Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Top of the world ma!

Welcome to the re-designed me. You may have noticed the new layout and picture already. Unless of course you don’t read it on the website, in which case, you didn’t. For serious.

The picture is one I took while looking out over the southernmost point in all the U.S. There is a plaque and everything.

I have been thinking a lot recently about how to set goals and live up to them. What jobs or careers might be more meaningful to me personally while I work on writing in my free time. What combination would keep me going indefinitely.

I have so many ideas of what I might like to do and no real notion of which of them might end better than the next. So I guess the question is how far am I willing to go? To the ends of the earth.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Movies as a guide to storytelling

How many of you have read or tried to write a screenplay?

I did, or do. Depending on how broadly you want to consider the timeframe. I have a couple of projects I would like to complete and several other ideas that are percolating in my brain drip, drip, dripping into the pot that will make up an actual idea.

The reason I bring this up, is that trying to write a screenplay cemented a couple of very important skills in my head. Dialogue and scene set-up.

Find a copy of a screenplay for one of your favorite movies, the screenplay is just as impressive as the film. You can see it come to life on the page.

Wouldn’t it be great if all your book ideas were not only published but also made into movies? I am sure we like to dream it so. One way to do that is make sure you have a very visual friendly writing style.

Writing screenplays made me realize just how important good scene details can be to setting your writing apart. There are writers who leave a lot of the physical details to the audience to decide both in terms of background and physical action. They focus on emotions, scenery, and dialogue. I enjoy those things too I just find that even trying to write ten pages of a screenplay will make a big difference in how you approach your writing.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Reading V Writing

The court is still out as to what I prefer. I love reading and really falling into a story. Characters I will never meet, but get to know more intimately than my closest family. Worlds I will never step foot on but are full of beauty and tragedies all their own.

But with writing I get to craft and shape each of those things. Take the world and people’s lives in direction they may have never taken. I can explore and idea through a person or live wildly and vicariously through my characters.

I can turn society on its head with words. The dream that took me down this path to begin with.

I feel like I can’t do one without the other. Just the exposure to the creative works of others gives me the energy to bury myself in my own work. It helps me recognize my own flaws and build on them. It lets me know what is out there and what people are thinking and feeling about even more than what they are buying.

I think if you write what is in people’s hearts and minds it will sell. Today I finished a dashing new author who I will talk about later this week. Or newly published, at any rate.

I know some people are very much against reading the work of others, especially while they work on their own pieces, but I couldn’t do it. I don’t always devour 7 or more books a week. Sometimes I even go a couple of weeks without reading a book, but not often. I can’t afford a world devoid of the art of the mind.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Earthling Hero

First off, I apologize for the delay.

I have been debating with myself a lot on both the utility and purpose behind doing reviews. I also wasn’t sure what kind of methodology I wanted to use in judging them.

The long and short of it is this – I want to spread the word about books people should read. I don’t want to hate on an author I don’t like because someone else may find a book very fulfilling.

Now let me actually get to the meat of the review.

I thoroughly enjoyed Anita’s book. I thought it was smart and funny, with a male middle grade protagonist that smart boys can identify with.

I like the personal touches that shout Anita to me, like the tortilla making scene. I thought that bad guys were the right combination of threatening and bumbling that enable the good folks to prevail.

On a technical note the spacing on my nook was kind of wonky, but this is something I have heard a lot about and seen before. Natasha Fondren, author and ebook coder, talks about this quite a bit on her blog. Apparently this is a common problem with ebooks and has to do with the way most programs code it instead of just hand coding it like she does.

Besides not being long enough for me (since I am an epic fantasy/ sci-fi fan) my only thought was that sometimes it wasn’t over the top enough to me. Meaning there were passages that felt more serious and adult and then would fall back to a middle grade humor. I say go for the gusto. I think if the writing and plot are smart it will shine.

Anita is a good author with solid prose and a great grasp of characterization. I hope she continues to publish or epublish her books so I can keep up with her.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Two Spirits

Due to the pending federal shutdown, which for those of you who don't know means I may be going without pay here soon, my writing schedule has been thrown a bit askew.
I very much plan on reviewing Anita Laydon Miller's Earthling Hero, tomorrow, but wanted to bring you something entirely different tonight. Before I get into why this is very important to me, let me share this link - Two Spirits.
I saw this documentary tonight and it moved me. It moved me as a creative endeavor and it moved me on a personal level. About 1 year after the Matthew Shepard murder in Laramie, WY a young Two Spirit, or Nadleeh, person named Fred Martinez was brutally killed in Cortez, CO.
He didn't receive the attention because he was non-white and poor. He wasn't traditionally attractive, though I think that is too narrow a scope to view people in. Fred Martinez was killed because he was different and I think it is our responsibility, as humans, to make sure this doesn't happen again.
I feel education is the first step. So please watch and share the trailer and ideally watch the documentary. There is more to gender and sexuality than most people feel comfortable thinking about, but we shouldn't be.
To me this is just as important as the fight against bullying. If anything, I feel like this gets closer to the root of the problem. This documentary will be airing on PBS on June 14.
I wanted to touch on briefly the salient points for me (in no real order) -
1) Dedication to an idea - the creator of the film went to great lengths to take a story and transform it into something that was both educational and inspiring and there is not enough that can be said about that level of dedication to your craft.
2) Strength of people like Ru Paul or Elton John, or the queers who decided they had enough at Stonewall. Strength doesn't have to be pretty or poised. It doesn't always have to speak with words, sometimes it yells. This is true of the riots in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere throughout the world. I can never do enough to honor the spirit of strength that resides in these people. I am envious of their strength, but also rejoice that it exists.
3)The creativity needed to from whole cloth create a world and races, interactions, emotions and laws of physics is compelling and astounding. The ability to do so outside the social norms we are familiar with is epic, but to be able to take a real person and make them into a story. To transform something everyday into something legendary, that is vision. That is the kind of vision that to do and do well is rare.
I am in awe.

I am not in awe because this documentary led me to new ideas or was better than other documentaries I have seen, but because it is on a subject that needs more exposure. It exposes the grief of a mother to do so, but she wants her son known. Let his name and the names of other countless children be screamed from the top of every building until we remember why we should build and create and not destroy.

Go hug a tree.
That is all.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Invincible Summer

So, I mentioned before I won a free book. That book was Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskovwitz.

Before I get into reviewing that book I wanted to preface it with something. Because it feels like most days I am writing to and for myself I can’t help but to be myself.

Meaning? Well, if I am going to work on developing my voice and building an imaginary following then I would like to do so from a very honest place in my dark soul.

Let me start the review by saying I think it would be well worth the purchase and is a very thoughtful piece that captures that sense of summer and freedom that many of us feel growing up. I think it also pretty accurately explores the complicated relationships many of us have with siblings and parents alike.

Consider what I say next with a grain of salt and the understanding that I point it out as much for my benefit as a writer as anything else. Every piece of writing can be made stronger.

Writing is complicated and depends a lot on nuances of message and target audience. Sometimes there is a conflict between what I want to convey and what I think people will understand or take away from the words I use.

This book was the best and worst of undergrad memoirs to me. It went on and on with endless Camus quotes, which are great and fill out many pages, but were not always strictly necessary. Nor were they always the best of quotes for the situation. The reason I point this out is two-fold.

The first is simply that I think as writers we get wrapped up sometimes in our own enlightenments and want to share it. I am fine with that. I almost felt like the book was proselytizing on Camus’ behalf and that to me goes too far.

The second is to point out my bias. I think life and philosophy are deeply personal and shaped by our experiences. My experience with most philosophers in terms of writing and those obsessed with them is that they enjoy hearing themselves think out loud far too much. Shove a sock in it Camus and let me hear the ocean.

My other hurdle in this book was hurting for hurting’s sake. Call it the rage of emoism or the need of a younger generation (or any generation) to prove their raison d’être. I don’t believe in it.

Life is full of enough true strife that tossing in a tragedy, one of many, more than two-thirds of the way through a book is silly. You don’t have time to adequately address it when it is life altering and I feel like the story would have been just as strong or stronger without it. Now, I am not saying it wasn’t realistic or even possible, just a bit much. It borders on that life is sometimes stranger than fiction because I know people who worse events have happened to.

And my last thought on the piece is that no matter how much I enjoyed it, and I did, I feel like this is a perfect example of my earlier discussion on the lack of connection to reality some authors and many movies have.

How many people have beach homes? How many kids have no concept of what use a summer job might be? Also I believe it is ironic when one family decides another is pretentious because of their name when obviously both families are pretty pretentious. See beach house comment above.

That being said, I still think it is a very good book and definitely worth reading. So do it! Stay tuned on Thursday for a review of the phenomenal Anita Laydon Miller’s Earthling Hero.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Rules for Life or just Writing

There are as many magical/tech systems in use in the world of science fiction/ fantasy as there are authors to write. I could write about the various sets and subsets, but I think I will leave that to another post. I feel like any list should be descriptive though and not prescriptive.

Each time I read a book that comes up with a new approach, such as Brent Weeks’ Black Prism, I am thrilled. For those of you not familiar with this series, it is a somewhat novel approach. They take light and break the visible spectrum into separate colors and each has unique characteristics.

The key though is this, the more light they bend the closer they get to going crazy. There is a finite limit on their abilities.

My initial forays into writing were often tied into free form role-playing where it often seemed like the only real limit was how creative you could be with whatever loose rules you start with.

There are limits. To help people relate to a story there has to be a barrier to what people can achieve. The limitation for many people is time, money, and abilities. The same should be true of a story.

I am sure there is someone out there thinking now that it shouldn’t apply to them because they have rewritten the universal laws for their story.

Great, more power to you, but without an underlying structure or overarching superstructure to guide you there is no sense of foundation or starting point for people to gain perspective. Meaning: have a history, religion, superstition, laws of physics, something to guide your story both in terms of science and magic.

After all; a sufficiently advanced technology might as well be magic to someone. Ever split an atom? Seems like magic to me.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Balancing Act

I mentioned balance in the last post and I find I would like to talk about it a bit more. Again keep in mind, I don’t consider myself an expert in any way, but I like to muse on topics.

- Humor -

I really admire authors who are able to create any book of any genre and have it be funny all the way through. I am exponentially impressed when they can take that and do it over and over again.

But most really can’t.

You end up seeing the same gags and situations over and over and over again. Until you the newness of the characters wears off and suddenly you find yourself wondering why you still read it? Then maybe you start just checking it out at the library in lieu of buying it until eventually you find you have fallen behind and can’t quite care.

The other end of the spectrum is also true. Ever met a person who was never funny and never appreciated humor? Maybe one John or Jane Doe, right? Meet two?

Now think about authors you may have read where you never ever laughed. I don’t mean you have to break down in tears and deep gasping breaths, but life is funny. Sometimes, or even especially, at times when things are the worst. Because it is how people cope.

I think the lack of humor is just as false and being funny all the time. One makes the piece either super depressing or just two dimensional, to me. The other sets the bar high the first time then too often fails to repeat.

- Conflict –

The other big reason I often stop reading something is a lack of conflict. Or, more rarely, too much conflict.

Ever read a book that you struggle to remember which peril or obstacle the character is trying to defeat this chapter? Or maybe that the character is almost dying all the time. I am just as guilty of this at time, but I feel like conflict needs to be balanced between internal and external.

Characters who never change aren’t interesting to me.

I like conflict that moves someone. They don’t have to evolve, they can fall back into bad habits, which I think more people should explore. Maybe my next story I will take some of that angle. I can add it to the list.

I read somewhere that a good author has some sense of tension on every page to keep people reading. I don’t know if I buy that idea, but I do know that too much every day blah and I find myself skimming and then missing crucial things.

Balance is important, wish I could find mine.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The World in My Eyes

Perspective and world-building are, in my experience, inextricably intertwined. Understand that when I say world building what I mean is both the macro world the character lives in and the microcosm of the individual experience.

Each author can answer the question of nurture versus nature in her/his own way, but it has to be answered. The biggest creative examples I can think of are movies. A different medium to be sure, but still a very applicable example. I love movies almost as much as I love books, but you can do so much more in books than movies because all the special effects occur inside your own imagination.

Back to my point.

One of my biggest complaints is that the characters in too many Hollywood movies are out of touch with the audience and the roles they are trying to portray. A work-a-day schmuck is not going to have access to unlimited funds, martial arts skills, weapons training, a beautiful suburban ranch, and BMWs falling out of his/her ear, but it seems to be the norm in Hollywood.

Characters will take for granted risk taking, expenditure, and cross-societal and cultural experiences.

You shouldn’t though.

I wouldn’t be who I am without my own peculiar limitations and experiences. I think you learn more from a character who has obvious limitations than from one who has no limits on power, money, influence, access. Your world needs to make an internal sense.

Even if you are basing your story on a very different species in a different time frame and a completely different social structure, things should make some sense. Think back on your own experiences and those of your friends and family and find a fault to expose in your character. It will make them more real and if it is tied into their place in the world, all the better in my humble(ish) opinion.