Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Month In Review: January 2016

Trying something new for the blog: I'm going to review each month to see what I wrote, read, watched and did. So here goes.

January. The phoenix of the months. The time to start a new. But it never quite works out for me that way. It's actually kind of a metaphor for any activity I engage in: I stumble at the start, having to motivate my self to be consistent. Then I hit a stride and I'm real good in the middle. And the end...well let's just say I need a good eighth and ninth inning guy. So, here's what's up:

WRITING: Went pretty well. Not the ambitious 40k I imagined but a respectable 15k on THE FALCON AND THE CROW. Part of the delay was a check with the agent to make sure he thought the project was salable. It is and that makes me very happy. It needs some work. He wants me to think about the McGuffin a little more to make it sound more plausible, though for now I'm just sort of concentrating on the story. Plan for February: I've got FALCON planned at about 80k, so for February, factoring in Winter break, I'm hoping to make a real push at getting close to 50k done so I can finish it in March. If I use an old SAT style analogy to express March as a teacher: March:Teaching::August::Baseball. Plus my students will be engaging in a college level research paper, so I might not have as much time to write as I'd like but I hope to have FALCON done by then so I can work on revising LABORS and planning a new, very big project. But I'll talk more about March at the end of February.

READING: I read like gangbusters and my intent is to do some microreviews of January's reading. I read 10 books:

  • Fit After 40
  • Dreamland
  • The Wicked and The Divine
  • Saga Volumes 3-5
  • Batman: Hush
  • Star Wars: Before the Awakening
  • Radio Golf
  • Divergent (audiobook)
Presently I am reading:

  • Lord of Chaos 
  • Insurgent (audiobook)
I'm going to review Dreamland, Saga, Hush and Before the Awakening. I'm going to wait on Divergent until I finish listening to the entire trilogy. I have a lot to say about it. I'm planning a dystopia unit, so I'll be reading a lot of those in the coming weeks.

WATCHED: I'm only scratching the surface of streaming shows and the list is getting longer. I didn't watch much of those, but I did watch the following:

  • Godfather Epic: Still haven't made it through all 8 hours, but what I watched is just amazing.
  • The Expanse: If you aren't watching this,'ll wait. 
  • The Avengers: Age of Ultron: Meh. Had moments but it was just kind of a run of the mill superhero movie, though it did plant some seeds that weren't awful.
  • Grease Live: Fun. Not as great as The Wiz, but worth a couple of hours of time to watch.
  • NBA on ABC: It's nice to see something that isn't football on a major network. I'm not a huge NBA guy, but LeBron and Steph Curry are fun to watch. 
  • SNL: Funny in spurts. The Rhonda Rousey episode was funny in spots and the second Selena Gomez song left me feeling weird after watching it. But I'm a SNL nut and will continue to watch. SNL writer is still a dream job for me. 
The list of stuff I want to watch is long. We'll see what happens in February.

DID: Not much. Starting lifting again in earnest. More to come.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Some Random Mini-Movie Reviews

Snow day! Means I spent the morning lounging, the afternoon in the snow and now relaxing a little bit in front of the fire...okay, not in front of the fire, but in the quiet of my living room...before the kiddos get baths then bed and then some words for me. The exciting life of a writer. The new project- THE FALCON AND THE CROW- is going swimmingly. I've found a great little groove and I'm digging the story I'm telling. It's outlined and I'm really working hard at a solid five week deadline to hammer out the first draft. I'm 11k in out of about 75-80k, so 65-70k in 5 weeks? We'll see. Anyway, for some reason I've been on a real movie kick lately, mostly old, so I thought I would do a few micro-movie and television reviews, so here goes :

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS: I'm saving this for an individual blog post after I see it again. Short answer: it wasn't perfect, but it was damn near close and entertaining as anything I've seen in a long time. Hating on TFA has become the "I am vegan/I do crossfit/I am gluten free" of movies right now. Does it have plot holes? Sure. But so does EVERY Star Wars movie. Anyway, save that for a later post. (9.5/10)

THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU: I watched this movie on accident. It was over Christmas break (it may have actually been late Christmas night after we came home from the festivities) and I turned it on because I still had Adam Driver on my mind from TFA (more on that in a minute). But that wasn't all. I love Jason Bateman and think he's our generations great straight man a la Jack Lemmon. I imagine him when I write Thomas Grange in my SEASONS books. I also have a thing for Tina Fey. so I was drawn to it. And I LOVED it. Bittersweet, genuinely funny in spots and very real. It was an adult movie and it worked for me on that level. It tells the story of a family greiving the death of their father by sitting Shiva (his dying wish) even though they aren't Jewish. The cast is amazing and the chemistry is palpable as they tweak, mock, prod, poke and cope in their own ways as they honor their father's last request. If you know me as a person or as a writer, you know that father-child relationships are very important to me and this is fascinating as it shows the way people cope with the loss of a parent. Like I said, it's an adult movie. Adam Driver's Phillip reminded me of my brother, it was kind of scary. And if they were to make a movie where someone had to play "me," I'd want it to be Jason Bateman. (9/10)

THE INTERN: Robert DeNiro not actually playing Robert DeNiro. It's more of a novelty than you think these days. I liked this more than I thought I would. Anne Hathaway is charming, as always, and you root for her in everything she's in, even as Catwoman (even though they never call her that). But DeNiro is the star here. Playing understated is always where DeNiro shines because it's never what we expect, though he was amazing in CAPE FEAR playing against type. Robert DeNiro reminds me of my grandfather and I kind of saw bits of my grandfather in the character he played. The three dudebros in the movie were just funny enough that they were fleshed out, but the confusing message of the movie at times kind of threw me at times (things were better in the past except for the women being in charge thing) but the movie was an enjoyable couple of hours. (7/10)

CREED: To be honest, I only watched bits and pieces. It hit all the boxing movie cliches along the way and didn't do them particularly well. Michael B. Jordan is going to be a star. He's got charisma to spare and can morph himself into any role. Sly Stallone is good as the sick Rocky and the fight scenes are thrilling, but that doesn't save the movie from being just okay. (5/10)

A BRIDGE TOO FAR: An old WW2 movie that was a spectacle for it's time and still is. Look it up. The cast is massive and all HUGE names for its time. It'd take a special project to do that now. It's completely enjoyable as a film but relies entirely too much on cliches and tropes that just miss the mark. You follow my reviews, you know that I love a good trope-y filled story, but this missed the mark. I hung with it because it worked in the big moments and built the right amount of tension that it needed to when it did. It didn't shy away from the fact the Operation Market Garden was an epic clusterfrak but I felt that other things did it better, but for a movie that was made in 1977, it was amazing to watch that did manage to capture the horrors of war. Characterization was paper thin and that didn't make me care about the characters the way you need to in a war movie. I ordered the book from my library because I want to read it in prep for a few new projects. (7.5/10)

WRATH OF KHAN: Do I need to even? The best Star Trek movie and if it weren't a Star Trek movie it would've made a great science fiction movie. The battle in the nebula still holds up as one of the most tense space battles in movie history. (8/10)

THE EXPANSE: Holy shit! I don't like swearing but damn this was amazing. The first two episodes were so well done. I read the book, loved it and this was so perfect. I DVRed a bunch of episodes and will probably talk the shit out of this when I catch up. It's hard because the kids are up with me (take after me and are night owls) but I will catch up. But you need to watch, now. Seriously. Go. (10/10)

INTO THE BADLANDS: We need more of this: ORIGINAL SFF. There's not enough. Martial arts. A familair dystopic setting with martial art. This was a genre mash-up of epic proportions and you all know how much I love me some genre mash-ups. I hope there's a second season coming. In the same token I caught part of a movie called LAST KNIGHTS that looks right up my alley, but I haven't watched it all and will review when I do. (8/10)

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD: Holy Mary Mother of God. I know I'm late to this party, but my God, this movie...this movie was everything. I can't contain it in this small a space. I want to write a ton about this movie. I loved it that much. First, can we all just admit that this wasn't really a Mad Max movie, right? I mean it's got Max and he kicks ass like Max, but we know that this movie doesn't get made unless they put Max in it...and that sucks. We suck for that being a thing...wait, stop, a post for another time. I've seen it twice and will watch it every time it's on. I'll post about it after the next view.

So there's my mini-movie/TV reviews. Feel free to discuss.

Monday, December 28, 2015

2015: A Year of Reading and Writing In Review

Break out the champagne and pop the corks, ladies and gentlemen, this here is my 100th blog post. From the inane to the profane, I've been blogging on and off on Blogger for a little over four years now and it's appropriate that my 100th blog post be a year in review post. Usually I wait until the 31st to do my year in review, but I decided that today is as good a day as any. So, how was my 2015? Chaotic on many levels and redundant on others.The Mets made the World Series. YAY! Star Wars came out. YAY! I didn't get a book deal. BOO! Either way, it's over and I'm already looking forward to 2016. So, let's review:

Part One: The Reading

I challenged myself to read 75 books this year and on January 31st I will have hit that goal. It will be the first time that I completed my reading challenge in the last few years. The funny thing is that looking back at my year, the start was mediocre at best but really picked up towards the end. So what were my favorites? Here we go:

  • THE GRACE OF KINGS by Ken Liu: Far and away my favorite book of the year. Ken told an epic story about friendship, love, war, nationalism, mysticism, advancing technology effect on the world, breaking traditions and tax codes that I'm not likely going to forget in the near future. His use of the "epic voice" turned what could've been tedious pages long passages into compact but effective paragraphs while focusing on the smaller moments that other epic fantasy greats would gloss over. Still gives me the tingles.
  • HALF THE WORLD by Joe Abercrombie: The EMPIRE of his "Shattered Seas" trilogy, WORLD was the best of the three books, though all were good. Where HALF A KING gave us basically a YA Viking Tyrion Lannister (and it worked so well), WORLD gives us a broader view of the world via dueling POV characters Thorn and Brand. Two stellar characters that are everything that is great Abercrombie and great YA. I liked but didn't love book 3 (HALF A WAR) as much, but after two great characters like Thorn and Brand, it was a tough row to hoe.
  • COURT OF FIVES by Kate Elliott: Everything that good YA fantasy should be. It plays with all the tropes brilliantly. In a lesser hand, it would be cliched. The world building is some of the best I've read and the action scenes pop off the page. And Jessamy...seriously...2015 was a great year for action heroines. 
  • THE SORCERER OF THE WILDEEPS by Kai Ashante Wilson: Beautiful language combined with great action and world building that leaves me wanting more. Like KINGS above, WILDEEPS was a different kind of epic and it worked so much for me. Where KINGS was a huge sprawling story that was a condensed version of an even more sprawling story, WILDEEPS was a concentrated epic story confined to novella length. I'm still thinking about it weeks later.
  • SUNSET MANTLE by Alter S. Reiss: Imagine choosing to fight a war because of an article of clothing. That's basically the premise of this story and it shows the crazy things we find worth fighting for. The said mantle becomes a metaphor for the reasons we fight and, like WILDEEPS, it concentrates a massively epic story into a small space. Another books I want to see more of that world.
  • THE BUILDERS by Daniel Polansky: Holy Christ, this was probably my second favorite book of the year. I can't think of one thing I didn't like about it. I still have to write a full review on it, but I loved it. REDWALL meets THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, it does everything right from both of them. I went to the zoo shortly after finishing it and I can tell you, it's a very different experience after reading the book. 
  • THE WHISPER by Aaron Starmer: A fantasy portal story that's way darker than any portal story I'd ever read before and it works. It asks hard questions and gives hard answers. I'm still reeling from the ending of the book. I can't say enough good things about this book. Publishing was the real winner this year. As was Saga Press. 

Honorable Mentions: THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT by Drew Daywalt, COURT by Cat Patrick, HALF A WAR by Joe Abercrombie, A NEW HOPE: THE PRINCESS, THE SCOUNDREL AND THE FARM BOY by Alexandra Bracken.

Disappointments: ASHES LIKE SNOW by Sarah Raasch, CLASH OF EAGLES by Alan Smale, ORPHANS OF THE SKY by Robert Heinlein, STAR WARS: AFTERMATH by Chuck Wendig. 

Last year I touted it as the "EPIC" year, well I decided to do the same this year. Instead of 75 books, I'm aiming for 50 books because I am tackling a few epic fantasy series this year. My schedule as of now is: 
  • Wheel of Time, books 6-14
  • The Crown of Stars, books 1-7
  • The Dagger and the Coin, books 1-5
  • The Kingkiller Chronicles, books 1-2
  • Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, books 1-3
  • A Land Fit For Heroes, books 2-3
  • The Abhorsen Trilogy, books 1-3
  • The Prince of Thorns, books 1-3
  • The Swans War, books 1-3
  • The Dark Tower, books 1-7
  • The Throne of Glass, books 3-4
  • The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, book 1-3
It's ambitious, but certainly not written in stone. I'm also going to attempt to read one nonfiction book a month.

Part Two: The Writing

Well, barring some miracle 2015 won't be the year of the deal, so I have to believe that 2016 is going to be the year. I have a good feeling about it. Let's look back at the year that was.

My goals for this year, according to last year's end of year post was as follows: 
  • Finish the first draft of LABORS
  • Complete a super detailed outline of the NEW SUMMER'S GLORY/SACRIFICE, the last book in the SEASONS series.
  • Write short THE OFFICIAL VISIT
  • Write some shorter works
What I actually did:
  • Finished first draft of LABORS (75k)
  • Finished a rewrite of LOST SCION, formerly SISTERS OF KHODA, 4th draft (116k)
  • Finished a rewrite/recovery draft of SPRING'S TEMPEST, 4th draft (131k)
  • Finished another rewrite of LOST SCION, 5th draft (119k)
  • Worked on PENSIONER'S BROOCH, a novelette (6k)
  • Worked on, FROM THE DEEP, a MG horror (6k)
  • Started and backburnered THE GREAT NORTHPOINTE-SILVER PINES WAR, a YA coming of age prank war novel (3k)
  • Started FALCON AND THE CROW, a YA political thriller (4k)
So it was sort of a productive year for me. I still feel like I'm spinning wheels a little bit since I've been working on the same handful of projects for the last few years but I guess that's the nature of the business, isn't it. I've got some good ideas but I need to just to figure out how to execute them properly.

What's out there for me? WINTER'S DISCORD is still out with a few editors and I'm hoping the new year will bring something new for SEASONS OF DESTINY. If it doesn't I want to have a talk with my agent about possibly releasing it ourselves. But we're not there yet. THE LOST SCION goes out after the new year. So there's that hope.

What about 2016? What do I want to do? Well, here's the plan:
  • Finish the first draft of FALCON.
  • Finish a second draft of LABORS.
  • Finish a first draft of FROM THE DEEP or NORTHPOINTE
  • Work on SUMMER'S GLORY/SACRIFICE/STRIFE/whatever the hell I'm going to call it.
So that's the year in review. Here's to 2015. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Book Review: Sunset Mantle

Imagine choosing to make a stand against hopeless odds because of an article of clothing. Sounds absurd, doesn't it....but Reiss makes it work brilliantly as a metaphor for the sometimes mundane reasons people fight. A rollicking fantasy adventure with epic implications, Sunset Mantle is one of my favorite books of the year.

Cete is a veteran mercenary with a strict sense of honor, but that is actually part of the world building, which I'll get to in a second. Cete's bravery, loyalty to his men and honor get him in trouble, a redundant theme in fantasy today. Call it the Ned Stark effect. But where Ned was consciously making his decisions, Cete didn't but still suffered the consequences of his action. Cete is a great character that stands out among some cardboard characters. He's well rounded with a deep history that's sketched out to where it's not overwhelming but given to us in nice, bite-sized chunks. His relationship with Marelle is sweet and well done. Her strength is what drives Cete and changes him in very subtle ways. The other characters aren't as well drawn and a little cardboard-y, but it almost feels a necessity for something at novella length and it works. We get enough about the stock characters to round them out enough to make them interesting even though we recognize them as stock characters.

The plot is well done. Nothing terribly creative but the writing is sharp, descriptive without being overbearing so it was a very quick, rollicking read that reminded me of a old fashioned sword and sorcery story, minus the sword and sorcery. Reiss has used the tropes of a "last stand" story with deft skill . A lesser writer would've fallen into cliche but not once does the story cross over.

The worldbuilding is great. Like WILDEEPS before it, I want more of this world. There's enough built into the world for there to be plenty more stories. It was a little confusing at time with armies, tribes militias, etc, but there was enough to muddle through without slowing down too much. The colonial motifs were interesting and again made me feeling like I wanted more. There is a blank slate to the world, so to speak, culturally, that lets the reader decide what these characters might look like that I really enjoyed. I kept imagining Idris Elba as Cete as I read. Publishing is nailing it and I'm all in on these books.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Book Review: The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps

It's hard to believe that I haven't written a book review on my blog since I read Ken Liu's brilliant GRACE OF KINGS, but it took a pretty amazing book to break me out of those doldrums and one of the first wave of's novellas was the one to do it. THE SORCERER OF THE WILDEEPS was an incredible book that just blew me out of the water. 

A few months back I read Wilson's short story "Super Bass" that was set in the same world as this book and was blown away by it. This book is just a continuation of that feeling and when I finished SORCERER, I just kept wondering where was more of this. There is so much to love in this book that I seriously had a hard time starting this review. 

First, the world. Jeez, I want more of this world. In the short space of a short story and a novella, Wilson has created a massively complicated and very real feeling fantasy world with an obvious history filled with a diverse population of peoples and cultures that are grounded in reality. I want more. I want a world book. I want more stories about Sea-john and Orolumi (spelling?). The world feels like a hodge-podge of things that Wilson wanted to include in his own corner of the fantasy universe and it works brilliantly where others have failed.

Wilson's use of language is amazing. I've never read something that so effectively uses dialect without being hacknied and cliched. His integration of a modern dialect into a fantasy setting is seemless, which goes back to the hodge-podge feeling of his world and how it works. At times some of the language in the narrative itself threw me, forcing me to reread passages to make sure I didn't miss something, but I blame myself for that, not the writing.

The magic system was okay and a little confusing at times, but I'm not a magic system guy, so it didn't slow me down in the least.

The characters are well done and where a less skilled writer might fall into cliche, Wilson plays with the tropes in a way that makes the characters fascinating. From our demigod main characters: Demane, a lost soul that makes the mistake of instantly falling in love with the equally divine Captain so hard that he's willing to follow him across the world while keeping their relationship a secret to he stoic and savage Captain that can only speak in song that is capable of great acts of violence and love to background characters like Wale, Xho Xho and Messed-up, that give us a taste of who they are and just how divesrse a world this is. 

The plot moves right along, taking what could be a simple caravan guard story and making it an infinitely more interesting story of good vs. evil on a far grander scale. There were hiccups for me in the way Wilson tells the story, but like the language, I blame myself and not Wilson's writing. 

THE SORCERER OF THE WILDEEPS is clearly one of the best books I've read this year and I can't wait for more from Wilson.

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.