P.36: My, Um, NaNo Victory — a Space Opera

 

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Somehow, I went the entire month of NaNo without blogging about it once.

But this, my second year, was another success.

Last year, I had mapped my entire novel out — a middle grade fantasy — and finished the entire thing. (Note to self: It’s time to get back on that project.)

This year, I decided to pants it, and after reading about mosaic novels shortly before November started, I thought it would be the perfect fit. And it was.

Mosaic novels are loose, and don’t necessarily follow a single character or plot line. Chapters can vary greatly, with different viewpoints or even different styles of writing (for example, I have a chapter made up of letters) and chapters can almost act as short stories that stand alone.

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I knew I wanted to write my spin on a space opera, and this was actually a great fit for it. My story tells a tale between two powers — humans and an alien civilization — as they butt heads. The humans had won a major war between the two powers just a couple decades previously, but at a very steep cost — with millions lost.

My story takes place through the perspective of people around the universe as they witness, react or participate in major events or happenings, but it’s rarely a direct look at the action. It’s not Captain Picard on the bridge, it’s B’Elana Torres getting the engines back on board. It’s not Luke Skywalker going off to become a hero, it’s Aunt Beru worrying about the creeping Empire and if they’ll find her adoptive son. I’m aiming to give readers the full story, but by the people who are often most impacted by it, and those who fight desperately but may only be able to tangently help, or help in small ways.

I got my 50,000 words, but am not nearly done with the story. This one’s going to be at least 100,000, and probably a good deal bigger.

But I’m really happy with it so far, and am going to continue adding chapters throughout 2017.

P.35: Deathly Hallows Part 1, a Retrospective

Spoilers, of course.

It’s weird. Right from when I heard that Warner Bros. was rereleasing the Harry Potter movies — all on IMAX — the movie I was most excited about seeing again was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.  I may be in the minority, but it’s by far my favorite in the film series.

For starters, the movie is fantastic. The acting, the direction, the cinematography, the score — everything delivers.

A lot of people at the time scoffed at the idea of separating the last book of a popular franchise into two different movies (me included!) — and it certainly set a bad industry standard — but unlike so many of the others that have followed, the two Deathly Hallows films are really well thought out.

Each part is almost the diametric opposite of the other, and yet they fit together so well. It makes the two films resonant — if Part 2 has all the action, Part 1 has all the feeling. And feeling wins for me.

But, of course, Part 2 doesn’t really have all the action. Part 1 has action in spades, maybe even more action sequences than any other Harry Potter film other than the Deathly Hallows Part 2. We get everything from a broomstick getaway to a diner shootout. There are two major heists, a blown-up house, a wedding raid, a battle with a Big-Bad-Wolf-esque snake in human clothing. There’s a magic-dueling chase, a prison break and a homicidal necklace drowning scene.

And all of them effect our heroes, and often the world around them, in very personal ways — for good or bad. A character doesn’t just die, but is cried over and buried. A wand isn’t just broken, but is used as a symbol of the need to not dwell on the bad in times of crisis. Our heroes don’t just save random strangers, but get to know them just well enough to make viewers care that they were saved at all.

Almost nothing is glossed over — even outright victory has consequences, as when Hermione had to compromise her morals and erase the memories of Voldemort’s snatchers, to keep the trio safe. Winning the fight, for Hermione, was the easy part. The results aren’t always predictable, and the film usually takes the time to let the impacts sink in.

Further, this film oozes character and relationship growth, hitting so many different emotional notes. By taking viewers out of Hogwarts completely, it gives us the chance to see Hermione, Harry and Ron stand on their own — and Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint deliver.

Another point in its favor? This is a Big Blockbuster that’s not afraid of taking chances. For example, it has all these beautiful settings and lingers on them, chewing on the scenery and moment, not afraid to stop and breathe. It creates this beautiful message — that even in the worst of times, the world is a beautiful place and there can be moments of peace.

It also puts the geeky Wizarding World lore at the focus. To beat the bad guy, the characters have to — for the first time — understand the world. They need to know how wands really work, something even Voldemort didn’t quite get. And for a franchise that never really tried to establish a detailed or rigid magic system before, wand lore adds surprising depth — depth the film wasn’t afraid to dig into.

Further, while the Harry Potter movies have always given us a great world, the Deathly Hallows gives us great stories. And those stories are important to the film itself. The Tale of the Three Brothers hits so many notes for me, from the film’s ridiculously gorgeous animated sequence (which was a huge risk!) to the way the story itself serves as a perfect pastiche of all the old European folktales.

But the really important thing is what the Three Brothers represents. If the Harry Potter universe were a mystery cult, it’s basically the outer and inner mysteries of the entire Wizarding World. In Harry’s world, there’s those who (like him, in Philosopher’s Stone) know nothing and are completely new to or unaware of the Wizarding World. They’ve never even heard of the Three Brothers, much less read it. Then there are those initiated into the outer ring — those who are well versed in wizarding culture, who understands the world in the same way most anyone would understands the one we live in. These are the people who’ve read the Three Brothers, or at least know the story.

But then there’s the people fully initiated — who not only understand the world, but how it came to be. They know what’s really going on. For Harry, Ron and Hermione, they’re just entering the “real” Wizarding World here, as they’ve come to know about (and believe in) the Deathly Hallows. It brings a greater depth to the story, and sets our characters in an almost Arthurian quest narrative, where they (like many others before them) have quested to find the elusive Grail Elder Wand, and its Deathly Hallow companions.

Of course, the book did many of these things, too, and it did them all first. We shouldn’t forget that, or how much JK Rowling rocks. But think of how easy it would have been for these scenes to have been written out or truncated in the translation to film. Or how easily Warner Bros could have forced David Yates to manufacture a bunch of different, plot-centric scenes to dumb this thing down and strip away all the character beats.

Did anyone read the first half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and expect all those scenes of Hermione, Harry and Ron wandering the English countryside to somehow all make it in the final movies? I sure didn’t, and yet they all made this movie so good.

So, wow, was seeing this film again a real treat. It’s one of the rare times I’ve gone to see something on the big big screen and thought, “I wouldn’t want to see that any other way.” In fact, I often don’t like IMAX for the simple reason that it can be too much. But not this one. That’s for sure. It really made this great, unique and emotive movie a perfect movie-going experience — sort of the fine wine of the Harry Potter movie franchise — and I didn’t even have any popcorn.

P.34: Check Out Pack Dynamics, Between Dragons and Their Wrath, Memory and Iron, and Sisters

It’s been a bit since my last updated. How absolutely terrible of me.

I have a number of draft blogs I’m working on — but for now, here’s some of my favorite short stories I’ve read since my last update:

  • Pack Dynamics, by Stephanie Burgis, published by (the brand new!) Persistent Visions. This is a werewolf story unlike any I’ve read before — completely subverting the traditional tropes of the genre, and tying it into real world family dynamics that I think a number of people could identify with. Really loved this one.
  • Between Dragons and Their Wrath, by An Owomoyela and Rachel Swirsky, published in Clarkesworld, Issue 113. This was a stunningly beautiful story. The prose is gorgeous and perfect, a simple, elegant and poetic style.  It’s very much the story about refugees, surviving a war-torn land, but the WMDs were dragons. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a story where the aftereffects felt so real, even if it was a fantasy setting. This is some of the best speculative fiction fantasy that I’ve read.
  • Memory and Iron, by Kelly Sandoval, published by Fantastic Stories of the Imagination. This was a beautiful, bittersweet modern faerie story. I’m not going to describe it much because it’s short, but it’s wonderful.
  • Sisters, by Bonnie-Joe Stufflebeam, reprint published by Grendelsong, originally published by SCHEHEREZADE’S BEQUEST. I’ve read a few of Stufflebeam’s stories now and each one has really left an impression on me. She writes incredibly lyrical, deep stuff. This one’s a retelling/re-imagining of The Little Mermaid, exploring love and sacrifice through wishes.

Bon appetit!

P.33: I wrote something you can buy

There’s something out there that I wrote and you can buy. That’s… like… kind of exciting, and I figured I should provide a link.

The details: About a year ago, I joined a writing group near where I live. Every few years, the writing group puts together a work of our short stories. With the writing group being based in Salem, Massachusetts, a number of our writers enjoy writing ghost stories — and, thus, Ghost Writers Volume 2, was born.

My story is called “The Long Arm of Satan” and closes out the book. It’s about a guy in hell who’s trying to escape. I hope people will find it both hellish and literary.

I hope you’ll agree that there’s a number of great stories in the collection. You can buy it in print or as an ebook from Amazon, and I do believe it’s available via Kindle’s lending library program for people with Prime.

P.32: Draft 2 Problems

I’ve joined the SF/F writers Facebook group, which has been an interesting, very positive experience. Lots of great ideas, suggestions and some great questions and discussions.

That said, one of the most common posts I read come from people who ask for suggestions on issues that, in the grand scheme of things, are quite minor — like word choice or some basic character issue.

These aren’t bad things to be focused on, but they reminded me of some of my early mistakes I made as a writer — getting bogged down by the small stuff.

I’ve touched on this issue before, but think it’s worth expounding on. The first few times I attempted a book, I’d always make some great progress on the first 50 or 100 pages — and then things would start to grind to a halt. I’d reread what I had written over and over again — getting stuck in an editing loop, working on what I had already written instead of finishing the story.

I’d spend hours creating notes or doing research to get one scene just right, or read paragraphs over and over again looking trying to come up with a perfect word or sentence — instead of moving anything forward. A lot of times, the ‘fixing’ made things worse, because I wasn’t focused on any particular problem. Without that focus, I could address some minor problem by creating a much bigger one — and it’s hard to know if changes are good or bad without the context of a finished draft.

Don’t get me wrong — spending time on the small stuff, even a lot of time, isn’t bad to do. Most any writer would want their word choices to be as perfect as they could make it, or to create enough notes and do enough research to make sure even a single comes across exactly how they’d want — but none of those things need to happen in Draft 1.

I like to call them Draft 2 Problems — things that can be fixed later, with more precision (and context), once the whole story is finished.

In fact, for me, they’re often Draft 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 problems, as I tend to focus on one or two aspects of a story per draft — trying to fix character issues in one draft, or working on world building in the next. Case in point: I’ll write a story with a second world setting using everyday vernacular here on earth that doesn’t fit within the context of the world I’m creating, just to get the basic story down — and then have a draft specifically focusing on making the dialog and terminology consistent and authentic to the world and characters I created.

Then, of course, I’ll have drafts focused on tightening prose, or on continuity issues, or on specific characters or character relationships, and drafts that focus on a whole host of other issues.

The point is, you don’t want to bog yourself down at any stage of the process because you’re trying to do everything at the same time — because you’re trying to be perfect in a single pass through the story.

If you try to be that perfect, then there’s a good chance you’ll never finish that stage, or even damage the story in some way that could take a lot of time to fix.

Plus, if you’re seeking that perfection in the early stages of your work, you’ll spend hours on scenes or characters that you’ll eventually cut or significantly alter somewhere down the line. And why waste time fixing something that won’t exist later when you could spend that time getting to the end sooner, or starting something new?

So, don’t let Draft X problems creep into Draft 1. Just keep plowing ahead.

P.31: Star Trek Enterprise (A Retrospective)

Over the past few weeks, I watched/re-watched Star Trek: Enterprise. Wow, was I surprised. It was much better than I remembered it.

Its flaws are still there, of course, but I wasn’t bored. And if I’m not bored, that’s good enough for me.

Here’s just a few things that are a lot better than I remembered:

  • The sets. They really succeed at capturing a feel that looks dated compared to Next Gen/Voyager, yet advanced compared to today.
  • The horror episodes. There are only a few, but these were some of the standouts of the entire series to me. This is one thing ST:E did better than any of the other ST series. Silent Enemy was the best, but by no means the only good one.
  • The Andorians. The show goes a long way to fleshing out the species, one we barely saw before, despite the fact that they were one of the original few species to form the Federation. I wish the series brought a lot more of the early Federation member species into play. (Caitians, Tellerites, Deltans, etc.)
  • Limitations. We have a crew that wanted to help others it came across, yet a ship that’s not advanced enough to deal with much of what confronts them. While the show was criticized by many for making the ship too modern in some respects, ST:E actually does a great job at making the ship’s limitations impact the story. It creates problems on the show that the characters have to work around (aka good storytelling), and fits incredibly well with the show’s ‘early’ setting. Nothing’s easy, but they get it done.
  • The opening song. I used to *hate* it, as did most fans at the time. It eschewed the beautiful orchestrations from every previous Star Trek series for a pop song (!) — one first sung by Rod Stewart, at that. Maybe it’s been so long since we’ve last had a new Trek show that it doesn’t really matter to me anymore, or maybe it’s the JJ verse movies also emphasizing pop songs that have inoculated me, but now I find the song pretty catchy — and one that certainly fits the feel of the show.
  • Porthos, Captain Archer’s pet dog. Clearly, there should be more dogs in space.

The problems of the show are all still there, but it’s much better than most people give it credit for.

P.30: A Year of Short Stories

I didn’t realize it, but today is about 13 months since I first started submitting short stories.

In that time, I’ve sent out 19 different stories and four poems, for a total of 50 submissions, including seven that are currently active.

I wrote another two shorts that I haven’t sent out yet (they need a little more work), and have another two that are about halfway done which I like enough that I plan to get back to them.

And that’s not counting the fifth draft of my first novel, and the first draft of my second, neither of which are ready to send out yet… but both took a good deal of work this year.

I have no idea where the time came to do all this…

Since I like to post where (and why) I send my stories every ten blogs, let’s take a look at what I have out now:

  • I have one story submitted to the Writers of the Future, from the 2nd quarter of this year. This was my fourth submission to the contest, and they’ve always either been my early work or stories that weren’t quite my best (but where what I had available to send at the time). They were stories I wasn’t necessarily hoping would win, but wanted to see if they’d survive early cullings (one of them did) or maybe get an honorable mention (nope). This time, I decided to send one of my best stories and while I still have some worry about fit (I haven’t really read enough WotF to gauge what the judges like), I’m crossing my fingers.
  • One at Tor.com. I had to get at least one story in before Tor.com closed its doors to unsolicited short story submissions forever, and sent the very best story I had available since I know Tor.com is the Crème de la crème. I’m pleased it’s still in the running.
  • One for Ghosts on Drugs, an anthology about ghosts on drugs, both terms broadly defined. I wrote this one specifically for the anthology.
  • One at Uncanny Magazine. I wrote two stories in November and December that I really, really liked. I sent one of them in, which toyed a lot with mythicism, focusing on character discovery. The story lasted a tad longer than average before it was declined — so I don’t think they hated it. Thankfully, it was rejected a couple days before their submission window closed, giving me the ability to send another (thanks, Uncanny!). I sent that second story, which had some of the same mythic feel, but with prose that’s a little more lyrical. I’ve seen some stories in Uncanny with a similar lyrical feel, so felt like it could be a good fit. We’ll see.
  • One at Let Us In, which is an upcoming anthology about horrors people invite into their lives — either consciously or unconsciously. Again, I wrote my story specifically for the anthology.
  • I have two poems out, both to Apex’s Undead poems anthology. I had one poem that fit, and another that I wrote for it. I don’t consider myself any kind of poet, only the occasional dabbler for personal fun, but figured I’d send them out because the worst thing that could happen is they get declined.

Here’s hoping.