Friday, July 29, 2011

The Dork Review: When The Hero Comes Home

I love small presses. Really, I do. They are so much more likely to put out interesting anthologies, such as When The Hero Comes Home.

So what's this book about? Exactly what it says on the tin. It's a collection of nineteen short stories from a wide variety of authors, some better known such as Todd McCaffrey and Ed Greenwood, and some not so well known but you should really look for such as Marie Bilodeau, Erik Buchanan, and J.M. Frey (pronounced Fry by the way), all about what happens when the hero comes home.

I had the good fortune to meet Marie, Eirk, and J.M, and have sign my copy of When The Hero Comes Home, at the champagne brunch launch at Polaris earlier this month. Check them out and then come back and read the rest of my review.

No, really. I can wait.

Done? Good, on with the review.

So, as I said, this book asks the question, what happens after the battle is over, the princess saved, the dragon defeated? What does the hero do once he's won, or at least survived, his quest, when the place he's come from has stayed the same while he has changed so much? This book answers those questions, with stories that run from humorous to heartbreaking, bittersweet to hopeful.

Let me highlight some of the gems inside, in order of appearance. Erik Buchanan's What Evil Remains gives us a picture of a veteran of a wizard's defeat dealing with post-traumatic stress, a good man who served his community and bears the mental scars to prove it. Truly heart-wrenching.

Brine Magic by Toni Pi is astounding, a compelling story about two boys adopted by the court of a fantastical undersea power who serve as guardians and warriors until they find themselves spit back into the real world and how they deal with the transition. Without any hyperbole I can say it's a magical and compelling story.

Oh, how can I go any further without mentioning The Legend of Gluck by Marie Bilodeau, a story about a barbarian returning home with the head of his defeated foe. It has a rotting skull and liquified brains, even an elven sorceress. What's not to love? (Also it gave me the opportunity to make a really bad pun based on the hero's name, something I sure scarred Marie for life when I messaged her with it.) :)

Another highlight is the Once and Nowish King by J.M. Frey. It involves King Arthur returning as a newborn baby with full adult mental faculties and the craziness that induces. It's funny and heartwarming at the same time, something Frey can easily pull off as evidenced by her novel Tryptych.

Really, there are no lackluster stories in this collection, and I could easily sing the praises of each of them. Pick up a copy from Amazon and enjoy, or go to the Dragon Moon Press site to check it out.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Reviewing From Hard Copy

Let me share a little piece of advice I got from Karl Schroeder comments while he was Writer in Residence for the Merrill collection and was kind enough to look at a story of mine.

Always make a final revision of your writing from hard copy, as in, print the dang thing out, read it over, and mark it up with a pen.

I just finished revising a short story previously called "Sacrifice" and now named "Into Each Life, A Little Rain Must Fall". I printed it out and went over it with a fine tooth comb, and discovered so many things the needed alteration and fixing it's not funny. And this is a story I'd gone over a few times while it was on screen!

Aside from catching more things, editing from hard copy lets you see how the story is going to appear on the written page much clearer than reading it on a screen. And, I find for me it's a little bit easier on the eyes.

So, from now on the final edit on anything before I send it off will be done on paper. I owe it to myself and anyone who ends up reading my stuff to produce the very best I can. And to keep working at getting better.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Dork Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

America F**K Ya!

Sorry, couldn't resist. All the time I was waiting to see Captain America: The First Avenger the "theme song" from Team America: World Police kept going through my head. Every now and then I'd say the above line out loud and have it echoed by my friend Gary, or even just say "America!" and he'd supply the rest.

The movie was good, on par with Thor with the level of writing and special effects. The humor was well placed and didn't feel forced, the actors hit the right notes at the right time and were even able to subtly put forth emotions that might have been missed or glossed over in other superhero movies.

But in the end, this is a superhero movie so go into it with eyes wide open. It's a good one, but don't expect Shakespeare. It ties in very nicely to the rest of the Marvel movies leading up The Avengers, and make sure you stay till then end of the credits for a little treat of what's coming out next year.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Improved Rejections

Sorry for the lack of anything new in the last little bit. It's just been too damn hot in my apartment's living area to stay on the computer for any length of time. Hopefully this heat wave will burst in the next day or so and things will cool down enough that I don't feel like I'm basting while I sit here.

So, you may be wondering what I mean by improved rejections. Well, the last couple times I've received a rejection notice, instead of the standard "Thanks but no thanks" response, I've actually been getting some feedback.  This is good to see, as it means I'm getting closer to writing a publishable story.

"But aren't all rejections bad?" you might ask. Not necessarily. Almost any feedback is good, as it offers me the opportunity to improve and to learn what that particular editor/publication thinks and is looking for in a story, so that when I have something else to offer I have an idea of what markets to target first.

So, not published yet, but things are starting to look better. Now excuse me, I need to find something tall and wet to fall into.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Writer's Guide to Kendo

I may have mentioned this before, and if not I'll mention it now, I practice kendo.

What is kendo you may ask? It is a SPORT based upon Japanese swordsmanship. Why the emphasis on it being a sport? Because it is not a practical sword art, and authors should not treat it as so.

Okay, a little bit of background may be in order on this one, so that you understand why I feel the need to post this. I was reading the first book of the Safehold series by David Weber, an author who produces work I normally enjoy. Heck, he can put vampires in military science fiction and make it work. (Look for it and you will find it, don't want to spoil the story it's in.)

Anyways, in the first book of the series, the character Nimue's background mentions that she was turned on to practicing kendo by one of her mentors/friends. So far, no problem. The real issue for me arises when she starts fighting in a world regressed to a medieval level of technology. Not only fighting, but fighting well and utilizing an "odd fighting stance".

My problem with this is that while there is competition in kendo, the goal is not to strike down your opponent. Kendo players (yes, you play kendo, you don't fight with it) are taught to hit, not to cut. So someone trained in kendo wouldn't have the instinct to slice someone down. Also, the fighting stance is very straightforward, with the feet shoulder width apart and right leg in front and the left heel slightly raised. Not really an odd stance.

You may be wondering, what is the difference between a hit and cut, after all both involve striking someone. To hit someone with a real sword would be ineffectual. A sword works best, especially the swords used in Japanese martial arts, when slicing. The hits in kendo are achieved with small movements and targeted at armored areas, places that would have been covered by traditional protection. Cutting requires a larger motion, the idea being to make contact in an unprotected area on the body and then follow through and slice through any resistance and therefore wound your opponent.

So, you may be wondering, if kendo isn't what we call a practical Japanese sword art, what is? Easy, it's kenjutsu.

Notice, both terms share "ken". An easy translation for this would be "sword". "Do" means way, and "jutsu" means art, so kendo is the "Way of the Sword", while kenjutsu is the "Art of the Sword".

Yes, this may seem an artificial distinction, but it's not. With a "jutsu" the focus was on a practical "art" that one could use to survive in a hostile world. With the coming of the modern age, a lot of the "arts" translated into "ways" and the focus changed primarily to spiritual development. So while kendo is not a combat art, it is a way of finding a deeper spiritual center within yourself, like a lot of modern martial arts who's focus is on self-development rather than practical application. Practitioners of a "do" can still be fearsome in combat, but only because part of their spiritual development is achieved through physical toil, meaning they can often be fitter even if they don't look it.

Are the jutsu arts still around. Of course! Jiujitsu is one focused on hand to hand combat, and there are even kenjutsu schools still operating. A lot of the remaining kenjutsu schools are family affairs, the art passed from father to son, or even daughter in these modern times. I myself had the privilege of practicing Ono Ha Itto Ryu years ago, one of the spiritual ancestors of modern kendo, and I know of at least one school of Katori Shinto Ryu in North America. These are both different styles, just like there are many different schools and styles of jiujitsu.

Another thing the bears mentioning is the difference in attitude. Different schools each had a unique, well, psychology is the best thing to call it. The art I practiced was very straightforward, brutal even, with lots of sword contact and forward motion. Other schools of kenjutsu are more subtle, having the practitioner lay traps for his opponent.

Kendo on the other hand is extremely forward and aggressive, much more than any kenjutsu school, since you don't have to worry about getting hit as points are scored only if the correct area is struck with the correct footwork and follow through. It can be very hard to score a point in kendo, depending on how strict the judges are calling things. You can whack at a person for an hour and not score if you don't have everything lined up just right, and kendo players are trained to ignore hits that wouldn't result in a point. More than once I've been whacked on the shoulder or ribs, spots that if I was in a real sword fight would result in severe damage and loss of life. All I ended up while playing kendo was, at most, a rather impressive bruise.

So, this goes out to all you authors, writers, scribblers, and scribes. Know the difference between kendo and kenjutsu, and write accordingly. It's a small detail, but it does stand out for those in the know.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Dork Review: The Name of The Wind

Two reviews in one day. Shocking, I know. What can I say. I have the day off, I needed to get the last one off my chest, and I've been wanting to write this review for over a week now but stuff kept getting in the way.

Alright, I'm a little late to the party when it comes to Patrick Rothfuss and The Name of The Wind. Especially considering it was published in 2007 and mentioned in numerous places. Which it should have been, considering it was a New York Times Best Seller.

This qualifies as a Book I Wish I Had Written. No, really. I hope someday to produce something this magnificent. This book is layered, switching from third-person to first-person viewpoints with ease, telling two different stories involving the main character Kvothe at the same time. It's a story within a story. (I'm avoiding making the obvious reference to Inception. Oh wait, I just made it. Dang.)

I devoured this book. It's close to 700 pages and I had it read in a few days, stealing time between calls at work to read as much as I could. Heck, if I could afford the time off I would have taken a day or two just to read it. The book is that good.

Rothfuss does a great job of deconstructing how myths and legends are created. Kvothe himself is a living legend, and as the novel progresses we learn the hard truths behind a lot of the stories told about him and about the legendary evil that influenced his early life.

Rothfuss also avoids many of the fantasy cliches we've all seen before, without belaboring the point. There are no easy answers in this book, and often what you would expect to happen is either subverted, inverted, or smashingly averted.

If you haven't already, pick this book up. I've already started on the sequel, which just came out. Hopefully we're not stuck waiting too long for the third book, but I can understand how writing this good can take time.

The Dork Review: Transformers 3: Dark Of The Moon

Okay, I'm not going to lie. This review is going to be harsh and contain SPOILERS. If you loved this movie or don't want any of its plot points spoiled, do not ready any further. It's best for all of us if you don't.

Still here? Alright, let's proceed.

First off, let's get something clear. I enjoyed the first Transformers movie. I didn't mind the second, even though I understand why a lot of people didn't like it or found it offensive. Me personally it didn't offend, but then I'm not a member of any of any of the ethnic groups that would have been offended and I'm far from arrogant enough to think I should be offended on their behalf.

So why is Dark Of The Moon so much worse for me than the other two? It's boring.

Really, really boring. Even the "action" sequences got boring after awhile, and they were filled with giant, killy robots. My friend Jeff sitting beside me was yawning for the last little bit of the movie, that's how boring it was.

On top of that, most of the jokes in the movie were lame and/or came across as homophobic. The whole "Deep Wang" section was just so unnecessary. It was like trying to shoehorn in a little piece of The Hangover into an action flick.

And when the movie wasn't boring it was annoying. Shia LaBeouf's Whiney Whitwicky (patent pending) act was tolerable in the first movie, irritating in the second, and tiresome in this one. Part of me wanted to scream at him "Dude! No wonder that last chick left you, you whiney ass! Shut-up and enjoy living with your gorgeous English girlfriend who supports you!"

Speaking of said girlfriend, she really doesn't do anything in this movie other than make out with Shia and run around in tight jeans and heels. Oh, and show off her ass in panties in the opening shot of the film, just so that no one thinks Michael Bay has become gay when they see the "Deep Wang" section later. I have nothing against Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, but really, she doesn't do much of anything in this film. At least Megan Fox's character in the first two had some gumption, some spice.

Topless Robot has more here on what happens in this flick. If you need more reason not to go and see this travesty then check that link out.

Only take someone to see this movie if you really don't like them, or if they are easily amused by explosions.