Musings on writing, lessons learned by an aspiring professional, book reviews, movie reviews, an occasional t.v. show review, and unashamed opinion.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Word Count

So I rearranged my work schedule a while back so that I'd have Fridays off.  The plan was to focus all of Friday on writing.  Before I did this, I was writing almost every morning before I went to work, getting up at 5:30-6:00 and writing until 8:30.  I found that writing every morning, with a word count goal of 1,000 words, I was getting a lot done.  I felt I was fairly productive, working a full-time job and all.  Flash forward to now, when I have an entire day to devote to writing, and you get what I've turned into: lazy.

I'm lucky if I reach a thousand words each Friday.  This is bad.  REALLY bad.  Since the beginning of August, I've probably only written 6,000 new words in Gunlord (including the 2,000 or so that went into my lost chapter) and another 2,000 on a different project.  I used to be able to claim 8,000 or more words every two weeks.  I'm quite upset with myself over the whole thing.  Problem is, I really like having Fridays off work, so I can't go back to my old schedule.  And I'm really not a morning person, although I forced myself to be one for a year or so.  So what the crap am I going to do?

I originally planned Gunlord as a trilogy.  In my head.  There was none of that outlining garbage going on.  So I was shooting for 100,000 words per book.  Pretty easy goal.  Plus, I liked the idea of an epic fantasy with each book only being around 300-350 pages, instead of the normal 700 pages.  100,000 words meant a couple of months of steady work--about 4.5 since I've never written every single day.  I was on my way to hit that goal as of the end of July, having 70,000 words already in the bag.  And then I hit a wall in the story.  And then I shifted my work schedule.  And then I didn't get much writing done.  And then Gears of War 3 came out.

I've been on a steady, downward trend for too damn long.  (But it is so bloody fun to blow people apart in video games).

I've made some promising steps this past week.  I actually wrote a few days before work, despite hating my brain for waking me up early.  And I've been at the library today for more hours than any other week, plugging away at chapter eighteen.  (My brain needs a rest so I thought I had time for a bit of bloggorama).  And the best part is that I've unstuck myself in the story.  Gunlord's beginning was just getting finished at 70,000, which is way too late in a 100,000 word novel.  But there wasn't much that could be cut out to shorten it up.  Well, I've changed focus from a trilogy to a standalone now.  So instead of a series, there's gonna be one, badass, gunsling'n-epic and it'll be done.  I'm leaving the door open on final word count, but it will for sure fall between 160,000-190,000 words.  (The joys of gardening).  I'd really like to have it finished by the time my baby girl is here in December.  No way in hell that's going to happen.

C'est la vie.

That's all.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Long-running fantasy series

I was reading on Pat Rothfuss's blog, and he posted a link to an article that made for an interesting read.  You can read the article here. It is about the pros and cons of long fantasy series.

I used to love the massive epics.  I couldn't get enough of them.  When I read The Wheel of Time for the first time just after high school, I would actually have dreams about the characters, and, quite unintentionally, voice some of their fondest sayings in my speech.  It was weird.  But I loved it.  The immersion that you get in a ten book (back when I started the series... it's up to thirteen now, with a prequel and one more to conclude everything) is simply amazing.  However, during the last ten years I've become "involved" with another series--one that is SO much better than TWOT.  You know which one I'm talking about, right?  It's the fantasy series that has become trendy to read over the past year.  George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.  (I'm a bit bitter it's become as popular as it has... even though Martin deserves all the success in the world for it.  It's just that it was special being one who had read it before everyone knew about it).

Since becoming involved  with Martin's world, (first in the series is A Game of Thrones) I have read the first three books nearly a dozen times.  The fourth, a meager three.  The fifth has only had one go, and it'll be a long time before I give it another read--probably not until book six is finished.  My feelings for the latest volume are mixed.  If you asked me the day after I finished it, I hated it, and wanted to set fire to Martin's house.  A couple of moths later, I still wish it would have been different, but I can appreciate it for what it is.  Because when it comes down to it, GRRM is still the best fantasy writer alive.  (No, NYT he is not better than Tolkien.  Shame on you for even suggesting it).

I have digressed.  Let me get back to the point.  I can't read these big series anymore because of the emotional attachment I get to the world and characters.  I was literally depressed for several days after I finished A Dance with Dragons.  It was ridiculous... ask my wife, she'll tell you, but I couldn't help feeling I had been jerked around in some way by someone.  I had waited six years for Martin's new book.  SIX FREAKIN YEARS.  That's a long time to wait for a volume that wouldn't even finish the series.  I can't ever do that again.  I had built up Dance so much in my own mind, that no matter how well it was crafted, I was bound to be disappointed.  Because of that, I can't do long series anymore.  It isn't worth the grief and insanity.  I'll stick to trilogies--preferably finished ones--from now on.

With the exception of a few I'm already in the middle of.  It's not like I'm not going to buy the next Ice and Fire book Martin writes.  Of course I am!  The Way of Kings too, damn you Sanderson.  But no others!  I am done!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

God of Thunder

I'm getting really tired of superhero movies (X Men: First Class, I hate you).  Especially origins superhero movies.  The comics dudes seem to reuse the same troupes every time.  (I say this from a movie-watcher perspective.  I have never read any of the comics).  So I tread carefully when another marvel movie hits theaters.  It shouldn't come as any surprise, then, that when Thor came out I just shook my head and didn't have any desire to see it.  My sister and her husband invited us, though, and so Rhonda and I went.  (This was back in April or May when Thor came out).  I walked out of the theater afterward and am glad I took the time for this one.  I just finished watching it for the second time at home and felt it deserved a blog post.

The reason, or reasons, I think Thor is so much better than most superhero movies isn't complicated.  (Let's be clear that I think Batman Begins, and Iron Man 1 are probably better than Thor.  The Dark Knight towers so far over other superhero movies that I doubt any will ever be able to touch it, including the next Batman flick.  And yes, I know, BB and IM were both origins stories, but they kicked ass).  Thor, thank the gods, is not an origins tale!  Yes!  The protagonist already begins the story with his powers!  It's a redemption story, about a god who learns how to put others first.  It's simple, but powerful... which, in my awesome, never-wrong opinion, makes for the greatest of fiction.  I'll let the irony of that last sentence live forever in the digital heavens.

Other reasons that I loved Thor so much include: my love of Norse mythology, magic that follows its own rules (more or less), and last, but certainly not least, Natalie Portman.  Yeah, she's a terrible actor, but WOW.  I've had a crush on her since I was like fourteen.  My wife loves when I bring this up.

Most of you have already seen Thor.  If you haven't, do.  Unless you hate fantasy.  I could see not liking it if you don't like speculative fiction.  You'd be missing out, though.  Redemption is among the most human of stories, no matter your beliefs or way of life.  Everyone makes mistakes, and it is in overcoming them that we become noble, charitable, and wise.  Chris Hemsworth does a wonderful job at portraying a being who begins as an arrogant, self-centered, warmonger, to become an honorable, self-sacrificing leader, unwilling to commit genocide against his life-long enemies.  And on top of that, he's frickin ripped, so ladies, let your jaws drop to the floor.  He's nearly as hot as me.

I'd like to add that I'm a bit disappointed that Thor's only getting one movie before mashing together with a bunch of other characters for next year's Avengers.  Again, I have low expectations for this coming film... despite it being directed by Joss Whedon (genius behind one of my all-time favorite t.v. series, Firefly.  Cliched, I know.  All sci-fi/fantasy lovers love Firefly.  But hey, it's amazing).   Hopefully Thor will get more movies of his own in the future... and hopefully the studio won't dump Natalie and go for a cheaper love interest.  If this happens... death, and destruction, and tears.  Lots of tears.

Watch Thor.  If you don't, Odin will never welcome you into the halls of Valhalla.  (This is assuming we all die in battle, weapons in hand).

That's all.          

p.s. Does anyone know why my text is always jacked up when I post a blog?  When I write it, it's always formatted correctly, but as soon as I publish, random lines become indented.  It bothers me.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Going Postal

I'm nearly done with Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett, and I've got to say: everyone should read this book... or another one of Pratchett's, anyway.  GP is the funniest things since Japanese game shows, and you're missing out if you haven't tried Pratchett yet.  I've never been a fan of "funny fantasy," but I'm thinking now is as good a time as any to start.

Here are some quotes from the book that had me rolling... well, I would have been rolling, that is--if I hadn't been listening to the book at work.

1. ...hell, once he'd ridden without pants too, but luckily, all the tar and feathers helped him stick to the horse.

2. It was no good... old habits died too hard.  They were bred in the bone.  Something warm and feathery fluttered up in front of you, and of course, you snapped at it... They were so tasty, you couldn't stop at one.  And, five minutes later, you remembered why you should have.  These were feral, urban birds, that lived on what they could find on the streets... They were bobbing, cooing, plague pits.  You might as well eat a dog turd burger, and wash it down with a jumbo cup of septic tank.

3. "...I'll just kill him and join you for the pudding."
"You can't do that," hissed Moist.
"Oh, why not?"
"You're using the wrong knife.  That's for the fish.  You'll get into trouble."
She glared at him, but her hand relaxed, and something like a smile appeared on her face.  "They don't have a knife for stabbing rich, murdering bastards?" she said.
"They bring it to the table when you order one," said Moist..."

(I added the punctuation and emphasis that I thought would read most naturally from the narrator's voice.  Sorry if there's errors: I haven't actually read the book).

So now you see why Going Postal is freakin hilarious.  If you didn't laugh at any of those lines, you're STUPID.  I would have written down more quotes, but, like I said, I was listening to this at work, and I didn't really think it honest to take the time as often as I would have liked.

The gist of the story is this: Moist von Lipwig is slated to die.  He has been caught pulling a con, and is hanged for his crimes.  He isn't killed, though, only forced into the government position of Postmaster.  He tries to get out of the job a few times, but a golem by the name of Mr. Pump (named this because he worked at a water pump for like a thousand years) is set to guard him and make sure he does the job.  Lipwig eventually settles into the job and starts doing things that people claim is fulfilling some prophecy.  Like a true conman, Lipwig never really gives up his past life, and invents the postage stamp in order to make some cash.  He comes up with all sorts of ways to make collectible postage that people will pay big money for.  I won't give the whole plot away, since it is always fun to see where a story will go.

Going Postal gets 4 out of 5 stars.

Now I have to decide which Pratchett to try out next.  Any suggestions?  All of you need to get off your hiny and try some Pratchett.

That's all.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Well hell, that just ruins the day

Have you ever done something so stupid you just want to throw yourself out of a second-story Provo library window? I have. Just did, in fact. And the pavement below ain't looking so bad.

I've been stuck on a certain chapter for a month now. This is what happens when you don't outline. What can I say? Outlining for me is like curb-stomping my own teeth (don't know how I'd accomplish that... shutup, I get to choose the similes around here). I abhor outlining; that's just how it is.  There's a problem with this, though. When I'm an idiot and save over something I didn't mean to, I lose whatever I saved over. It's gone, bye, bye.

I managed to unstick myself in this chapter. It took a week and two Fridays of writing, but I did it. I was finally able to move on.  (I can't write the next chapter until the one I'm on is finished... probably another downside to not outlining).  So I pulled out my flash drive to back up the day's work... I have two windows open--my flash drive, and the folder on my computer with my chapters in it--and I start dragging files over. It wasn't until five minutes later that I realized I did my dragging in the wrong direction. I pulled the file off of my flash drive and replaced the one on my computer.

 "Ah, shit," I said to myself (cussing in the Provo library).
"Oh well.  Sucks, but I'll just rewrite what I wrote today."  It's still fresh in my mind so I'll cruise through it and be done.
I opened up the file to start rewriting...
"Ah, double shit!  Shit!  I didn't back up the changes I made last week!  Now two days of writing are gone!"  (This is where I started looking out the window).  "Son of a bitch!"

And now I lost an entire chapter.  I could get most of what I wrote today down, but last week... that was so long ago.  I can't remember the crap I came up with last week!  So it's gone.  And I'm really pissed.  The lost chapter was nearly 4,000 words, and I typically write 1,000 words an hour.  So that's four bloody hours to rewrite chapter seventeen.  Might as well give up now, and jump out of the damn window.

I was so excited (an hour ago) that Gunlord was back on track.  I've got to hurry and finish, after all... since I told a few editors at Worldcon last month that the book was completed...

I think I'll start on my next project now.  Goodbye, Gunlord.  The last 9 months sure have been fun.

*cries like a baby, kicks out windowpane, dives head-first to meet the sidewalk*  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Why I love movies

I watched a movie yesterday.  I do that sometimes.  Okay, I do it a lot.  But guess what?  It totally got my creative juices going.  The movie was The Expendables, and holy crap, I've got to find more time to write!
Quick review of the flick: The Expendables is about a mercenary group called, of course, the Expendables, headed by a freakin ripped Sylvester Stallone.  (Also including Jet Li, Jason Statham, Bruce Willis, and a bunch of wrestler dudes I don't know).  They get this job offer to take out a small army trafficking drugs in the Caribbean, and the boss (Stallone) goes to scout out the island where the drug op is.  To make a long story short (spoiler warning) They chose not to take the job.  However, there is a girl that serves as their contact on the island, and they decided they need the rescue her.  That's it.  About the simplest plot they could have come up with.

So I thought the movie was okay.  Probably won't ever watch it again.  But that isn't the good part.  The good part is how I thought of a gazillion ways to make the story better--like adding magic, among other things.  Also, it got me thinking a lot about mercenary tales, and how it is really hard to have a merc with morals.  I mean, these dudes spend their time killing people for money... what kind of soul does a person like that have?

This was one thing that bugged me about the film, though they did have a nice little scene with Mickey Rourke, where he is remembering a time where he could have saved a life and chose not to.  He regretted it, felt that he damned his soul by letting a woman commit suicide.  Anyway, it was a nice scene, and I believed he felt remorse, but I wasn't buying Stallone's character for a second.  I just don't think someone like him (at least not from the glimpse of him we see in the movie) would feel anything at the loss of life.  Course, I don't really know, having never shot at people for cash.  And I don't have bulging muscles like him, so maybe I'm too disconnected from his way of life to judge.  Hmm...

My point: despite The Expendables' light plot, the movie really got me thinking.  This is why I can justify watching a movie (sometimes) rather than writing.  Now I have a story in mind of mercenaries using magic.  Not original, but I can make it my own with great characters and plot.  My one problem is that I honestly believe a merc is a bad dude.  So I'll have to go the anti-hero route and have a group of guys that are bad, but still fun to be around.  (Funny mercs have already been done with Schlock, so can't do that).  And I'll have to write it under a pen name so as not to offend anyone I know!

And that is why I love movies.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Debt, and Sherlock

I love good movies and tv shows, who doesn't?  But it is really hard to find quality storytelling on the big and little screen these days.  Let me tell you about a few that are worth your time.

On Friday I was supposed to be writing.  I changed my work schedule so that I'd have Fridays off, and be able to spend the entire day working on Gunlord.  Well, after a few hours of work, I really wanted to see a movie.  It's been a while since I've seen anything good--I'd go to a movie every week if there was something worth seeing.  Anyway, I had just seen the trailer for The Debt and thought it looked interesting, so took some time to check it out.  It was a pretty good flick.

The Debt deals with a small group of Mossad (Israeli CIA) agents sent to East Germany in 1966.  Their mission: to kidnap a Nazi surgeon infamous for mutilating and killing Jews during WWII.  The story is told in a non-linear format, weaving two time periods (1966 and 1997) into one plot.  You'll see some scenes in 1997 in the beginning that won't make sense until the end, but the annoyance is worth the twist in the third act.  There are several tense scenes where the agents are one mistake away from death, and I felt the pacing of these moments were dead on. 

I love period spy stories.  It just doesn't seem as impressive when a modern spy gets the job done with a gazillion gadgets that basically do all the work.  I love watching or reading about how creative and inventive spies had to be before modern tech.  Whether the things they do in the movies are real or not doesn't matter.  It's just cool to see them take on the world without the internet, cell phones, google earth, laser watches, computers, xbox, or facebook.  How in hell did they do it?

The obvious comparison to make with The Debt would be Spielberg's Munich, another story about Mossad agents from a few years ago.  They are very different films, though, despite dealing with similar subject manner.  Munich was a very dark, preachy film about the dangers of government-sanctioned assassination.  I really liked the actors invovled, but felt dirty after watching it.  (Not because of the story itself, but because of the things Spielberg had to include in it to make it a "serious" film).  The Debt is about agents not sent to kill, but to capture and bring back a war criminal for trial.  It walks the line of a dark tale, but never really crosses it in my opinion.  The characters are too moral in comparison with those from Munich.  (Their morals are compromised a bit, but not so much).

The Debt is R for violence and language, though the violence is very minor.  The language isn't too bad either.  A lot cleaner than a George R.R. Martin book.  I'd give it 3 stars.  3 and a half if it ended differently.  Won't spoil that here, though.

Okay, so there's a good movie worth seeing.  Next, an amazing tv show that everyone needs to watch!  What could this be?  Well, it was in the blog title, so I'm thinking there isn't a whole lot of suspense built up here.  Oh well.  So the show you all need to see is Sherlock, and if you haven't heard of it, you can thank me later.

I've only seen the first three episodes of the first season, because that is all Netflix is streaming through my xbox.  I have no idea why they don't have the full season, which is only 6 episodes long, but I can deal with it, because I'm absolutely buying this show on dvd.

Sherlock is a BBC production so the quality expectation is already high.  I love how the British do television.  They do mostly short seasons, and not many of them.  This ensures that the writing and story telling will be exceptional, because they have a limited amount of time to get the whole picture in.  Shows like The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad work the same on AMC.  (I highly recommend both of those shows too).

Back to Sherlock.  They chose to set this Sherlock in modern London, which sets it apart nicely from the film franchise Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr. are involved in (loved that too).  They aren't afraid to borrow from the Downey version, however.  The soundtrack sounds similar to the movie version's, and some of the quirks that the Downey Sherlock does (like pluck a violin while thinking) are in there as well.  (I've never read any of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, so if Sir Doyle put that in there I am unaware).

The realtionship between Sherlock and Watson is hilarious to watch.  The actors that play them are perfect for the roles.  Sherlock is an admitted sociopath, and Watson a practical, sympathetic ex army doctor.  They meet because a mutual friend introduces them when Watson needs a place to stay.  That's not really important to anything, but I thought I'd throw it in there because I have all these thoughts about the show rolling around in my head and am finding it hard to get any of it down in a sensible manner.  The best I can say is, it is one of the best shows I have ever seen on tv.  So far, each episode has had a case that needs solving, like Law and Order.  You find as the stories thickens that Moriarty is connected to each case.

I can't describe the greatness of Sherlock.  You'd think I could, being a writer and all... maybe I'm just being lazy.  GO AND WATCH THIS SHOW, NOW!  That's good enough to get the point across.  Oh, and Sherlock is suitable for most.  There hasn't been any sex/violence/language worse than PG, but there are a few corpses every episode that are a bit... damaged. 

That's all.