization of each speaking person.  In my mind, this was not an important element.  Back then, I just wanted to write and create new worlds.  Start at the beginning and work my way to the end to see what I come up with.  The voices of characters was sort of tossed in the side bin labeled “consider adding later”.

Characters who do speak in the story have to be differentiated by a number of things.  Where were they born?  What were their experiences growing up?  What was the culture like in which they lived?  What is the extent of their education?  What religion, if any, did they practice?  What are their dreams?  What are their fears?  Did they suffer from any abuse or disabilities?  All of these factors shape people into who they are!

Now, you can go over those questions and easily say, “A writer has to know all of those for each speaking character in order to write dialogue?!  That’s crazy!”  Yes.  Yes, they do and yes it is.  Maybe this is why non-writers are so mystified (I embellish a bit by using that word) that writers (especially fantasy writers) can create so much and hold of it in their heads and write full epic stories from start to finish.  We’re not wizards ourselves, I assure you (or are we?).  What we possess is a strength in creativity that is just different.  I can easily admit I’m mystified (I do mean to use that word in this case for myself) at the creativity and ability of artists who paint, sculpt, sketch, compose, etc.  It’s something I envy and wish I could do!

When I start writing the main point of view character and begin to have them speak, I learn so much about them.  I wish I could explain it in a way that is academically profound but the truth is, I learn who they are as I write the words coming out of their mouths.  How they speak to others is just as enlightening!  Developing a relationship between them and family, friends, strangers, and/or enemies is part of the magic.  It’s writing interactions between my characters that gives me the most joy.  I could not write scenes upon scenes where dialogue is absent.  Some writers can and I applaud them but I need to write dialogue for the sake of keeping my characters and their journeys progressing forward.

Differentiation between characters and giving them their own voice in the story is difficult and takes practice but it can be done well and in a way that stands out to the readers.  This is important and I stress that to anyone who wants to write or has recently tackled the art of storytelling.  I cannot tell you how to master this but I can tell you it’s worth mastering.  There are plenty of resources out there that can help and I encourage looking for them, studying them, and putting those methods to use.  Stories should be vibrant in their descriptions and in their use of dialogue.

Call to Action: Listen to people and how they talk.  Pick a few you know and really keen in on the differences from you and from those you know well.  It’s amazing the little nuances people have in the way they speak that makes them an individual.

The Benefits of Writing Flash Fiction

My experiment of writing flash fiction since January has been one of invaluable joy.  While it started out as a way to flex the writing muscles and provide additional/different content through the blog, it has turned into something that I believe will thrust me into a sea of possibilities in the future.

I hope you all have enjoyed the flash fiction posts at the end of each month.  The next is fast approaching and I truly enjoy writing these little glimpses into the Shoals to the Hallowed world.  (Side note: My goal is to provide several viewpoints–a new one each month–and then continue on in those viewpoints by next year.  So that means you’ll have twelve distinct viewpoints introduced this year and next year, I’ll be continuing from those twelve.)

My never delving into flash fiction was a result of not really having a platform to explore and release those kinds of stories.  The blog opened the way for me and I’m glad I took those steps.  The benefits have helped me in many regards but I want to focus on one single benefit for this blog post.

Flash fiction forces the writer to value each and every word, choosing only the ones that matter most for the current story told.  What I mean by this is, I try not to exceed 550 words in a flash fiction story.  Some that I have written over the last few months have been too long and I had to whittle those down.  Parameters aren’t always a bad thing when telling a story.

This practice forced me to pick and choose, editing finely, so that the story could be told in full without what I like to call “fluff”.  This makes the story in its glimpse form edged and to the point.  Too often when writing in larger word counts, the propensity for fluff leaks through.  I chalk this up to the desire to add detail in a first draft more for the sake of the writer, setting reminders for themselves, more so than for the readers to need at that time.

As you can probably imagine, I notice the fluff as I go through the revision process with the longer works like book 1 of the Ravanguard series.  Both good and difficult at times, I definitely struggle with knowing what is sometimes fluff and what is important to the details of the narrative (that’s the continued process of becoming a better writer).

The flash fiction stories serve multiple purposes for myself as I continue to write and gain experience.  You all are involved in the experimental process I’ve set in front of me.  I know there are other lessons I’ve learned but being able to take notice of detail in word count forces my hands (ha!) to be patient and considerate whereas in past cases I’ve acted very loose in how I frame the narrative and each scene within.

Call to Action: It may be years down the road, but I do plan on compiling all the flash fiction stories for the Shoals to the Hallowed.  I’ve even started planning and thinking about the bigger picture for the series though it may be many many years down the road.  I’m curious to know what people think so far.  Let me know because I’m interested in getting feedback.  Thanks!

The Bolder the Better

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 3

There’s this desire within me to be bold as a writer.  I have to ask myself what that looks like and after some reflection and processing (that will take place as a I write this blog post), I’ve come to a few conclusions.

Bold doesn’t necessarily mean crass or of high opinion to the point where I am obstinate.  Let’s say courage instead.  I think there’s a measure of courage needed to be the writer I want to be.  When I first started (here’s a bit of transparency), I thought I had to be a type of writer and write to a certain audience who shared the same religious views as I did.  Yikes!  (I’ve come a long way since then.)

This is not a bash to my beliefs (my convictions and beliefs are very much my own and I hold to them still but I have no interest in forcing them onto others).  No, rather, I realize now that I was a young, very green writer who did not know how to write without inserting this part of my life into the story.  As I look back, this is not in my opinion bold or the example of courage.

My train of thinking has definitely shifted since then.  A writer’s courage does not necessarily look like inserting ideals and doctrines of belief (whether they be religious, political, or cultural) within the narrative of the story.  No, in my mind, courage is knowing your beliefs but willing to explore the alternative options or opinions that others might have.

For example (I think I could write several more blog posts on this topic), I believe in a single God who created and loves humanity and wants a relationship with His creation.  Very basic description.  Yet, in the Ravanguard series, I have multiple religions (quite different from each other in some instances) that are important to the development and growth of my characters.  I cannot (in good conscious) write a character who has a belief in a monotheistic deity similar to my own and treat them in any superior manner over another major character who believes in a polytheistic system of religion.  Neither can I try to have one character convert another to deliver some subconscious agenda!  If I do so, I’ve made the story something (or at least the interaction of those two characters) that I don’t wish it to be.

I hope that makes sense and my words are coming out clear.  It would not be bold for me to treat my writing (this particular fantasy series especially) as a means of forcing my personal convictions down the throats of my readers.  There’s a different kind of book one could write if that was the intention.  Rest assured, my friends, this is not my heart in reality or in fiction.

For me to be a bold writer, I have to be willing to explore ideas (through characters and cultures) that don’t line up with who I am and what I believe.  This should not be a scary endeavor but a vulnerable and mature one that in my mind makes me a better writer in the long run.

Call to Action: As I was writing this blog, I thought about the current model that Pixar is utilizing in their movies.  My wife and I watched Moana and man we loved the movie and its exploration of that culture.  It was different from what we believe in terms of religion but the beauty in it could not be denied.  I think its worth celebrating these different cultures and in no way wrong to want to learn more about them.  Honor looks like loving others no matter their differences.  I encourage everyone to do this!

Flash Fiction: “The Bloody Dove”

Chasiel stopped and stepped backwards to look down the narrow street deep in the Weavers Ward in the city of Khamda.  Night cast shadows all about the mottled-stone corridor but she could see the two men easily enough.

Smoke from her exhale curled around her face, pipe bowl glowing as she sucked in soon after.  A hum of sound in her throat followed.

The men faced each other, one slapping at the other in obvious intimidation fashion.  Chasiel would never think to intervene in such a common scene in the gloomy wards of Khamda but the slapping man’s attire drew her attention upon recognition.

Smoke continued to drift from her mouth and caress her face as she approached the abuser and his victim.  The sweet scent of the sigda leaf filled her nostrils.

“Help!” the bloody-faced man cried, hands raised to protect his face from further injury.  Common by his appearance, he did wear at his waist one of the leather kits used by runners to keep writing supplies on hand and ready at a moments notice.

With a twist, the other man turned to see who approached, as Chasiel did not change her footing to a quieter step.  Dark hair and beard hid his features but the three intersecting silver rings sewed into the sleeves of his jerkin marked him a mercenary belonging to the Silver Way Band.  “What’s this–”

His question could not be finished as Chasiel lashed out with a combination of punches to his lower back, aiming for the kidneys, and finishing with a grab and throw technique she had recently learned from Fenroe who would receive a well-deserved “thank you” the next time they saw each other.

The bruised runner trembled in shock at witnessing his attacker being bested by a woman no doubt.  Once he came to his senses, he began to sputter thanks.

Chasiel waved him off.  “Give me whatever contract he had been offered.”

The man winced.  “What?”

She blew smoke in his face, ignoring his coughing.  “The contract.  Give it here.”  She snapped her fingers at him.  The humming sound in her throat followed and the runner’s eyes widened before dropping to her throat where he finally noticed her choker and the pendant that rested cold against her skin.

“Damned whore,” the Silver Way mercenary growled as he rose to his feet, still in pain but reaching for a dagger at his waist.

Chasiel reacted in kind, pipe stem pinched between her teeth, as her hands shot for the hooked blades sheathed behind her back.

Dead men screamed, grunted, and/or pissed themselves when the clutches of the Hallowed seized their soul.  Men of the infamous Silver Way were no different.  Blood flew from her slashes and pooled on the old cobbles at her feet.

“The Bloody Dove,” the runner whispered.

Chasiel nodded.  “I’ll have that contract.  Then you can go.”  Placed in her outstretched hand, she unrolled the thin paper and read, finding the details both interesting and enticing.  “Hallowed be Praised,” she said through smoke and leaving the runner alone with the dead.

There’s Nothing Romantic About War or Writing

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0

Something that I think is misconstrued about being a writer is that it is a glorious affair in which the heavens rejoice over poignantly illuminated prose writing.  As if all existence can be summed up and shared with the world in a way that would eradicate hunger, sow peace between rival nations, and/or make immortality attainable.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Writing is romanticized much like war was during the times of the Greeks in epic fashion.  For example, Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  This is probably one of the most romanticized ways of describing writing if ever there was one.  I’ve done it from time to time too.  Neither writing nor war are romantic.  I’ll be speaking to the former here (I don’t think anyone is disillusioned when it comes to the horrors of war in this century).

Here’s the truth.  Writing is both easy and hard depending on the day.  I’m not sure it is romanticized like it was in past eras when books and plays were all the rage for entertainment.  I kind of wonder if there is maybe a growing eagerness in the younger generations to write because there’s a belief that it’s a lost art (though it’s not) or that it has been raised on a pedestal in society to be another way to have your voice be heard and recognized among the masses.  (Just some random thoughts I’ve had.)

What I want to convey today is that for me, writing is difficult–but also easy.  Life does not sit back and say, “Tell you what, I’ll pause for a bit–take a siesta–and let you have a few hours to attack that scene you’ve been thinking about for the last two weeks.”  Ha!  I wish that were the case except I don’t.  My writing itch would be like one of those medical monitors that tracks heart rates.  Up and down, up and down.  That incessant beeping must stop!

Take this last week.  I started working on the film treatment for the movie idea I’ve had clattering about in my mind.  I’ve worked on it and felt good about it (so far…) but I’ve struggled to keep consistently working on the revision of book 1 of the Ravanguard series.  I would love for my desire to work on both to be of equal fervor but that’s been a bust.  And often is to be honest.  The creative juices go tepid from time to time and I’ve had to learn to be okay with it.  Sometimes I grumble and sit in solitude but I roll with it.

All this is to say that writing is fluid and should be recognized as such.  Maybe there are writers out there that can be disciplined to monk-like standards and write whenever they want and produce exactly the content they want but they are few and far between.  The biggest challenge for the rest of us (whether you write blogs, articles, poems, short stories, novels, screenplays, technical manuals, etc.) is to find a balance, give ourselves grace when it’s needed, and by Jove, continue to have fun!

Call to Action: Find that happy medium when it comes to feeling overwhelmed by things.  Take a walk, garden, cook, watch a movie, play music or even just sit back and read.  These pastimes should be integrated into life.  I know a lot of people who are not writers but would love to write something.  I always encourage it to be done but definitely don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by the thought that it is too big a goal.  It’s really not.  You sit down and bleed on the paper.  Ha!

My Cup Runneth Over

posted in: Fantasy, Film/TV, Music, Review, Writing | 2

Couple of things to go over first before I get into the trappings of my mind today.  This is going to be kind of subject to subject type of post but a good overview of the happenings in my fun-filled life.

Business first.  There may be some changes coming to my blog posting schedule.  If you’ve paid attention, I post on every even day of the week (2nd, 4th, 6th, etc.) unless the “On This Day” post lands on an odd day.  Roughly, that means I’ve posted about 14-15 posts a month.  After five months of this, I’m beginning to wonder if I can keep up that kind content production for the foreseeable future.  So, starting in June, I’ll be switching it up.  My plan is to begin posting every three days instead of every other day.  That means blog posts will likely be on the 3rd, 6th, 9th, and so on of every month.  There will be variances of course depending on when the “On This Day” post falls (maybe that will be a bonus post for the month).  Everything else will stay the same though.

Still nothing on the book art for “Dim the Veil” but I’ll let everyone know once that happens.  No progress on the method for savings towards the professional edit either.  I’m going to be looking into some options soon though and hopefully come to a decision.  Again, I decided against gofundme and kickstarter because if someone decides to give anything over $5, I fear that I cannot offer them anything in return besides the novella once I release it and I don’t believe that’s ethical.

Viewing pleasures.  I recently watched the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and I have to say I truly enjoyed the film.  It did not quite go in the direction I expected and I was pleasantly surprised by the more sentimental parts and its focus on family.  It hit the heart strings on a few occasions.  And the music was awesome of course!  No other movies I can think to bring up but I am watching the new seasons of Better Call Saul and Fargo.  Both are great television shows that continue to hold strong in their narratives and character explorations.  I’ve wanted to get into the American Gods show based on Neil Gaiman’s novel but I haven’t had the time yet.  I can’t say I loved the book so I’m not uber-drawn to the show.
Soothing Sounds.  As both a writer and musician, I’m naturally drawn to music.  My musical journey has been interesting to say the least.  I may have to do a separate blog post on that soon because I’ve gone from genre to genre over my life and settled recently on pretty much a place where I didn’t think I would.  One of my favorite bands is Cold War Kids and their latest album “LA Divine” has been a constant whenever I have music on in the background (heads-up, I’ll be working on a blog post soon going over some of the lyrics from that album in a sort of semi-review).  Also, freaking Paramore (probably one of my top-five bands ever) has released their fifth album “After Laughter” and that will be played out in no time between myself and my wife (her favorite band).

Bookworming.  Recent reads include a bevy of books.  A couple of fantasy tomes were “Heroes Die” by Matthew Woodring Stover and “Shadowmarch” by Tad Williams.  Both were good for what they were but did not blow my hair back.  “Heroes Die” was more an original idea with sort of a pseudo-sci-fi element to it.  “Shadowmarch” reminded me of “Game of Thrones” and some of the other books of that ilk.  I also finished Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” which I will probably review in the next newsletter.  Definitely a fun “read” as I listened to the audiobook.  I’m a little behind in my reading challenge over at Goodreads so I need to get on it and read some shorter books I think.  It’s these 500-600 page fantasy epics that really slow me down :/

Fun Stuff!  So, we’ll be going to Colorado to visit family in September and I was lucky to find that my baseball team, the San Francisco Giants, will be in Denver playing the Rockies while we are there.  So, I jumped on the chance to see my team play  for the time live and bought tickets for one of the games!  Super excited!  I haven’t been to a baseball game since I was in my early teens.  Should be a great experience with my dad, uncle, cousin, and brother-in-law.  The great thing about baseball games if that they don’t cost an arm and a leg to go.

And that concludes your quick update of my life.

Call to Action: I’m curious to know if anyone has any thoughts on how often I post blog posts.  One every other day was really a challenge to myself to see if I could do it but also provide enough content to gain readers.  I can’t say for sure if this has really gained people interested in reading my content though.  I don’t get much feedback besides from friends and family (am I even doing this right? lol).  Maybe switching it up will help.

To the Screen

posted in: Film/TV, Writing | 2

As I’ve stated before, I’m a big fan of films.  Movies and television shows are a pastime I truly enjoy.  Whether visual spectacles or great characters, I continually gravitate towards that medium to experience storytelling.  I actually think I get a bit jaded because of this.  There are movies that are not necessarily good or praised by critics but I love because there’s a story element that grips me.  If you look at my Blu-Ray wall, you would definitely wonder why movies are there to which I enthusiastically explain why I love it.One of my desires as a writer is to write screenplays.  Now, it might be just for fun at this stage in my life but I do think I have stories that could be told and translated to the screen.  I often think about this and the embers are usually stoked once I’ve watched movies I have a special affinity for (anything by Cameron Crowe is often the instigator).

If I wrote a screenplay (something I may start working on just because I need one more thing added to my writing buffet), it would explore people in such a way that I identify with.  People love, hurt, and have dreams that satisfy their joys and desires.  In this, I would want to explore flawed characters who need to learn or have a revelation about themselves or others to find healing, peace, success, etc.

We can blame my recent viewing of Cameron Crowe’s “Elizabethtown” on today’s blog post.  I know it’s not his most acclaimed film but there is something about it that draws me in and makes me want to tell a story both visually and with the accompany of music.  I often joke that Crowe is my patronus (a little word play Harry Potter humor thrown at you).  He tells the stories I think need to be told.

I actually do have an idea for a movie that I’ve been rolling around in my mind for a little over a year but it needs a lot of work.  I have the resources to write a script but I don’t have a process for developing the story yet.  I’ve thought about doing it in novel/novella form first so that I know how it will go from beginning to end but I’m not quite sure if that’s the right method for me at the moment.  Maybe…  I don’t know.

If anything, the idea for this story that could potentially be developed into a screenplay just reinforces my desire to tell stories and explore new characters, settings, themes, etc.  There’s no way I could go day to day and remain sane without writing.  Even blogging has helped me keep up my imagination because I’m always thinking, “What should I write about next?”  I think exploring this movie idea may be something worth investing my time in.  More stories!

Call to Action: I’ll throw a couple of movie recommendations at you that are not Cameron Crowe films.  To name a few that I absolutely love and recommend you watching are: Little Miss Sunshine, The Hollars, This is Where I Leave You, and The Way Way Back.  Each of these inspire me to explore what I want to write as a potential screenwriter.

True to Self

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 3

Something that I continually come up against each day (I’m sure you do too if we’re being honest) is staying true to self.  This extends beyond my writing.  Everything I’ve given since starting this blog has been my genuine voice.  Thoughts are legit, lessons learned are still gripped tightly, and humor is straight from my wacky brain and how I view the world.  I admit, I hold some things back but for the most part, I keep it level.

I know I’m not alone in this because I see so many people everyday whether in my day to day or on social media expressing these practices of self.  Sometimes, you can tell people are still not all the way there but inching closer to understanding who they are, what they believe, and what their purpose is.  One thing I’m forever grateful for is my own journey in this regard.  To look back at my life just ten years ago, I get a little embarrassed knowing what I did and said to others and even what I thought about myself.

You can’t go back but you can learn from mistakes.  It’s only by these mistakes that I am able to shake my head and thank God I’m not there anymore.

(At this time, you’re probably saying, “Oh, it’s one of these blog posts.”  Yes, it is.  I dare you to keep reading!)

How this relates to writing is simply you have to write what you know and like.  I’ve tried writing stories set in another genre but not even I can push through the struggle.  Now, I don’t think I will forever write fantasy (I truly hope not) because then I’d be limiting myself.  My hope is that I can get these stories that are fresh and inside me out and off to the world, making way for others that might stray to different audiences.  A great example is Stephen King.  Love or hate him, he actually has stories that are not horror/thriller.  Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile are both his and wonderful stories!

If I wanted to have success in the literary world (or just a better chance at it), then I’d chase whatever fad is happening at the moment.  I tend to joke that I may do that just to see if I can get published faster but I’d feel too bad for selling out.  (No vampire meets werewolf gets locked in a game to the death dystopian future will be found in my books.  Ha!)

Again, in order for me to be able to push outside the boundaries (and comforts) of writing fantasy, it will require me to expand myself in new ways.  I don’t know what that looks like at this time or even how it will come about (probably naturally since that’s how most major changes in my life take place).  My climb out of the places of immaturity and naivety in my early twenties took quite a while (they do say boys take longer to become men and there’s definitely truth to that).

Perhaps a lot of people struggle with or are not willing to admit to their shortcomings or falls in youth but I love that I can share that journey.  I’ve had the opportunity to do so a few times with others and it’s therapeutic to be genuine and honest about that part of my life.  Even now, I have this sense of peace being a bit vulnerable and transparent with all of you.  I write and I consider myself a writer but if I cannot be true to myself in that aspect of my life, how could I expect to anywhere else?

Call to Action: If I did write the vampire meets werewolf after getting locked in a game to the death dystopian future story, I’d call it “Fang Games”.  Uh oh… I might have a fun little tongue-in-cheek story prompt I should throw out there to the interwebz.  By the way, if you are one who wastes time on Pinterest (I say that light-heartedly of course), then follow my writing board where you will no doubt be entertained by my pins of what I enjoy and find inspiring to my writing.  Find here: https://www.pinterest.com/adamhenderson49/my-writing-board/

The Disposition of Exposition

If there’s anything in writing fiction that needs to be done well and balanced throughout the arc of the story, it is exposition.  The inserting of background information for the sake of explaining characters, history, setting, culture, etc. is tricky for first time writers.  As with many literary devices, this is especially difficult in fantasy.

In works of fiction set in the real world, in real places, during real eras, most of us can draw from our education and/or experiences to fill in the gaps.  If I’m reading a book set in the United States during the 90s and certain people, places, music, and events are mentioned, it is very likely I’m able to draw from my time growing up in the 90s (I was born in ’84, so I’m well-aware of the decade).  Yes, I was a freshman in high school by the end of the 90s but as the years go by, I know more about the global conflicts, major historical events, sporting events, etc. (lots of etcetera’s in this blog post, right?).  I think you all get my point.

Fiction set during this era doesn’t need a lot of exposition.  If you grew up or were starting a career or nearing retirement during the 90s, then you knew the culture.  If you are reading a book (let’s say a John Grisham novel set in this time), I guarantee you don’t need much background explained on a national level.  If we are talking about Grisham’s “The Runaway Jury” then we are looking at Mississippi in the 90s.  Exposition here would focus on the setting the story takes place in and the region and those cultural nuances that would be prevalent.  That’s very little to expound upon to the readers because one would be able to presume the majority of readers in the US would be familiar with the time period, social issues, etc.

Now, let’s jump to fantasy.

In fantasy, you are being introduced to an entirely new world with its own history, society/culture, foods, religions, conflicts, and more!  One thing I’ve run into when speaking with people who are not the biggest fans of fantasy is that they struggle to immerse themselves in a world that they are so unfamiliar with, filled with ideas and things that are not explained in detail.  I get this.  So much in a fantasy world needs to be revealed in order to understand the roles and complexities of the world the plot takes place.  However, we as fantasy writers (I being one of them) run into a problem if we try explaining every new thing that is unlike something in the real world.  We slow down the action of the narrative if we do this.

The problem in doing so takes the reader out of the story and they are forced to read paragraphs of information that almost acts as a pause button.  I’ve seen fantasy writers tackle this problem of exposition a few different ways.  The first is a glossary or primer (I’m a fan of this method) that usually can be found at the back of the book where people, groups, events, etc. can be explained and defined.  The second way (I’m not a fan of this) is adding footnotes at the bottom of the page.  I have struggled reading books using this method because I always feel I have to drop my eyes to the bottom of the page when I come across that footnote letter or number within the prose.  It’s very inconvenient.  I’m curious to know how many readers prefer either method or could care less.

My preferred method in my own writing when dealing with exposition is looking for ways to explain background information either through the dialogue or inner thoughts of the characters.  The problem with this method however is that the reader has to wait for it and be on the lookout.  For example, in the “Shoals to the Hallowed” flash fiction series I post at the end of each month (I hope you all are enjoying them and my promise to create a primer is still in the works) I am giving you all very little information about the world due to lack of writing space.  Flash fiction in its desired format limits the amount of words I can provide, so my goal (and this is a bit of an exercise for me) is to give you hints of things, reinforce them from time to time in each new story, and allow you to make important connections.

It is my feeling and belief that if I just explained the Wielders and the Shoals they are able to access and harness the power of, I would be denying you the joy of the small windows of story provided.  Now, maybe that’s my own ignorance and you all are just like, “What the heck is going on here?!  Just tell me!”  If you are, there’s your call to action, hahaha!

Seriously, though, I understand the struggle to not have exposition in new, unknown fantasy worlds.  I truly do and my hope is that I can give you the answers in ways that do not slow the story or act as a distraction.  It’s my belief (and preference to be honest) to learn as I read and trust that the writer will explain things naturally without inundating me with info dumps every other page.  I’d like to think I’m not alone in that.

Call to Action: Show of hands.  Who’s completely lost in the “Shoals to the Hallowed” flash fiction stories and would like a future post or a working primer to be added to the website so some things can be explained?

Recommended: Breaking Bad

posted in: Film/TV, Review, Writing | 4

Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad” is by far one of my favorite television shows ever.  But not for the reasons people might think.  So, let’s jump into it.  I should note that this is not an effort to convince people to watch the show.  It is wonderfully written, acted, and produced in so many ways but it also deals with some very difficult subject matter.  I’m simply explaining why I enjoy such show.

For those who are unfamiliar or only slightly so with the show, I will try to provide a basic rundown.  It follows the transformation of chemistry high school teacher Walter White to the notorious meth cook, Heisenberg, who is diagnosed with lung cancer and sees the end of the tunnel, which would leave his pregnant wife, unborn daughter, and teenage son without much once he’s gone.  Working a car wash job in addition to his teaching gig, Walter is put up against a horrible situation and is desperate to not only pay for treatment but leave his family with more than debt and hospital bills.

By chance, his brother-in-law, a DEA agent, shows a video at Walt’s birthday party where the DEA has busted a meth lab where the evidence gathered reveals a stash of cash to which Walt instantly wonders about.  It’s this event that eventually leads to Walt’s being on a ride along with his brother-in-law to bust another meth lab where he sees one of his former students, Jesse Pinkman, avoiding arrest.  Yada yada, Walt and Jesse join together to go into business and embark on a whirlwind of danger that affects them all in sorts of ways that have them constantly making choices that would keep them safe and out of jail.  Unfortunately, they do not come out unscathed all the time and suffer both physically and relationally throughout.  Whether its the DEA or rival drug lords, Walt and Jesse have to trust each other and their wits to keep ahead of the danger.

Suffice it to say, this show is never dull (even the bottle episodes are great).  It explores characters and the transformation of said characters in ways most shows avoid or don’t know how to execute.  Obviously, no spoilers here but you will often be conflicted, not knowing who to cheer for from season to season.

The reason I love this show and recommend it purely from a storytelling aspect is that Vince Gilligan and his writing team are famous for stating that they purposely wrote Walt and Jesse into corners just so they (the writers) could find a way out for the pair.  Storytelling is the best part of the series while the characters are a close second.  (Aaron Paul’s performance as Jesse is amazing.  He is my favorite character throughout the show.)

Again, this is not an easy show to watch.  It deals with very real subject matter from family drama to the high cost of drug usage.  I do not take these things lightly and never want to insinuate that.  I have spoken with friends who have actually dealt with others in this regard and it’s sobering to hear the stories.  I am not disillusioned by this to say the least.

In my mind, compelling stories are best when they deal with true and difficult aspects of life.  Sure, a lot of the scenarios of “Breaking Bad” are embellished for the small screen to be dramatic and hold our viewership but in reality, life is not easy and we face difficult decisions every day.  I pray it not so for everyone but things happen and livelihoods are put to the test.  Walter White’s livelihood and that of his family are tested so much so that you truly wonder if his choices were worth it in the end.  He makes his choices in order to see his family taken care after he is diagnosed with cancer.  However, his dive into the criminal underbelly costs him a great deal and affects his personality in ways that make you wonder about his overall psyche.

There’s a quality of storytelling here that provokes me as a writer to not just be the gardener but push more towards being the architect when planning and writing my books.  Honestly, I’m drawn to great writing and it’s hard for me to stay away or ignore it when it’s in the form of a show like “Breaking Bad”.

Call to Action: If you’re willing, check out the pilot episode of the show.  If you get through it and are kind of interested to see where it will go, I’d recommend trying another episode and so on.

On This Day: 04 May 2006 – The Blade Itself First Published

posted in: Fantasy, On This Day | 0
I hope you’ve all enjoyed the OTD posts I do each month.  They are a lot of fun and let me work different writing muscles.  First, today is Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you) but that would be too easy.  I decided today’s post would be about a book I have come to love and refer back to whenever I think about how fantasy can stray away from the clichés and tropes we too often see in the genre.

Joe Abercrombie’s “The Blade Itself” is the first of the First Law Trilogy and my introduction to the subgenre of “grimdark”.  The agreed definition of grimdark is usually one of realism in tone, setting, and violence in the story.  Think: gritty.  Few things feel clean and there is this sense throughout the world that characters are gray more than anything else.  Heroes with shining swords are not found here.  They are more the antihero type who have vices that are magnified and they do not come out of the fight unmarked in some way or another.

“The Blade Itself” is such a novel.  The main viewpoints follow a cursed warrior, a conniving torturer, and a selfish nobleman who has bought his position as an officer in the army.  None of these characters are your Frodo, Aragorn, or Gandalf type.  They’re characters caught in a violent world of webs of conspiracy.  The world of the book never feels warm or inviting.  The settings are often cold and dark and truly realized through the arcs of the characters as they traverse through the plot, never guaranteed the next day.

Depressing, right?  Well, I don’t mean to paint a murky picture here but what Abercrombie genuinely does is make all of these characters worth your time and interest.  They are compelling despite their grayness.  Each of them realizes they have choices to make and they can either fight to live or let higher powers manipulate them into servitude.

You all know how much I enjoy well-rounded characters (at least I hope you do after these last four months).  This book is where you get some of the best.  Plus, no one is quite what they seem.

Another reason Abercrombie has gained me as a fan is the fact that he purposely sets up what you, the reader, thinks will be common clichés and tropes and he awesomely twists and turns to surprise you from page to page.  This is more realized as you read the entire trilogy but enough so in the first book that you can’t help but smile once you realize what had happened.  He crafts the narrative perfectly.

I recommend this book and series to everyone who asks me but I must warn that it is not for everyone.  Grimdark is like whiskey straight.  It punches you in the mouth at first taste but the more you sip, the better it gets and you truly appreciate the writing you’ve immersed yourself into.

Call to Action: Read it if you dare.  If it’s not your preferred order when it comes to reading, then I definitely don’t fault you.  I actually have not delved into other grimdark books because they are difficult to read.  I personally think Abercrombie provides more than the gray characters and violence but has paved the way for other writers of the genre, exploring new worlds and ideas that color outside the lines.

Update Time!

Some quick updates.  Nothing received on the book art front yet but I know that will be coming in due time.  I heard from my friend who is helping me and things are moving forward.  There is no rush at this point simply because I think for now I’ve decided against either starting a gofundme or kickstarter option to put together the money for the “Dim the Veil” edit.

Without going into the details, I’ll just say that unless I can offer more than a “free” copy of the ebook of the novella, I don’t feel like I can justify asking people to donate or invest more than the cost of the novella itself.  Going with either of those crowd funding options would have (in my mind) required me to offer a gift/reward of equal value.  At this time, if someone decided to donate $10-20, there is nothing I can think of practically to offer in equal exchange for that amount of money.  Not at this point at least.

The downside of this is that I will not be able to get the novella edited and released in the timeframe I had originally hoped.  It will take time for me to put together the amount required to pay for both the line and copy edit.  At this point, I could not in good conscious release the novella without taking that step.  Quality is so important to me as a writer.

I’m thankful I encountered this realization and do not look at this as a defeat or setback in any sense.  I’ve been doing this long enough to know that while I’m a writer and storyteller, I am not (I wish it weren’t so) a professional fiction editor.  I’ve invested time and resources in getting better at self-editing but there is a skill set that I don’t necessarily possess in comparison to the editor, Victoria, I’ve since worked with.

I do plan on getting better though, having asked Victoria for feedback on any repetitive mistakes she may have noticed in the short story provided in the newsletter (I hope those of you who signed up and received it enjoyed the story!).  I have her redlines and comments and I will make it a priority to study and understand the corrections and changes so that I can fix any bad habits I’ve developed over the years (it happens…).

One other positive is that I will be working on the short story for the second newsletter, which will be released at the end of August for all of you!  Yay!  I will have Victoria edit that short story as well and it’s format will be different than the last.  My hope is that I can continue to offer up quality content and still learn to write more better (I did that on purpose, ha!).

Call to Action: While I won’t be starting a crowd funding option to save towards the “Dim the Veil” edit, I will be looking for an alternative way just so I can set aside money and be able to track my progress.  If for any reason you do want to invest in me and my writing, I will not turn away the compassion.  Contact me on my website and we will discuss the details.  This will be beneficial to anyone in the long run.  You will get exclusives and when I am able to, gifts worth the amount you gave.  I thank you all of you for continuing to come here and read what I have to say.  It means the world to me!

Flash Fiction: “Separate From the Sorrows”

 

Gasping breath invaded his stinging lungs, feet slipping on the glass-formed ground where the Shoalway opened for him to exit the harsh environment of his Shoal, Qorum.  Always, the elements of the other realm challenged his body and mind–still in ways the scholars and Wielders did not fully understand.

His wounds required attention.  Cuts stung, slashes needed sutures and burns demanded salves.  The Wielder, Damrin Graeves, surveyed his body wherever the pain emitted from, revealed by the rips and singed parts of his once fine clothing.  The fight had been unexpected.  His hands shook, fingers clenched into hard fists.  Tears streamed from his eyes down his cheeks, stinging throughout their trails.  Not from the pain–no–but from the betrayal he had just survived.

There in the abandoned courtyard of stone and overgrowth in the dead city of Hasselor, Kesree baited him repeatedly like a man mad with deceptive intent.  His vile words, lined with poison, echoed in Damrin’s mind.  His friend…one of many years since they first encountered one another in the Wielder’s Congress.  How had it all unraveled like frayed rope?

Damrin dug his fingers into the dirt of the field outside the capital city of Talloe of the Hold, Teras.  Birds sang beautifully around him, mocking his heartbreak.  Kesree had managed to slip away to his Shoal but he could not have lived.  The wounds he had suffered were far worse–fatal to the body.  Passing through the Shoalway to wherever he ended up in the world was a desperate risk.  The Shoals did not coddle or pity the Wielders able to bridge the world by their power.

Losing his dear friend would leave a wound that would never heal but the confrontation between them was a slow-moving agony.  The betrayal drove his thoughts to consider the turn of events.  If Wielders were turning against one another, then war was surely churned up in the garden of peace.  He had to seek out allies, but knew the chance of further deception was likely.  He needed his mind and body to be healed completely, forcing himself to be ready in an instant.

A small opening to his Shoalway appeared before him, earth melting to glass underneath.  He gazed into the portal, able to look through the haze of power to an atmosphere of peril.  Even a small opening was large enough to let out some of the most dangerous threats that dwelled within Qorum.  But he needed it open.  Only then could he draw out the current of power, healing his wounds.

Developing Characters

Short of being able to properly and coherently write sentences, characters are by-far the most important aspects of your story.  I’ve wrote on this to some length over the last few months and wanted to get into some specifics.  This will be a post about developing characters and I’m going to do it in a way that I hope makes things fun for you the reader.  How?  Well, as I write, I’m going to develop a brand new character for you!  (This character will be in a future short story–maybe in the next newsletter!)

Have at it!

Alright, there are “aspects” I want to consider first and you’ll just have to roll with me as I do this.  I want to create a character who is distinct.  What does that look like?  Well, I need to decide a few things that will be both somewhat general and differential when it comes to others.  (Just as a heads-up, all of these characteristics we’ll be developing are subject to change but I am going to try to keep everything the same so that when you come across the character in the short story, you will feel like you know them!)

Back to the distinctity (yeah, I know, not a word but it is fun to write and say!).

Let’s say the character’s name is Avroes Toal.  That’s a random name if ever I came up with one but let’s roll with it as we move on.  What will make him distinct.  Let’s say he is younger but has early signs of graying hair, making him self-conscious with the ladies.  One lovely lady in particular (this is a bit of a plot element so we’ll leave that alone for now).  Who is this man named, Avroes?  If he’s self-conscious about his hair, how else would that affect his personality?  I imagine him as being a bit of an over-compensator.  He looks for opportunities to prove he’s not older than he is and therefore has adopted more childish or immature ways.  This also affects his relationships both personally and professionally.

How are we doing?  Are you staying with me?  Good!  Onwards!

So, Avroes Toal is a young man (mid-twenties) who has prematurely graying hair and over-compensates this by acting out in ways to prove he is young and not old.  We’ll stray away from specifics because we don’t want to get too close to plot points.  Let’s also throw in some other details to round him out.  He likes the outdoors and would prefer pursuing a profession that allows him to see the world (cliché a bit, I know), but let’s say he wants this because his father and grandfather were both men perfectly fine with living their lives as scholars, devoted to studying and page-turning.  This is not Avroes the Gray (poor guy has a nickname he hates too!)

He’s a man looking forward and beyond the confines of a study or library, wanting nothing more than to see the world and prove he is not like his father and grandfather who have paved the way for him to have a good-paying occupation that will allow him to marry, have children and carry on the Toal legacy of ink stains and paper cuts.

Also, he hates heights and the library he would have to spend all of his days in is at the highest story of a building with many stairs and no banisters.  He seizes up anytime he actually has to approach a tall staircase, afraid his footing will give way and he’ll stumble to his death.  In fact, let’s say his grandfather fell and died and his father fell and lived but became crippled by the horrible circumstance (a little too tear-jerking for you? Misery is drama, ha!) and Avroes has to take care of his father.  Even better dramatic tension!  It’s so sweet, it drips.

There are many more (is that correct grammar?) things we can do to round out who Avroes Toal is and maybe that can be explored in the short story (guaranteed it will) but this is just to show my process for creating a character somewhat on the fly.  Who are they, what do they do/want/hate/love/etc.?

Call to Action:  Anything we can add?  Seriously, throw out a detail!  It doesn’t have to be too precise and can be a bit vague.  What’s his favorite color, food, idiosyncratic ticks, bad habits, etc.?  I’ll be able to add that into the short story and you’ll be able to say you had a part in it!

No Naturals Here

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0

While I don’t necessarily like long road trip drives, I do enjoy them so long as I am with someone who’s enjoyable to talk to.  My wife is one of these wonderful kinds of driving companions.  We truly do find the hours a great time and opportunity to talk and discuss a bevy of topics.  Some of course are private (you won’t get access to those) but we do talk about music, writing, and art a lot of the time.  We’re creatives and are able to explore are our likes and dislikes pretty easily, encouraging each other along the way on the highway of asphalt and lines.

Something she said during our most recent drive home was that she boasts about me being a writer (a nerd writer to be precise, lol) and that led to her talking about how impressed she is that I can do what I do and she feels nervous writing anything and letting me read it.  I do the thing where I tell her she doesn’t need to be nervous and that she’s a good writer herself (she really is) but that led me to think about something I’ve encountered a few times: perception of writing abilities.

Let me be brutally honest and a bit transparent for a few seconds.  I really am not a natural talent.  If I was, I wouldn’t have two shelved novels that no one is allowed to see.  I’m not sure if there’s a misconception out there about writers as a whole or something else.  Our ilk is one often labeled with fine descriptions of neuroses, depression, inebriation, etc.  You know, those darn clichés.  Yes, I like sipping whiskey and I own a pipe but I’ve never used it (not yet and probably not ever).

In my experience and what I’ve been able to glean over the years is that if ever there was a “natural” when it came to writing, the closest specimen might have to be ole Bill Shakes-the-speare.  Even then, there are many who believe the persona of WS was fabricated and that his great plays and sonnets were in fact written by another’s hand and mind.  Could be, I don’t know.

My point is that writers are just like any other who is or becomes proficient in their craft.  They work at it.  Practice and exercising the appropriate muscles are a requirement in order to find any semblance of success.

I think where there’s any natural talent is just in the imagination gears of the minds of writers.  For me, to be able to create a vast world (fantasy definitely lends to being able to create more and bend some rules) filled with characters, nations, cities, cultures, flora, fauna, magic systems, and all the other little nuances that make the world come alive is purely by imagination.  I did all this as a little kid playing with action figures way before I was able to put words to paper.

Where others may be intimidated to show me or other writers their own writing, just realize I would be completely wrecked to try to play drums or bass with a bunch of professional musicians.  I would be a knot of nerves so tangled together that it would take way too long to undue.

Everything worth doing well takes time, experience, mistakes and maybe a hundred other things to get it right.

Call to Action: Just to continue with the topic, I would encourage you to keep at whatever you love to do when it comes to your creative outlet.  It’s absolutely worth it once you reach a level of proficiency.

No Dragons, Dwarves/Elves, or Dreams/Prophecies: Access Denied

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0
Something I continually encounter when telling people I’m a writer and they ask, “What do you write?”, is I have this sense that they have preconceived ideas when I answer, “Fantasy”.  I can see it in their eyes.  “Oh, so dragons, elves and magic.”  Not a question but a definite statement.  To which I silently in my head respond, “I should have said fiction…”

I don’t blame people for this assumption.  I get it.  All you have to do is look at the main cultural references we have in our society.  Lords of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, and most recent, Game of Thrones.  These big ones have set the stage and have planted the seeds one would expect from fantasy.  (Wizards, dragons, and elves, oh my!)

Unfortunately, I do not have the means or assignment to correct people on how vast and wide the fantasy genre has come since Tolkien laid the modern foundation.  I wish I could have that job, trust me! (King of Correction!  Hear me!)  Alas, I do not have that honorable title, but thankfully, I have a blog and I can voice my knowledge and experience in the genre to better help people who may not be big nerds like myself.

Three tropes or elements you will not find in my writing: dragons, dwarves/elves, or dreams/prophecies.

I’m going to dissect each of these somewhat quickly.  These are not tropes like my previous blog posts on magic but rather ones I have intentionally avoided because I choose not to employ their function in any of my stories.  None of these are intrinsically overdone in the genre and I often enjoy them when done in a new way in the books I read.

Magical creatures and or races in the traditional sense simply do not play any significant role in the worlds I’ve created.  If you’ve read any of the series I recommended in my fantasy reader’s guide post, then you know that I have a preference for worlds and stories that read more “human” in nature.  This does not mean there are not other kinds of races in these books (Stephen Eriksons Malazan series is chalk full of different races that are awesomely imagined) but there’s a bit more creativity and imagination involved.  For myself, I’ve created races that seem familiar to the reader but in the end are their own.

I’m actually not big on books or stories involving dragons as major characters and/or plot elements.  There are plenty out there but I’ve truly never been a fan.  Smaug in my mind is one of the best examples of a dragon in fantasy.  Robert Jordan does not use dragons but actually calls his savior-of-the-world main character, The Dragon, which I really liked because it called to the fantasy element instead of including it in the Wheel of Time series.

Dreams and prophecies are elements I have avoided on purpose.  I could easily throw these into the narrative of the Ravanguard series but I consciously did not because I did not like the idea of using them as a crutch, which I think some series utilize to that advantage.  These are seemingly always used as a means of foreshadowing and installing the hero as the savior to all mankind (again, a bit overdone in the genre).  I prefer to use foreshadowing without these because I find that it’s more difficult and a challenge.

George R.R. Martin actually does this very well despite his use of dreams and prophecies.  He explores foreshadowing by use of language and visuals, which is what I have tried to emulate in my own way.  In fact, if I were ever to use dreams or prophecies as a literary device, I’d probably try to do it in a way that has not been done before.

For anyone who is looking forward to reading my stories, I hope this is helpful and lays out what to expect or in this case “not expect”.  Fantasy is not restricted to these few common/popular elements.  If that’s what you like, there’s plenty of options out there!  Trust me.  The vast coffer that is the fantasy genre overflows with different worlds and subgenres that have their own mix of devoted fans.  Sometimes, I wish there was another way to describe what I write but my use of limited technology, magic and swords kind of puts me in the barrel.  That’s probably why enjoy the genre so much: it’s not constricted but goes as far as the writer’s imagination can stretch.

Call to Action: I admit, there is one series of books that involve dragons that I am interested in reading.  Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series is an alternate history fantasy that has dragons in the Napoleonic Wars.  That just sounds like a fun read.  If you’ve read it, let me know what you think!  If not, then it may be worth exploring.

Working With an Editor

I’ve just completed my first experience with an editor for the short story that will be included in the newsletter.  Just to lay out some first impressions and give some general thoughts on the process, I thought I’d share.

It’s a new experience to actually communicate with and hire an editor for their services.  It did not really hit me right away but I think I’ve been able to marinate in it for long enough now that I can actually express my joy and sweet release of held breath.  Mind you, this was just for a short story but to receive the manuscript back and see the redlines (corrections) and read the comments included is almost victorious.  Obviously, I have a long road to go.  The novella, “Dim the Veil”, is the big goal–the true launching point (more on that in a bit).  But there is this overwhelming sense of, “Wow, what just happened?  What does this mean?”

I have no satisfying answer except to say I recognize the road I’ve been walking for several years and feel I actually know the destination it leads to.  I do not measure success by signing a multi-book deal with a major publishing house.  While that would be a dream come true and very much still in my aspirations, I feel that success is writing and completing this Ravanguard series.  It started as a few pages of three characters in a tense situation and has now become a short story (with more to come; I’m already thinking about the next one), multiple novellas and just as many books.  If anything–if I am able to accomplish one thing as a writer–I want to see the Ravanguard series finished.

And I assure you, those stories will be released in one form or another.  I know the cost of editing now and while it may be a slow process, I will absolutely see them all released as ebooks.  I’ve told my wife that to hold an actual printed hardback and/or paperback book of my story in my hands would be nothing short of amazing, I have long since been willing to settle for digital formats if that’s my only option.  I’m okay with that and I know, so long as the story keeps progressing until I put that final period in place on the last page, I’ve reached my first goal.

Back to the option of starting a gofundme option for the editing price of the novella, I think I’ve been leaning in a slightly different direction.  There are plenty of options out there for crowd funding projects.  Plenty of people do it and find success.  After talking to my wife about this at length, and I think she has raised some very good points, I need to consider more than the simple funding of an edit.  There’s this question of “then what?” after I get the novella back, edited and polished, to my satisfaction.  Well, there’s this thing called marketing that I have little to no experience or knowledge in.  Apparently it’s important and requires money.  Yay…

Hahaha, I kid.  But seriously, it’s a viable and essential step.  Sure, I could post on social media that I have a novella for purchase over on Amazon but is that truly effective?  I don’t know to be honest but I have a sneaking suspicion it might not be.  So, I’m now thinking of doing a kickstarter that would actually enable me to raise the funds for launching not only the novella but my brand as a writer.  I have no interest in being hasty (words of wisdom from Treebeard if ever there were some) and I don’t want to be slow either.  This is simply more to consider and requires some additional research and preparation.  Wish me luck!

Call to Action: I recently finished a book worth reading, especially if you like witty writing that’s quite meta if you enjoy literature.  It’s called “The Eyre Affair” by Jasper Fforde.  Very good and clever.  Check it out!

Doubt and Fear

Being that April 10th was National Encourage a Young Writer Day, I have continued to think about my time when I first started writing and some of the negative thoughts I often had, believing I might not have what it takes to write something worth sharing to the world.  Some transparency is coming at you today (jab, jab, upper cut!).

What I struggled with the most early on was this belief that I could not come up with anything original.  Mind you, I was focused on epic fantasy from the start and if I were to look back on my first attempts at a story, a lot of what I wrote could easily have been clones of some other element in the books I was reading back then.  In retrospect, this makes sense to me now.  It also makes sense why I had to write two “bad” novels before I found my way to the projects I’m currently working on and excited about.

Doubt in myself was an all too familiar face I stared at or found looking my way as I would sit down and do my best while typing away.  That’s what I did: my best.  I think for young writers, they need to make mistakes and struggle along the way before they find their footing.  I have experienced this kind of grind and forming of ability in another area.  Playing drums.  Those first years had their very own level of difficulties and growing pains.  The same can be said of writing.

There were some years that I barely wrote at all because of this struggle.  I was going to school and working but as I’ve said, writing has to be made a priority in order to find success.  I’ve battled with bouts of depression and none were so bad as when I was living in Seattle going to school.  I could easily say it was because of the weather (a little cliché but there is some weight to that but strictly from a lack of vitamin c).  To be honest, I just didn’t like myself and what I was doing with my life.  I was there for school at a legit university and I struggled to find motivation to go to class just about every day.  I ate poorly, gained a lot of weight and barely slept because of horrible restless leg syndrome.  Not fun.

In all this, I kept trying to write despite not really knowing why I was writing.  I think at that time I was editing my second book, which has since been shelved and only returned to when I need a good laugh.  Trust me, it’s not good.  It was too much like trying to be something you’d find in a Final Fantasy game and honestly, it just wasn’t genuine.  I restricted myself too much because I didn’t trust in my abilities and mirrored a lot of characters and world elements to these popular games.

However, in all this I tried to find motivation and inspiration where I could.  This ended up taking the form of finding writing quotes and putting them on my bedroom wall so I could see them all the time.  One quote in particular has to this day stayed with me and really is one of the seeds that kept me going (blowing on those embers otherwise buried in ash).

“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” C.S. Lewis

This quote from the great C.S. Lewis gave me one simple direction to set my course towards.  Truth.  Now, this does not mean I all of a sudden had an epiphany and began to change my bad habits and fix what I was doing as a young writer. Would that it were so simple (Hail Caesar!)  My wife will laugh at that one.  Bernaners.  No, I had a new adventure to take!  What is truth?  I won’t go into that long tale at this time, but I did embark on that journey and it took a few more years before I eventually began the Ravanguard series.

To finish all this up in a neatly tied bow, young writers, I implore you to not be chained down by doubt or fear.  Embrace the bad writing because then you’ll have an example of the bad to return to and know you have eventually found success.  If good writing is simply telling the truth from your perspective, then search for truth and let that be your compass (cue the cheesy after-school special music!).

Call to Action: We’re only a few days from the newsletter being sent out!  Woohoo!!!!  I have sent the Ravanguard short story, “The Vain King and Taboo Coin,” to my editor contact and it is polished up for your enjoyment.  Sign up so you can read it!

Fun with Foreshadowing

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 1

Let me start by saying I love the literary device of foreshadowing and as I revise and edit, I have thought about it more and more.  Some writers are big on allusion or theme or even setting.  I commend those who frame their writing with these aspects (really, I do).  For me though, it’s about the foreshadowing threads interwoven in the framework of the plot(s) tapestry.

By definition, foreshadowing is hinting at what is to come.  This can be subtle and apparent depending on the use by the writer.  For example, a writer could use an object noticed or used by a particular early on and then have that object play an important role later on (usually in the final act or climax of the story).  One example I continually see used as an example is if you were to see a gun on a mantle or one placed in a desk drawer. It’s very likely this element could come into play to impact the outcome of the plot.

In my opinion, the two best examples of foreshadowing used effectively in an epic fantasy story can be found in Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time” series and George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series.  I know… I know…  I reference these two a lot in my blog posts and I’ll try to discuss other works in the future but for now, these are the two that I return to whenever I think of the proper and effective use of foreshadowing.

I could use examples here but I won’t because the nature of a foreshadow is to allude to something in the future, which in our current culture is notably called a “spoiler”.  I wish I could!  But I won’t.  All I can do is recommend you read these series.  The best foreshadowing in epic fantasy is usually presented in the first book and does not come to pass until the last and towards the end of the series.  Some big payoffs definitely add to the fanfare of readers.

What has happened with me in the Ravanguard series has been beneficial when it comes to these deep details.  My method for writing the series without stopping has allowed me to see where the story has gone and then as I edit and revise, I can recall a “future” event happening in book 2, 3 or 4 and go back and then see if there’s a place for foreshadowing to work.  There’s one key though: it has to make sense within the prose.  There is a balance and trust me, I do not look for spots to drop in foreshadowing just to be cheeky (well, okay, sometimes I do but those are more for the readers who are paying attention).

I think one could argue my approach to foreshadowing is somewhat cheating but I would argue it’s just fun writing.  Sometimes, these foreshadows are quite clever and subtle and sometimes they’re right on the nose.  Both are fine and my hope is that my readers would simply consider it good storytelling.  There’s a sense of intrigue to be added too because you as the reader (and I do this too whenever I’m reading a new book.  I pay close attention to details, thinking it could be a bit of foreshadowing) are more invested in the these details.  I could never be a speed reader because I fear I would miss what I love most in the writing.

Another fun aspect I’ve run into in my own writing is that I have sometimes stumbled onto a moment of foreshadowing accidentally.  Seriously!  I have been planning the story arc of one of the next books, thought of an idea for a character and been like, “Wait, didn’t this thing happen back in book 1?”.  I’ll go and check and boom!  Slap my feet and call me Chip, I inadvertently set up a foreshadowing moment!  Now, it’s probably coincidence but I actually attribute it to my advanced internal, subconscious understanding of the world and characters.  Almost as if I know it all before I should.  (I know, you’re not buying it.)  Truthfully, though, the readers will discover in due time that I have foreshadowed some things that I hope brings delight and maybe a little shock.

Any literary device used is meant to add to the enjoyment of the reading experience.  When used properly and not in abundance to the point of distraction, these practices are worth getting better at.  I definitely encourage looking for these in the books you read.  Train yourself to look for it and see if it pays off.  Happy reading!

Call to Action: See below a video of foreshadowing in popular movies.  Obviously, there are possible spoilers so here are the movies in the top ten list:

 

Medieval Gardening Tips

Remember in my very first blog post back on January 1st?  When I said, “…I’ll be revealing more about who I am with each blog post.  Topics will include writing, books, comics, movies, video games, music, food, weather, medieval gardening tips…”  (See, I did say it.)  You probably thought I was just being sarcastic.  Well, I was but also being a little tongue in cheek with an aftertaste of meta.

The following quote comes from author, George R.R. Martin:

“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.”

I’ve written a prior post on outlining and the value of doing so in the short and long run of your writing.  I’m more of a rough outliner now than I was when I first started the Ravanguard series.  It came out of writing a minor scene found in the first book and I liked it so much, I decided to expand on the idea, developing characters and ideas until I had a general sense of where to start.

However, as I’ve been revising a lot these last couple of weeks, I’ve come back to this idea of being an architect or gardener, which is a term I heard a few years back when listening to one of my preferred Game of Thrones podcasts.  The phrase was discussed a bit and I looked for Martin’s quote.  Back to the present and I very much consider myself a gardener despite my attempts at thinking ahead and outlining subsequent books in the Ravanguard series.

I’m currently revising chapters 6-10 in “So Speaks the Gallows” (Book 1) and I’m reading through each paragraph, cutting, massaging, polishing, etc. with forethought and understanding I have now that I didn’t have back when I first wrote these chapters.  My point (and I do have one) is that I’m able to approach this revision process with a much-needed advantage I otherwise would not have had if I only tried to outline the future books.

Years ago, I had very rough ideas of where these plot arcs were heading.  Now that may sound a little chancy and reckless (it is actually) but I had enough faith in my writing to steer the story where it needed to go.  So, the gardener writing method was at full play in the beginning but as the years and subsequent books and novellas came into existence, I can now return and trim the dead branches and dig up the weeds, able to have a bit of foresight.

All of this encompasses my writing style.  I am not convinced this is the perfect way to write an epic fantasy series and I bet I could write a counterargument that even I would be convinced of.  But I cannot shake that this is my method.  I’ve worked at this for over a decade and found many things that work and don’t work, still adapting as I edge closer and closer to releasing the first Ravanguard novella to launch the series.

My medieval gardening tips are just that.  If you are a gardener more than an architect, continue to process and write in a way that works best for you.  Be careful of comparing yourself to others.  Writers are quirky folk.  Get too many in a room discussing process and method and you’ll have a real kerfuffle on your hands.

Call to Action: I’ll be pushing my newsletter throughout this month as we move closer to the end.  April 30th is the day you will be receiving the newsletter.  So if you haven’t done so (and I don’t know why.  It’s for free), please sign up when prompted on the website or go to the “Contact” form under the “About Adam” tab above ^^^  Just make sure to include your email address and in the comment section that you’d like to be added to the mailing list.

On This Day: April 10th – National Encourage a Young Writer Day

posted in: On This Day, Writing | 0

#EncourageAYoungWriterDay

Another “National Day” is upon us and as I will focus on this from tim to time for the OTD posts, they will be writer focused.  I’m really excited about this one though.  I still remember much of my emotions, story ideas and thoughts when I first started writing.  There was a new joy that I stumbled into and could not be stopped from advancing into the arena of storytelling.

Being self-taught in many ways (I was decent at English/Literature classes but nowhere near scholar level), there’s a great deal I learned and want to use this post as a lessons learned  for younger writers.  My hope is to provide some things I’ve experienced and come to value over the years.  All of this based on my own experience and I know I’ve touched upon these in previous posts but here’s more emphasis.  When you start off writing, you truly do tread unknown waters.  There are no dangers swimming underneath you, but rather, treasures that can be found if you know exactly where to dive and search.

These are the top words of encouragement I have for young writers in no particular order:

1. Finish what you start

Depending on your level of writing, you will no doubt (it’s more than likely but not definite) write something that’s not very good.  This is not a knock on you or your capacity to be a great storyteller.  Very few have likely had an idea, formulated the characters, settings, themes, etc. and produced a product that is instantly picked up by a publisher and released to the world without much revision or editing.  Has it happened?  Probably but I can’t tell you of any I’ve ever heard of (not unless you’re Bradley Cooper’s character in the movie, Limitless, and in that case, you should ditch the mind-opening drug.  It didn’t end well for him).

I was there.  I wrote my first book, thinking it was the next best thing.  It wasn’t.  I wrote my second book and thought that was better and would surely be my launching point!  It wasn’t.  Lol.  I’ve written my third book and only now am I convinced I’ve written a well-thought out story that only I can tell.  It takes time and patience and you have to be willing to fail a few times before you find success.  So, finish those stories.  Don’t touch them for a few months and return.  If you still feel they are worth your investment, begin editing and revising.

2. Don’t neglect doing your research

This is a big one and requires discipline.  It doesn’t matter what you’re writing.  Fiction or Non-fiction.  Biography or History.  Fantasy or Mystery.  All of these require a some level of research not only to be accurate but most-importantly: believable.  When I started writing my first fantasy book, I researched everything from characterization to culture.  Clothing, agriculture, and architecture.  None of these could be ignored because as I wrote, I ran into these aspects and knew I couldn’t use modern terminology or technology.  The lack of these were an obvious sign to my being an amateur.  Readers want to be immersed in the world but if there are obvious mistakes and/or inaccuracies when it comes to the time period and setting the story takes place in without reasonable explanation, then they will not keep reading.  That’s the opposite of what you want!

3. Read

No, seriously.  Read.  You cannot write well if you do not read.  Why?  Because there’s something that takes place in the brain when you read and consume content professionally edited.  You brain picks up patterns and conventions that you may know from school (elementary to high school English classes only to so much) but are denied later in life without practice and exposure.

One thing I wish I had done more of during my early years of writing is read more.  I probably only read a dozen books a year back then.  This is not enough.  I recently joined Goodreads.com and I recommend you do so to.  They have a yearly reading challenge that you initiate for yourself and are able to update and track your progress.  I only learned of this last year but I challenged myself to read at least 25 books.  I read 36.  That’s huge for me!  This year, I set my challenge to 50 books.  I have no idea if I can do that but that’s the point of a goal.

Also, read genres you wouldn’t otherwise read.  If you’re writing horror, then try reading romance or sci-fi.  Subject yourself to styles you’re not familiar with.  I could read fantasy at any time but it’s a chore to find something more dramatic or set in modern settings.  I’m purposefully doing this more and more because exposure to these other genres helps me break away from that fantasy box.  Non-fiction is a great starting place.  Find books about people or times in history that interest you.  When you understand real people and what motivated them or real historical periods/events, how they were influenced and how they impact the future, this transfers into your own writing.

Call to Action: Do all of these things!  In fact, if you’re not a writer but love to read, you can easily do number 3.

Women and Their Value in Fantasy Literature

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 2

Today I’m exploring a topic that I’m continually conscious of in my writing and the writing of others in fiction.  How are the role(s) of women in the story, society and culture in which they live portrayed?  I’d also like to stress the value of women and whether or not they are used (I say that word lightly) in a cliché way or not.

Some background first.  I started reading more in high school and the book that hooked me (as I’ve stated in previous posts) was Robert Jordan’s “The Eye of the World” where women play a prominent role in those areas I stated.  What always intrigued me is how Jordan (being a man) was able to write such strong female characters who were all very different and distinct from one another.  As a high school freshman, this was new for me as were most aspects of storytelling.  Years down the road, I’ve come across many bad examples and good examples of women in fantasy.  Jordan did what I consider a very good job of depicting women whereas (I definitely have another well-known fantasy example that I could insert but…screw it) in Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series women are often treated horribly and victims of despicable men.

(Side note: I only read the first book all the way through and part of the second but couldn’t finish the series.  If you’re a fan and you disagree, that’s fine but I’ll continue to stay away from that series.)

For myself, though, I never wanted to write women in a way that was cliché or in a way that would depict them as a means to the end for the masculine hero.  I never wanted to pack any of my characters into a box or tower so to speak to be rescued by a man.  We all know the story cliché (prominently featured in fairy tales) where a princess is the prize for the hero.  I have made it a goal of mine to avoid this at all costs and have changed plot arcs if it looked like this was to be approached.  Now, this doesn’t mean my female characters are never aided or helped by men.  They are but I make sure that is not the sole goal of the men and often have my women characters show they are just as capable of being heroes.

I planned on this post over a month ago but wanted to take a new approach.  I asked a few women close to me in life (all of whom I respect and value a great deal) what they want to see and read in fiction when it comes to women characters whether they’re protagonists, antagonists or supporting characters.  The following responses are great and will serve as references to me as I continue to write.

“Strong female character in fiction: I’d like to see a woman who is realistic. She is strong but insecure.  She is smart and loves learning and acquiring new knowledge and skills.  She is funny but an introvert who only opens up to a select few.  She has a good heart and great intentions, but can be flaky and selfish sometimes.”

“Historically, women who are strong are seen as arrogant, aggressive, or evil.  This is in both pop culture and literature (for example, Cersei in Game of Thrones).  The other end of the spectrum usually involves a very insecure woman who has been oppressed and almost ‘accidentally’ is thrust into a role where they save the world (for example, Vin in Mistborn series or Lirael in Garth Nix’s books).  For me, a strong female character that goes beyond these clichés would be a woman who has faced oppression (lets face it, it has happened and still happens) but instead of becoming self-deprecating, goes on a journey to discover that she isn’t what others have made her believe she is.  A truly strong woman has had doubts and trials, of course, but instead of constantly believing she isn’t worth it or disbelieving that she is the ‘chosen one,’ she recognizes the strength she has and continues to build on her strengths.  She becomes the wise woman who speaks up when needed and is respected as a wise woman.  She has her own hang-ups, for sure, but they aren’t that she is ‘too much,’ aggressive, insecure, or power-hungry.  Her hang-ups are that which we all suffer, to stay strong in the face of temptation, to connect with those we love on an authentic level, and to stand up for what is right in spite of opposition.”

“I want to see more female characters that aren’t the cliche trope of ‘needing’ men to help them. I want to see women that know their strengths and can be self-reliant but are also not afraid to lean on the strengths of the people around them. They are so self confident and secure in themselves that they are able to see the value in others. I’m tired of reading insecure women who feel like they have to hide their weakness and  prove themselves to the world. I want to read about women that let their biggest weakness become their greatest asset.”

I love these!  I’m gonna be honest with all of you.  I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman.  I know!  Shocking.  However, I have no delusional miscues that women are essential to the progress and benefit of society.  To limit or cast them in any role that would be lesser than would be to grant us all a great disservice.

It’s coming but I’m going to dote on my wife a little here.  I have often said that in marriage, every day is about learning for me.  I am constantly aware of who she is and the way she views the world, which is very different from me in many respects.  Her interests and passions travel along lines that I don’t always follow or have a grasp of but I make it a goal to show interest because its what she loves to spend her time doing and learning about.  I’m not always good at this and I often have to process things before I’m able to share in her enthusiasm (thankfully, she forgives me for this delay in response) but my desire is to know her better.  This is the same for the women in my stories.  I want to know them better so that their story is one worth telling.

My wife asked me on one occasion if I based any female characters on her.  I had to chuckle because there’s an adage in writing that says to never base a character on any people you know in real life.  It just doesn’t turn out well.  What I told her is I base all my female characters on women in my life whom I admire.  Their qualities can be found in each of the characters you will read about in my books.  Even the so-called “villains” and that’s not a slight.  Far from it because I don’t write antagonists from a stand point of being solely evil.  The best villains are those that are complete, having desires, fears, experiences, etc. separate from any other character.  Their motivations are based on these factors (see my prior blog post on writing believable villains).

I’ve had several beta readers who are women and I’ve gained a great deal of feedback from them about my women characters that has been beyond beneficial.  I loved being able to read their comments, converse when I had questions and taking their suggestions to heart.  Plus, I learned a butt-load of things about women I did not know and I’m all about learning when it comes to people and what makes them who they are.  Understanding the value in someone breaks away any misgivings or misconceptions and as I do that in real life, I can do it even better in fiction.

Call to Action: This one’s for the guys.  Whether it’s a friend, sister, mother, girlfriend or wife, I recommend talking to them.  Ask them questions.  Don’t be inconsiderate or selfish and seriously talk to them about what they think of things in our society.  Take it from me, you’ll learn something and that’s never bad.

Don’t Start at the Beginning

posted in: Writing | 2

Today I’m focusing on where to start a story.  I think about this often, especially now that I’m working on flash fiction every month.  Due to the length of these stories being anywhere between 300-550 words, I have to approach them in a way that instantly grabs and holds the attention of the reader.If I started one of these flash fiction stories in a place just before the action, giving you only the lead up and then cutting it off…  Well that is precisely a cruel tease by definition.  That’s not my goal though.  My goal is to offer you a gripping glimpse into a space of conflict.  Obviously, the limitations in word count force me to get to the nitty gritty of the story of the main protagonist.

Hence, my approach is to give you, the reader, a short, concise scene of intrigue and information.  I do have the advantage of working within the confines of a series (see Shoals to the Hallowed) where I am progressing a main narrative but by providing small vignettes instead of robust chapters of detail, theme, dialogue, action, and plot.  All of these are given to you of course but not to the degree you might prefer (that’s coming.  Trust me).

Starting a story in the middle of conflict is (in my opinion and that of many others) the best way to grab ahold of the readers by the eyes.  For myself as a reader, I’m not interested in being thrown into a story where it’s a slow build up to the first bit of action.  I often come across advice encouraging writers (especially new ones) to begin at the middle of the first bit of conflict.

Immediate conflict reveals a great deal through the eyes of the main and supporting characters.  How they react and respond to whatever the current trial is, opens the reader to who they will be spending a great deal of pages with.  Go back to some of your recently read books.  Where do they start?  Does that work or would you rather have seen it start before or after?

As a writer, I want to present every story with the promise that if you keep reading, you’ll continually be turning the page because there’s more forward progress coming.  I think there was a time in literature where a slow burn approach worked and paid off but the trend has definitely shifted.  How many stories start with some form of misdeed, violence or realization that instantly affects the life and belief system of the main character?  I’d argue quite a bit.  It’s in these places that we want to begin a story and go until resolution if offered.

Call to Action: We’ve reached April!  That means the newsletter is coming at the end of the month.  As a reminder, this is the first and could evolve over time but you’ll be getting lots of good stuff that I don’t necessarily share or expand upon here on the blog.  At the very least, you will be getting an exclusive Ravanguard short story I wrote especially for the newsletter.  Sign up if you haven’t yet!  You can do so when prompted on the website or jump over to the “Contact” form under the “About Adam” tab above ^^^  Just make sure to include your email address and in the comment section that you’d like to be added to the mailing list.  Thanks again for stopping by and reading!

On This Day – The Name of the Wind Published

posted in: Fantasy, On This Day | 0

This month’s OTD post will focus on a work of fantasy that really enraptured me as a reader.  I had heard of Patrick Rothfuss’s book, “The Name of the Wind” for a while but I was reading other books from my stack of “to reads” (you know that pile of fresh hard/paperbacks without the spine crease and that pleasing aroma of untouched paper).  It was a book I knew very little about but saw it recommended a lot of places.  I want to say I finally got around to reading it in 2011 during a six-month period where I was unemployed (I read a lot of books during this time).

I love to read.  Honestly, if you’re a writer but you struggle to read or find time to read, drop some time-wasters and make this a priority.  Stephen King famously said, “If you don’t have time to read, then you don’t have time to write.”  This just harkens (such a great word) back to my previous post about time management.  Priorities are key in our lives.  Reading should be up there near the top if you’re a writer.  If you’re not a writer, then reading should still be something you do because studies have shown, you are smarter by doing so.  A post of quotes coming at you.  Mark Twain said , “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”

There are few books I’ve come across that kept me fully engrossed in the pages.  I love my sleep but every once in a while, I come across a book where I’d happily forego sleep to keep reading.  “The Name of the Wind” was such a book.

I’d love to give an in depth review of the book as a whole but I never want these blog posts to become long-winded and full of smoke.  And just like my first OTD post about Robert Jordan’s “The Eye of the World”, I want to focus on one aspect of the book and share how that has impacted me as a writer.  Here we go! (Dang…the “Raising Hope” theme song is stuck in my head.)

Language.  Yes, language is what still lingers with me whenever I think about “TNotW”.  Rothfuss has a great story about the years he spent crafting this book that would introduce him not only to the fantasy genre but literary world as well.  There is what I can only describe as a lyrical flow to his writing that makes the book easy to start and urges persistence to finish.  Music is a theme throughout the book and every bit a part of the main character, Kvothe, as his wild red hair and quick wit.

How has this affected me as a writer?  Well, I think the obvious answer would be, I learn from what I admire.  I don’t write like Rothfuss but I appreciate his ability with words, which lends itself to my own writing.  Recently, I’ve spent a lot of time with what I wrote years ago.  Doing so has been an “experience” to say the least.  I can easily take those old words and rewrite/massage and find a better flow because I’ve been far enough removed that I can recognize stale sentence structure better than before.  It’s not Rothfuss’ writing alone that has helped me grow but also time and maturing as a storyteller.

Clunky writing is distracting.  Anytime you’re reading and just get stuck on a certain sentence because you can’t understand what’s being said is usually because the words chosen don’t work or fit.  Rough and early drafts often have these problems.  The best thing to do is consider revising.  Obviously, those sentences have to be flagged or called out.  Beta readers are the best option but you have to find one who pays attention to detail and doesn’t gloss over these alarming sentences.

Writers depend on words.  We take what’s available and construct them in such a way that the reader comprehends and envisions the characters, world and conflict with ease.  That should be our main goal.  You can have a great idea, character, magic system, etc. but if you fail to construct a coherent framework of sentences, paragraphs and/or dialogue you will not attract readers.

Rothfuss is an avid learner and student who spent a great deal of time at university, tutoring and teaching.  This translates to his writing because he actually treats his readers like students.  He wants to teach you about the characters and world they inhabit.  All of which are fleshed out very well.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a vast world introduced and mythos that serves as the main mystery and conflict that drives Kvothe in search of knowledge.  It helps that Kvothe spends a great deal of time at a university himself and takes classes from the very best of teachers.  Flow of phrase within the prose and dialogue come through in all of this in a way that you’ll be surprised when you read twenty to thirty pages without noticing.

I highly recommend this book to everyone.  Even if you’re not fond of fantasy.  You’ll enjoy the flow of the story and Rothfuss’s ability to pull you into the current.  I wish I wrote more like him to be honest.  I feel that my writing can get clunky at times and therefore requires me to spend extra time revising, but I’m satisfied with my style as I’ve matured and polished my voice, hoping I can solidify myself as a respected author.

Call to Action: Come on.  You know what I’m going to say here.  Read “The Name of the Wind”.  You won’t be dissatisfied.

My Essentials for World Building

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0

World building in fantasy is almost like writing a full story in itself.  All fantasy authors I’ve researched and read about on this topic usually have the same process.  You have to do it.  In order for a full-fledged world to come alive in the pages, the reader has to believe these are real places that the characters live in.

I’m going to go over a few essentials that I highly recommend all writers develop, especially in fantasy.  All of these are aspects I’ve written extensive notes on and should not be overlooked or put to the side.  You’ll actually be surprised how much your story rounds out when these details are included.

1. Culture

What is it that makes the country/nation/island/region what it is?  History, customs, holidays, government, religion.  These are musts.  Think about whatever country you live in or are native to.  How did that country come into being?  What foundation was laid and at what cost?  Did it face conflict in order to maintain its statehood (is that the word?)?  What has each generation brought and caused to evolve?  I would not say you need to write an entire history book but the most important details should be explored and be a part of the characters.

1a. Religion

This is a big one that I never paid too much mind to in my early days.  I usually left it to a monotheistic deity that encompassed a wide range of belief or unbelief.  Honestly, I was a bit lazy and didn’t think it was worth exploring further.  Now, in the Ravanguard series, I have five dominant religions that are very different from each other (with the exception of two that are closely related but different in some respects).  I found after fleshing these out and applying them to characters that they were much more interesting and their choices were reflected according to their beliefs, which is very much what we do!

2. Landscape

This kind of seems like an easy one.  Oceans, rivers, mountains, etc.  All needed to give the appearance of a convincing natural setting but there’s more than these staples.  Bays, copses, ravines, hills, etc. to name a few.  Study these.  Look up pictures to get a good grasp of what they look like and how they form.  THEN, look at how they are utilized by civilization.  Boom.  Full circle.

2a. Ruins

Are there ruins?  Would there be historical sites?  What significance do they play?  Not everything has to be to the level of an Indiana Jones adventure but unless its a new civilization, there are usually signs of prior populations where artifacts are left behind and/or preserved.

3. Dialogue

Maybe there’s a fantasy or just fiction novel that uses no dialogue to tell its story but I’ve yet to run into it.  We speak just as characters should to reveal who they are and their understanding of the world in which they live.  Giving characters their own voice can be a challenge especially if you have a large number of speaking characters within the story.  If I had to make a rough estimation of speaking characters in “So Speaks the Gallows”, then I’d have to say there are anywhere between 60-80 characters who speak.  Those who speak more than a sentence or two shaves that list down quite a bit but I’m still writing the voices of a large number of people who I am telling you, the reader, is an individual and has their own history, experiences, beliefs, convictions, humor, dreams, etc.  Try handling all that and remaining sane!  I do and as I’ve spent time with these characters (some for the better length of three novels), their voices are as clear as crystal.

3a. Dialect

As I said with the religions above, that also means I’ve developed multiple forms of dialect, which includes vocabulary and slang.  This takes practice.  When I started out, all my characters talked the same as if they were all born from the same village.  It has taken years of writing and years of practice writing dialogue to be able to distinguish the speech of individuals from the place they came from.  I wish I could say I studied and did research to a great extent but I didn’t.  I’ve done a little but most of any differences you will find in speech between regions, nations, etc., is purely organic on my part.  I have those places and the people in them developed enough that they speak in a manner that I know how they would be differentiated.  The hope is that it translates onto the pages.

All of these elements are important in fantasy literature.  From Tolkien to the more modern writers, we can find great examples of worlds given great consideration.  Even in the fantastic genre, readers want to believe the world is real enough to be lived in.

Call to Action: Are there any other world building elements you think are just as important?  I’m sure there are.  I’d like to eventually write blog posts devoted to some of these and my experiences with them, especially since in my three major series that I have in the works, there are vast differences in the worlds.  Those may be in the writing queue.

Viewer’s Storytelling Recalibration

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 2

My wife and I watched the latest Disney animated feature, “Moana”, this past weekend and while I loved the movie, there was something that made my creativity gears start working (this happens alot when I watch shows or movies) and I wanted to share a bit of this…processing I possess.

This is not a review of the film.  Honestly, there is no reason not to see it.  Great music, story and humor throughout.  Fun for everyone!

So, this is what happens and I blame it on the writer in me.  I will often be watching something, and I’ll all of sudden wonder why a particular story moved in the direction it did.  Why did the character do that?  What caused that factor to play a part?  Why did they decide to shift the story in that direction?  All of these hit me from time to time and my wife knows because (only if we’re at home), I’ll pause what we’re watching and begin to tell her what they should have done.  Yes, I’m that guy but only when it comes to my wife and I watching something alone.  Don’t worry, I won’t do that if we’re ever enjoying a night in with friends in front of the old flatscreen.  I’ll hold my tongue.

Back to “Moana”.  This hit me (the most recent episode of what I’ll call “viewer’s storytelling recalibration”) when in the beginning I realized we’ve sort of hit on what a lot of Disney, Dreamworks, etc. animated movies do.  How many times do we see the theme of the main character, who has a dream, want to fulfill that dream but authority figures in their lives prevent them from doing so “for their own good”.  Without jumping on any kind of soapbox, I will admit the theme of rebellion against parents is kind of overused here and maybe not the best thing to teach children.  I digress (let’s avoid that whole mess of moral discussion for the time being).  So my “VSR” episode took place when Moana wants to sail across the sea but cannot because her people do not do that.  They stay to their island.  Guess what, she sets sail anyway.  But my thoughts went in another direction instead and wondered why they can’t explore another theme like say…conquering fear?

I paused the movie and asked my wife, “Why can’t they have her (Moana) sail the ocean at a young age but fails and then becomes afraid of the ocean?  This prevents her from even going near the water.  Then, something happens and she has to sail in order to help her family/village/island.  Why don’t we see this theme in these wonderful animated features?

Maybe I’m off but I can’t help but feel this is a great theme to explore, especially for children.  Rather than saying to them, “you’re fearless and no one should stop you from your dreams,” why can’t they say, “you were fearless, you tried and failed and became afraid but there’s an opportunity in the future for you to conquer that fear”?

These thought processes are not always fun to deal with.  As I’ve stated before, my mind wanders to my stories all the time now and I begin to “plot” or consider scenarios.  This has spilled over into the movies/shows.  I feel doomed…  No, not really.  I take it as a sign that I’m always creating and looking at stories from other angles.  The hope is that I can recognize in my own writing to avoid the obvious path.  Too often, the story takes a turn to the left when I planned or expected it to go right.  These are great moments.

Call to Action:  Am I wrong about the theme I stated in “Moana” and other animated features?  Am I missing something?  Let me know.  Thanks for reading!

Slow Burn the Beginning

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0

I recently finished a book that started off in a way that I just didn’t prefer.  While the book as a whole was fine and had some interesting concepts and characters, I could not shake the way it started.  So, I figured I’d share and discuss this a little (this is just my opinion and in no way a rule).

The book, “The Garden of Stones” by Mark T. Barnes, is fantasy that leans towards the “epic” sub-genre.  This means there’s a vast world inhabited with diverse cultures, languages, magic systems, etc.  I have no problem with this and often gravitate towards these stories as a whole (I’ve widened my range of reading considerably the last few years though).  My problem and this was evident in this book, is when within the first ten pages I am inundated with names, places and things all at once, I automatically have to push through, trusting the story will shape itself into something I will enjoy.

(Just in case Mark T. Barnes ever comes across this blog post, I hope he knows I respect his style and enjoyed reading, happy I finished the book.  This is not a review.)

My preference and the way I choose to write my books is to start small and let the world as a whole expand in a gradual but evenly paced track.  Short of like a narrow passageway that becomes wider and wider until the whole of the cavern is open.  There are advantages to this approach that I’ve found to be more appeasing to the reader who is already trusting you to take them on a journey.

The number one advantage to not throwing the reader into a whirlwind of information is that you give them time to get comfortable with the writing style and initial characters introduced.  The world should be shown through the eyes of the main point of view character.  The reader should not be told anything that the main POV would not themselves know.

For example, if Frodo had been introduced and already knew about the One Ring, its history, Sauron, the Nazgul and so on, then we would have been denied his natural reaction and learning of these forces.  Let’s take Harry Potter next (I know I use these two different sources to make use of my examples but I feel they are the most widely known along the literary spectrum.  Having the movies helps too, hahaha!).  Harry is naïve to the wizarding world as he should be.  How in the name of He Who Shall Not Be Named is he supposed to be aware of that hidden world!  Discovery.  This is the key (and second advantage).

This is more prevalent in the sci-fi/fantasy realm of books and may cross over into general fiction, but discovery of the unknown is the greatest asset to the story!  As a reader, I want to discover who the main protagonist is most of all and that includes the world they live in and all that entails from society to the more ethereal aspects.  Show me these things through their eyes and understanding.  I prefer a slow burn at the start.  It’s what keeps me engaged.

Now, you may be one who likes a rush of the world thrown at you (find Barnes’ book if you do) and that’s totally fine.  No fault on your part.  I simply think it’s more beneficial to learn as a writer not to set out all ten courses on the dining room table rather than going from course to course.  You savor what’s put in front of you in the beginning rather than ignoring it, only to be told it was really good but now its cold and stale if you dared try to return it.  Stories are an adventure.  We shouldn’t be given a straight shot to the end.  It should zig and zag with small and great surprises along the way!

Call to Action: Are there any books that do this?  Were you turned by the method of storytelling?  Comment with examples.  I’m curious to see what’s out there (not necessarily to avoid, just as a reference).

Book Art Coming Soon


Some more news to share with everyone today.  I’ll be working with a friend who is off at college and has a project he contacted me about.  This is also my friend who helped me launch the website and blog.  Major thanks are still in order for his help.

The project involves creating art and material for book promotion.  So, we’ll be working together in the coming weeks and hopefully have some things to share and use on the website.  I’ve got lots of ideas and a style I want to pursue that can spread across my writing projects.  Getting art specifically related to the different stories and worlds of the Ravanguard, Evinsaale and Shoals to the Hallowed will be quite the task.

For the book cover, we will be focused on the first novella, “Dim the Veil”.  I’m all about subtlety and minimalism when it comes to book art.  Some of my favorite are below.  This is not to say I’ll be copying these designs but looking for inspiration.  It’s these things I wish I was versed in.  I’m always thinking I should take graphic design classes but I really don’t know if I could add that to my plate and maintain my sanity.

So be on the lookout for these developments.  I’ll also be looking at making some aesthetic changes to the website/blog.  There are some features I’ve come across on other sites that I like and want to make available on my site.

The first newsletter is still set for an end of April release.  If you haven’t signed up, I implore you to do so.  With this new development and book art project coming, it may increase the content released.  I’ll definitely be exploring a newsletter art design as part of our to do.  Bookmarks?  Would anyone be interested in a bookmark gift or a brochure that serves as a primer for any of the series I’m working on?  These are all ideas worth exploring and being able to give out to those of you who sign up.  So make sure to do so!

Your continued support helps keep me going (I’d still write and release my writings no matter what.  Let’s be honest, hahaha) but I do appreciate all the kind words and whenever I get to talk to someone about my stories.  It’s fun to share and I look forward to growing my readership in the coming years.

Call to Action:  Follow me on Twitter @adamhenderson49, Like my author’s page over at Facebook https://www.facebook.com/adamhenderson49/, find me on Goodreads.  Stay connected!

It’s Not a Rewrite…sort of


A bit of news for everyone in today’s blog post.  I realize those who come here to read my thoughts don’t necessarily want to always read “how to” posts.  I get that.  I’m still finding my stride.  However, I do have a new development for book 1 of the Ravanguard series, “So Speaks the Gallows”.  Is that name in your head yet?  I’m hoping that it and “Dim the Veil” get more and more affiliated.

One of my good friends, David, and I have been hard at work the last few months going page to page in SStG (a little acronym action for you).  This involves us meeting up once a week and going over whatever he’s read since the last time we got together.  This has been an invaluable time for me for several reasons.  David (we’ve been friends for more than twenty years, which is crazy to think about!) is an avid reader.  Not just of fantasy but all kinds of genres.  He has an amazing memory and attention to detail in what he reads, which means he’s the perfect beta reader for me.  He sees things that I as the writer and editor gloss over.  It’s sort of the problem a writer runs into after they’ve been working on a story for several years.  A new set of eyes does wonders!

Now, I’m onto my fourth draft of SStG and that means I’ve looked at all 38 chapters and 450+ pages of the story a lot.  So much so that it’s difficult to remember the smaller details.  I have a glossary I’ve kept over the years but it’s in bad need of an update.  This is extremely difficult to maintain but necessary with the scope of the Ravanguard series (remember, I have written three novellas and books set in this world with more coming.  It is expansive).  I say all of this because it’s led to a wrinkle that I need to attend to.

I added the prologue of SStG last year after not being satisfied with the way the book starts.  David had already read some of the book before I added this small insert.  As he’s continued to read the book, though, he has made it clear (and I appreciate his honesty) that my style of writing is not consistent from the Prologue to the later chapters.  I had a suspicion of this early on but wondered how much of an issue it may be.  Lo and behold, it’s evident now that I need to do a deep edit of the book.

Consistency of flow and style are essential and very important to me as a writer.  I have my own style and with anything, I’ve grown in my skill (mad skills).  As an exercise, I took the first five chapters of the book and from paragraph to paragraph, I massaged everything from details to dialogue.  I was extremely pleased with this practice and know this is my next step moving forward.  My hope and goal is to finish the entire deep edit before this summer.  Priorities take precedent (as I stated in my previous blog post about time management).

I’m bringing this to light because I want my readers to be aware of my journey and process but also because I want my writer brethren to not be disappointed if they discover their growth may force a rewrite/deep edit.  Don’t be disheartened.  Take a breath and trust in your abilities.  Don’t rush the process.  It’s more important that you write the best possible story only you can write.  Put on your gloves, lace up the boots and climb out of the dense forest that is your story.

Call to Action: Pray for me, ha!  It’s okay.  I’m not upset like I might have been ten years ago at the thought of having to rewrite my book.  If it’s about getting published one day, then I need to be willing to make this a priority.  As for the real Call to Action, consider your creative passions.  Can you think back to when it was difficult and now it all comes with ease?  Settle into that growth and be thankful you’ve grown and matured to such a degree that you are no longer struggling with the smaller things.  That’s the goal!

Best Supporting Role

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0

For me, rich stories involve a great deal of detail, forethought and most of all believable supporting characters.  Focusing on the latter today, I’m always thinking about the characters I consider to be placed in the “support” role.  Some are bras and some are jock straps (I’ll give you a second to consider that and all the nuances entailed, lol).

Sometimes, these characters can be glossed over, especially if they serve more as place holders than actual aids to the main protagonist(s) of the story.  There are clichés (plucky sidekick or daft henchman) and we can often locate those with ease.  The best, however, are those that actually play such a role that if removed, the story arc would suffer!

Where would Frodo be without Sam?  What about Harry if any of the many supports he had were gone (not counting Hermione or Ron because frankly, they’re more quasi-protagonists than supporting)?  There are countless other examples of this that I could go into but I think you get what I’m throwing at you.

The absolute best advice I’ve come across when it comes to writing and including supporting characters is that in those characters’ minds, they are not secondary. In other words, they have their own history, experiences, virtues and vices that make up their persona.  All of these should be included and evident during their scene(s).  Obviously, you will have stories where there are nameless, stand-ins who serve a broader role, especially if they make up the collective of a population, mob or army but those that actually speak and lend action to the story must be more.

Whenever writing these supporting characters, I always envision them having qualities both in physicality and personality that are unique to them.  For example, I recently started the fourth novella of the Ravanguard series.  The main protagonist is a woman who hires the service of a somewhat ruffian type who swears, loves to gamble, but hates to drink and has an extra pinky on his left hand, which has earned him the nickname of Two-Pink Simm.  That’s the most basic description I can give (you won’t be seeing him in readable form for a few years.  Sorry.  I’m working on it) but it gives you a lot of information.  The question automatically is: Why doesn’t he drink?  What’s the story behind that?  That’s a good question to ask and one that lends depth to him that may or may not be explored.  It’s a wrinkle of character that in my mind needs to be there.

Supporting characters should also be voices of dissent, challenging the main protagonist from time to time when there’s other options not yet explored.  No “yes men”!  What’s their personal agenda?  This is something that should be at the back of our minds when reading and coming across a portion of story where the supporting character says or does something that seems a method of contention.  This doesn’t mean they are a rival/antagonist but an opposing voice.

Let’s consider our own lives.  Do you have a friend (supporting characters are often friends, maybe an acquaintance) that you love and trust but they challenge your words or actions from time to time?  If yes, then keep that person in your life!  If you have one that is the opposite (remember what I said about the jock strap type), then don’t get too attached.  I have a few friends who I know I can be honest with about all kinds of things and know that if they disagree or have another way of approaching a situation, it’s not because they want me to fail.  They want me to succeed but not be hasty or irrational.

True support lends itself in beneficial ways that does not necessarily mean they benefit from the outcome.  I hope this all comes through the way I intend.  Stories are far more envisioned when the people whose point of views we, the readers, are denied but are ones we would love to peer into the minds of!  (This is actually something I struggle with because I would love to write from the POV of some of my supporting characters from time to time.)

Call to Action: Find those supporters in your life and thank them!  Go one step further and buy them a Starbucks gift card (I fully expect a full slew to be sent to me, ha!) and let them know you appreciate them.

“Logan” Reaction

posted in: Review, Writing | 2

As I’m writing this, I have not seen the movie yet but I wanted to sort of provide this “before and after” approach.  Just as a heads-up, this is and will be a bit of a nerd post.  If you’re not familiar or care about the Marvel Comics character, Wolverine aka Logan, then I understand if you sort of gloss over it.  But, if you have time and want to just get my take on something relevant and entertainment related, keep reading!  Maybe I’ll peak your interest enough in the character that you’ll go see the movie.Some history first.

I’ve been a fan of the X-Men franchise/world ever since I can remember.  I grew up watching the early 90s cartoon that was on Fox.  This led to an interest in comics, video games and even collecting trading cards if I could find them.  Wolverine was always one of my favorites.  When you’re a kid, as I was, he’s a favorite because he’s cool.  Plain and simple.  He’s a brash brute with claws that pop out from between his knuckles and has a super healing power that means he can take a punch, kick, shot, stab, flying truck (whatever the bad guys want to try).  How can you not like that?!

It’s not until I got older that I understand the complexity of the character.  Without going into a long otherwise highlight reel of his history in the comics (I’ll point you to Wikipedia’s page for the long read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolverine_(character) ), I’ll simply say he’s a tragic character who is a lone, tortured soul amidst the din of a chaotic world.  He’s faced hardship after hardship and continually battled his inner demons.  Never wanting to be the hero but led by a code that drove him to battle injustice.

Now, I’ve followed the films since 2000’s “X-Men” directed by Bryan Singer.  Back then, it was amazing to see this character in real life, portrayed by Hugh Jackman who I had never heard of but embodied the character of Logan perfectly (it never bothered me that we didn’t get to see him in his iconic yellow and blue costume).  Think about this.  He started in 2000 and we’re into 2017 now and Jackman has played the character in nine films (some only as a cameo).  That’s crazy to think about!

“Logan” is supposed to be Jackman’s last go of the character (that could always change so we’ll have to wait and see) and is supposed to be loosely based on the “Old Man Logan” graphic novel, which is not for kids (be advised).  There will be deep deviations from the graphic novel for various reasons but the film based on the trailers will be self-contained and a tribute to the character in all his glory.  Speaking of trailers, whether you’ve seen the film or not yet.  I admit, there was some man tears produced at the visuals accompanied by Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” originally by Nine Inch Nails in the first trailer.  Haunting yet enrapturing.

This is the end of my pre-viewing of the film.  The following paragraphs are my initial thoughts:

They went full berserker!  Saw the movie yesterday and let it process overnight before I wrote up my thoughts.  I’ll preface this by saying this is more a reaction than review.  Reviews tend to be stuffy and sometimes technical whereas I want to give my impressions on the characters, themes, etc.

There will be no spoilers!

“Logan” was by far the most human X-Men/Wolverine movie yet and I hope it’s an upward trend.  For the first time, this felt like a real world where mutants actually lived in.  The past films have had this sort of “comic” motif (duh… but you know what I mean).  End of the world/big baddie bent on destruction sort of thing.

This film aimed for the heart and person of an aging, wounded Logan who was still led by his code, though he’s constantly fought it from film to film.  The relationships here are the prize.

It reminded me a great deal of the relationship explored in the Playstation 3 game, “The Last of Us,” where an older man is tasked to escort a young girl to a safe haven in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a virus that turns the infected into zombie-like creatures.  She’s immune and while he struggles to believe something greater could come of the journey, he eventually finds her to be hope for the future and a reason worth living.

We kind of get the same thing in “Logan” but like I said, this is about exploring relationships.  From Logan to Professor X to Logan and the young girl, Laura, we see the importance of family.

Now, this film is not for the squeamish.  It’s very violent unlike other X-Men/Wolverine films, which have more of the “comic” action.  I would not say that I am desensitized to violence, blood and gore.  I grew up during the days of violent video games being the trend (Mortal Kombat!!!!) and have seen my fair share of the ridiculous in films.  Still, there are some things I don’t particularly care to see when it comes to violence.

Logan’s healing ability makes him a prime candidate to have crazy violence committed against him to show the audience he can withstand whatever weapon may come against him.  I say all this because the violence in the film was crazy brutal but it felt warranted and necessary.  Throw the eleven-year old, Laura, into the whirlwind and you just feel your adrenaline rising.  Both my wife and I had to take a relaxing break afterwards because the intensity just rose and rose to the nth degree until the very end.

My overall impression and reaction to “Logan” was a metaphorical hard clap (never clap in the theater after a movie…seriously, we’re better than that).  X-Men: Days of Future Past has been my leading favorite X-Men movie but “Logan” jumps to number one.  This was everything I’ve wanted in a superhero movie.  Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” showed what a realistic, human superhero can be and few have tried to follow that model.  It took a few years but “Logan” did it, staying true to the character of Wolverine.  Highly recommended even if you’re not familiar or fan of the character.

Call to Action:  See the movie and share your thoughts in a comment.  The whole X-Men timeline confusion might leave you asking some questions but that is minimal at most.  This was a fantastic film and I truly hope we see more in the near future of this caliber.