Saturday, March 24, 2012

Looks Like I Have An Open Summer This Year

Well, I've received a response to my applications to Clarion and Clarion West and it's both bad and good. The bad part is I didn't get in. I'm not going to lie, this is a disappointment. I really wanted to go to one of these. Either one would have been a blast and a huge learning experience, with Clarion West having a slight edge as it was cheaper and had George R. R. Martin teaching this year.

Now for the good part. The response from Clarion West included the words "our readers ranked your work among the upper tier of this year's applications". Again, not going to lie, that's a huge ego boost/bit of validation for me. These workshops receive hundreds, if not thousands of applications each year. You have to be near publication ready or already published to get in, and even though I didn't both workshops encouraged me to try again next year. If I'm in the top tier this year, as long as I keep working and growing I know my chances will improve dramatically for next summer.

So where does this leave me. Well, I now have to figure out what to do with three weeks of vacation time since I'll loose it at the end of the year if I don't take it off. (I'd saved all of my vacation time from last year and carried it over into this one so I'd have the six weeks needed for either workshop.) This means I can go to all days of World Fantasy, even the Thursday I originally thought I may have to miss. I can take the days off before and after Ad Astra, so I don't have to rush into Toronto after work and have a day to recover afterwards. I'll be around for the War of 1812 ceremonies at Fort Erie. And who knows, I may find some time to make a trip up to Ottawa in June to see a storyteller friend perform.

The most important thing I need to do is work on my writing. I may not have gotten into either Clarion but that doesn't mean I won't have opportunities this year to get feedback or get published. I want to have a novel draft I can be proud of and an elevator pitch ready for World Fantasy this year as Toronto will be crawling with editors and agents and I'd be crazy to not have something ready.

So while not getting into Clarion sucks it is far from the end of the world and isn't going to cause me to stumble on my path to getting published.

The Dork Review: The Hunger Games

Let me start this off by saying I haven't read the books and prior to this movie I had no strong desire to. This review will focus only on the movie itself, as I sure reviews of the books are available all over the place.

First impression? I liked it. It plays upon the strength of its Young Adult fiction roots and presents a straightforward story drawing upon universal themes. It's also something adults would enjoy, as my friends and I, who all love classic sci-fi, can see bits of films from the sixties and seventies reborn but not rehashed in this film.

The greatest strength of this film is Katniss. Jennifer Lawrence does a great job in the role, making the character both strong and intelligent while remaining vulnerable and feminine. This isn't a girl with the characteristics of a man; this is a girl who's strong on her own terms. And even better, unlike Kristen Steward, Lawrence has more than one facial expression!

(Kristen Stewart is the only reason I may not go and see Snow White and The Huntsman. The rest of the cast in that movie looks good.)

We need more characters like Katniss in popular films and books, especially after Bella Swan from Twilight, or as I like to call it Abusive Relationships 101. Strong female characters are something creators shouldn't shy away from thinking that girls won't relate to them. They will, and grow stronger because of it.

The only thing about this movie that annoyed me was how shaky the camera was at times, sometimes feeling needlessly so and especially early in the film. The problem with it was that it pulled my out of the story at those moments, something I hate to have happen.

Finally, parents should be careful when taking younger children to this. There is, to put it mildly, a great deal of violence and most of it is directed towards young people. The "Tributes" taken to the Hunger Games in the film are between twelve and eighteen, and yes, the younger ones die brutally. (But then, death is always brutal, isn't it?) Parents will need to judge how ready their kids are to view this. I'd recommend letting them see it a little bit younger than most parents would, but I believe kids shouldn't be hidden away from all the nasty things in this world as it stunts their emotional growth. Still, I wouldn't take a five year-old to see this.

If you're staying away from this movie because you've heard it's just like Twilight, all I can say is don't. This is something newer sci-fi fans can enjoy while older fans can compare it to classic films of yesteryear. I hope you get a chance to check it out.

Oh, and the best thing is this wasn't in 3D.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Dork Review: John Carter

If you've been craving a rollicking sci-fi adventure flick in the vein of the original Star Wars, go see John Carter. My friends and I just finished watching it, and only one thing need be said:

It was fun.

This was the movie The Three Musketeers tried to be and failed miserably at. John Carter draws from its source material, the Barsoom books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and gives us a world on the brink of collapse with warring factions, princesses, four-armed barbarians, and weird yet loveable dog-like creatures.

Don't go into this flick expecting a serious drama or over the top comedy. There are humorous moments, but they are tied very well into the action and flow from who the characters naturally are. The dialogue is what you would expect from something based on pulp adventure stories, but in this movie it works.

 The best part of the movie for me was the princess. Aside from being gorgeous (which is kind of expected by default in this type of film) she wasn't just a damsel in distress. She knew how to use a sword and showed that onscreen. It's also mentioned that she's a scientist, or at least a scholar. So to sum up, we have a woman who's smart, fierce, talented, beautiful, and can be all of these things combined at the same time that she's a princess. She just doesn't stand around waiting for someone to save her and doesn't cower in the corner when the fighting starts. Excellent!

The only thing that stood out for me as a negative was I found Taylor Kitsch delivery a bit wooden. It works in this film as John Carter is a damaged veteran who doesn't like people much, so the woodenness could be explained by the fact he spends a great deal of time isolated from others before the beginning of this story. As I said, it's something I noticed and doesn't really detract from the enjoyment of this film.

I hope John Carter does well enough that more movies like it have a chance to get made. If you get a chance, go and see it.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Inaugural Friends Of The Merrill Collection Contest: When Losing Is Also Winning

My short story, The Weight of Duty, did not make the short list for the Friends Of The Merrill Collection short story contest in the contest's first year. That sucks, but hey, I'm used to it. Who knows how many stories I'm going to need to write before I get published/win a contest. It may never happen, but it for sure won't happen if I stop trying.

However, the subtitle of this post is all about how losing can sometimes be winning. Now, I'm not going to lie, winning would have been sweet. Heck, even getting on the short list would have been a blast. But I got something out of this contest I needed even more than winning. I got something so precious to an aspiring/newbie writer that they'll pay money, take time of work, and travel across the country to get it.
I got..... FEEDBACK!

Okay, for the non-writers in the crowd let me explain. When just starting out, it can be really, really hard for someone who wants to be a writer/author to get useful feedback. Having friends and family read your work is great and all, but unless they are professional writers or editors they can only help you so far and it's likely they'll say your work is great because they don't want to lose you as a friend or make the next family gathering awkward. Friends and family can be great for boosting your self-esteem (yes I know this isn't always the case, but try and think positive) but they either can't know or won't tell you when what your writing sucks and what you can do to improve it.

So what other choices does an aspiring author have to get feedback? Well, I use a lot, and it can be hit or miss. Sometimes I'll get a really insightful critique that helps me grow as a writer, sometimes I'll get someone who just doesn't like what I'm writing and will tell me in no uncertain terms. I do my best to filter the responses, but it can be hard and those insightful critiques can be few and far between. I've had at least one person tell me they had a horrible time with Critters and felt like they were under constant attack, so the usefulness of the site obviously varies.

Writers' Groups are another avenue, but they can be difficult to find depend upon where you are geographically. Since I'm based in the Niagara Region there isn't a lot of groups available around me, and none dedicated to science fiction/fantasy that I know of. If I lived in Toronto or Ottawa it might be a different story, but the day job determines where I live right now, and I don't want to move to Toronto unless I'm going to be making a fair deal more money. Where I live right now with the money I have coming in I'm rather comfortable. If I moved to Toronto the budget would be stretched a whole lot thinner.

Aside from location, writers' groups can be hit or miss as well, much like working with Critters. I'd need to find the right group for me, comprised of people interested in the type of fiction I want to write and well read in it so they can provide useful feedback. Also, the group would need to be at about the same skill level, with maybe a few people a bit ahead that could help pull us all forward and few a bit behind that could use the pulling. So, writers' group, difficult to get to say the least.

All of the above it what makes getting feedback from the editor for the Merrill Collection short story contest such gold. It wasn't sugar-coated; I got the bare truth exactly as I needed it. The story I submitted will be all the stronger after I go back and revise based upon what I was given, as what I was given was much better than what I got for the same story when I submitted it to Critters. The Merrill editor must have laser-beam eyes, as he targeted and zapped the flaws in my story, carved them out and plopped them on a plate for me to see. Now I can fix the story.

There was another good thing that came out of not winning, and this was because of something I did. Now, when I got the rejection letter I could have done a few things. I could have ignored it, said what the heck does that guy know, and moved on. I could have ranted and swore and sent out a nasty email in response and started a verbal attack on Twitter. What I chose to do - well there really wasn't a choice as I would have done this no matter what - was send a polite and positive email thanking the editor for the feedback and saying I would try and submit something even better for next year's contest, and I followed this up with another message on Twitter saying thank-you.

So why did I do this? Well, first off it's just common human decency. The editor may get a slew of angry responses (though I hope he doesn't) from people who got rejected. Unfortunately not everyone that's legally an adult knows how to act like one. My sending a positive and I hope friendly response proves that I can act like an adult, that I can take constructive criticism gracefully, and that I can be worked with without a huge amount of drama. It may not sound like much right now, but having a reputation as pleasant and agreeable/easy to get along with will help me in the future. Now, I may never ever see this editor or work with him in the future, but the science fiction/fantasy publishing world is small enough that if I get known or being difficult then I could close a lot of doors by being a jerk, whereas if I get a reputation as being easy to work with then editors/agents/publishers will be more inclined to give me and my work a chance.

Aside from the practical aspect of being nice, it's just in may nature to be that way. I mean, heck, the editor was just doing his job and he did me a favor. The rejection notice could just have been a single line saying "Your story didn't make it". Instead, I got great feedback that will help me grow as a writer, and that really is the golden nugget out of all of this, someone went out of their way to help me so the least I could do was say thank-you.

Now I just need to make my story for next year rock so that it makes the short list or wins the whole shebang.