Friday, April 11, 2014

Update


Do you know what I'm writing now? Outlines. You know what for? Fan fiction. Know what it's about? Disney princesses. You know why? I don't. It just seems to be where my brain wants to go right now.

And I'm going to let it, because the short stories have been a disaster lately, and I have nothing to right. When I look at my list of potential story ideas, I just see a bunch of dead ends. Cool concepts, but nothing really fleshed out. Nothing that says "This is something that could appear in Clarkesworld or Asimov's". It's just goofy shit that's not fun to write. I don't even feel like writing "Gun x Sword" anymore. I've reached the point near the climax where it feels like drudgery to get to. Where the story falls apart at the seams.

So what then? Princesses. Sure, why not? It seems to be what I want to write right now. Sometimes it's better to let a story pour out of you than trying to force something. Besides, writing should be fun. And if it's not fun, then there's no reason to do it.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Is Godzilla Still Relevant?


This question's been popping up and down since the new Godzilla trailers have come out. Of course there's the debate about whether the movie will be any good or not. Still too early to say. It's not like he has a track record for quality cinema. On the other hand, there's a first time for everything.

A big debate has been Godzilla's origins. When he was created, it was in answer to the new paradigm of war. Nuclear force was a Pandora let loose from its box. Nothing could stop it -- not tanks, soldiers, guns, jet fighters, nothing.

We don't fight like that anymore. The Pandora is still there, but we politely ignore it in favor of more precise strikes. Still plenty of war, plenty of troops deployed, but it's small scale, against small, toothless countries.

Despite this, we still have large scale disasters. Some are natural, some not-so-much. Yes, I'm talking about 9/11. I hate to bring it up, because so many blockbusters and tentpoles have used 9/11 imagery to the point where it's a cliche. I'm one of the people who believes it's time to move on, especially in the movies, but I live in the midwest. I'm sure a lot of people on the coasts have stronger PTSD about it, so maybe that sort of thing still appeals. But it's not like it was Vietnam.

However, the image of those buildings coming down, like "Shadow of the Colossus", so strongly relates to Godzilla's body of work that it cannot be ignored. And it's not just terrorism isn't the only large-scale threat threatening 'Murica. We've had Hurricanes Rita, Katrina, Sandy. There was the polar vortex, the arctic blast. Various droughts, cold snaps, and tornadoes. So, yes, the fear of entire cities falling is still here.

The thing about Godzilla is that it's never been high art, unfortunately. Godzilla has humble origins. He was never more than a guy in a rubber suit, stepping on models. There are plenty of ways you can stylize that -- fear-mongering, comic, action. That might be why he has such appeal. There's terror Godzilla and friendly Godzilla and father Godzilla. This new one looks quite war-like -- smoky reds and focus on army soldiers and gritty Bryan Cranston face. His metaphor is versatile, like the ninja turtles. But at his heart, he still remains one thing -- disaster porn.

Godzilla is not high art. It's never going to be. Those expecting the newest, any past, or any future Godzilla movie to be critically acclaimed are going to be waiting for a very long time. Which is fine. Pop culture burns fast and bright. Doesn't mean it can't be good or fun. Doesn't mean it doesn't have a place in history.


Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Bad Writing Days


I hate it when I have bad writing days. It makes me feel unproductive and logy and worthless as a writer. Sometimes if you're in the middle of a story and you're not excited about it and it just fizzles.

I was trying to write a space story, and I didn't have an ending for it, and couldn't come up with one, so I tried just writing it to see if something would pop up during composition. It didn't. The first part was working out fine, but nothing creative occurs to me during the composition part. Maybe it's got something to do with the fact I'm working from an outline. I'm not looking for holes to go down or branches to jump onto. I'm following a linear path, and that doesn't allow for creativity. Once again, I prove to myself how not a gardener I am.

Creativity comes from the outlining process. It gives me a chance to back up and go again without losing much time. But I hate not finishing things. I know it's probably common for writers to have a bunch of unfinished stuff in the closet, but I don't write that many short pieces. So when I do give up, I feel like it's wasted time. But I have to close the doors that don't lead anywhere. I'd spend more time churning through it that I could on reading or writing something else that does work.

I guess the best thing is to make sure I learn from my mistakes. Don't start a story unless you have a full outline. Or at least an ending.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Analyzing the Disney Villains: The Ringmaster (Dumbo)


Origin: Dumbo (1941)

I didn't think I could do an entry for Dumbo. Then I read that he's a villain in Disney's Villain Revenge, so that means I gotta evaluate him, I guess. Who knew? I'd have thought it'd be the red-haired bully. I still can't watch the movie without wanting to shove a broomstick up his ass.


Motivation: A bruised ego. The existence of a big-eared elephant makes his circus go wonky. He can't show Dumbo in the elephant's tent -- that causes too much trouble. So he's not only down one elephant, but two. Got to make money off this somehow, so he uses Dumbo as a living maguffin in the clown's fireman gags. I guess it says something about freaks being diminished in acting roles.


Character Strengths: I got nothing. He doesn't even show up at the end. This is really the protagonist's story. But maybe his biggest strength is mending his ways. A lot of Disney villains never get that far. For at the end, he sees the talent that Dumbo has, and gives him his deserved fame, plus a personalized railcar.


Evilness: Minimal. The guy is just trying to make it in show business. He doesn't have an evil streak, as far as I can see. He's just stern and bossy.  You can't really blame him for imprisoning his mother. Dumbo's lucky he didn't have her euthanized.

Where is his hand going?

Tools: He's got a whip.  And an assortment of alcoholic clowns (although props for them being enthusiastic about their jobs). But at least the clowns have aspirations of putting on a good show. These days they'd be portrayed as working stiffs doing the least to get by.


Complement to the Hero: Does Dumbo even know there's a ringmaster? Does he know what that is? I'm not entirely sure Dumbo is sentient. He needs a mouse to do his talking for him.


Fatal Flaw: I don't know. He doesn't really serve as an obstacle to the hero's triumph.  It's Dumbo's confidence in himself (combined with a unique ability) that makes him win out. It was nothing the ringmaster did.


Method of Defeat/Death: After Dumbo learns to fly without his magic feather, he terrorizes the circus clowns, giving them PTSD. They'll never be able to go to the zoo again. (Usually it's the other way around, with clowns sending people into therapy.) Dumbo buzzes the ringmaster, sending him into a washtub with an elephant-clown face on his butt. I've seen more dignified Disney deaths, but not many.


Final Rating: One star


PREVIOUS ANALYSES:
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)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

White Guy Includes People of Color In His Book, Gets Lynched



These days, I feel obligated to include people of color (PoC) in my works, because the SF community is really bearing down on publications and works that don't include them. There's no particular target but anyone who exhibits the slightest tint towards misogyny, even in jest (I'm thinking of the Hugo host kerfuffle) gets eliminated. And anyone in one of these minorities will always tell you how there needs to be more representation.

Jim C. Hines recently had a 2 week series of guest bloggers talking about this. People of all sorts of genders, non-genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities, mobilities (handicapped), mentalities (autism), medical conditions (albinism). And basically, all of them really just wanted more and fair representation in fiction. Not the evil albino, not the asexual wheelchair guy, not the white princesses, not the war-like Muslim, and more than binary representation of gender. (Didn't see any religion on the list. Is no one suppressing Jews anymore?) They're good posts and I learned a lot.

Thing is, there's no way I can do what they want me to do.

I know Jim C. Hines is trying to spread awareness, but it feels like white writer's guilt. Like if I don't include at least one of these minorities in my work, I'm screwing up. Well, if I write about dwarves, am I supposed to make one of them black? Do I have to explicitly state that then? Do I have to give that black dwarf black characteristics? And if I do, what would those be in a fantasy setting? They don't have urban culture in Rivendell. Just what am I supposed to do?


I'm xenophobic. I have no problem with any of the above divisions. If I think of a story that involves them, I will write it, but I usually don't. My characters tend to be more hubs around a plot. I almost included a handicapped character in my latest novel, but I cut her out because she became extraneous (but plenty of potential to put her in for the potential sequel). Whether I "got her right" or not is meaningless. But I'm too afraid of screwing it up farther if I actively write about minorities, because I just don't know enough about their lifestyle.

I live in a Minnesota suburb, which is not known for its diversity. I don't know anyone within one degree of separation who's of a non-binary gender. I'm not a product of divorce. I have no childhood traumas to draw from.  I don't know anyone of a non-Christian religion. I don't know anyone handicapped. I don't know anyone with an autism-like learning disorder. I don't know anyone with a medical condition that affects their ability to work or integrate with people. Except for the Indians I work with, no one really talks about their background.

Everyone I know are white males and females, married, dual-income, starting families with 2-3 kids and/or dogs. I can't write what I don't know. And one person's story won't be another's. I don't think you could be taken seriously with a lesbian, red-haired midget, but they do exist (Ashley from Pit Boss). I can't be the writer those minorities want me to be. Any different race or type I write would be in name only. And morally speaking, would you rather I write about over-represented peoples or under-represented peoples wrong?

But I guess the onus is not on me to provide stories with under-represented people in them. It's on editors to accept stories from under-represented authors and/or containing under-represented characters. What I don't see is two weeks of guest blog posts from editors and publishers about diversity.

 It appears that people are writing the stuff, but they're either not getting picked up or not getting marketed. I'm sure there's a reason, and I'd like to know what that is. I just know that if you're looking for diversity, you won't find it here.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Writing Macros for OpenOffice


Hey, guess what I did? I converted my Word Macros into OpenOffice, so now you can use them with your favorite free alternative to Microsoft.

Actually, I recommend these macros over the Word ones, as there are various improvements to the coding. They're not as fast as Word's (but nothing in OpenOffice is as fast as Word), but I think they work a little better.

One thing to note: a lot of these macros use the OpenOffice's highlighting function (A.K.A. character back color). For some reason, this doesn't play well with Word's highlighting function. So if you open a document in OpenOffice, highlight stuff, then open it in Word, it's hard to get rid of/clear the highlighting.

How to Install
  1. Open up OpenOffice Writer or LibreOffice Writer (which I use).
  2. Go to Tools->Macros->Organize Macros->OpenOffice Basic
  3. Expand My Macros->Standard->Module 1
  4. Click "Edit"
  5. Copy and Paste the content of standard.bas into the Macro editor. Ctrl+S to save.
  6. Go back to Tools->Macros->Organize Macros->OpenOffice Basic
  7. Highlight "My Macros" and click "Organizer"
  8. Click the "Libraries" tab
  9. Click "New" to create a new library
  10. Name it "Private"
  11. Click "Edit"
  12. Copy and paste the content of private.bas into the Macro editor. Ctrl+S to save.
And that's it! Let me know if you find any bugs or issues by emailing me or leaving a comment.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Books I Read: January - February 2014

Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer by Jeff VanderMeer



This was a fantastic resource for someone like me whose almost in the game but not quite. It's one of the only books I've read that has more to do with the promotion/publishing game than what adverbs to choose. It provides much needed guidance on how to promote, how to plan for your future, how to have an effective public marketing appearance. This book tells you how to do that.

The second half talks about how best to set up habits, mental health, and so on. But not so much about the nitty-gritty writing advice, which was just fine by me.

The problem is that, even now, it's a teensy bit dated. It still mentions MySpace as a valid source of social networking, and bypasses Twitter. Also, the material tends to be really dry. It feels like reading a text book at times. It's thick enough to be one. I wish the text was broken up into some diagrams or lists for easy access.

But I feel this book was a necessary read. Definitely if you're a first time writer. It provides a jumping off point for creating a marketing plan and the do's and don'ts of the public persona.

The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia


This book is about a female clockwork automaton. She's an alchemist living on her own, but she's still technically beholden to her creator, since he has the key. She's hired by gargoyles (real stone gargoyles) to find a way to stop them from petrifying forever.

I picked this up because it was on a list of robot books with a different spin. The book has great world-building, great description. It reminded me of Dishonored or "The Wise Man's Fear" in terms of how sheerly vast this world is. You only see a little bit, only what's on the surface.

The problem was that it was too slow-paced. Few events of significance happen throughout the plot. There's a lot of plates in the air, but they never come down. I felt like the gorgeous writing was compensating for the lack of plot. And the end result was that the style got in the way of the story. Character motivation was lacking too. Or at least I didn't get it. The characters do things, but I never got a sense of their back story to figure out why, or why it was important to them. The non-humans start getting indistinguishable after a while.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz


I've got to be honest. All I could think of is "Are they gay? Are they gay? Are they gay? Are they gay?" Then one turned out to be and it's like "Are they both gay? Are they both gay? Are they both gay? Are they both going to be gay?" And then they were.

This is probably just me. I hope it is. I mean, look at its description: "But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be." That's word for word. A lack of tangible events is a sure sign that something's controversial is going down.

It's pretty good, but not great.  It has earmarks of "The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep", "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian".  I have no problem with the homosexuality, but the "are they or aren't they" ambiguity hung like a cloud over me during reading.  It distracted me.  Like if you go on a date with a nice guy, but lose your ring in the middle of it.

The Last Final Girl by Stephen Graham Jones


I was practically jizzing all over the starting pages. It's so genre-savvy, it hurts. The basic premise is "What happens to Alice after Friday the 13th?" (assuming no Friday the 13th Part 2). It hosts a cast of potential Final Girls living through the sequel, waiting for the killer to strike again, full of fake-outs and jump scares. Everyone's anticipating the slasher's return, but is the slasher really the one they need to worry about?

The problem was once it got past the initial prologue, it got pretty incoherent. It's not bizarro fiction (like the site I heard it from), it's more like horror. For one thing, the whole story is written like a pitch in front of a studio executive. Paragraphs start "Aerial view: the school. Students are milling around..." or "Point of view on Millie. She stands in front of the pipe as if something is going to come out." It sounds like someone narrating the screenplay/treatment.

This was remarkably effective for the cinematic aspects (the jump scares and dread moments) as it forced your mindset to the exact image the author wanted. However, the narrative itself got pretty confusing. I had a lot of difficulty following the plot, the characters. There are plot threads that aren't touched on, and some that go on too long, like this phone call thing where they're trying to figure out how to spring a friend, who they're not friends with, out of a police interrogation. And then at the end of part 1, we find that the main character has trapped the slasher at her house. But nothing comes of it.

That being said, I would LOVE to see a movie like this. A love letter to B-movie horror, something that plays with tropes. I think this is a great, GREAT concept. It was just not well executed in this book.

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut



Well, I liked it better than "Cat's Cradle". This one is less tongue-in-cheek, more about the grimdark of war. Maybe that's why it appealed better to me. The story structure is wacky this time too -- this time with non-linearity. I'm not sure if it's science fiction or not -- the stuff inside seems too ridiculous to take seriously (with the Tralfamadorians). But the war stuff and the post-war stuff feels pretty important. It's a rare experiment with form that succeeded. I think if you're starting out on Vonnegut, choose Cat's Cradle if you're a girl, Slaughterhouse-Five if you're a boy.

So after all this, what's my conclusion of Vonnegut? I'm still not sure of why all the hubbub, but I do understand why people like him. For some reason, he was an "it" retro-author during high school (Disturbing Behavior comes to mind). Maybe he was an author of his time (especially since a lot of his works deal with Cold War era stuff).

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure by William Goldman



A re-read, and this time I got the 30th Anniversary Edition. Still an excellent story, but I forgot how closely it follows the movie (which is not unusual, given the author wrote the screenplay). My favorite parts are the ones that got excised from the movie -- Inigo's father, the Goldman commentary, Fezzik's origins, Humperdinck's characterization, the Zoo of Death. The parts from the movie, I find myself hearing Wallace Shawn and Cary Elwes' voices in my head.

And I can never tell which one is better. See my diatribe about remaking The Princess Bride for more info. But the great thing is, one doesn't negate the other. Both can be enjoyed for what they are.