Monday, July 24, 2017

Despite All My Rage

I have an anger problem. If you've spent any time with me outside of the digital world, you know this already. Maybe you don't. But I do and I was thinking about this a lot this week. But to tell you this story, I have to tell you a story first.

The other day I was driving around doing errands. I canceled my satellite radio recently and I am stuck with local radio again. So as I'm scanning the channels, I find myself completely alarmed at the number of Inspirational music channels there are in the Syracuse area. Seriously. Something you need to know about me is that I have an almost perverse, obsessive, intense disdain for the music. So this means that I actively listen to it just to be angry at it. This is a sickness.

Now I'm not going to go into my own issues with faith and religion. If you didn't know, I am a practicing Catholic. But I have questions and issues with the Church that I'm going to leave between me, the Church and the Almighty, So I have a hard time in believing that someone believes in something that much that they sing about it. It's unreasonable for me to feel this way. It could come to my own issues with faith, it could come from the hypocrisy I see in Christianity as a whole, I'm not quite sure. If someone believes in something and it makes them feel good, good for them. But it seems that I draw the line at Inspirational music. I find it false, sappy and disingenuous. Are people in such a need to be told they are special and they are loved that they find solace in this garbage? And I am (probably wrongfully) judging you for listening to it.

So I'm hate listening to one of the numerous stations broadcasting this crap and flipping between the station (that I do not remember) and KROCK Syracuse (one of two "modern" rock stations in town, though modern rock now is more like classic rock when I was a kid...but this is a discussion for another post). On the inspirational channel was a song called "Live Like You Are Loved." That I remember the song bothers me so much. It's sung by a group called Hawk Nelson. No, seriously. That's their name. I was relieved when I found out it was a band not a single singer. According to Wikipedia (dubious, I know) they are a "pop punk" band. I'm sorry, excuse me while I pee my pants laughing. They were nominated in the Alternative Rock category for some Christian music award show. Oops, sorry I peed my pants.

There is NOTHING "alternative" about these guys. Anyway, back to my story....KROCK on the other hand was playing "The Vengeful One" by Disturbed. I was obviously drawn to this. Then I began to question why. What was it about the Disturbed song that drew me where the Hawk Nel....I almost made it through that without laughing....son song didn't. What about one made sense to me and the other didn't? I'm not a dark guy. I'm not drawn to darkness. But if you listen to Disturbed there is a rage there...and I can relate to that. I can access rage and work with it. I feel it almost constantly, just under the surface of my being, like a coiled spring. And sometimes I let it get the better of me. And when it's over, I feel small and empty. Until it builds back up in me. It's one of the reasons the Hulk has always been one of my favorite superheroes. And people that know me a little can see it in me I think. It's probably the reason that I hate listen to inspirational music. I need something to focus my rage on and it's as good a place as any.

I don't have an ending for this. Some wise comment, some connection to my writing. I think if I wrote angry it would be very Overlook Hotel-ish, but I've discussed how writing makes me feel when I'm doing it. So know that if you see me, much like the Hulk, I am always angry.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

About The Ed Sheeran Thing

If you're living under a rock somewhere and didn't realize it, Sunday night was the season premier of Game of Thrones. Now I could do an entire episode rundown discussing how I thought it was damn near perfect. I could talk about that great opening (which despite being completely telegraphed was awesome), Cersei's descent into insanity, the Euron/Jaime snark fight, Jon/Sansa, Lyanna Mormont (do we not all love her?) or the gorgeous shots of the castles and keeps of Westeros. But I'm not going to do that

I love a good table setting and seeing the pieces being moved into place. This episode did that just brilliantly. My former agent used to say the opening chapter of the "next" book always should have some summary to catch the reader up. Well D&D did that perfectly, giving us tastes of what was going to happen. There were some great moments in the episode, including a few that I seemed to like more than a lot of people on the interwebs. No, I'm not going to talk about Sam's shit duty (see what I did there), though technically it was a brilliant piece of technical film making. I'm talking about a certain cameo.

The interwebs went crazy at the inclusion of pop/rock star Ed Sheeran. People really seem to hate Ed. I don't. I kind of dig his music. I've reached that age where I'm kind of stuck in the loop of the same music over and over and Ed kind of fits in there. And the producers put him in what I thought was a great scene, one that did so much (besides featuring him singing) to make Arya's murder tour that much more difficult as we met what appeared to be a decent bunch of Lannister soldiers sharing a meal and offering Arya a seat and the first bite. You can see the doubt in Arya that the ideas of good and evil aren't do simple. But people didn't seem to notice that. They noticed poor Ed Sheeran. I guess that the heat got so bad, he had to delete his Twitter account.

I don't understand the hate for this. If you don't like his music or whatever, then good for you. But to hate him for doing a cameo on your favorite show then you are a petty, jealous little troll. I'm serious. We all wish that we had that level of fame where we could appear on our favorite shows or movies. Who cares that he did this? I've also heard that Mets pitcher Noah "Thor" Syndergaard  put in a cameo this season as well. How is this a big deal when it's been going on forever?

Star Trek has done celebrity cameos for years and years. And I'm not talking about guest stars...I'm talking background cameos. Freaking Iggy Pop, one of the coolest humans of all time, got put in make up to play a Vorta on DS9. (Okay, maybe that was an extended cameo, but you get my meaning.) There are whole websites dedicated to famous cameos in Star Trek shows and movies (not to mention the "before they were famous" appearances). Star Wars has done the same thing. There was a similar outcry when there was a rumor that George Lucas put N*Sync in Star Wars and even then I felt it was much ado about nothing. There have been senators in Batman movies, athletes in comedies (and tons of scifi) and even royalty playing starship crewmen.

We've become a society that does nothing but hate. We take our personal bitterness, anger and jealousy and blast it out into the ether. We aren't allowed to love the things we love anymore, just defend them. We want to tell people that they aren't allowed to love what we love because they aren't "real" fans. And I'm growing tired of it.

So, Ed Sheeran, if you read this. Welcome to the fandom. I'd suggest checking out Ran's board, creating an account and joining the conversation, we'd love to hear your insights, even if you're just a TV watcher. And if you'll indulge me...was the Lannister armor as uncomfortable as it looked? Thanks.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Thoughts On Harry Potter, Part 2: The Sorcerer's Stone

Man, I forgot how great a book that The Sorcerer's Stone was. Every choice that Rowling makes is the right one, even the one at the beginning I disagree with. She's truly a master and I can't figure out what the editors that passed on it were thinking. I'm sure many of them are thinking the same thing. 

The first book was a study in economy. Both of words and plot points. Rowling doesn't waste a single thing. They all serve some purpose to the story and she doesn't waste them. She includes the things that are important to the story and doesn't belabor it. It's refreshing that every minute detail isn't described in every minute detail. We don't need to see example after example of how Snape hates Harry, she establishes it, revisits it only when it's absolutely necessary. It's really brilliant. 

The book is filled with terrific whimsy too and moments that just reverberate when they happen, especially on the reread. When Harry, Ron and Hermione become the Harry, Ron and Hermione we all know and love, it's magical. (It's always three isn't it?) Neville is so much more special than I remember him and feel there's a terrific sidestory there. I had forgotten about the fight they get into with Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle during the Quidditch match (that wasn't in the movie). It's a pivotal moment, because Ron wades in because Ron is Ron, but terminal coward Neville adopts an "ahh, f-it" attitude and charges into battle. No questions. No prodding. Just a straight up "these are my boys." It's terrific foreshadowing of the hero Neville becomes. 

We get more of the world and it's wonderful, but you can tell there's a curtain to pull back and that's just what makes it so special. Rowling's tone is terrific and it still feels appropriately middle reader, but the books grew up with the readers and I'm looking forward to see how the tone changes as Rowling recognizes her audience. 

Now, on to The Chamber of Secrets.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Thoughts On Harry Potter, Part 1

Well, this whole blogging every day had fizzled for a bit but I am still writing. Not exactly the pace I want, but I've been expending a lot of energy on summer school. I'm disappointed in myself, but here I go dipping my toe back into the blogging water.

I began my reread of Harry Potter yesterday obviously starting with Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone. I forgot how genuinely genius these books were and Rowling's mastery. I had the book on my nightstand for a few weeks and I picked it up just to peruse the opening, then I looked up and it was 20 minutes later, so I had to force myself to put it aside, I had to bring my daughter to lacrosse practice. It's really amazing and draws you right in. You are transported to that alternate 1991. I'm about a third of the way through and love being fully immersed in the world for the first time in many, many years.

Rowling is a master worldbuilder and probably doesn't get the credit in the fantasy lit world for being so. Her magical world is just so well thought out. And she doles it out in nice bite sized portions for us to learn about without it being overbearing. The interesting part is that, as I remember them, the early books are very middle reader and as they go on they become very young adult then transfigures into something that borders on epic fantasy. And all along, she follows the rules she establishes early on with just the right amount of wiggle room where it doesn't matter.

Anyway, there's something I do want to address that was pointed out a few weeks back in a Twitter discussion I was having with Brianna Shrum. She had postulated that Dumbledore was a selfish dick for what he did. At first when she put this out on social media, I argued against it. But as I'm rereading it now, I kind of agree with her.

Dumbledore dropped Harry with his only blood relatives. Relatives that aren't wizards. I know that's what Campbell says is supposed to happen and it's handwaved away by Dumbledore with some excuse of him being raised an ego maniac or something to that effect. The only reason he would choose to do this was so that he could show up and be the big hero to Harry and therefore the world since Harry is literally a living weapon since he is the only thing that was able to stop Voldemort, a Voldemort that was banished (or something) but not gone. How Dumbledore, a schoolmaster, managed to smuggle away the only weapon they had against the Dark Lord for some ego trip is quite fascinating on some level.

Now the story teller in me instantly started assembling the story of the time period. The war is over thanks to an improbable victory that no one witnessed. They've figured out that Harry is the key, yet somehow Dumbledore talks the governing body to hide him with Muggles that have no hope of protecting him. There were other options. Lots of wizards and witches died in the war, there had to be lots of orphans, it would be easy to move him to another family as an orphan. who could abuse him not knowing who he is and you'd still be able to tell the story. (Already my brain is working out the story of a "working class wizard" or something like that.) Or a young, trusted, lesser branch of a powerful wizarding family could've spirited him away far from the wizarding world and raised him as a wizardHagrid. Yes, you'd lose some of the wonder of Harry discovering he's a wizard, but Rowling's talented enough that she could work around that. Or you could ship him off to America with an "uncle." There were options that Dumbledore ignored...cause he was kind of a dick.

A story I want to see/write myself: the post wizards war world. The wizarding world is in tatters. A generation of wizards and witches lost. Shattered families reunite Death Eaters with their Ministry siblings. The Ministry tries to reassemble the world that was destroyed while the specter of the Dark Lord skulks in the shadows of everyone's fragile minds, all while one of the most famous wizards in the world secretly spirits away the only reason the war is over: a living weapon swaddled in a baby's blanket.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Working Out/ Writing Correlation

I'm obese. A little over five years ago I had weight loss surgery and went from around 360 pounds down to about 275 pounds. I've ballooned up, but I'm still nowhere near as big as I was. I'm working on it and I've lost about 20 of the 30ish I've gained back since, but I still don't feel as good as I did, so I'm making changes and they are going well. I've always wanted to be strong. Like unreasonably strong. It's a character motif in my writing because it's something I'm impressed with, so I've been following a strength training program called StrongLifts and I'm signing up for a beginner strongman class at the end of this month, I'll update the progress as I make it. I've been doing great so far. Almost all my lifts have doubled and I'm very happy with it. As I've been doing this, I've noticed there is a correlation between the two. Let me explain.

It is in my nature to be lazy. Lazy and scatterbrained. Great combination for a writer and a teacher, right? This is why I have four tabs open in Chrome and five documents open in MS Word. My wife is out grocery shopping, my daughter is with her cousins and my son is enraptured by people opening and playing with toys on YouTube. So I have some work time. My notebook open to the page where I've scribbled some plans for the first three days of summer school, an open bottle of Snapple Diet Peach Tea and two printed out Summer School calendars for planning. And I'm kind of happy. At least I'm writing.

Finding excuses not to write is an easier activity than writing. And I noticed the same is true with working out. It's often easier to say, "Oh, I have to do THIS" instead and skip a workout. However, I don't feel better about it. I actually feel better when I decide to workout. And I've noticed the same thing about writing. I feel better when or as I'm doing it than I would otherwise. There's a GAME OF THRONES marathon on HBO right now. Cooper is uninterested in the TV and I could sit down at watch it. Or try to write while it's on...but we all know how that's going to go. I mean WINTER IS COMING and all. (And that makes me think of my epic fantasy project WINTER'S DISCORD and I don't want to be sad, so I'm moving along.)

Maybe that's the lesson I need to learn. I'm happier and in a healthier state of mind when I'm working. They'll be time enough to lay about and do mindless things. You need mindless things sometimes, right now isn't one of those times for me right now. Right now, I've got to write like I'm running out of time.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Running Out Of Time: Plans for July

If you follow me in any capacity, you know my unhealthy obsession with HAMILTON. One of my favorite quotes from the musical is from the song "Non-Stop" when Aaron Burr asks in an aside "Write day and night like you're running out of time?" It's become a mantra to me because it's hard to feel like I'm running out of time as a writer. So, I've decided I'm going to work doubly...no triply hard to write more than I usually can in the month of July. It's not going to be easy, but I think I can do it if I set my mind to it. So, as Ben Franklin used to say (who as I'm reading more and more about the founding fathers was kind of a dick), "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." So, I'm thinking about what I have to do. I usually write this in my notebook and leave it at that, but one of the things I'm setting out to do is try and blog every day. (I'm taking requests!) So here goes.

First, what am I working on? Well, here's a list of things I'm working on/ thinking about working on:

  1. Writing THE GIRL IN THE PICTURE. Okay, let me talk about this. I have no idea what this project is. I can't exactly describe it but I'm completely in love with the project and it's drawn me in. It's unlike anything I've ever written before. And I think it's pretty decent. It's based on a story in the news a few months back that drew me right in and I just started writing the story on the last day of May. It's a possibly supernatural thriller, though I go back and forth about actually doing that. As of now, it's got supernatural elements in it, but I'm not married to it and some of my closest advisers are suggesting I keep it supernatural, so we'll see. I'm about 34k in (no, seriously) and I'm making a run at finishing it by the end of the month.
  2. Blog every day.
  3. Planning the next original fiction project: a GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY flavored epic fantasy. I've got some notes on it along with some ideas about the world and plot, but it's early. We'll see. I don't know what it's going to be, audience wise, but we'll see.
  4. THE STORY OF AN UNNAMED APOCALYPSE. I came up with this nutty idea for an Instagram account in the same vein as the Bladerunner Reality account. I want to take pictures of things I see in public, interesting Internet pictures or pictures that people send me of images that could be seen as post-apocalyptic in nature with a 250-300 word excerpt from a post-apocalyptic novel I'll probably never write. 
Now, factor in the fact that I have summer school this year starting on July 5th from 8-12 every morning, I think doing this is plausible. So, what's my plan?
  1. GIRL: One of the weirder parts of this book is that I'm pantsing it for the most part, though I've been planning more and more now that I'm further in. As I see it, based on an exercise I did using a writing book I was reading, it's going to be anywhere from 75-85k words, meaning I have about 40-50k to write, meaning I'd have to do a NANO. Very doable considering my schedule. 
  2. Blog every day: I can manage that, though I'm looking for things my audience wants me to talk about. 
  3. GOTG Fantasy: Plan for an hour or so once a week in my notebook. 
  4. Instagram Fiction: 2-3 entries a week. 
  5. Plan WEEKLY for school. Take one day a week and plan out everything I'm doing with my students so I can maximize writing time. 
  6. WAKE UP EARLIER: Ugh, I'm dreading this one, but I need to maximize my writing time. 
I can do this. I just have to write day and night like I'm running out of time.

Wish me luck. (And if you see me in public with a notebook in hand or headphones on and I don't say hi, please understand this is why.)

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Half Year Review

Instead of a monthly recap, I decided to do a check in half way through the year. So, here's the what I've been up to in 2017 thus far.

READING
I've killed it in the reading department in 2017. Taking Lent off from social media helped, but I've crushed reading in 2017 and I intend to continue that trend. I've read 84 books so far this year. That's more than I've read in any year in my life. Seriously. And I'm reading more pages per book than I have in years past. Here's the breakdown of what I've read this year so far:

  • 40 graphic novel collections
  • 28 novels
  • 8 writing books
  • 3 nonfiction books
  • 3 movie/tv show art books
  • 2 memoirs/autobiographies/biographies
Sure, you could look at it that I've padded my numbers with graphic novel collections but I do enjoy them. I'm hoping to finish out the year with 120 books. I'm hoping to delve into some of my epic fantasies I've wanted to "study" do a while and I've got a drawer full of potential books. I still want to make a run at finishing WHEEL OF TIME. I want to dip my toe into some Rothfuss and maybe give Tad Williams a run. But I've got about seven books I want to finish first, between ARCs and library books. Now, what you're more interested in. What are the best books I've read so far in 2017 and why. So, here we go:

  • ROYAL BASTARDS by Andrew Shvarts: A great example of what a good YA fantasy is and helped see some of the mistakes I made in some of my attempts. 
  • THE DUKE OF BANNERMAN PREP by Katie Nelson: A terrific retelling of Gatsby without being just a retelling of Gatsby. 
  • THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN MUSICAL by Jack Viertel: An interesting look at the structure of a musical and how to use that as a writing model. 
  • THE IMPOSSIBLE FORTRESS by Jason Rekulak: A nostalgic look back at a time when "pornography" came wrapped in cellophane not accessible to anyone with a phone.
  • THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE by Patrick Ness: Not from 2017, but a near perfect execution of a perfect premise: what happens in the "Chosen One" stories when the characters aren't the chosen one? 
  • WHITE TRASH by Nancy Isenberg: The entire last election cycle explained. 
  • LUSTLOCKED by Matt Wallace: The wedding of the year goes awry and only a magical catering company can stop it. 
  • MYSTIC RIVER by Dennis Lehane: Another older book that is just a master class in novel writing. 
Honorable mentions: SEARCHING FOR JOHN HUGHES, RETURN OF THE JEDI: BEWARE THE POWER OF THE DARK SIDE, THE SCORPIO RACES, THE STORYTELLER.

Disappointments: THE INDIGO KING, THE OTHER NORMALS, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK: SO YOU WANT TO BE A JEDI?

It's been a good year of reading so far. 

WRITING

I've had a decent year writing. Looking at my goals, I scrapped almost all of my writing plans. I hit a wall, unable to decide on a project. I think I became disenchanted with fantasy because I was failing so miserably at finding something that was noteworthy. I think what I wrote was good, but I don't know if it was outstanding. Or at least that it stood out. I set out to write around 350k words for the year. So what have I written so far?

  • Finished first draft of THE PENSIONER'S BROOCH (34k)
  • Finished a requested rewrite of WINTER'S DISCORD (135k)
  • Working on first draft of THE GIRL IN THE PICTURE (34k)
So that puts me at about 203k for the year. Well on pace. Just have to keep it up. I'm really excited about the new project and I'm hoping to finish it before the end of July. I'm intending to work on some planning for the next project after that as well during the month. So, I'm happy in that regard. 

I've gotten some requests from agents to look at some of my work, including a project that I didn't think would get the traction that it's getting but it is. We'll see how that plays out. 

OTHER

School is over, so that's good.

Summer school starts in a week, so that's meh. But there's still time to write.

Still recovering from the fire, which I'll talk about at some point but not now. I'll have time to write, which is good, but I'll have other things to do.

I'm working out again, getting stronger. I'm signing up for a strongman class. I've lamented I don't have a hobby...I'm hoping I can make this my hobby. 

I'm planning on trying to really step up all my writing in the coming months. I'm going to give a run at blogging every day. I'll talk more about it on July 1. 

Alright. Let's roll.