Thursday, November 19, 2015

Sour Grapes?

Students have a half day of instruction today, meaning only about a third show up and it's a scheduled "work" day for my classes anyway (they are writing), so I fell down the rabbit hole of Goodreads and found my already high levels of frustration growing ever so slightly, so this may be a short rant.

I'm sure that what I'm about to post can easily be translated as sour grapes, but I hope not. It's just me wondering out loud.

When I first conceptualized the book that became WINTER'S DISCORD, I wanted it to be a YA GAME OF THRONES(properly titled A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE because this was pre-HBO show) and it was partially inspired by the great THE TOUGH GUIDE TO FANTASY LAND. (A book that is buried in a tote somewhere and I feel like I have to find again.) I've chronicled how I started it...much like the aforementioned A GAME OF THRONES (book, not TV show), the first scene popped in my head the same way it did for GRRM. It's very different now than it was then, but the concepts were the same. Ben was Toby. Jeremy was always Jeremy and Jess was known as Cat in that draft. The Princess's name was Isabella not Luciana. And I didn't have any idea where to go from that first scene. When I finally did, I looked at all the things I liked about THRONES and tried to loosely duplicate them, throwing in elements and tropes from Tamora Pierce's ALANNA series along with callbacks to the ever present DRAGONLANCE. This was 2006ish. I finished a full first draft some time in late 2007 and prepped it for it's first round of submissions in 2008, around the time my daughter was born. So I've been at this for a while. And this is the root of my frustration with the whole "YA GAME OF THRONES" thing.

Since the explosion of the show, it feels like every epically flavored YA fantasy that comes out has the lable of "YA GAME OF THRONES" slapped on it and when I read them, I find that few of them are anything like the books (and show) that I love. There was one, that I won't mention by name here, that pushed the "YA GAME OF THRONES" thing big time, so I was excited and read it. It was crap. It read like someone just read the Wikipedia entry on GAME OF THRONES, saw incest, used that as a major plot device only to undo it later while using every terrible, cliched YA writing trope  along the way. I often joke about the COVER ALL YA fantasy/dystopia bingo game in a lot of these books and this book had it. In droves.

To be fair, there have been many books that are worthy of that title. Cinda Williams Chima's SEVEN REALMS (we call that allusion in the literature business), Marie Rutkoski's WINNER series (I have to get book two), Tamora Pierce's ALANNA (even though that predates THRONES by decades), Abercrombie's SHATTERED SEAS (though that seems to get shelved with mostly adult fantasy), Jennifer Nielsen ASCENDANCE trilogy (though I thought that would've been better with some 3rd person POV in it) and Sarah J. Maas's THRONE OF GLASS series all come to mind.

Has this become a flooded market? Has the YA GAME OF THRONES become the vampires of today?

I hope not.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

That In-Between Feeling

Feels like it's been a while, as if I extended my social network embargo into my blogging space all the way to November. I assure you that this was not intentional, it just worked out that way.

I'm in the process of painstakingly guiding my seniors through a real, honest-to-goodness, upper level literary analysis right now, so that it takng monumental amounts of energy that may or may not be wasted considering I'm probably doing more work on it than they are, but this is the life I chose and when I started this blog I swore that I would not muddle it up with me whining about my job, so that's all I've got to say about that.

This fall has been all about SCION and cleaning that project up so we can get it out into the world. I came up with some new twists and focus to make SCION a very different book (and series for that matter) than I originally intended. I wound up playing with some tropes and in turn making the world much bigger than I think I wanted to. As I've stated before, much less adventure-y and vastly more epic. It's also the first book that is being positioned as stand alone, though that was always my tought about the series: readers would be able to access the series in any of the books and then back track if needed. We'll see if that philosophy works.

The problem with this is I'm experiencing a severe post-project hangover. I kind of don't want to write right now. This is a horrible thing for a writer and English teacher to say, but I'm just kind of tired tight now and it has me thinking about why I'm feeling that way. I have some thoughts.

First, I haven't realy written anything new in a long time. I've been doing a ton of rewrites and revisions, so I have to wonder if I'm feeling a little stagnant. Another thing that's bouncing around is self-doubt. This is a fairly recent phenomenon and one I'm not usually succeptable to. I'm questioning myself a lot lately and I don't like it one bit. Then there's the question of what's next and that's what's really got me messed up. I just don't know which direction to go. It's not for a lack of ideas, it's just I'm in that weird place where I'm questioning if a project is worth it based solely on the question, "Is this going to sell?" That's not a good look. Then maybe I'm just fatigued, but even that feels like a lame excuse.

So, I'm trying to slump bust a little. I've been working on a short story or two and a novelette, but I can't get traction on either of them. I've got some big projects bouncing around that I think are near the top of the WHAT'S NEXT file: a YA thriller, a traditional (as in not YA) epic fantasy and a few things I've mentioned in the blog before (YA prank war, MG monster book and a couple of YA sci fis). And since several of these things are things I've never really written before, I'm doing research via reading. First is the thriller and some middle grade books so I can figure out the voice, I think that if I catch the spark right I can really rip through the monster book over Thanksgiving and most of December. The prank war is a far off project that may be closer to middle grade than YA and I'm okay with that. The sci fis I have to decide what I want them to be. One is a Heilien-esque adventure while the other is something else more akin to a completely different genre. The epic fantasy needs LOTS of planning but I think I can figure it out, it's just going to take loads and loads of time. And then there's always the niggling feeling of wanting to write a good old fashioned fantasy adventure romp, though that will require a degree of planning as well.

Anyway, I'm rambling. Lots of reading to do and I'm sure I'll find the spark again sooner rather than later.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Dragonlance Reread: Dragons of Winter's Night Chapters Two and Three

Two sharply contrasted chapters that both kind of work in their own way. The omniscient POV chills for a bit and settles into the one POV per chapter that most of us have grown accustomed to in our epic fantasy. We get some interesting perspective in these chapters and LOADS of important information that sort of sets up this book. It's a little heavy handed but sometimes being heavy handed is okay AND tie in novels were in their infancy, no one was exactly sure how these things work, so I can have some patience with these parts of the book.

We get a dragon POV, but I'll get to that later, I want to talk for a second about the long infodump that looks like it was copy and pasted (would that have been a thing in 1985?) from the Dragonlance World Guide. Now, if you know me at all, you know that I have a "thing" for setting guides, so much so that one of these days I'd love to do a formal one for each of my fantasy works. I'm a terribly mediocre world builder when compared to guys like Erikson, Bakker or Lou Anders (I dream of having a real sit down with Lou about doing one because he is the master of this), so naturally I kind of enjoyed this section of the book. Now, I was going to write a long post about geography, but maybe I'll do another one later.

One of the criticisms that's come up over on is that how is it possible that people haven't heard any news concerning Tarsis for 300 years. It's actually consistent with the world building. Tanis and the other companions, almost all "experienced" adventurers knew nothing about Xak Tsaroth, a once major urban center close to them, and other things going on around them. After the Cataclysm people stopped talking, stayed very regional and didn't hear rumors from far away (think about Alexandria or even Terminus in The Walking Dead). The Knights of Solamnia were sort of the newsbringers of their day since they seemed to protect everyone so with them holed up and disgraced, news slowed to a trickle, especially in the South where the dwarves cut off the only passes and with the sea taken away from them and what water they could access was filled with shipwrecks (basing this on a Ansalon map found online from one of the RPG supplements).

And as for the temperature, using several maps I could find online of the Krynn, Ansalon is connected to the southern pole continent by a large glacier (could be directly connected but there is the glacier covering it) and Tarsis is only 100 miles from the glacier. It's a cold place. Think Patagonia in South America, where the coldest spots get to -25 degrees Celsius. There are other wobbles, but I'll address them later.

As for the Dragonlords, one of the things that Dragonlance did that I don't remember seeing in other fantasy works at the time is that we clearly get the POV of the "villains." The conversation between Skie and the Dragonlord is interesting because it's setting a big picture. It actually puts AUTUMN into perspective as a "small" story. The organization of the armies is interesting and gives some insight into the politics of the Dragonlords and that is interesting, I hope there is more (I don't remember). But this mission sounds personal on so many levels it makes you wonder who the three the Dragonlord seeks and why. (Heh)

The whole Elistan/Laurana/Tanis thing is weird, yet deserves notice only because it's the one heavy handed thing in the chapter that isn't working for me. To Laurana's eyes as an elf, Elistan is still kind of a baby. It doesn't sound like she's had a lot of experience with humans (at least pure humans) and this is kind of a novelty to her, an "old" human extolling wisdom to a "young"elf that has probably been alive as long as Elistan has been, though she hasn't probably experienced as much as he has. Elistan was never an interesting character to me. It was like they needed a wizened old man to be the "leader" because that was the trope they needed.

I want to say something quick about Sturm. He's just an idiot and a liar. Who walks around in full battle armor all the time? Even GRRM doesn't make his people do that. Seriously. He's supposedly this experienced adventurer and wanna be super soldier, but instead he acts the complete opposite.

Can we just get to the tomboy/princess/outcast hero love triangle already? Seriously, Dragonlance was SO an 80s movie. AND, maybe, just maybe a precursor to just about EVERY YA FANTASY out today?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Dragonlance Reread: Dragons of Winter's Night: Prologue and Chapter One

I'm back. I didn't do a post for the end of Autumn Twilight. My basic overview of the last section was how rushed it was. So now we're moving on to the EMPIRE of the series: Dragons of Winter's Night. I am following along with again and here's my 2 cents about the book so far:

Autumn Twilight, when you think about it, was a small story. The entire story, despite the scope, really took place in a very small geographic corner of the world and, for such an epic story, really wasn’t all that epic, the elves leaving withstanding, as we know it. For the first time in the series we’re starting to get into a bigger world and it feels more epic right off the bat. We see the way two separate societies work in a short space, the human refugees and the dwarves. The politics of the Highseekers is fascinating, even after all that’s happened. It’s something I wish there was a little more of in this story. It makes me wonder if the Lost Chronicles books are worth it. (I can tell you I bought Highlord Skies because it looks like a vastly interesting story than the other LC books, but I’ll let you know.) Let me address that though….

The gap in the story bothered me as a kid and it bothers me more now. I get that they were probably under pressure to write a trilogy, but come on. Oh well, maybe I’ll read that Lost Chronicle some day. Oh, well, we all makes choices when we write.

It feels like Sturm and Tanis have become bigger dicks than they already were, but thinking about it, it’s actually not bad characterization. The cheap observation is that it’s all representative of the conflict they are both feeling inside. But there’s more going on. Sturm is desperate to be a hero, the bit with the dragonlance shows that and restore glory to his people in his family name. I get that and that’s kind of interesting, but we don’t get to see a lot of that yet. He’s also lied to his closest companions about what he is and still hasn’t come clean to them….AND STILL wants them to go north to fight in the war. That’s some stones. Sturm becomes a much more fascinating character in this book and this is the first insight into it.

I’ve also commented before on these reread posts about how fascinated I am my Solamnia and the Knights. One of my favorite parts is the kingfisher. I love that it is a symbol of the knighthood and the nation. Such a strange thing and I love it.

Tanis continues to be cool because he was emo before emo was cool. I’ll bet he listened to a lot of Smiths and Morrissey (I have a funny Morrissey story, but that’s not for here!). Anyway, he’s another one that is annoying because all of a sudden he has severe claustrophobia. Again, I know that this can be explained away, but it’s still sort of convenient for the story. He had no problem every other time they had to go underground, now all of a sudden he’d losing his shit over it. The cheap explanation is that he’s underground longer than those other times and the conditions are cramped, but as an supposedly experienced adventurer and sometimes sellsword, he’s not acting like one. This has been one of my complaints about the series reread as a whole. Now the more complex explanation might be that it isn’t the dwarven complex but the fact he is in a confined space with Laurana and he might be suffocating because of it.

The whole Tanis/Laurana relationship comes across as that couple in high school that was constantly fighting over stupid things. Actually, they remind me of some adult couples I know.

Let me also, quickly, talk about Raistlin. I get why he’s so popular. He’s the guy that all the nerds think they are/could be. (I loved me some Tanis when I read it, but good googly moogly, I’d kill to be Caramon.) Most aren’t. Raistlin’s a dick. I don’t care why, he’s just a jerk. I have no patience for it. I hated Catcher In The Rye because I always felt that Holden Caufield was just an asshole. Raistlin’s being a jackass to his FRIENDS. No wonder they thought he would betray them multiple times (and he kind of did, when you think about it, with the whole Xak Tsaroth affair).

By the end, we’re on the move again. And this time, there is something foreboding about it. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Social Network Embargo...Sort Of

It's late August and that means one thing: school is coming. Ugh, right? Anyway, if you follow me on my various social networks (and why wouldn't you?) you know that I was writing gangbusters completing THREE projects that were kind of hanging out there. I blogged about it earlier in the summer. Then what happened usually happened: I hit a wall. I had some project ideas and pitched them to the agent and he liked them all but had notes. One project didn't have a conflict (I think I remedied that), one he felt needed some development and he liked one enough to give me a nod. And that project was the one that I hit the wall with. I was struggling with the voice. I'm rambling, let me get to things here. In addition to that, we are in the middle of a move into a new house that has been...time consuming and stressful, not perfect timing for being creative. In the last few days though, as often happens, I've had a small flood of ideas pop into my head that has driven me forward and I'm starting to plan the next month.

If you know me at all, you know I love me some social networks. I've decided between this sudden small flood of creativity and the start of school, I'm going to embargo my social networks. This is a huge deal for me. BUT, I'm not going to completely shut myself out. I'm coming up with a list of "rules" I'm going to follow.

THE RULES OF MY SOCIAL NETWORK EMBARGO: I, John Zeleznik, being of sound mind and body will not check, share, retweet or post on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram from 9/1/15-9/30/15 excepting the following:

  1. Football. I will tweet during football on Saturdays, Sundays and Monday nights, especially when the Cuse is playing!  Sorry, I just can't quit you.
  2. Major news stories: I tend to stay away from politics on FB, so that will continue, but if some major news related thing happens, I reserve the right to tweet or post on Facebook. 
  3. My book deal: If I get a book deal and I can talk about it, but I will post about this.
  4. Friends' book deals: Same as above.
  5. Blog posts: I will share my blog posts on all my social network. 
  6. September 27: It's my mom's birthday. I will be posting something on Facebook that day.
  7. Anything happening where I teach, good or bad, but always in support.
So those are the rules I intend to follow. If you need me, email or text work. 

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Night With the Kings In Queens

Continuing my epic theme for the summer, last Thursday I embarked on an epic quest to return to the city of my birth to see my favorite band play in the stadium of my favorite baseball team. If you follow me on social networks, you know that I am a rabid fan of the Metropolitan Baseball Club of New York and my favorite band is the Foo Fighters. I've always been a Foo Fighter fan but became obsessed with their HBO series Sonic Highways. I love the story of a story and following the stories of music in the cities they chose to record the songs of their new album in was must watch television for me. Like many writers, I find music inspirational and combined with the recording process and the narrative nature of the episodes of the show, it inspired me in so many ways. When they announced the summer tour and saw that they would be playing Citi Field, I took to begging both my wife and mother. Christmas 2014, birthday 2015, Father's Day and Christmas 2015 would all be spoken for if they got the tickers for me. Well, the wife came through and we were off to see the Foos.

Now, if you've gotten to know me, you know that I firmly believe that the journey is vastly more important than the destination, but this is one of the few times that the journey was awful (missed train, extra hour in the car in northern New Jersey traffic, a mind screaming migraine and a frantic 45 minute walk across town instead of a subway trip because my brain was locked because of my head). My wife was pretty much ready to leave me. Well, several bottles of water and 4 Advil later, I was adequate enough to make our way on the 7 line to Queens. The subway trip was the first sign that things were going to be okay. We made it to our seats just in time to hear the opening chords of Everlong and I felt the headache abating enough that I could feel my shoulders and head starting to rock.

Citi Field was amazing. Truly, a cathedral for baseball and I can't wait to catch a game there. And as a concert venue, it was amazing. The concert didn't disappoint. It was two and a half hours of rock and roll epicness. It was amazing. I danced. I cried. I sang along. I had a night that I'm still smiling about five days later. Dave Grohl rolled out on his Iron Throne-esque throne of guitars to hold court in Flushing with 40,000 courtiers screaming adulation and admiration.

Dave is a natural storyteller and exudes a king-like charisma that is second to none in music right now. He makes it feel like even though my wife and I were sitting behind home plate on the second level and the band was in deep center field that we were packed into a small club of 40,000 people. They weaved through pretty much all their hits and only two songs off the new album, including a chillingly beautiful acoustic set of "My Hero" and "Times Like These" that turned two great hard rock songs into melancholy ballads. They covered a few songs, including snippets of some great classic rock songs, when Dave introduced the rest of the band. Being a teacher, I'm not going to lie, "Schools Out For Summer" was nice and I found myself singing a little louder during the chorus. They closed it out with "Best of You." I recorded it on my phone for my daughter, who loves that song.

The Foos put on an amazing show. It far exceeded every expectation I had and I am glad I went. We wound up having a great Friday in New York that capped an amazing 24 hours that I'll never forget. While in NY, the epicness continued as I ate lunch at Eataly, where I found my mothership: the Nutella Bar. Three words: Nutella banana crepes.

Oh, I also made eye contact with Bo Derek. But that's a story for another time. For now, I'm climbing back into the writing world, inspired and overjoyed at the experience of seeing my favorite band live and in person.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Dragons of Autumn Twilight Re-Read: Part Two, Chapters 1-4

So I've once again fallen behind's pace, but I've been doing other stuff, but I managed to catch up today and I'll post my thoughts here and there in relation to these chapters, so here goes. Thus begins Part 2 of Dragons of Autumn Twilight:

Chapters 1 & 2:
So the companions return home and find it destroyed. The interesting thing about the start of this chapter is that it mimics the opening of the book (a nice text structure) and that despite the madness of what happened to Solace, some of the people are trying to carry on their day-to-day lives. It plays with the trope of the inn being the center of the fantasy universe quite well.

We get some well done flashbacks in these chapters too (I'll comment more about this later), especially this one as we get Tika's POV of what happens. The dragon carrying the inn down from the trees is actually that comes across as brilliantly terrifying.

Tika is a nice point of view. It's another attempt by the authors to give us a "non-D&D" perspective as she is not a warrior or magic user (I know, I know, she's a low level fighter). She's a "normal" person coping with this almost better than our adventurers. Granted, Tika is the cliched fantasy (dare I say buxom) barmaid that exceeds our expectations immediately. What is the damage for a frying pan in an AD&D game?

Then we get the most thinly veiled Gandalf expy in the history of fantasy lit. I know that Fizban is a more significant character, but he's almost note for note Gandalf the Gray, isn't he?

And by the end of chapter two, they are captured again. Sometimes it feels like they should be called the Prisoners instead of the Companions.

The one other thing that really strikes me about this chapter is for the epicness of the story so far, it's really taken place in a very, very small area of the world. And there is a lot going on in such a small space. I'm not sure what I think of that. I get that it's sort of a hobbled together D&D world, but it comes across as kind of sloppy: the mostly human Solace near barbarian tribes near elves (we'll get to that later) near a dead city near the sea where there seems to be very little mingling between these groups. Just some pretty sloppy world building.

Chapters 3 & 4
Over on, Gilthanas seemed to catch some hell from people, but I'm going to be honest, I like some of the characterization of him in these chapters is pretty different for elves, who are usually described as these aloof super magic using warriors. In this, Gilthanas is presented for what he is: the second son to a monarch, more interested in being an academic than some kind of warrior. Kind of like a certain, wildly popular Targaryen prince we all know and love.

Tanis has finally gotten under my skin the way he has everyone else (it seems) on For a man supposedly in his early 30s (or whatever the half-elf equivalent is), he's a whining little teen isn't he? I can only imagine how emo (to use Justin and Mahvesh's expression) he was back then...I'll bet he wore skinny jeans and a Golden Girls t-shirt while trying to diddle his cousin....ewww...but to be fair, there is no blood there, so it's all I right people??

The rescue this time is another cliche and reads like another random encounter from a chart in a module. I've extolled how one of the strengths of AUTUMN so far has been the action sequences. This one falls flat. It's slow and takes to long when compared to the rest of the book. It reminds me a bit of a movie that needs to be 90 minutes and needs about 5-10 minutes of filler, so we get Sturm's depression at being caught, Caramon's hunger, Tas's boredom, Gandalf Fizban's goofiness, a flipping gully dwarf and Goldmoon needing to find the "leader of the people" (read: a MAN!).

That last bit is important and kind of annoying. She just died. She watched her man die. She brought the gods back into the world and she's not the leader. She's not good enough to be the leader of the people. I mean it's bad enough that the best she can be is the "Cheftain's Daughter" but this is overkill Jesus. (See what I did there?) Come on. There are tropes I can excuse or defend, but this isn't one of them. It's actually kind of a bummer to read it now. I wonder what my 13 year old self thought. Hell, I'd love to read the damned editor comments on this that made this decision.

The rescue finally comes and this time it's the elves as we've come to expect them. A bunch of Legolases in the woods picking off the enemy while freeing the prisoners...with no plan beyond that. Jeez, elves are obnoxious everywhere, aren't they?