Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Author's Thumbprint

Odd title, I know. Don't worry. I haven't been arrested and fingerprinted, nor have I been leaving incriminating prints around, but only because I haven't been doing anything nefarious at all. (Feel free to believe or disbelieve that statement.)

No, this post is about the "fingerprints" an author leaves on his work. How much of what an author puts down on the page is based upon who they are and what they believe in, and how much should there be?

First let me say this, no matter what an author does there's going to be a bit of them contained in their stories. This is inevitable. This is part of an author's style. The sheer fact that story exists can be attributed to someone wanting to put a piece of themselves out there, and every story is at first birthed within an author's mind. But does it always stay that way?

Let me give you an example from my own writing. Within that last few months I wrote a book. Not a great book, but not too bad for my first try. At least I proved to myself I could sustain a long term effort on one project.

In this novel there's a character that smokes pot on a regular basis. This was always going to be a part of this character, one of his defining traits. I don't like people who smoke pot more than occasionally. From my personal experience I've found them to be, well, unmotivated idiots. Again, this is from my personal experience and I'm sure there are exceptions out there, however I have yet to meet them. Also, I don't like the smell of weed. Really, really don't like it.

So, from the beginning this pot smoking character started off with a negative tone, in my mind. As I was writing the character began to change. He became more complex, more nuanced. I found aspects hidden inside him that changed my understanding of what he was. Instead of being just a one note character, a warning against drug use, he became a major factor in the story. I still don't like pot smokers, but the characterization in my story didn't suffer because of it.

I still have my opinions, but instead of the story being all about my views, and being blatant about it, it has a life of its own. Contrast that with something I was reading recently, where not only could I see the author's thumbprint, it was jumping up at my face. It was to the point it distracted me from the story, causing it to suffer. I did still enjoy the book, but it was tinged with a bit of disappointment.

I'm not going to mention the book or the author. I do want to be published someday, and it's unprofessional to go around slagging other people's work. I will say this though, it's made me more aware of my own thumbprint on the page, and while I do want to develop my own style I want to make sure that my stories don't suffer because of it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Dork Review: Super 8

Okay, I went into this movie without much hope. I'd seen the trailers, and to be honest, they made it seem dumb. Really, the only reason I went was because a friend had heard good things and we were going to wait till next week to see Green Lantern so a mutual friend could join us.

I'm glad I went. The movie was great!

How to describe it? Take Goonies, E.T., Close Encounters of The Third Kind, and a creature feature and smash them together. That combo may sound odd, but J.J. Abrams managed to make it work. This movie is an Eighties movie with a modern sensibility. It's post-modern Eighties.

And it has kids that can act! They seemed human, vulnerable and brave at the same time, rather than wooden and annoying like the kid from Phantom Menace. It helps that main female child lead is Ellie Fanning, younger sister of Dakota Fanning. It's obvious that acting talent runs in that family. If you don't believe me now you will after you see Ellie at the train station early in the movie. I half believe that the stunned looks on the other kids faces after she falls readily into her role within a role (trust me, it makes sense in context) is completely natural and not faked at all. I think everyone sitting in the theater was just as stunned as they were.

If you have fond memories of the Eighties, then this movie is for you. If you don't, but want to understand the spirit of that time, this movie is for you. And if you don't, well then this movie is still for you. It's just that good.

Whoever worked on the marketing for this film should really be sent back to school. The trailers do nothing to encapsulate the story or provide a tease to draw in a crowd. At least, not from my perspective. I'm glad I listened to my friend and went to see this.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My TV Curse

Want to know a sure-fire way to get a TV show cancelled? Get me to watch it!

Alright, so here's how it is. I don't watch a lot of TV now that I'm much more serious about my writing. Really, I watch maybe a couple shows here and there, such as The Big Bang Theory, Bones, and Dr. Who. Aside from my writing, another reason I don't watch many shows is that if I watch something in it's first season, it inevitably gets cancelled!

Case in point, the show Endgame. It was broadcast on Showcase up here in Canada,  and was about an agoraphobic chess champion who solves crimes from the hotel he's trapped in by his own mind. It was an unconventional, intelligent, engaging show. And it's been cancelled after one season. Same with Firefly, The Chicago Code, and so on. The only show I've started watching recently that lasted beyond a season was Lie to Me, and that's been cancelled this year.

Ah, you say, but what about the three shows I listed as watching up above. The trick is, I didn't watch those shows that much in their first seasons. In fact, I really dislike the first episode of The Big Bang Theory. I know what it's like to be a nerdy guy pining for the girl next door, and that episode reminds me of situations I'd much rather forget. It's almost physically painful. Eventually, after the numerous recommendations from a friend, I did give the show a chance, but I do my best to not watch the first episode when it comes on TV.

How about some other examples:
CSI - didn't see any of the first season until years later, one of the longer running dramas currently on TV
Space Above and Beyond - watched it religiously from the first season, cancelled either in its first season or soon into it's second, not sure if it ran long enough to have a second season.
Eureka - enjoy this show immensely when I can catch it, but due to when it plays I often miss it, had to buy the first season on DVD in order to watch it.
Crusade - follow-up to Babylon 5 that lasted thirteen episodes - one of the few shows cancelled where I didn't watch the whole season, but I did see the first few episodes.

Those are all the examples I can think of right now, but I'm sure if I really racked my brain I could come up with more. My luck even appears to be affecting current running shows. Dr. Who, which I really just started watching, Matt Smith is excellent by the way, is NOT getting a full season pickup next season, and is being split in half for this season. Yup, my TV luck at work.

Hopefully my luck changes next year and a show I love from the get go lasts for awhile, and I get to actually watch it. We'll see.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Books That Need To Be Reread

So I'm reading this book on samurai legends. It's full of stories of, funnily enough, samurai throughout the ages. They're taken from the original sources and translated, because amazingly I cannot read nor understand ancient Japanese script.

I've just reached a section taken from The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, something that I've already read at least five times by my count. So, am I going to skip this section? Well, the title of this post gives a hint on that. Of course not!

The Book of Five Rings is a classic, especially for anyone interested in the Eastern sword arts, which I am. (I have mentioned that I'm currently studying kendo and have studied Ono Ha Itto-Ryu in the past, haven't I?) Rereading it every few years is a good idea. It refreshes the text's information in my mind, and since I keep changing as I age, I may find a new truth in it. The same goes for The Art of War by Sun Tzu, another text I've been known to reread.

Now before you go thinking that ancient Asian military texts are the only thing I reread, I do the same with plenty of fiction as well. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card gets reread every few years, same with most of the Honnor Harrington series by David Weber, mostly because it helps me remember where the thread of the story's going and because they're just damn fun books. I used to reread the Wheel of Time books, until they reached a point I felt they were never going to end before Robert Jordan died. Unfortunately he did pass before finishing them, but I have been hearing good things about what Brandon Sanderson is doing to finish the series, so once it's all done I think I'll read them all, from start to finish, just to say I have.

So I hand this off to you, those who are reading my words. What books/series to you reread every few years, and why?

Monday, June 6, 2011

So When Do Things Slow Down?

I thought summertime was when life's pace was supposed to ease back a bit, you know, the lazy, hazy days of summer?

It's just been non-stop for me the last little bit. In addition to my regular kendo sessions we went up to Milton to practice with Sensei Morgan and his group. Wonderful bunch of guys, and it's always good for your practice to face people with a different style than what you're used to. The invitation has been given for them to come down in August for a practice/barbeque.

Other than this, my father's now retired and my parents are having a place up around Belleville built to their specifications. They've already sold their house and are getting set to move, and who knows what chores they're going to need my help with in that.

I've finally gotten around to admitting I need more storage space for my every growing collection of books, so last Sunday my dad and I ended up making a trip to Ikea to purchase a bookcase, and then we took out my dad's boat for it's maiden voyage. Must be nice to have such a surplus of time.

Hopefully I'll get a chance to set up the bookcase sometime this week. It may be tricky. Aside from my regular kendo practice, I'm going to Staff Day up in Toronto this week, which is always an interesting experience, but it means leaving at 6AM and not getting back to 6PM. Definitely a full day.

Add on top of this I've joined in order to get some critiques of my writing. My first submission has received feedback, and I'm pleasantly surprised. A lot of the things I thought would be issues aren't, and a host of great new ideas about that story have been generated by what people have been telling me. One person did say that with a little work I have a salable story, so hey, I'm on the right track. It's a little bit overwhelming. Add on top of that, despite how busy I've been with other things, I'm still writing and working on a new story. I want to finish the first draft of that before I go back and start revising anything else.

All in all, crazy, crazy, crazy.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Dork Review: At The Queen's Command

It's been awhile since I've reviewed a book by a "major author", since most of the fiction I've been reading lately has either been small press stuff or older books that have been around long enough that a review won't help or hurt them. So without further ado, on to my normal blathering.

At The Queen's Command is the first book of the Crown Colonies series by Michael A. Stackpole, who is a New York Times Bestselling Author as the cover of the book is so proud to tell us. And well it should be. Getting onto that list is damn difficult, and any author would be more than pleased to get there. Heck, there are probably authors out there willing to sell a kidney to get on that list. (Not me. I like having both kidneys.)

I enjoyed the book. It was well written, with engaging characters and moved along at just the right pace. To give you an idea of the setting, imagine a world where the French Revolution predates the American Revolution. The war is set to spill over into the colonies and our man Captain Owen Strake of the Queen's Own Wurms is sent across the Pond to scout out the enemy and make a report. Of course, the nations involved are not France and England but their fantasy stand-ins. Still, if you know anything of early colonial history you'll find the inversion rather amusing, especially since it was Royalist France that aided America in revolting against the British. But enough jabbering about history.

From that simple opening the book goes on to plunge Owen into the woods, led by a trapper and his native guide/blood brother. There's love, betrayal, torture, zombies (yes, zombies. I know), magic, dragons, and a, well let me just call it a transformative ending. The colonies practically seethe with unrest, most of the "noble" characters are anything but, and the main antagonist is a complete monster, and dapper dresser. All in all, a good yarn.

The only thing about the book I really have an issue with is the way the firearms work. In order to shoot the characters need to channel magic through a firestone then touch that to brimstone powder to set it off. Very similar to the way historic muskets worked but with magic replacing physics/chemistry. Shouldn't be that odd right. The problem is, it's established early on that magic, for the longest time, was considered lower class and subsequently prosecuted/looked down upon. It wasn't until firearms came about that required magic in order to fire, that the upper class nobles suddenly found that they too could had traces of magic talent. My brain just rebels at the idea of magic being the only way to use firearms. I mean, if magic was held in low esteem, why would anyone research a way to use it to make firearms? Who in the lower classes would have the time, and who in the upper classes would fund it?

Add in the fact that each use of a firearm results in blood pooling in the arm used to trigger the firestone, meaning each trooper can only fire five or six shots at most before they're tapped out. What sane military would build a force around troops that can only fire six times at most before needing a break?

I did enjoy the book and plan to pick up the next one in the series. My issues with the firearms aside, it was a ripping adventure tale set in the fantasy equivalent of the New World. Originally I picked it up because I had an idea for a series very similar to this, set in a fantasy world at the Napoleonic level of technology, so seeing what other authors are doing will help me to avoid some of the pitfalls in creating such a world, and make my creation unique enough to stand out amongst the crowd.

Who knows, maybe I'll end up on the New York Times Best Sellers list someday. (I'm hopeful but not holding my breath.)