Wednesday, January 28, 2015

How's It Going

I'm in-between big projects right now.  I finished a second draft of one story and partially did another. Don't have a really great idea for my next novel, but I haven't really looked through my notes either.  I could probably come up with something if I stared and let my mind wander.  But I keep coming back to this fan fiction I thought of.  It's a long one too.  Like, Gatecrash long.  Just my luck.

But it seems to be what I want to write right now.  And writing should be fun.  I guess it's a good way to write and not worry about making it publishable or perfect.  At least for a while.  Hopefully it won't take me a forever to get through.

All right, all right, I know I still have to make that giveaway on LibraryThing.  I had it scheduled for November, but then work got in the way, and then the holidays, and then I just didn't want to do it, and so on.  You know how it is.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Book Club

My wife is a member of a neighborhood book club.  Which is not, as you might think, a thinly veiled excuse to drink wine and complain about their husbands.  It is, however, mostly filled with snacks and conversations.  Most of which aren't relevant to the book.  They're usual fare isn't usually book clubby books -- books with heavy subjects but entertaining stories like "The Help" or "The Fault in Our Stars".  This month, it was Merm-8.

Hey, that's my book.

And to tell the truth, I'm disappointed in myself for not exploiting the opportunity as much as I could've/should've.  For some reason, I just didn't feel very writerly that day (or week).  Been running for no reward.  I had been drinking the night before, so my energy wasn't up.  Plus these were all women from the neighborhood, and this was a fairly male-audienced book (rated R for naked mermaid boobs).  When you're not talking to a core audience, you can't expect a warm reception.

Plus, book club had already been delayed because Christmas and no one had read it at the time.  Just one person was finished when it was supposed to be.  I don't blame them, it's outside their genre.  They were pretty much obligated to read it because one of their member's husbands wrote it.  Even I'd balk at that.

After I'd put the kids to bed, I came down and we started talking.  I didn't ask as many questions as I should have.  It was an opportunity to get real live feedback, but I feel like I squandered it.  Maybe it's because I considered the book finished, and wasn't really looking for feedback on it.  Plus, so far down the line, I see the flaws in the piece, and know I've written better stuff since then, so it feels like an empty victory.

All that was asked by myself or others were generic questions.  But like I said, not a book clubby book.  Like my wife, they also found the relationship with Stitch and Gene more interesting than the plot with the mermaid.  Also, where did you come up with the names, what was your favorite part, stuff like that.  I hope they got something out of it, maybe a little bit of the creative process.  Also had to clear up that the mermaid is not based on my wife, despite that the book's dedicated to her and the mermaid has red hair.

Would I do it again?  Yes, I think so.  It's too valuable not to find out how people are reacting.  Maybe I should bake a cake for them, so I don't feel so nervous.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Analyzing the Disney Villains: Sykes (Oliver and Company)

Origin: Oliver and Company (1988)

The 1%. Others based on pre-modern works (e.g., Claude Frollo or Captain Hook or Ratigan) are impossible to separate from the original, they don't call it a "loose" adaptation for nothing. Let's see what we can do.

Motivation: Money. To be more specific, what he's owed. What he was thinking lending money to a worthless bum like Fagin in the first place, I'll never know. Seems very story-serving to me. I mean, come on, his army of pickpockets is a bunch of stray dogs. Why does a guy like Sykes give a crap about a bum? Even the seediest loan shark would raise an eyebrow. But he'd probably still do the deal, because, hey, seedy loan sharks.

Character Strengths: Like Dickens's Bill Sikes, this guy has almost no redeeming qualities. None that I can see, at least. His character is developed in such a way that he has no humanity in him, which makes him not such a good villain in my eyes. Too much the comic book, rule-the-world-for-no-good-reason type. I wonder what would happen if he and De Vil formed a merger?

Evilness: Sykes is part of a line of a collection of Disney villains like Madame Medusa and Cruella De Vil who A) kidnap children B) use firearms C) feature impatience and greeds as primary characteristics D) have animals as their primary enemies. I have to give credit, though, for using those tried-and-tested mafia torture techniques like cement shoes. Antiquated as it is, you don't usually see that level of violence in Disney.

Tools: Unless he had two Dobermans, his presence in the movie would likely be minimized. Roscoe and DeSoto (no idea where those names come from) are the active muscle while Sykes sits in his limo and smokes cigars. I think these characters actually have more presence, in a way. Here's my question -- why does he bother staying in the shadows when we can see his face anyway? Either stay hidden or don't.

Complement to the Hero: Um, no. One's a mafia crime boss, the other's a cute orange kitten. The interesting part here is the role reversal. In Oliver Twist, Bill Sikes is one of the pickpocketing underlings. The Boba Fett to Fagin's Darth Vader. He does become the big bad of the story, and dies in a similar vein. But there's no comparison.

Fatal Flaw: Letting his rage get the better of him. I mean, come on, the only reason he would wreck his limo, kill his two dogs, and commit suicide to get Fagin would be if you're an idiot, or you've got more rageahol than Joe Pesci at a clown convention.

Method of Defeat/Death: Fagin has a change of heart and rekidnaps Penny. A car chase ensues (side note: Sykes drives his own limo?) onto the subway/train tracks. The pets fight the dobermans, until they both fall off and are electrocuted (hot dog!) A speeding train heads toward them. Sykes is smashed to oblivion and Fagin avoids it because... his grocery cart-motorcycle can jump? Kinda graphic, but I like to imagine he got reincarnated as Carface from "All Dogs Go To Heaven".

Look at this and tell me it's not a coincidence

Final Rating: Two stars

Alameda Slim (Home on the Range)
Rourke (Atlantis: The Lost Empire)
The Evil Queen (Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs)
Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog)
Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)
Willie the Giant (Mickey and the Beanstalk)
Hades (Hercules)
The Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland)
Jafar (Aladdin)
Shan Yu (Mulan)
Man (Bambi)
Clayton (Tarzan)
The Horned King (The Black Cauldron)
Mother Gothel (Tangled)
Cobra Bubbles (Lilo and Stitch)
Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians)
Madame Medusa (The Rescuers)
Captain Hook (Peter Pan)
Amos Slade (The Fox and the Hound)
Madam Mim (The Sword in the Stone)
Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Scar (The Lion King)
Prince John (Robin Hood)
Edgar (The Aristocats)
Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective)
Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Books I Read: November - December 2014

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

It's kinda funny. It eschews notions of romance, and really, it's more about the friend, who reminds me of Tony Goldmark. I couldn't get that image out of my head -- the deadpan, Internet snarker-troll, self-deprecating, black comedy hamball.

And that's what the book is really about. This guy is a amateur filmmaker and it talks about his love of weird, foreign, independent cinema and his friendship with Earl, a black urban youth. And in the background is Rachel, an acquaintance who is forced by Tony's mother to hang out with because she's dying of cancer. The story's not about her, but about Tony making films and then showing them to her. It's more about his student film-making.

I think it was published as a response to YA death-roms like "The Fault in Our Stars" and "If I Stay", but it's more like a parody of "A Walk to Remember". The thing is, at the end, I asked myself "did anyone learn anything?", "did anything change?" And I'm not sure anything did. Which may have been the point, but as far as the story goes, it left it a little hollow for me. Which was disappointing, because it started so well.

The 13th Floor (Complete Collection) by Christine Rains

I feel like this is meant for a middle school audience. Its a collection of short stories, but all the plots are mostly the same -- paranormal romance. But it's not really romance, it's adventure. Like old-school serial, afternoon cartoons style. And they're generally cliche. Like superhero stories. It has as much romance as an action movie. Instead of stories about romantic love or keeping couples apart, there's Greek god tournaments and vampires fighting Big Bad Demons and werewolf girls in pack politics.

It's an amateur book and has all the earmarks. The writing style involves too much telling, characters without goals (or stereotypical ones), and overwriting/telling the reader what they already know.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

If you're any fan of Patrick Rothfuss, you've heard about this book and the split decision. In the author's preface, he states "you are probably not going to like this book" and most reviewers seem to come on one side of that extreme or the other. Sadly, I am on the side of hating it.

The biggest problem is that it's not a story. It has no dialogue. It has no plot. It has no events. There is one, single character who crawls around the undercity, looking for interesting trash-treasures like Gobo Fraggle, and rambling in abstract, "precious" attachments. If you remember Auri from Kingkiller #1 and #2, she's not any saner when she's in first person. You won't learn anything new about Kvothe or the Kingkiller Chronicle mythology from this book. I couldn't even find a summary online to help me understand what I'd read better. It defies explanation. At least it's short.

The good thing is Rothfuss admits this, and that's fine. I believe that he accomplished what he set out to do, and that's a big achievement for any writer. He knows the general audience, even the audience of his previous books, are going to have a visceral response to this. There is great beauty and energy in the way that these inanimate things are given empathy by the main character.

It's a good book for bibliophiles and writers who want to see something different. It's not for the masses.

The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker

I think I've learned that it's impossible for me to be scared by the written word. Maybe it's the medication, maybe I'm older. I hear people who couldn't sleep after reading Salem's Lot or The Exorcist, and I just don't get it. This book is no exception for me.

It follows the movie quite well, so if you've seen the film, I don't think you'll get much more out of this book. The Horror Guru had a lot of good things to say about both, but I believe that not all stories fit the medium. Horror, as good as the written word has been, just thrives better in cinema. It was very "meh" for me. Maybe it's too wordy to be scary.

Maybe it's scarier in concept and theme than the words on the page. One thing that happens to horror as it ages is that the scariness becomes campy. No one takes Freddy and Jason seriously anymore. When you grow up and look at it, it's just a Rubik's Cube and a guy who fell on a nail gun.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

Well, it's definitely about a horse.

This was a book assigned as reading in either fourth grade or fifth grade, maybe sixth grade. Anyway, it was never finished, not sure why. The reading unit moved onto something else that didn't involve silent reading. Maybe policies changed.

Anyway, it falls under the category of so many other books I've read. It's just boring and out of date. If you like horses, there's a lot of detail about how horses were treated and all the equipment and things you don't think of, like having to brush down a horse of its sweat after a hard ride or it'll get pneumonia. But it's lacking any overall plot, any overall story arc or obstacle or goal. It's just a horse living. More interesting things happen to its owners, but the horse doesn't get to hear about that because it's in the barn.

The only reason I can think to read it is if you were SUPER into horses. Most classics are classics because they've got some themes that relate to today. I'm having trouble seeing where the equivalents are for beasts of burden. Just about everything we used to use horses for are now done by cars and trucks. Horses are now pets or show animals (or merchandise for princess dolls), and thus, rarely mistreated. I think there are better "talking animal" books out there that fit our society today.

Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories edited by Megan Kelley Hall & Carrie Jones

When I was at my child's book fair, I saw this on the shelf and thought, "holy cow, this exists?" I have an interest in bullies and bullying as it exists (beyond the overused cliche seen in movies like Biff Tannen or Scut Farkus). The clincher was the few authors I recognized: R.L. Stine, A.S. King, Mo Willems. Unfortunately, those were the only authors I recognized.

Some are bullies, some stand by and do nothing, but most relate anecdotes or essays about their bully experience. The best thing this book provides is the knowledge that everyone gets bullied, popular people, nerdy people, and adults. It's nice to know that eventually, all things come out in the wash. This means that the experience is universal. It also means that you get seventy stories of virtually the same thing.

Each essay is only a few pages, and there are seventy-five of them. After a while, the story starts being the same. I think this could have gone farther if the number was reduced and the length was upped. Find the experiences that are truly unique, or more authors that are universally well-known or use a variety of techniques, and this book could have gone a lot farther. Also, there is way too much bias on the female end. I don't have the facts to support this, but I believe this is a universal experience. As a result, a lot of the stories are "Mean Girls" style bullying. I feel male stories would A) provide the variety the book needs and B) raise the stakes from "shunning" or "shaming" behaviors to physical threats.

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

This book hooked me right away. It started by talking about a girl strapped to a chair, wheeled to her class, then put back in her cell, handled with utmost caution. I immediately thought "Galerians" which endeared me more.

Unfortunately, that was not to be. I was lucky enough to start this book without knowing what the twist was. It's not a surprise there is one, as the tagline and summary are quite vague. The publishers must be relying heavily on word of mouth for this one. But I can't talk more about it without revealing the twist, since it happens early on. So if you want to avoid the spoilers below the paragraph, know that I feel the book is a standard example of its genre. It peaks in the beginning and end, but sags in the middle, and doesn't demonstrate much outside its tropes. In other words, set me up only to be disappointed in the overall story.

Now to the spoilers. This is in fact, a horror novel. More specifically, a zombie story, and not much different than the other zombie stories I've read (Monster Nation, The End Games, etc.) It's very standard. There is a camp where the survivors hold up, and do experiments on the few sentient zombies, which are children. They're trying to discover what makes them tick and how the fungus that causes zombieism works (reminds me of "The Last of Us"). The trappings I'm talking about are that, like most zombie novels, it's really a survival story. And like all survival stories, not much happens, as you are just trying to survive. There's a lot of walking, thinking, bickering, and observing. The "few of us against them" that we see over and over again. Hide out in a house, where are we going to find our food, run and run, but no one dies and their ultimate goal is simply "safety".

This is where the book sags, and it's a large portion. I know one of the themes will be that it's the other human survivors you need to fear more than the zombies. I know that there's going to be conflict between the protective mother of the zombie girl and the hard-nosed military leader who wants to kill her and the mad scientist who only considers everything in black and white science.

So yeah, mixed feelings. Maybe I'm disappointed because it's not the novel I wanted. But it's got great tension, but the plot drags out and doesn't move past some of the tropes I wish it would. A lot could have been cut out of the middle.

Shadowboxer by Tricia Sullivan

This book has two different halves that have nothing to do with each other. One half is awesome, the other isn't.

The one that's awesome is about Jade, an MMA fighter that goes to Thailand for some training (and to avoid a possible arrest after beating up an MMA fame whore). Holy cow, let me repeat that. A book about a girl American Mixed Martial Artist who travels half a world away to the land of Muay Thai for further training and a chance at a title shot. Doesn't that sound awesome? Doesn't that sound like no other book you've ever heard before? It did to me.

But the other half has nothing to do with this. It's about a girl who can teleport through plants who's being exploited by some rich white guy holed up in Thailand to deliver drugs and human traffic to various parts of the world undetected. It's not even the same genre as the Jade story. It's a dark fantasy with Thai mythology and beliefs about reincarnation and ghost/spirits and animals. Not what I came in for. And neither character has any relation to the other, either in spirit or plot. They just... meet... at the end.

I would so love this book if this part was excised. Each half has nothing to do with each other, it feels like it was shoehorned in to increase length. I just want to hear about Jade. I care about Jade. I'm interested in Jade. Not some girl who can walk through walls and the old rich white guy "big bad". I can go to X-Men for that. The tonal difference is too jarring. That keeps this book from being one of the best I've read.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Real Mermaid Problem

Let me tell you my pet peeve with mermaids and the movies. No matter what kind of production it is, big or small budget, bit player or star, Hollywood always makes the same mistake. Maybe it's just ignorance or a limited special effects budget. Probably a bit of both. So let me take the opportunity to enlighten you.

Mermaids don't have knees.

If anything, a mermaid's spine is closer to a dolphin's. It tapers into a tail with lots of vertebra. There's no joint that lets them tuck their knees in. If you asked a mermaid to lift her tail, it would curl up like a snake.


But you know what, I would forgive Hollywood this, if they would make more mermaid movies. They're probably one of the best known mythological creatures. And they're prime cut for Hollywood -- sex appeal, artistic, a reputation that's both seductive and stained. But what do we get instead? Vampires by the barrelful. You've got a few black and white classics like Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid and Mermaids of Tiburon or YA fodder like Aquamarine.


Many stories circumvent this by shapeshifting their mermaids to spend most of their time as humans. Splash, maybe the most well-known and well-loved live action mermaid movie, set the standard. I don't believe this is simply a matter of production budget though. Unless you include some kind of deus ex convenience, you are basically making a movie about a disabled person. And as close as we've gotten to a mainstream romance involving a girl in a wheelchair was "Notting Hill". Superman actually wasn't afraid to test this route with Lori Lemaris -- Superman's college sweetheart. She and Clark Kent met in college, and he even proposed marriage, but had to break up when she returned to Atlantis.


It's a problem, especially in an adventure. Unless the hero is willing to carry her everywhere, it's going to be difficult for her to scale the craggy rock face of a mountain or wander through a mad scientist's castle. At least with any sense of dignity. She's not even going to make it across a field, unless her wheelchair is a 4x4 off-roader (which I'm not opposed to).


I believe we're getting closer though. Glee and "My Gimpy Life" (free on YouTube) illustrate some of the difficulties of plotting around people who are less than mobile and less than average height. But that's part of the forbidden romance -- a mermaid isn't even suited to live in the same environment as a human, much less marry one. And thus, the need for a shapechange during the majority of the story.


The movie industry is ready to bring sirens back to the cinema. They've been able to green-screen out body parts since Forrest Gump. Underwater filming can be replaced with CG and wire-work (lord knows there's enough flying people these days). Beowulf motion-captured actors and then created animation around their performance -- no need for cameras. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was shot entirely in front of a green screen. The technology is there, and we're ready. If Peter Jackson can create a convincing fantasy world, why can't it be done underwater?


Of course, all the movies I've mentioned above were very expensive, and not all of them were successful enough to continue the trends they tried to set. I've always believe that a strong story is crucial for any movie to rise above the middling limbo, lest it be rendered infamous like Godzilla. And to my recollection, I can't think of a really epic mermaid story. Perhaps that's another thing the world is ready for.


As a final note, there were a few movies that got the curve right. You know what they were? Schlocky horror movies. Like She-Creature and Nymph. Ironic.

Friday, January 09, 2015

I Have No Idea Why I'm Doing This

A: Your current OTP: Tifa / Cloud

B: A pairing you initially didn’t consider but someone changed your mind: Asuka / Shinji -- I think it was "The One I Love Is..." that changed my mind, that Shinji needs someone to prop his spine up and Asuka needs someone to keep her grounded.

C: A pairing you wish you shipped, but just can't: Aang / Katara.  I just didn't see it.  Katara is the mother of the group, not the love interest.  Aang is the lovable goofball.  That'd be like Giles falling for Xander.  Also Aang is two years younger than her (which is a huge at 12 and 14), and the fact that he looks like a baby doesn't help.

D: What was the first thing you ever contributed to a fandom?  I first started writing a Star Trek/Critters crossover, inspired by NetTrekker's fan fictions about Star Trek/Predator and Star Trek/Planet of the Apes, but that never panned out.  The first real thing was Mortal Kombat, which didn't really contribute to fandom, as it was just a retelling of the first video game.  The first real fan fiction was Quake, and I don't think that added much.

E: Have you added anything stupid/cracky/hilarious to your fandom, if so, what? No. I take all my fandoms seriously. I believe the fun is in keeping the characters and world, and making new stories with them.  Like taking old ingredients and making a new dish.

F: What’s the longest you’ve ever been in a fandom? What fandom was it? Star Trek, I guess.  I was a fan all doing my AOL years, from 1994-1999.  When I went to college, my interest dropped.  Voyager sucked balls and Deep Space Nine lacked the explorative joy that TNG had.  Not saying that DS9 was bad, just not my cup of tea at the time.

G: What was your first fandom?  Does Ghostbusters count?  If you were just a kid and playing with the action figures?

H: Do you prefer real-life TV shows or animated TV shows? I have no real strong preference for either.  A good story is a good story.  I enjoy Avatar as much as I enjoy Parks and Recreation as much as Adventure Time as much as Sherlock.

I: Has tumblr caused you to stop liking any fandoms, if so, which and why?  I don't go much on Tumblr.  For some reason, I can't wrap my head around it.  Is it a blog?  Is it an image sharer?  Why can't I comment?  Why do I have to reblog?  Do other people see all the porn I follow?

J: Name a fandom you didn’t care/think about until you saw it all over tumblr.  Watson/Sherlock (mostly thanks to Rainbow Rowell).  Can't two people ever just be friends or work together without someone thinking there's romance between them?

K: How do you feel about the other people in your current fandom(s).  They're... fine.  I'm not going to trash anyone's beliefs.  I've been down that road, there's no pot of gold at the end of it.  If you want to see Waluigi and Peter Griffin find their love, go ahead.  Who am I to stop you?

L: Your favorite fanartist/fanauthor gives you one request, what do you ask for? Maybe a Buffy/Mortal Kombat crossover.  That would be interesting.  To be honest, I know enough about writing to know that it's the author that makes the difference, and it's up to the author to write the story he/she wants to write.  If that happens, the story is gold.

M: A person who got you into a fandom and what fandom they pulled you in to.  Does my friends introducing me to Magic: The Gathering in high school count?

N: Your favorite fandom (for the people; not the thing you fangirl over).  Harry Potter seems to bring out the best in people.

O: Choose a song at random, what ship does it remind you of?  All right, going on my iPod here... hit shuffle... "Shepherd of Fire" by Avenged Sevenfold.

Um, Zuko and Katara, I guess?

P: Invent a random AU for any fandom (we always need more ideas).  Mr. Rogers/Maria from Sesame Street

Q: A ship you’ve abandoned and why.  Picard/Crusher.  They're probably not meant to be.

R: A pairing you ship that you don’t think anyone else ships. Eponine/Enjolras

Am I doing this right? Does this indicate that I'm old or something?

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

King Moonracer

Three years ago I wrote about The Island of Misfit Toys and how the "dolly for Sue" seemed out of place.  This year I saw a children's production of "Rudolph" and another thought occurred to me.  Who is King Moonracer?

He's arguably the coolest character in the show.  A giant flying lion, emperor of an arctic kingdom full of sentient automatons, named for a giant celestial object going 2,288 MPH.  The fascination abounds.

And he only gets one scene.  In the play, they had to make this big (presumably expensive) puppet for him, and he has two or three lines, never seen again.  What's the deal?  Where did this guy come from?  Who thought of him?  When they were writing this script, how did the character come about?  Did he have a larger part that got condensed?  Are there more flying lions in this world?  Why is he called Moonracer?  Does he have some kind of relationship with Santa Claus?  Possibly rooted in the same mythos?

He's got a whole throne room and guest quarters, but his palace as empty as a politician's heart (politicians are such easy targets).  But he also has a job -- taking toys that are no longer loved and bringing them back to the island until a child loves them.  First, how does King Moonracer measure this?  Is there a test the toy has to fill out?  This isn't like adoption, it's closer to kidnapping.

Second, this is a zero sum game.  How many toys have you lost or given away or trashed that found another home?  That population is on its way to surplussing in no time.  King Moonracer is a hoarder.  Or he would be if he hadn't asked Santa to get rid of his trash for him.  Oops, I mean, find loving homes for the f#%$ed up toys.  You do know they're just a degree outside Sid's creations, right?