Thursday, January 19, 2017

The State of Z

I'm feeling reflective this afternoon. Things are heavy on my mind. The hangover-esque haze of 2016 still hasn't worn off and on the eve of the Inauguration, I find myself listless. I swore I wasn't going to let it affect me, but it has and I'm sort bummed about it all. I'm trying to fight it but it's difficult to do so in light of all that's going on around me. Social networks haven't helped. But I'm trying and for the first time in a few months, writing has helped.

I set out to write 350k words this year. So far, not including today, I've written 17,811 words in 2017. I'm very happy about this. I'm clearly on pace to hit that mark and then some. Part of the plan was to average 1,000 words a day and factor 15 non-writing days in there. I've written 17 out of the 18 days this year. I already wrote a little today and will write more later with a vague goal of hitting 20k by tonight. We'll see. I'm not panicked about not hitting it, but we'll see. I'm happy with the writing even though it's not writing I'm going to be able to do anything with it.

What does that mean, you ask? Well, I'll tell you.

This project I'm working on started life as a novelette. But as I wrote, it demanded to do things with the story and, as I'm wont to do, I listened to the story. And it's turned into something entirely different. I've been tweeting a lot about it and how frustrated I am by what it is doing and the fact that it is highly unlikely I'll ever be able to do anything with it. I toyed with the idea of making it middle grade, but I don't know if that's the answer. It might require a little padding to get it closer to a 45-50k word count. As of right now, it should clock in about the 31-33k word count. Not quite long enough for a MG novel and far closer to a novella in length.

If anything ever comes of THE LOST SCIONS, it could be a prequel novella, which is what it started out as in the first place. If I had an agent, I probably could submit it to, but I don't, so that's not on the table. I just don't know. But I'm sort of okay with it. I found my mojo again. I'm being disciplined about writing again. And it feels good. Not the false feeling of good that I had with my many failed starts from last year, but a feeling of genuine accomplishment in writing. And it's something I can build on.

I've got two ideas in the hopper for "what's next" and I'm actually going to commit some time to planning them along with a couple of loose ends here and there. The plan is to be able to dive into one of the new projects right away. One is a Harry Potter/Great Gatsby, roaring 20s set fantasy and the other is a coming of age story set in the 1990s to the drop back of skiing and stand up comedy. The former is a recent project and the latter is a project that's been kicking around forever that I think I'm getting my legs under me.

As for what's done, THE LOST SCIONS didn't get the traction I would've liked. It's still out in a few places, but I think that it may still be a little too traditional right now. I'm not sure. I'll revisit it again. I have to, I'm writing the prequel novella and I have about 10k of the sequel written.

WINTER'S DISCORD is still breathing. I'd say more, but not now. Maybe later I'll be able to celebrate it. But not yet. There's actually a few potential things I could be celebrating about, but, again, I don't want to talk about it yet.

I'm doing some research reading for HP/GG (no title yet, but I'm leaning towards something with MARVELOUS in the title) and plodding through THE DIVINERS with a few other books involving magic and the 1920s. The problem I'm having is do I make MARVELOUS YA or adult. I'm leaning towards adult, but we'll see. This is where not having an agent is really bad. I'm then wading back into some heavy fantasy work since down the line I want to return to the genre I love with a new project, which means I'll be worldbuilding a lot in the coming months. My friend Neil and I are talking about doing a Wheel of Time blogfest or something like that. I'm one book behind him and y'all know how big those books are, so stay tuned for that.

I've even managed to carve out some gym time. I'm going to do a blog post on this in a few weeks because I'm on a new program that is completely outside my comfort zone. I've felt really, really, really weak for a long time and decided that I wanted to do some old school strength training. I did my research and settled on the StrongLifts 5x5 program. And I love it. I'll talk more about this in a month when I've been doing it for that long.

School is school. We've entered project season for my seniors. It's good writing time for me....until projects are due, which is next week for the first batch!

So, that's the State of Z as of right now. I'll leave you with this: write like you are running out of time and remember to love one another.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

A Few Thoughts On Fences

I've been teaching for twelve years now, teaching every grade level from 9 to 12. Some of my favorite experiences have been teaching the plays of August Wilson. His stories are moving and epic in scope in a way that kind of sneaks up on you. When I read that Denzel Washington had acquired the rights to produce Wilson's work for the large and small screen, I was stoked. FENCES was the obvious first choice because it is such an important part of the American canon and Denzel had a successful run on Broadway with it. And the film was terrific.

As someone that's taught (and read FENCES) dozens of times, seeing the lines from the play on screen were terrific and moving, especially when comparing them to the way that I imagined them. It's interesting to see just how different the story plays out in the film compared to the way that I imagined it. The big difference was in the level of intensity of particular scenes and how they played out in Denzel's version of the play. (Have never seen any actual performances of the play other than this and my class reading it out loud, this is my only experience with it.)

Denzel and Viola Davis OWN Troy and Rose. Denzel's physical transformation into Troy for the film was astonishing. There was never a doubt that he had the chops to embody the character of Troy Maxon, but physically he became the character. And you can just feel through all the emotions that Rose is feeling in every scene just from a look. She captures the complexity of the character of Rose and delivers all the feels from a gut wrenching, broken hearted speech when she finds out about Troy's infidelity to a quiet, four minute rebuke that made me literally say, "OH SHIT!" out loud. But it's the quiet understanding that no matter what, she is Troy's woman. Stephen McKinley Henderson (who has been in a million things) plays his role as Bono perfectly, actually elevating the role from my expectation.

The film was slightly padded, not entirely in a bad way and kept the staging simple focusing on a more theater style (reminded me of the Dustin Hoffman DEATH OF A SALESMAN but in an actual yard) as opposed to a cinematic one. But the way the film was shot added to the film in so many ways, moving in ways you couldn't on a stage and playing to Troy's wild story telling and the almost claustrophobia of the neighborhood where they live.

A few notes:

  • One of my favorite scenes in any play/film ever is the "How come you never liked me?" scene. The two most well known versions of it are the original James Earl Jones one and the Denzel one from the Broadway revival. Jones's version is thick, tense and intimidation while Denzel's is lighter, funnier and more playful. In the film, Denzel practically did the Jones version beat for beat. I gasped when he was doing it and had to explain to my wife why I reacted that way. 
  • Denzel did some of his best work when he wasn't talking. Troy is a talker, but the quiet moments were where Denzel shined. The desperation and frustration in Troy's face and body when confronted by Gabe, not only what was wrong with Gabe but what Gabe's injuries provided for the Maxon family that Troy could not, was palpable. The heartbreaking reaction to Rose's "You are a womanless man" line is just stunning. 
  • The kid playing Cory was overwhelmed. Seriously. He was good, but when sharing the screen with this cast, the kid just couldn't hang, which may have been the thought when casting him. 
  • The relationship between Bono and Troy is so incredibly well played and way better than the way that I've read in class. I'd always seen Bono as the Chester to Troy's Spike (Looney Toons reference), but it isn't played that way at all. They are equals and one of the most powerful scenes in the movie is when Bono calls Troy on his BS and living up to his threat. 
  • The play also contains one of my favorite lines in the English language. Troy is talking about his son and says, "I want him to move as far away from my life as he can." As a father (especially as the father of a son), this line is everything. I wrote a found poem using it about my own son. It just hits me right in the chest and did so when Denzel said it. I'm pretty sure my wife didn't notice me getting the dust out of my eye.