Friday, December 30, 2016

2016: A Year In Review: The Writing

2016 was a weird writing year. I started the year with an agent, a new project ready to send out to editors and two other projects in the can ready for his approval. As readers of this blog know, that collapsed some time in April as I left my agent and re-entered the query world. And it's been pretty bleak since then. I fell into a dark place where I began to question everything I was doing. The typical collection of rejections from potential agents hasn't helped and the election crushed productivity. The summer was nothing but wasted opportunity and I've spent more energy trying to find a groove than actually writing. And it sucks.

So, what were my goals for 2016?
  • 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.
What I actually did:
  • Finished first draft of FALCON (73k)
  • Finished a second draft of FALCON (73k)
  • Finished a second drat of LABORS (64k)
  • Started and backburnered THE GREAT NORTHPOINTE-SILVER PINES WAR (10k)
  • Started and backburnered THE LAST MAGESMITH (2k)
  • Started and backburnered THE CAPTAIN OF THE GUARD (5k)
  • Started and backburnered EPIC SUMMER (5k)
  • Started and backburnered HEART OF ICE (12k)
  • Started THE PENSIONER'S BROOCH (11k)
So that puts my year at a very schitzo 255k words. It was the least productive year I've had in a while. I was really spinning my wheels, as you can see, in the second half of the year. There were some good concepts there, but my confidence was shot as I moved on and I found myself questioning what I was doing. It's not a good thing. 

That being said, I got a little confidence back writing BROOCH. Granted it's a novella (started as a novelette) and I have no idea what I'm going to do with it, but I'm feeling something as I'm writing it. I get lost in the story and that's always a good sign for me. 

It's not all bad news. I've got two of my finished projects under submission with editors and I'm very hopeful at least one of them will get picked up. 

So, how do I move forward? What do I do in 2017? It's all about goals, right. So here are my writing goals:
  • Write the first draft of MAGICAL GATSBY
  • Write the GENDER SWAPPED ARAGORN epic fantasy.
I frequently talk about establishing a routine and I need to start living that. I need to sit down and no matter what I need to carve out at least an hour of my day to write. I have to stick to it. If I write at least 1k a day, I'll have 365k, subtract birthdays, holidays and random days off and we're looking at 350k. That's 4 books, like I have listed above (or one novella and three novels). I can do this. Now I'm not factoring in something happening with an agent that still has SCIONS or an editor that has SEASONS, but that would be a positive development, not a negative one. 

It's ambitious, but as the musical HAMILTON says, I need to "write like I'm running out of time."

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Some Thoughts On Rogue One (SPOILERS)

I was going to do my 2016 writing post, but I went to see ROGUE ONE tonight and I have some thoughts that I want to get off my chest about it. I didn't do that with THE FORCE AWAKENS last year and I regretted it because STAR WARS is such an important part of me as a creative person. So, here are some thoughts about the latest entry into the franchise.

At it's core, STAR WARS is mythology. It's the stories the old men told around the fire and now tell on a giant screen in a dark room filling us with hopes and dreams. The seven movies up to this point have been that: grand epics that tell us the sweeping story of one dynasty and it's influence over a Galaxy Far, Far Away. And that's the first break that ROGUE ONE makes and it works, because it's not trying to be epic, in the literary sense. It hints at the epic-ness of the "universe" (and I don't mean the Galaxy Far, Far Away) without trying to get into the epic structure that we are familiar with. It does something else and that's where it appears to struggle with early on the the story and comes to a nice head in the movie's action filled, tense and incredibly satisfying climax.

And as much as STAR WARS is about mythology, it's about what came before. The Original Trilogy is a million homages, from the works of Kurosawa to the movie serials of the 50s to Westerns and the Prequels aspired to be Shakespearean tragedies (obviously falling short) and ROGUE ONE is no different and that is where I had a problem, because early on it feels like it didn't know which of the homages they were going for: was it going to be a heist movie or a war movie? And that indecision led to some of the choppiness people complained about, but it follows the tropes of both of them. When it decides it wants to be a war movie (which is what it is), it becomes a better movie. Sure, we'd love to find out more about the characters we meet, but we get enough of them that it's effective. I was disappointed that we don't find out more about the soldiers that volunteer to go with Jyn and her team, because they are great.

Are there plot holes? Is it a STAR WARS movie? And as with every Star Wars movie, they are all forgivable.

The movie is really good, a little slow at the start, but not any slower than any other war movie I've ever seen and a really good and different STAR WARS movie.

Some random thoughts:

  • VADER. We finally get to see Vader as a bad ass. I mean from the castle scenes to the boarding scene. I mean when that saber lit up, I gasped. Vader has been maligned lately and it's good to see he's getting his mojo back.
  • CGI Characters: I know that lots and lots of people had issues with it. I found myself not minding it as much as others did. I mean seeing the dripping evil of Tarkin was great and chilling. And Leia at the end, considering Carrie Fisher's passing, I found something in my eye and a gasp in my throat as she uttered her lines. 
  • Putting the War In STAR WARS: ROTJ gets a bum wrap, giving us the best space battle in the trilogy. Well, ROGUE ONE topped it by far. The space battle was amazing and intense while the ground battle almost makes you forget about ewoks and gungans by giving us real action. Like I said, I wish I knew more about the soldiers and pilots, but obviously there isn't the space for it. 
  • If you aren't shipping Chirrut and Baze you are doing it wrong. Wikipedia calls them best friends....can we edit that to make them partners/husbands/whatever. 
  • GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY took a ton of cues from the Original Trilogy and without a doubt, ROGUE ONE took a cue from GOTG with the planet name cards. It's a little thing, but it was noticeable.
  • Some depth to the Galaxy Far, Far Away. No Jedi. Limited reference to the Skywalkers. 
Highly recommend it. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016: A Year In Review: The Reading

Well, I think the vast majority of us can agree that 2016 was a shit year. Like a really shit year that even in it's waning days seems to want to keep dumping on us relentlessly. A lot of us are still reeling from November, trying to sort out what, if anything, we can do in the next four years. But I'm not here to do this, I'm here to review what happened to me in 2016. I spent most of the year doing monthly reviews of what I did each month but I stopped for reasons I'll get to in my writing post. So, what did I read?

I managed to read 81 books this year. That was 21 more than I intended and abandoned my "Epic" notions early on. I may try to wedge in a few more graphic novels (which accounted for the majority of my reading this year) in before the end of the year, so we'll see what my final total is. So, here's my Best Of 2016 list:

  • AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir: Everything that good YA fantasy can be and a cracking good epic fantasy that'll never get the credit it deserves for telling a great story. It relies on a lot of the same tropes we've seen before, but Tahir's execution is damn near flawless. The sequel is high on my 2017 list. 
  • SAGA, VOLUMES 3-6 by Brian K. Vaughan: A stunning science fantasy that is already a modern classic. A star spanning story that at its core is about family. 
  • BINTI by Nnedi Okorafor: What a beautiful, lyrical story. I was drawn into the world Okorafor built and the character she created in Binti, who reminded me of many of the students I teach.
  • THE FORGETTING MOON by Brian Lee Durfee: In a year where I said I was going to focus on reading epic fantasy where I didn't read as much epic fantasy as I wanted, this was an epic fantasy I not only read but loved. Durfee created a vivid world that was familiar and new at the same time.
  • PAPER GIRLS, VOL 1 by Brian K. Vaughan: Brilliant. That's all I can say about it. It's one of those things that I love because I feel like it's something I could've come up with. Great science fictiony fun. 
  • GI JOE: COBRA: THE LAST LAUGH by Mike Costa and Christos Gage: A GI Joe story that wasn't like any GI Joe story ever. Outstanding Bourne-esque spy action. 
  • HAMILTON: THE REVOLUTION by Lin-Manuel Miranda: What kind of Best of 2016 list would it be if Lin-Manuel weren't on it. I love Hamilton and the story behind the story is fascinating on it's own. Seeing how Miranda crafted this story helped me understand so much about telling a story. 
  • HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD PARTS ONE AND TWO by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne and J.K. Rowling: It felt good to be back in Potterland but as good as it was it missed Rowling's voice. Still one of the year's best though. 
  • THE SERPENT KING by Jeff Zenter: I single served this book in August and I'm still dealing with aspects of that book. Great characters, terrific voice and a well-developed setting make this easily one of my top two or three for the year. 
  • THE WOODS, VOL. 1-4 by James Tynion: Probably my favorite of the year. A mind blowing concept (and another one I feel like I could and should have come up with) about a high school getting transported to another planet. I could not get enough of this series and it's intensely well done. Brilliant characters and world building combine with brilliant storytelling to make it something special. 
  • ENVY OF ANGELS by Matt Wallace: Brilliant modern fantasy fun involving monster chickens, fast food and a Guy Fieri expy that I don't want to punch. 
HONORABLE MENTION: DREAM LAND by Sam Quinones; AMERICAN NATIONS by Colin Woodard; BIRTHRIGHT VOL 1-3 by Joshua Williamson; STAR WARS: CATALYST by James Luceno.

DISAPPOINTMENTS: INSURGENT and ALLEGIANT by Veronica Roth; STEELHEART by Brandon Sanderson; THE IRON TRIAL by Holly Black and Cassandra Claire; THE DRAGONLANCE TRILOGY VOL. 2 & 3; RED QUEEN by Veronica Aveyard.

This year, I'm plotting about 70 books, trying to focus on epics to deconstruct them so I can get back into writing them. But I have some books I'm really looking forward to reading in 2017, here are three that I'm really stoked about reading sooner than later:

  • ROYAL BASTARDS by Andrew Shvarts: A book not unlike my SEASONS books, I'm really looking forward to see what this book does that mine didn't. Already have an ARC locked and loaded for 2017. 
  • THE WALL OF STORMS by Ken Liu: I already read a version of it but not for review and I didn't get a chance to read it this year, so I'll be reading it early 2017. 
  • PAPER GIRLS VOL. 2 by Brian K. Vaughn
  • THE WOODS VOL 5 by James Tynion
  • THE SHADOW THAT WAS LOST by James Islington
  • RIVER OF TEETH by Sarah Gailey

I didn't include obvious ones like the next ICE AND FIRE book (and I know that including Lynch in the list above is dicey, but I wanted to include it) but that's where I stand. 

Tomorrow, I'll talk about Writing in 2016 and what I'm planning in 2017. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Steering the Craft: Part Three: Short And Long

This section of the book was all about sentences. I think this is actually a strength in my writing. i think I'm pretty good at varying sentences. It didn't stop me from reading the section and reading the samples. I've decided to continue the skiing narrative from the first exercise in one of these exercises and do something new in the other.

Part One: Write a paragraph of narrative, 100-150 words, in sentences of seven or fewer words. No sentence fragments. Each must have a subject and a verb. (This is the continuation of my skiing narrative where I'm messing around with present tense too.)

            The lights above cast bluish light. They weave. They bob. Gravity does most of the work. Something else does the rest. He smiles. So does she. They reach the bottom. They say nothing. It’s a moment. It hangs between them. They smile again but say nothing. He follows her. The lift clatters in the distance. They waddle and shimmy. The chair makes the turn. It scoops them up. He wants to talk. The words fail him. They rarely do. His mouth opens, then stops. Thankfully, she doesn’t seem to notice. She talks first. He listens. It’s a new thing for him. She tells him about skiing. She’s been to Vail and Killington. He hasn’t. The thing between tries to change. It can’t. It doesn’t matter. They don’t care. The lift buckles. The bump together. Instead, the thing draws them nearer. 

Part Two: Write a half page to a page of narrative, up to 350 words, that is all one sentence. (This was tough!)

            Beams of white light cast long shadows of varying sizes across the room as Jaiman, sword drawn and mind open, entered the room with his steps echoing off what remained of the ceilings above him, each step sending tiny puffs of dust up as he crossed the threshold of the doorway and swirling in the shadows that pooled and eddied around him like the power that flowed in this place-a place revered by his father’s people- like the very shadows that clung to the alcove; alcoves that once contained the captured treasures the False Lords had claimed as their own, from the simple rose gold tiara of the Ibyara Empress to the club of the Grand Vrang of Golgaatha and the twin swords of the Tsarian champion Goyas alongside the hammer and tongs of the mighty swordsmith Trunce Wenway-or so Jaiman had read-lined the walls that slowly narrowed to another doorway, a doorway that led into the main room and Jaiman felt the power coming from the room and it stopped him in his tracks for a moment before moving into the guttering light of a thousand candles that caused dozens and dozens of jumping shadows-except for the one at the end of the massive room that retreated as Jaiman entered and light gathered at the opposite end revealing the last things Jaiman wanted to see even though he suspected it and felt it as soon as he saw the temple-the looming figure in the gathering light looked down at him, returning Jaiman’s exact smile as he said, “Hello, son.”