The Confluence of Hollywood & Prose

I started my new novel (book 3 in the Imperials Saga) a few days ago.  Starting a book is always the hardest part of writing for me.  I circle the computer warily.  I sit down, stare at the screen, remember I should really do some laundry, or wash my hair or go to the market.  It’s not that I don’t know where I’m going — the elaborate outline is off to my left, scrawled across my white board, the colored pens showing the arc of the three POV characters I have in this book.

No, the reason I’m always hesitant is I’m certain that this will be the book/script/short story that will pull back the curtain and reveal that I’m really a giant fraud and I can’t actually write.  Ultimately the fact I have a contract and my sense of responsibility kick in and I force myself to put down that opening sentence.

When I write I film the movie in my head.  I hear the dialog, I move my actors around the set.  I had written a fairly long scene, but it still felt wrong to me.  Too linear, too familiar.  I realized that what I had filmed in my head had a different structure.  One that we use a lot in movies and TV.  I wanted the moment where we see our protagonist in a point of crises or emotional turmoil and then we do the 36 hours ago.  Or my favorite opening of a Firefly episode that starts with Mal sitting naked on a rock in the middle of a desert and he says, “Well that went well.”  And we roll back to show how he ended up on that rock naked in the desert.  While we use flashbacks in prose they aren’t usually this really fast scenes and that’s what I wanted to try.

I’ve said before that writing for Hollywood made me a better prose writer so I decided to try it.  I added a new scene in front of what had been the opening scene using a dialog bridge that in a film would have been a voice over the black screen break.  The dialog in the opening scene — “We were going to be rich.” segues into the next scene with the same character saying, “We’re going to be rich.”

I figured if it didn’t work I had only written a few pages, and I could revise them and move them back into the more linear flow of the story.   So I tried it.  And I think it worked great.  Of course I’ll have to wait and see if my crit group and beta readers agree, but for right now I’m happy which meant I’m now past chapter one and happily typing away with all fear removed.

Well, a little bit remains, but that’s just normal.  Writers are such neurotic little flowers.

Gender Differences in Casting Choices

I can’t watch every show that out there.  Not with some 144 scripted dramas currently showing on various platforms, however, in the shows I do watch I’m noticing a trend that is bothering me.  Extremely interesting and charismatic male leads, and woman characters that aren’t as strong or interesting.  It really hit me last night as I was watching the latest episode of Lucifer.  A very problematic show that I keep watching because of the amazing job being done by Tom Ellis in the lead role as Lucifer.  The show has improved once they got away from the “case of the week” set ups and are dealing more with supernatural issues.  It also drives me crazy that women are all ready to drop their panties for him, but not men.  They tried to take some of the curse off that by showing him in bed with both men and women, but it hasn’t taken away the bad taste.  But I digress.

Here’s the problem when it comes to gender issues and I’m going to stay on Lucifer since it’s the one that made my head explode — Chloe has to be the worst cop ever to wear the badge.  The violations of basic evidentiary rules make me nuts, but putting all that aside.  She’s not a strong character.  The actress just can’t hold her own against Ellis or D.B. Woodside who is compelling as Amenadiel.  They are finally giving the demon Mazikeen something to do, and that’s helping, but it seemed to take a long time for them to realize she might be interesting, and instead we were treated to the psychiatrist and the police captain, and every random woman going cross eyed for Lucifer and Chloe being maudlin and incompetent.

Then there’s Arrow and the problematic Laurel.  Up against the sister Sara played with great verve by Caity Lotz poor Laurel is very weak tea.  Felicity was great but the ditzy but brilliant thing was starting to wear a bit thin for me, and her reaction to Oliver’s decision to keep his son secret weakened her in my eyes.  I liked Thea a great deal, but the character seems to be less and less present in the cast.  Which leaves us once again with powerful male figures in Oliver, Diggle and Malcolm Merlyn.

Castle — I gave up on the show because the only thing propping up Beckett was Nathan Fillion in the lead role and the two cops in her unit who where terrific.

Gotham — the only stand out female character is Cat Woman.

The Magicians — Poor Alice is no match for Elliot and Penny or even Quentin.  Julia — everything she tries seems to end in disaster.

The Flash — the woman portraying Iris is improving, Caitlin gets to mope a lot, and they are playing against Barry, Joe, and the terrific Tom Cavanagh as Harrison Wells.

Last night I found myself longing for Buffy.

Some of this is the fault of the writers for not giving these women something meaty and powerful to do, but some of it is due to casting choices picking actresses who aren’t able to show strength and I’m not just talking about the ability to kick ass.  It’s their ability to be as compelling, charming, threatening, witty, in short as interesting as the men with whom they are matched.

And it’s not impossible.  I’ve already mentioned Buffy where we had not only Buffy but Willow and Arya and Dawn.  On Agents of SHIELD we have Skye/Daisy, and May.  Person of Interest — dear god, what incredible characters starting with Detective Carter, Root, Shaw, Zoe.   Orphan Black — many of the various clones are fascinating and of course you have Tatiana Maslany in the role and she’s stunning.

I’m sure people will be able to come up with shows that have powerful female leads of which I’m unaware — The Good Wife, How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal?  But for a lot of the genre shows that I have been watching the presence of powerful, interesting women are pretty slim.  I find this depressing and I’m not sure how this can be countered.  But I’m going to try when I have the opportunity.

More Magicians

I guess my blog is viewed by more people then I realize because my lyrical post about The Magicians landed me an interview/discussion about the show for Wired.  Here’s the link where you can listen in while David Barr Kirtley interviews Andrew Liptak and me about the show.

Wired Geeks Guide The Magicians

A Heartfelt Plea

I generally don’t get political here.  I talk about movies and games and books, writing, riding, etc.  But as this long (too long) campaign season winds toward its conclusion I have to speak up, and plead with Democrats and Independents and progressives to think very hard about wounded feelings.

I have repeated stated that I am team blue.  I will vote for which ever candidate wins the nomination.  For the record I will vote for Secretary Clinton in the New Mexico primary, but if Senator Sanders takes the nomination I will happily vote for him for president.

There have, however, been many calls — from both sides, though my personal experience has been more calls from Senator Sander’s side — that if their preferred candidate doesn’t take the nomination they are going to take their marbles and go home ie not vote, or vote third party, or vote for Trump or Senator Cruz because that will show them!

First, it’s a great tragedy to not exercise that right.  Countless numbers of Americans fought and died so we would have that right and even now we are seeing that precious right being rolled back by Republican state legislatures and we have a Congress that won’t re-authorize the voting rights act.  So please vote, but think about the power of that vote and use it wisely.

Which brings me to the plea.  Please, please do not allow your personal feelings to have potentially dire consequences for real living, breathing Americans.  If we don’t unify and come out in strong numbers to vote in November we make it far more likely that a conservative will win the White House, and in the worst case scenario have control of both the House and the Senate.  Please consider what that would mean for —

The poor woman in south Texas who can not afford to make the drive to San Antonio and wait days to have an abortion.  There are already woman who have endangered their health by trying to self abort.  Consider this exchange —

Amy Hagstrom Miller, owner of Whole Woman’s Health… tells the story of a woman who called her clinic in McAllen to schedule an abortion. It was the day after HB2 had taken effect, and the clinic was unable to provide abortions under the new law.

A clinic worker told the woman that she would need to travel 250 miles to a clinic in San Antonio, get initial counseling, and wait 24 hours for the procedure.

Ms. Miller said the woman responded: “I’m a working mother, I have a job, I have two children at home, and I absolutely can’t travel to San Antonio.” The woman added, “But I need this abortion, I can’t afford to have another child.”

Miller recalled the woman’s next words. “She said, ‘If I tell you what is in my medicine cabinet and what is under my sink, can you tell me how to do my own abortion?’ ”  Effect of Texas Abortion Rules

Think about that for a minute.  This is a real person.  Maybe a neighbor who is willing to risk her health and possibly her life.  How much worse will it get if a Republican fills that vacant seat on the Supreme Court?  I’m old enough to remember when women went into back alleys for illegal abortions and they died.

Or the minimum wage.  There are millions of Americans working two and three jobs to try and support their families and keep a roof over their heads.  Do you think they’re going to get that minimum wage increase if we stay home and don’t vote?

There are children whose only meal is the lunch the receive at school.  The Congress would like to cut funding for those programs.

There are elderly people who are no longer allowed to vote because they can’t gather the proper documents or can’t afford them even if they can locate them.  Students whose college Id’s aren’t considered valid identification, but by god you can vote if you have a concealed carry gun permit.  (Perhaps we ought to start a fund so every minority voter, elderly voter, or college kid can apply for the concealed carry.)  Consider this situation in North Carolina — North Carolina’s Voter ID Law.

And how about health care?  The Republicans have sworn to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  If they do that and roll back the medicaid expansions millions of people are going to lose access to doctors and hospitals and many of them will die.

Immigrant families that are going to be torn apart, separated by borders, and if Trump has his way, walls.  Or our Muslim citizens who are going to becomes The Other in their own country and subjected to more and more suspicion and harassment.

The LGBT community that will find their right to marry rolled back and disallowed.  Or find themselves unable to adopt.  I can’t imagine how that must feel for a family.  And then there are the so called religious liberty laws that are merely an excuse to discriminate.

What I’m saying is taking a “principled” stand and staying home because your guy or gal didn’t get the nod from the voters and the delegates might make us feel good or happily bitter (I’ll show them), or noble, but it might very well have dire consequences for our fellow citizens.  Real world consequence as in hunger or death.

I also don’t buy the argument that by allowing a man like Donald Trump into the White House will “bring the revolution sooner.”  First it’s not going to happen and second revolutions usually don’t turn out well.  We have a constitutional system in place that has allowed us to work toward a more perfect union.  Do we wish certain things could have happened more quickly?  Of course.  Were there missteps?  Naturally.  But overall it’s a system that has allowed for progressive change without violent upheaval.

So please, let’s all of us swallow our resentments and set aside our personal feelings and think about people outside our own circles who are hoping we’ll all remember them and their needs.   I think the motto of our nation sums it up pretty well.

E pluribus unum — Out of many, one.

Breaking a Story

There have been questions about how I plot and outline.  I learned this technique when I was working on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and it’s used on every television show.  I use it for the movies I write as well.  And then it occurred to me — this could work for novels too.  Not in as much detail, not every scene, but the big scenes, the “tent pole” moments could be laid out.

I’m going to actually put up a photo of the next Imperials novel, but please don’t study it too closely.  I’d hate to spoil the plot for people.  Just get the overall sense of how this works.  Because my cork board is in Los Angeles and I’m in New Mexico I used a white board for this plot break.

What you need:  A white board and colored dry erase or wet erase pens.  That’s how we did it on Trek and it’s a pain because you have to try to carefully erase a scene if you decide it’s in the wrong place.  On Profiler we used a cork board, pins, cards and colored pens.   If you use cards you just pull off the card and replace it.

Next step.  I write headings — Teaser, Act One, Act Two, Act Three.  If it’s a really big book you will need five acts.  The example I’m going to show you went to four acts which suggests this next book in the Imperials saga will be bigger than the one I just delivered.

I then assign a different colored pen to each view point character.  This is challenging if you are doing a huge fantasy with seven or eight view point characters.  Since I have never gone past four it hasn’t been an issue for me yet.  I sometimes will pick a new color to indicate a crowd scene where all of my characters will be present and no one person is dominate in that moment.

I then go to the end of the final act, and I write down the final scene of the book with the appropriate color depending on whose view point will carry the climax.

I then go set up the teaser.  Something interesting and exciting that will convince that person who is casually flipping through the book that they ought to buy this book.

Next I try to fill in the act outs for each of the other acts.  Once those finales are all in place it becomes relatively easy to figure out the scenes you will need to get to those various act outs and the final climax.  Sometimes you do go down dead ends and something that sounded good doesn’t look good when it’s laid out.  This saves me writing fifty or a hundred pages and then deciding that was the wrong direction.

The reason for the different colors is so I can see if I’m losing track of a particular character and need to up their profile.  Or conversely it might suggest that I don’t need that character and they need to be dropped as a POV character.

The other thing I’m studying as I lay out these scenes is how they flow.  I think of structure like relay race.  A character has to smoothly hand off the baton to the next character who is going to continue to carry the plot forward.

This makes each day’s work very easy.  I get up in the morning, eat breakfast, gather up a cup of tea or coffee, glance over at the board and know what is the task for that particular day.  I understand this doesn’t work for everybody, but in the high pressure of a TV show or when you have a lot of contracts with hard deadlines it’s invaluable.

And now here is the photo of what will be TIME AND CHANCE.

 

A final note.  You don’t have to do this alone.  Bringing in two or three other people who you trust and respect to brainstorm with you can also be very helpful.  That’s how it works in Hollywood.  The staff works together to lay out the season arc and then plot the individual episodes.

(And yes, I know I have terrible printing.)  😜

My Small Salon

So I hosted a cream tea on Friday.  George R.R. had urged me to do something to welcome Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer to Santa Fe and to give them a chance to meet some of the cool people who live here.  George also wanted to show off my house which is very beautiful with an 80 mile view out the glass wall of the living room.  It sounded like a fun idea so I invited a group of novelists and screenwriters.  Including Ed Khamara — he wrote Lady Hawk and Enemy Mine, Bruce McKenna — he wrote The Pacific, Ty Frank and Daniel Abraham who are James S.A. Corey of The Expanse, David Morrell who wrote First Blood (that became Rambo), George, of course, Sage Walker, Laura Mixon.

I made scones and Those Little Sandwiches — salmon with cream cheese and dill and cucumber with butter.  I sat out a cheese plate and grapes and to keep it New Mexico I had chile con queso from El Pinto (the best in the state).  Neil and Amanda’s new son, Ash attended his first formal tea dressed in a very elegant kimono.

Neil snapped this picture out in the casita.  This baby has his mother’s amazing eyes, they are a shade of blue I have never before seen.  And he’s so happy.  He literally sings back to you.

It was supposed to last from 3:00 until 6:00, but a number of us lingered chatting until past 7:00 about politics and art and movies.  All and all it was the kind of day that reminded why I so desperately wanted to be a writer and stop being a lawyer.  These are the most fascinating people in the world and I wanted to get to hang out with them.  And now I get too.  Sometimes I have to give myself a pinch so I can be sure this isn’t just a dream.

Adaptations — The Magicians

I’ve done a lot of adaptations.  It’s a tricky skill, but fun.  You have to take from the underlying material the essential themes, the emotional sense of the work, keep the characters relatively intact, but be willing to make changes because film and print are two different mediums and they tell stories in different ways.  The emotional impact is ultimately the same, but how you get there is different.  You have to know what to cut and what to expand.

Right now I’m watching a master class in adaptation.  It’s a show called The Magicians, and it’s on SyFy.  Yeah, I know, crazy, right?  I started watching the show which has great production values, excellent writing and overall a very fine cast.  I was so impressed that I bought the first book and started reading.

This is a case where the filmed version is better than the book.

Okay, I’m going to talk specifics from the book and the show which means there are going to be SPOILERS!!!!!!! so stop reading now if you hate SPOILERS!!!!!!

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I’ve only read the first book and I have to be honest.  While I found the world and the characters interesting the book read more like an outline then a well plotted narrative.  It felt like the author was exploring his world, but didn’t totally have a handle on the story he wanted to tell.

Enter the writing team who adapted the book series for television.  Right away they made a number of changes.  The characters are all older — heading to graduate school rather then high school kids heading to college.  That has worked well.  They have also slowed down the action.  In the book Quentin rushes through Brakebills.  In the show he’s still in his first year.  It’s working far better.

Apparently the entire story line about Julia, the girl who didn’t get into Hogwarts… er Brakebills, and so becomes a hedge witch begins in book two, but the screenwriters rightly decided to weave her story in with Quentin’s adventures at the school.  They find ways to have the two former friends cross paths, and there is an interesting echo in that both of them take casual actions that start to have dreadful consequences.

The show is much darker in tone then the book and the villain far more horrifying.  In the book his face is obscured by a tree branch.  In the show they use a cloud of moths.  Now whenever I see a moth I find myself shuddering.  Again as a visual cue it’s brilliant.

A recent episode of the show is the one that really made me hope I have the opportunity to meet with the creative team behind The Magicians and shake their hand.  First a bit of context.  In The Magicians there is a beloved fantasy book series about a magical place called Fillory and the three children who got to travel there.  Yes, very much a call back to C.S. Lewis, but that’s the set up.  At the end of book one our heroes defeat The Beast, and have a conversation with the sister who tells why her brother turned into this monstrous figure.  In the book she casually tosses out the information that the author of the Fillory books molested her brother when he was a boy.  It is literally almost a throw away line.

The show found a far more powerful and interesting way to give us this information.  Out of a sentence or two in the book the television writers crafted an entire episode and it was a damn good one.  Our heroes have gone to tour the author’s home in search of a magical object.  They break in after-hours, and since they are all magicians they begin to see ghostly scenes from the past.  They see the author coercing the brother into undressing while the older man takes photos, and then it’s very clear they go off to have sex.  Quentin who has adored and revered this writer is sickened, horrified and we see him start to lose some of his geeky innocence and self-doubt and become a man.

As for this magical object.  In the book one of the characters just buys it from a magical junk salesman and it happens off stage.  He then just turns up and says, “Hey, I have this magic thingee and it takes you to a different world.”  Again the adaptors allowed the protagonists to “protag”.  They go in search of this object after they’ve discovered that it exists instead of it all being by happenstance.

Bottom line if you’ve toyed with adapting take a look at this show.  In its own right it’s a terrific hour of television, and for writers it’s an inspiration and, like I said, a master class in adaptation.

Back to Bond… James Bond

I just finished watching Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace back to back. Guess what — Quantum isn’t a bad movie.  The problem was that it was the second half of a movie that got broken into two parts.

Quantum seems to pick up like one day after the end of Royale, but for viewers two years had passed and by then we’d forgotten a lot of the details.

Bond is killing his way through people as he tries to find out who was behind Vesper’s death, but his rage and obsession don’t make a lot of sense if you don’t have a fairly detailed memory of Casino Royale.  His casual use of women leading to their deaths and M’s reaction again only has meaning when you think about Bond’s confusion over Vesper — did he love her or did he hate her, is she the bitch that he labeled her or the love of his life?

The death of Rene Mathis with Bond cradling the man in his arms (I’m wondering if they copied it for the end of Skyfall where Bond is cradling M?) has no meaning or emotional resonance unless you remember that Bond erroneously accused Mathis of working for the bad guys in Casino.

The final scene of the movie has no impact emotionally or intellectually unless you remember that Vesper betrayed Britain to protect the man she loved.  She believed he was a prisoner and she acted to protect him.

Now we get to the end of Quantum and discover that the man Vesper loved worked for this shady Quantum organization and used his charms to seduce female agents.  We see him doing it to a Canadian agent and handing out the lover’s knot necklaces (which was such a telling symbol in Royale) like popcorn, but again if you don’t remember the necklace Vesper was wearing and her love for this man then the scene is just confusing.  Who is this guy?  Why should I care?

I did feel like the theme was muddled if not down right contradictory.  With the young hispanic agent Bond is encouraging her to take vengeance on the corrupt police chief and find closure, but then he doesn’t kill Vesper’s duplicitous lover.  Maybe because all the deaths that Bond has dealt throughout the money haven’t brought Bond closure and peace?  Then why did he suggest it for Camille Montes as a way to lay her ghosts to rest?

I’m not saying Quantum is a great movie, but it is when compared the mess that was Spectre.  Why on Earth did they think it was a good idea to have all the Bond antagonists from Royale, Quantum and Skyfall be the puppets of Blofeld?  I digress.  I think if you make Casino Royale and Quantum a double feature you’ll be pleased with the result.

 

Dialog and Internal Dialog

I’ve been doing my final rewrite of the second novel in my space opera series.  I’ve only got a couple of chapters to go before it’s as cooked as I can get it.  Late this afternoon I went back to a scene that had stumped me earlier in the day.

I realized I had used internal dialog where a son is reflecting on his father’s devotion to the ruling class and how the son rebelled against that.  The moment just felt flat to me and then I realized, both men are in the same space.  Why not have them say the words, actually talk to each other?  Offer insults and retorts.  Actually dramatize the passion of the moment.

So I rewrote it and turned it into an exchange instead of a rumination.  It works much better.  Because dialog to me is active, vibrant, energetic.  You can show the emotional ebbs and flows rather then telling the reader how a character is feeling.

Basically I don’t like internal dialog.  In a novel it’s often unavoidable, but I think if you can actually put people together and have them interact you’re going to be in a much better place.  I believe there is nothing more intriguing and fascinating and exciting then watching people expressing their hopes and dreams and fears and loathings to each other.

I’ve heard some people say that an action sequence is the most important thing to keep a book driving forward.  I don’t agree.  I think the interactions between humans are far more exciting.  In visual medium such as film then yes, an action sequence can be exciting, but think about the scene between Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs when she interviews him in his jail cell.  That scene was far more chilling and terrifying then Clarice running around the serial killer’s house at the end of the book or the movie.

In terms of what kills the momentum of a book dead I’d argue that poorly done description and internal dialog can often suck the life out of a scene.  I’ll take people communicating any day.  Probably wouldn’t hurt if we had more of that in real life.

The Cardinal Rule

Money flows to the writer.  Not from the writer.

That’s the rule.  Remember it.  Tattoo it on the back of your eyelids.  Nothing makes me angrier then when I hear about an aspiring writer who had paid someone a lot of money to read their manuscript and comment.  These so called “writing coaches” are preying on the hopes and dreams of people who want to write and it’s disgusting.  They have no power to put your manuscript in front of an agent or an editor.  They can’t do anything to further your career.  They’re just taking your money.

Join a good writers group and you can get the same thing for free.  The only cost to you is that you have to play fair, read other people’s submissions and comment.  There are on-line critique groups like the OWW.  They do charge a membership fee of $49.00 for a year, but that’s a much better price then paying a single individual five hundred, or a thousand or more to get that one person’s opinion.  There are writing organizations in most cities where you can connect with other writers and aspiring writers.  There are proven courses like Clarion West, or Odyssey or Taos Toolbox which are taught by actual writers and editors.

Are there exceptions to this rule?  Yes.  If a person is determined to go the self published route then it behooves them to hire an actual copyeditor to check for typos, correct commas, etc.  A copyeditor deserves and should be paid.  You’ll probably have to pay for cover art for your self-published novel.  All of which are reasons I don’t recommend going the self pub route.

Publishers have editors who can help you improve your book and you don’t have to pay them.  They have art directors who specialize in putting evocative covers on books that you don’t have to pay for.  They have sales forces that market your book so you don’t have to spend all your time doing self-promotion instead of doing what you should be doing which is writing.  They have the means to set up autograph sessions and a distribution network to get your book into bookstores so you’re not driving around in a van filled with copies of your book that you paid to have printed.  You’re not sitting behind a table in a dealers room at a convention trying to hand sell your novel instead of mingling and networking, meeting editors and colleagues, being inspired.

Money flows to the writer.  Not from the writer.

Due Process in a Superhero Universe

Tuesday night George and I were having a long conversation via text.  (Yes, Mr. Wordstar is a texting monster.  He’s the reason I had to go with unlimited texting.)  Truthfully we should have just picked up the phone and talked, but oh well.

Anyway, GRRM wanted to know if I had watched the latest episode of The Flash yet.  I hadn’t because of the time difference between L.A. and Santa Fe,  but we ended up talking about how the Star Labs Scooby gang keep locking people up in the basement in tiny rooms that appear to have no bed, no toilet, and that we never see them get a meal.  George asked if this bothered me?

My response — oh Hell yes!  Especially since one of the characters is a police officer and supposedly a good cop and a good man.

I understand this is fantasy and that super villains have enormous powers, BUT that doesn’t mean we throw out the Constitution with its guarantees of Due Process, right to a speedy trial, legal counsel.  I think they get away with it on The Flash because Barry seems so sweet and kind and approachable and the kids in the gang are all so cute.  Or you take the other approach and allow Jim Gordon in Gotham to become a vigilante cop which pretty much undermines the nature of the character.  But none of these disguise the fact that what is occurring is a grotesque undermining of the rule of law.

Yes, it’ makes things harder if you have to think about and address these issues, but that makes for good story telling and better writing.  To do otherwise is just lazy.  I can promise you if we even get Wild Cards going as a TV series we’re not going to dodge these tough questions and even tougher solutions.

Comparisons

After writing for most of yesterday and staying warm while the rain and wind battered the house I decided to spend the evening on a movie binge.  Guardians of the Galaxy was on followed by Avengers — Ultron.  Boy is Guardians a _much_ better movie than Ultron. There was a seed of a good movie in among all the endless and often pointless action sequences in Ultron, but it gasped and died under the weight of the CGI action.
I noticed something else.  When Whedon thinks something is going off the rails he has a tendency to just tell you in the dialog.  It happened back in a later episode of ANGEL.  Angel and some of his Scooby gang have gone into a magical bookstore, and Angel is asking the proprietor a question.  I don’t remember the details, just that there was a lot of hand waving and nonsense being spouted and Angel then says, “You’re just making this shit up now, aren’t you?”  Or words to that effect.  That was at a time when the series was really flailing and floundering.
And Whedon did it again in Ultron when he gives Hawkeye the line to the Scarlet Witch.  “We’re fighting an army of robots — and I have a bow and arrow.”  He then goes on to add, “None of this makes sense.”  You were so right Clint.
Contrast all that frenzied action with Guardians.  Yes, there is action in the movie, but we learn more about the characters in everyone of those scenes — Rocket wants the guy’s leg because it would be funny, Gamora’s resigned statement “I’m going to die with the biggest idiots in the galaxy.”  How Peter will try to fast talk his way out of situations before resorting to fighting.  How Drax is so literal minded that he can’t understand a metaphor.  That apparently everyone in the galaxy apart from Peter, Rocket and the Ravagers are irony impaired.
What the two films do have in common is that at their heart is an ordinary man — Hawkeye in Avengers, Peter in Guardians.  Maybe that’s why I like to write about “nats” in the Wild Cards universe.  Ordinary people who can still be heroes.  There was exemplified in that underwhelming Superman Returns reboot back in 2006.  The one thing that worked in that movie was the role of Lois’s boyfriend, Richard White.  He proved to be just as heroic as the Man of Steel as he fought to save the life of the woman he loved and her child.  That was the most emotionally satisfying moment in the film.
Maybe it’s because there are just too damn many characters that have to be serviced in the Avengers films.  Which seems to be the case because the smaller movies are working better — Ant Man, Guardians, the Captain America films, the first Iron Man, Thor.
I point out these problems in the hope they find a way to address them before the next big blockbuster hits the screen.  I love these superhero franchises.  I watch Agents of SHIELD, and The Flash, and Arrow, and Legends, etc. etc.  I’ve enjoyed many of the movies, but I hope there aren’t too many more Ultrons in the pipeline.

Sticking the Landing

I’m tiptoeing up on the final chapter of the next novel in the Imperials series. Usually approaching the end of a novel feels like a toboggan ride, but this one has me groping my way toward the conclusion. I think it’s a combination of things.  I can see the final scenes and how to present them if this were a movie where the camera itself can be a point of view but because this is a novel I have to present it through the eyes of one of the two view point characters.  In this case that my heroine’s eyes, and that pulls the focus in very close when it should be galaxy wide. This is also a huge moment that has repercussions for the third book so I have to set it up correctly and hopefully it will have a gut punch feeling.  No, I’m not doing a George and killing a beloved character…. not yet, but this needs to make an impact.  In fact now that I’m typing this I realize I may have given too much away in an earlier scene.  (Note to self — go back and check that before I get into today’s writing.)
 
In some ways we’d all be better off if an author could finish a novel series before the first one ever gets published. I’m grateful I’ll have a chance to tweak things in the first book before it actually goes to print because the more I write about the characters and the universe the more I understand it.  I have to make adjustments to the first book so things line up and aren’t confusing to readers.  Little things like what objects are called, and that hombres are enlisted men aboard a star ship and fusileros are the marines assigned to those ships.  Thank god for Scrivener where I can keep a list of organizations and what they call the galactic internet.  I also have this ever growing list of characters because the only way a series like this can work is if people we met in book one come back in meaningful ways in the subsequent books.  It does feel like playing catch up and it will continue until all five are completed
I also have to make sure this book ties up well and has a satisfying ending, but still keeps people anxious to see what happens next.  Especially since I’m about to make a jump of fifteen or sixteen years.  I made a three year jump at the beginning of book two, and a seven year jump in the middle of this book.  I think it’s important that long series not feel like the author is keeping a daily journal in a role playing game.  I try to keep very focused on the idea that I should just write about the cool shit and leave out all the boring stuff.  The years a character might serve aboard ship without incident aren’t very interesting.
So now I’ve had my moment on my blog psychiatrist’s couch and now I need to hesitantly approach these final moves.  Ciao and wish me luck.

Very Cool Wild Cards Audio Book News

Folks may or may not know that Random House Audio is doing our Wild Cards books and has made the very exciting decision to hire different actors for the various characters instead of one reader for the entire book.  The line up for JOKER’S WILD is as follows:

Prentice Onayemi, reading Fortunato,
Pam Grier, reading Roulette,
Molly Quinn, reading Wraith,
Ray Porter, reading Sewer Jack,
Felicia Day, reading Bagabond,
Stephen McHattie, reading Demise,
Ron Donachie, reading Hiram Worchester.

As if that wasn’t enough for me to be totally jazzed I just learned that Raphael Sbarge is going to be reading Dr. Tachyon in ACES ABROAD and DOWN AND DIRTY.  Those of you fellow game geeks will recognize him as the voice of Kaidan Alenko in Mass Effect and Carth Onasi in Knights of the Old Republic.  I had requested Raphael to read Tachyon and I couldn’t be more excited.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I went over to the Cinépolis last night for a second watch of The Force Awakens, and I’m ready to discuss the movie.  There are going to be a SPOILERS so if you hate SPOILERS and if for some reason you haven’t managed to see this film yet don’t read anymore because there are going to be SPOILERS!!!!!!!!  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

I had seen the film on opening day with Len Wein and Chris Valada.  As with the first J.J. Abrams Star Trek film I liked the “feel” of the movie.  What I hadn’t expected was that the structure is basically identical to episode IV A New Hope.  (Or as I know it — Star Wars because I saw it on opening day back in 1977.  Okay, maybe it wasn’t actually the first day since the theater had added a midnight showing of the movie to accommodate all the crowds so technically it was the second day.)  Point being I love Star Wars.  I saw the original film six or seven times while I was taking the bar review course and studying for the bar exam.  Star Wars kept me sane.  I even managed to pass the bar and I give Star Wars some of the credit for that.  But I digress.

Back to this latest film.  Well, compared to the three prequel films it was Shakespeare.  During my first viewing I was taken aback by the constant call backs to the first film.  “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”, the similar beats to the first movie — everybody looking for a Droid that has a piece of critical information, a desert planet, an alien bar with an alien jazz band, a honking big weapon that brave X-Wing pilots have to destroy. 

There are differences.  In the original film Luke can’t wait to get off Tatooine.  In Awakens Rey wants to stay and even keeps trying to get back to her desert world.  The similarities are that both of them are great pilots and unknowingly strong in the Force.

I really appreciated that we got to see the world from the point of view of a storm trooper and Finn is a darling.  I also really liked the fact he wasn’t a top commander or something special.  He was a janitor.

Poe is sexy and fun.  I liked the fact that he couldn’t resist our villain’s Force powers, but Rey could.  That was a nice touch.

It was a relief to see women in roles other then princess and slave.  It was also great to see an ethnically diverse cast.

I thought the youngsters they brought in were all terrific, especially Daisy Ridley.  For me it was great to see the old timers — Leia and Han and Chewie.  And our new young villain.  I thought Ben/Kylo Ren was terrific.  Not only is he very pretty he’s the kind of tortured character I just love.

So now I’m in my second viewing and I actually ended up liking the film much better than the first time I saw the movie.  I went in knowing it was derivative, and I expected the great visuals of the crashed imperial ships and walkers, and the exciting action sequences so I could sort of ignore them.  This time I just focused on the dialog, the characters and the actors performances.

And as a film it worked much better for me.  Why — because this time I saw the theme and how that theme was subtly supported throughout the film in the exchanges between the characters.  Here’s a short hand I used at a panel discussion last month — plot is the shit that happens.  Theme is what is all means.  If you don’t know your theme before you start writing you are never going to produce a satisfying book or film.  

So, what was the theme of this movie?  It’s a story about lost and abandoned children.

Finn — torn from his home and his family as a child and molded into a killing machine.  Though unlike his fellow conscripts he resists and find his soul.  But in terms of how he was raised he’s not a moral man or a hero.  To his companion he’s a failure and a traitor.

Rey left by her family, guardians?  Some unknown somebodies on a desolate world and told to wait.  She’s been waiting, lost and alone and wondering why they abandoned her?  What was wrong with her?

Ben/Kylo Ren.  Growing up in the shadow of parents who are legends. Tormented with powers he can’t control.  A father who is at heart an irresponsible child and walked away.  A mother who was too busy for him.  There is a telling line of dialog from Leia when she says “I should never have sent him away.”  That has to make a kid wonder — “what’s wrong with me?”  He’s given into the care of an emotionally distant uncle who tries to mold him in the Jedi ways which aren’t exactly warm and fuzzy.  And when Luke screws up and Ben turns to the dark side Luke walks away — another abandonment.

Just as Thor is the story of a distant and abusive father who fosters a toxic relationship between two siblings this is a film about bad parenting and as such I thought it worked.  It certainly worked much better for me upon this second viewing.

An aside.  I’m guessing that Luke is Rey’s father which absolutely makes him the leading candidate for the shittiest parent in the galaxy award.

And yeah, Kylo Ren and Rey were my favorite characters though I really loved Finn and Poe too.

Appearances

  • Boskone, February 19th - 21st. Boston MA.
  • MidAmericacon August 17th - 21st, Kansas City MO
  • Bubonicon August 26th -28th, Albuquerque, NM

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