Always Be Learning

posted in: Books, Film/TV, Reading, Writing | 0

When you start out as a writer looking for any and everything that could give you guidance and help, one thing you consistently see is, “Read, read, and read more”.  This can be bothersome for some or at least it was for me because I wanted to respond, “But I want to write…”.  What should be added to that direction is:  Read, read, and read more because you will learn how to write.

Cognitive absorption (I have no idea if this is an accurate term or even used properly but I like the sound of it and it’s my blog so…yeah) through reading is how I like to think about my ability to read different kinds of books be it fiction, nonfiction, biography, etc. and subconsciously collect sentence structure, characterization, inclusion of theme, setting tone, and several other important literary practices.

I always want to be learning.  Whether by reading, listening, or being observant of the world around me, I cannot be the best storyteller I can be if I already think I know what I need to know.  To this day, I find myself stashing away nuggets of info I come across.  I’ll notice descriptions in a book about a people, places, or things and think, “That’s really good. I need to remember that detail or method”.  I’ll be listening to a podcast and a topic will weave between two speakers and I’ll pick up on conversational threads that I think can be implemented between my own characters as they talk to one another.  I’ll see something in a show or movie and make a note of the shape, color, and/or texture.

The notion of always learning can seem daunting and might make you feel overwhelmed.  Learning doesn’t have to be reading historical tomes of 1500 pages one after another.  Find a subject and explore it by whatever means.  Books are not the only option.  Podcasts, articles, and documentaries are all great mediums to absorb whatever it is you’re interested in.  There is no test at the end, so go your own speed and remember you learn what you want to learn about once you’re out of school.  Focus on those and you’ll enjoy it far more than when you were cramming for a test the night before.

Call to Action:  I want to encourage two sources that I love learning from.  The first is Joe Rogan’s podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience”.  He talks with all sorts of people about all kinds of subjects from entertainment to deeper philosophical issues.  The second are the shows “No Reservations” and “Parts Unknown” by the late Anthony Bourdain.  The passing of Bourdain last week came unexpected and is tragic.  His traveling shows have been consistent staples for me because I always learn and find his approach to people through food a rare art.

Coming-of-Age Thoughts/Lady Bird Review

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

There are certain stories I’m drawn to (more so in movies than books in this instance) where a young person’s journey from adolescence into adulthood is magnified.  They be best described as “coming-of-age” stories.  Usually in these films, we get a glimpse into a select moment and are shown who this young person is, what they desire, what they fear, etc.  These have a way of grasping my full attention for reasons I’ll explain if you so choose to keep reading.

The most recent experience I had was with the film “Lady Bird”, directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Saoirse Ronan.  The film takes place in Sacramento, CA in 2002.  Normally, I relate more to coming-of-age stories of boys (see “The Way Way Back” and “Boyhood”) but I found myself enjoying watching this young woman going through her senior in high school and preparing to go to college.  Mainly, my enjoyment has to with the fact that I was a senior in high school in 2002-03 in southern California (not Los Angeles) also.  Much of her struggles with school, classmates, and parents felt very visceral to me all the while the war in Iraq had just started and was often playing in the background of settings.  I remember those days so clearly.

Suffice to say “Lady Bird” gripped me instantly and since it was on my “Movies of 2017 to Watch” list, I was able to look past the immaturity of the main character and pick out subtle things I loved.  Most of those were references to the time and culture but they were enough to keep me engaged.  I don’t know if I’d recommend the movie to be honest.  It was okay but not grand (it absolutely reeked of whatever it is the Academy Award’s consider award-worthy).  I think 2016’s “The Edge of Seventeen” was far-superior film and much funnier (also having a female lead).

I don’t know why these kinds of films draw me in.  I don’t consider my own “coming-of-age” experience to be all that impressive.  I went to high school, graduated, went to college, delayed graduation by slacking and feeling uninspired, and then met my wife, finished my degree, established a career, and now have a baby.  It’s all very simple yet fulfilling.  These films however have much better highlights that involve conquering fears or making decisions not to be part of the status quo.  Then again, a film of my life would not attract much of an audience so I understand and appreciate the screenwriters who add drama and tension in order to push the main character a little closer to adulthood.

I think that’s the reason I am drawn to these kinds of films.  I enjoy watching the maturation of an individual especially when they realize adolescence is such a small part of life and the horrors of high school fade quickly.  Experiencing life is sweeter when stepping out from the social constructs of narrow expectation.

Call to Action: I threw out the names of a few coming-of-age films I like but I also recommend these as well:  Stand By Me, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Kings of Summer, and my favorite of all time:  The Breakfast Club.

Nothing to Write

posted in: Writing | 0

As I write this blog post, I am sitting in the dining area of the house we are staying at in Redding, Ca while at a leadership conference at Bethel Church.  This is the first chance I’ve really been able to write anything since we arrived and have been busy each day attending sessions and panels.  Going to these events and eating and resting while we have breaks between really hasn’t allowed for time to sit and write.  So, when I get the chance, I try to take full advantage.  Like now!

And…I’ve got nothing…

Ha!  Isn’t that the worst!  You all dropped by thinking, “Oh, I’ve got some time to see what Adam wrote today.”  Then you drop by and see this nonsense.  I’d apologize but I can’t.  You see, sometimes, writers have nothing new to say.

No, I’m not suffering through writer’s block or lacking inspiration.  No, to be honest, my brain has been in full process mode as my wife and I learn about leadership.  I guess that doesn’t mean it won’t translate to something in my writing.  It’s the opposite.  I have leaders in my writing but I don’t quite have the words to present you with this great thought-out expose on leaders in my writing.

Instead, I’ll just say that it’s really interesting to attend a conference like this and begin to process your life and the things you do in that context.  We do act as leaders in some aspects of our lives but we are also surrounded by them at work and church.  I honestly am more interested in how to be a better leader myself rather than compare others to whatever principles are being taught.  Everyone is on their own journey and I’d like to work on myself, not comparing or judging.

Now, if you actually come to me and ask my opinion of you as a leader, then I’ll give you a truthful assessment and hope you receive what I say and take it for what it is: just an opinion.  I could be wrong (but there’s more than likely some truth to what I’m saying, lol).  And, I’d hope others are willing to tell me where I stand out and where I lack in a leadership role.

Sorry about this being a little different blog post but I like to think people are curious to see and read some other things.  Not everyone is a writer, so I definitely understand that a lot of what I write might not be relevant.  My hope is that I can offer up some more general things for you all to read in the future.

Call to Action: We’re less than a week away from the newsletter!!!  Expect it on the 30th.  You can sign up when prompted on my website or use the contact form.

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.

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!

Identity: Theme Explored

Write what you know.  That’s what they tell you (I don’t know who they are…still looking to be honest).  For whatever the reason, I’ve struggled to really explain to people what my books are about.  Seriously.  If you asked me in person to tell you what the first Ravanguard book is about, I would struggle to do so without going into vast details in order to make sure you are tracking with me in what I consider a complex tapestry of interwoven major and minor story lines.  In short, I’ve had to narrow it down.  The book is about identity.

I’ve done this recently on a few accounts and simply saying identity helps me focus the vision.  The story follows the viewpoints of the three main characters and their struggle through identity.  All of these are explored through different methods.  One has their identity stripped away and must establish a new one, the second strives to make a name for herself in a predominantly male order, and the third (the youngest) has little knowledge of his family and their history, only to be introduced to secrets that make him realize who he is.

I like to think that you could take any of these three quick descriptions I’ve provided and apply them to a number of stories in all kinds of genres.  That’s the beauty of the theme of identity.  It is not restrictive or limited.

This is all very organic in my writing process.  I did not write these out and go from there.  No, I started with the character and their conflict and the theme of identity grew.  Imagine the smallest of frames–better yet, a bare Christmas tree.  I set it up and throughout the process of writing, editing, re-writing and editing some more, I’ve placed the ornaments, ribbon, tinsel (not just for decoration), etc. in their proper places to give the tree–or characters–identity.  Muscle and skin added to the skeleton once again.

Write what you know.  Well, much of my main point of view characters in everything I write has one underlying theme of identity.  My writing focuses on this because I truly believe individual identity is the key to success.  A character’s journey to discover/re-discover their identity and purpose in life is the quintessential most important conflict in literature (at least I think so).

So, I relate personally because I spent many years unsure of who I was, what my purpose was, etc.  Same old story…  It took time, patience and putting myself around people who saw the gold in me.  This righted much of the upside down thinking I struggled with as a young man.  Once I found what I was looking for, though, I settled within myself to be okay.  Were there things that could still use work?  Of course!

The theme of identity will likely be what I write about the rest of my life.  My hope is that this will transcend the pages and help people.  Obviously, I cannot tell every reader who they are but hopefully, through my characters, readers will find tools that make sense to them and lead them to discover what’s most important.

Call to Action: If you are struggling with identity in any capacity, I would encourage you to not lose sight or hope.  Don’t merely look for others to tell you who you are.  Do not seek acceptance or relationships because someone else thinks you should be this or that.  Ask questions.  Pursue the truth of your convictions.  These will better guide you in the long run.

“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.