Vick--Vickie Vale! Vickie Vale!

When I was younger, I loved comic books. Loved them. My friend Jeremy introduced them to me at the beginning of high school and there began a brief obsession with the funnybooks. I won't say that I grew out of them, because that's condescending and inaccurate. There are still books I enjoy even though I don't buy comics any more (Atomic Robo is always the first book I recommend to people interested in seeing what a quality comic book is like).

In most comics, especially the mainstream ones written by an incredibly inbred cadre of writers (meaning that they just move from book to book without adding new blood, not that they themselves are actually inbred), too much of it is written to appeal to the teenage mindset. When Batwoman was introduced as the new main character of Detective Comics, the fact that she was a lesbian was addressed in a way that not only made me less sympathetic to the character (she blamed the victim card to win an argument in her own internal monologue!) but pulled me out of the story because she's unlike any real-life lesbian I know.

More over, I find 22 pages limiting to tell a story, especially when the pacing needs to be kept up and the story needs to be refreshed so that everything feels new (it's hard to get new readers into a comic that numbers in the 600s).

I bring this up not because today's post is about comics (though obviously it is now), but because I want you to understand why I don't like Tim Burton's rendition of Batman. I needed to preface all that because Burton is one of those people (like Gaiman) that has a fanatical fan base. Say you don't like Tim Burton's work and people freak out. I like some movies (Nightmare Before Christmas, Big Fish, etc.) but his Batman incarnations are particularly frustrating. Sure everyone likes the first one, but they like it because it so perfectly encapsulated the '80s, not because it was a good Batman flick. Other than the selection of Michael Keaton as Batman (who looked just like the comic's Bruce Wayne at the time), I just don't care for it (Kevin Smith's comment that Tim told him he had never read a comic book of any kind was particularly telling).

Now, after all that backstory, the reason why I bring this all up, is that because when I'm browsing Twitter or some other online gathering place and I see a picture of a particularly attractive woman, I think to myself "Stop the press! Who is this?" and stop scrolling.

I did not realize I was doing it until I caught myself doing it this weekend on two different occasions. I don't blame the movie so much as I blame the first season of Chuck which included that joke and is a thousand times better than Tim Burton's Batman movies.

(This post had no footnotes in them because Nate Wilson used them all in his blog post today.)

NPH Poll

Despite all the snow, I have been wicked busy at work. I have a number of half-finished posts, none of which I am in the mood to finish now. Instead...A POLL!

Okay, not with the regular poll widget because it messes with my site design. Really, I should have said...A QUESTION! Or...A PROMPT!


Dr. Horrible - "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog"

Steve the Monkey - "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs"

NPH - "Harold Kumar Go to White Castle"

Barney - "How I Met Your Mother"

Doogie Howser - "Doogie Howser, M.D."


Plontsing the Sac

I've been on holiday! It is becoming a tradition that each Christmas my wife and I go up into the White Mountains for a few days. Though New Hampshire is a small state, the North country and the South Country are pretty different (as we're often reminded by those that live in the North). You can cut the state in half and vary the temperature by 10 degrees. Life is different there, including living in the lower elevations of the northern Appalachian Mountains. It's a great time, though this year absent snow. We are expecting a blizzard to hit tonight, so that should make up for it. Of course, it was supposed to start snowing 2 1/2 hours ago, so who knows if that will actually materialize.

If you're ever in North Conway, consider staying at the Wyatt House Bed & Breakfast. They were great to us. The food was delicious. And it's ideally situated.

While I was there, Jen too copious amounts of naps, more than usual, which gave me the writing time I needed to wrap up JH and send it off to beta readers. That number is down to two, now, which is disappointing. But people have lives and it's the holidays, so I understand.

I had thought to maybe spend a few weeks reading. I'm going to put attention to finishing Tad Williams' SHADOWHEART. I finished MOCKINGJAY yesterday. It was good, but I don't think it was worth the hype that it got. The ending averted being a disaster and ended up being just okay. The whole trilogy almost seems like it was written just to show which boy the character will choose, which is interesting for all of five pages, not three books.

As for me, spending time reading is turning into prep work for writing THE 7TH SACRIFICE (I've officially changed its name to be 7TH instead of SEVENTH).

For starters, I'm no longer calling the counties the counties. I originally conceived this story between writing WANTED: CHOSEN ONE and THE TRIAD SOCIETY. The former puts a lot of focus on duchies and a king. The latter puts more focus on counties. For 7Sac, I had wanted to use counties as a regional boundary because so often people focus on duchies or kingdoms and I like that county is still a word we use today. When I abandoned my first attempt at 7Sac, that bled over to TTS. The problem is, now TTS is a finished novel and the possible first in a trilogy, so using counties again seems like beating a dead horse.

I went horseback riding on my vacation. The farm was 77 acres of an original 1000 acreage granted to the owner's family in 1771 by King George III. Yup, I went horseback riding on a 239-year-old farm. New England is awesome. This made me tweak things a bit.

Basic breakdown. "The Kingdom" is where this takes place. The Kingdom is broken into four areas, originally called counties. Each of these counts claimed the thrown after the king died under mysterious circumstances. That's getting modified. The counties are acreages. Acreage is a little cumbersome to say. I was watching "Valhalla Rising" yesterday (disembowelment on Christmas!) and they calls Mads a terror from the southerlands. Well isn't that nifty. You always hear highlands or lowlands or East and West or what have you. Hell, I even used Southerland in TTS as Soderland (German), but this feels different. The acreages are delineated by compass.

Cumberland Acreage, the Westerlands
Arostook Acreage, the Northerlands
Somerset Acreage, the Easterlands
Kennebec Acreage, the Southerlands

Now, instead of counts, each of the Acreages is rules by a prince or princess, with Cumberland being home to the Crown Prince and rightful heir. The rest claim he assassinated their father and thus forfeited the throne. Each of them now call himself/herself King/Queen, but most just refer to them as the Pretenders (a term I made the first time around that was used much less).

I also used Tinkers in JEHOVAH'S HITLIST, so it wouldn't do to include them again in 7Sac. But I love the tinkers I've created, so really I'm just changing the name since the two types of tinkers were completely different. Now they'll be called Peddlers.

One thing that's getting dropped all together is the varying naming structures. Each county represented a different European culture in terms of naming. I think I'll just stick with Brittany this time as I so often move into other areas of Europe for inspiration. Main character's name is Cheshire, after all, and don't want to change that. So it wouldn't make sense if everyone else had a Russian name.

The visuals in "Valhalla Rising" were pretty amazing, enough to make up for the fact the story (there was a story?) made no sense whatsoever. Quite inspirational. Gave me a lot of ideas on description for the Four Corners, where the four acreages meet and where the abandoned royal palace still stands. I had thought to write the description here, but I'm not in the mood any more, so I'll save that for next time.

Hope you all had an enjoyable week while I was away. Time to get back to work. :)

(Oooo, and I got a Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock t-shirt in my stocking! Woo hoo!)

(And a titanium spork!!!!)

The Transition Story

Empire Strikes Back is my least favorite of the Star Wars trilogy1. This is heresy among accepted Star Wars fandom, but it is the way it is. You can rattle off the various elements of the movie that make it better than the others, a richer universe, more defined characters, a darker/grittier edge to it, and you'd be right. It has the basic fundamentals to be all the things the other movies aren't but is missing one thing: a story.

Oh, it has story. It has plot and adventure and action, but as an arc of introduction to conclusion goes, it's incredibly wanting. Now I had to suffer through a novel in college that showed how you can craft a story that doesn't have that kind of arc. But I don't participate in media to suffer. I want an inciting action. I want a climax. I want resolution. Empire Strikes Back is a bridge from Star Wars to Return of the Jedi. You couldn't reach the third story without the second movie, but they didn't offer any sense of accomplishment on its own.

The Two Towers? That's a movie that bridges Fellowship of the Ring to Return of the King but also stands as its own movie. Dislike the absence of the Rangers or the increase in self-depricating Gimli jokes or Legolas surfing down stairs on a shield, the movie begins, there is a big ass fight at Helm's Deep, and the movie resolves pointing to the third movie.

CATCHING FIRE is not a bad book. It's certainly not as good as THE HUNGER GAMES and by the end I'm more annoyed with Katniss as a character than the author probably wants me to be, but it's not a good book either. It's a bridge. Sure the climax and resolution exist. A climax and resolution technically exist in Empire Strikes Back as well. But they are of a degree that I don't think warrants a story of their own2.

I don't read a book just to get me to the next book. If a book exists only to propel me to the next book, it's not worth reading. It should have its own merit, it's own story, it's own essence. The entirety of CATCHING FIRE was a transition from the events of the first book to the events of the third book. The events of the second book only occur in two chapters. Really, at that point, you're looking at an epilogue of the first book and a prologue of the third book and bam, you have everything that's happened in the second.

Transition stories feel like the author has enough peanut butter for one sandwich but has four slices of bread, so (s)he just spreads it on as thinly has (s)he can. And when you pay full price for a book, you want all the peanut butter.

1 Yes, there is only a trilogy. That is all. Nothing else. Han shot first only.

2 The problem being, they were necessary to craft a trilogy, so the genuine failure is that they just weren't big enoug.

Living the Dark Crystal

First, yesterday was awesome. My niece began her freshman year at Boston University, and the person with whom she was going to have Thanksgiving dinner bailed. Which meant she ended up at my place. I've never had the opportunity to hang with her without one of her parents around and this is the first time she met her Aunt Jen. It's amazing how squared away this young woman is. If she's the future, things are going to be awesome.

A post I wanted to make the other day, but I wanted to make it with a video example that I cannot locate. You've seen the Dark Crystal. (This is not a question. You have seen it. If you have not seen it, stop reading right now and go watch it. Don't come back until you're finished.) The skeksi that is banished, Chamberlain (the one who has the always-identifiable whine), is trying to lure Jen into his clutches one last time. He starts begging:

Please? Please come down. Please? Please?! PLEASE?!

Knowing an agent I would love (LOVE) to work with is currently reading my full manuscript and may (or may not) offer representation? Yeah, I have those moments. I just want to shout in as shrill a Chamberlain voice as I can manage PLEASE?!?!?!

Then I get a grip and go back to my writing, but for those few seconds, ugh. I hope for the best which makes me fear the worst.

The Six Books of Harry Potter

Nathan Bransford invited readers to post comments about Harry Potter on their own blogs and link back in his, for which this post is created. Depending on how long you've been following me, you might have listened to the episode of the PodgeCast or even read the older post on my LiveJournal that covered the matter. Rather than digging through all that, I will repost here why I think the seventh book should be erased from the collective memory.


Molly Weasley vs. Bellatrix Lestrange


Like many of the previous novels in the series, HPDH lacked a firm editorial hand1. The 300-page trek through the woods was interminable. At least 100 pages could have been cut from that scene without detracting from the story.

The climax of HPHBP enumerates a number of rules for the final book. Harry is chasing after Snape and not having any success at all. Snape tells him that he'll never succeed without learning how to cast without speaking. More over, if Harry ever hopes to face Voldemort, he must first defeat Snape. Neither of these issues are addressed in book 7.

Never, not once ever, does Harry cast a spell without speaking in the seventh book. When it comes to the final conflict, it has no bearing whatsoever to the outcome.

Harry never faces Snape. Nagini kills Snape while Harry watches, so really, the whole ending of book 6 is negated.

WORSE, that negation also reduces Dumbledore's sacrifice. Why did he let Snape kill him? To protect the Elder Wand. Snape defeats Dumbledore and thus is the owner of the Elder Wand. Harry is supposed to defeat Snape so he can get the Elder Wand. The Elder Wand is one of three items that GIVE THE BOOK ITS NAME! That plotline is entirely disregarded.

Lupin and Tonks die so that Harry can be father to an orphan, bringing to a ridiculous conclusion to the character arcs of two of the most reasonable characters in the series up to that point. They throw their lives away to avoid responsibility2 and their deaths are a complete throw-away. It's not even a scene of the book.

Harry sends Ginny, the most badass combat wizard of the group, away at the end of the sixth book. And she stays away. What character is this? Certainly not the one that had grown into a strong-minded woman in the two previous books3.

And the clincher, JKR's comments following the publication of the book. No, not that Dumbledore was gay. Who gives a shit about that? No, she made two comments that just make me wonder how she managed to write such an amazing series in the first place as she seems completely out of touch with her own characters.

Blog post 1: JKR answers the questions of what happened to the characters after the end of the series. Harry and Ron become aurors and revolutionize the field. AYFKM?!?!? Neither of them are smart enough to be aurors much less to revolutionize the field. They lucked into potions class and would never have been able to last in any long-term capacity in that profession.

MORE IMPORTANTLY, she had created an arc she never resolved. Voldemort had tried to be the Dark Arts professor and failed. Following, the school never had another professor for more than a year. Being his opposite and given his proven track record at surviving the dark arts (and experience leading DA), Harry should have taken on the roll to break the curse. Ron could have taken his self-confidence and gone on to play professional Quidditch, which is the only activity he ever truly loves in the entire series.

Blog post 2: JKR says she crafted the ending specifically for Harry to represent Jesus in an effort to draw readers to Christ through her fiction. Hey, if that's what she wants to do, that's her choice. But to accomplish it, she derailed her own series and turned it in a direction where she could recreate Good Friday in a wizard combat zone. Never sacrifice your story for your message. A skillful author could use the former to deliver the latter.

Adendum 1: I also contend that Neville is more popular because of the movies than he is because of the book. JKR uses Dobby as the character that arrives with the timely answer (e.g., gillyweed). In the movies, they use Neville who is a lot cheaper than a CGI house elf. Not only did it work, it was BETTER than the books. It fit the character better and fleshed it out. The Neville of the books never got any real attention (other than being a practical joke) until HPOP, whereas the movies began his evolution one story earlier in HPGF. While he gets a great scene in the final book, I wonder how much attention he would have got if he hadn't grown so popular.

Adendum 2: What would have been cool? In HPPS/HPSS (depending on your nationality), Ron is the knight and has to sacrifice himself for Harry to continue on to the end. If that had been paralleled in the final book, it would have been a stroke of genius.

1 After the series became popular, there became a standard format to any Harry Potter novel. Part 1: Main plot. Part 2: Awesome subplot. Part 3: Lame subplot.

Parts 2 and 3 always got equal attention and swelled the book well beyond an appropriate page count. Parts 3 from every novel could have been chopped with no loss to character or primary plot flow. It would have just chucked lameness that we all had to wade through like we were sewer workers or something.

2 I have yet to meet a (sane) mother who would sacrifice the life of her kid to be with her husband while he runs off to get himself killed.

3 In all their previous fights, Harry and Ron have required a third person to force them back together. When Ron returns with the sword, it should have been Ginny hauling him there with whatever cattle prod Ron needs that book. They abandoned their strongest weapon and the story abandons her too4.

4 I will admit to some bias, as she's my favorite character, but really. If you're going to war, you don't send the guy with the machine gun home because it's dangerous. Certainly the guy with the machine gun doesn't stay home once he's there.

NaNoing My Problem

When I finish revising a novel, I feel like the train from the climax of Back to the Future 3. Doc Brown threw in those special logs and now I'm going twice as fast as a normal train. Reall, that works for when I finish the novel the first time and when I revise it again after beta reading. Each version is relevant to the color in the movie: first draft = green, second draft = yellow, third draft = red. Then I travel through time or fall into a gorge.

And since traveling through time doesn't work as a metaphor, when it's all done, I fall into a gorge. I'm just going and going and going and I don't want to give up any momentum. I try to switch to a different novel, either something I was already working on or something new. The problem is, each novel has it's own voice. I can't maintain that momentum and switch between mss. I need to slow down. But I can't slow down. There's a chemically infused log that is sending me speeding down the track.

I never want to take off, but I always have to. With the completion of TSS's second draft, I had the good fortune of being sick. So even though I wanted to keep writing (and have 38k of JH to go to), I had to take a few days off. Only a few. Monday arrived and I trying to keep some of that momentum going for this wip. It did not go well. I had trouble capturing the voice and had reservations of the quality of the story over all. It feels a bit thin. There's no complexity or depth. It's just a "go here do this, go there do that" story. It reminds me a lot of THE BLACK COMPANY in that way.

So I pondered this on the way home Tuesday night after producing only a few hundred words. I fell into the gorge and didn't realize it. Now I need to climb back up so I can get back on the tracks. But do I stop and try to wash my pants, or do I just soldier on? Yesterday morning I decided to take the NaNoWriMo way out. I ignored any quality concerns I had for the chapter and just pushed through to the end. Sometimes you just have to say, "I'll have to fix this in revision." This risk is that the quality is so bad as to derail the proper direction of the story. You'll just have to come back later and redo it and then redo everything you wrote after. It's a gamble, and not one that always pays off.

Elizabeth Poole and I have differing opinions on NaNoWriMo. She enjoys it. I do not. I accet that she finds a fun community there, but I do not participate in the community and do not want to lend myself to the activity just to explore the community. I think writing without any concern for quality is bad writing. I think 50,000 words counts as a novel in one or two genres. I think not enough effort is made to explain to participants that what they produce during NaNo is not something that should be sent to agents without revision and review. But most of all, it's that first part. No, I do not go back and revise until the entire manuscript is complete, but I do make a concerted effort to write the best possible first draft. To write with complete abandon is to shit diarrhea on the page. It makes a mess, it stinks, and isn't good for anyone but the flies.

I'd rather see someone write 25,000 first-draft quality pages than 50,000 NaNoWriMo quality pages.

So chapter 15 of JH is shit. Hopefully it's not so runny that it was a waste of time. I'm on chapter 16 now, and that's what I needed.

Another List!

Elizabeth Poole loves Westerns. I love Westerns! TOP FIVE WESTERNS!

1a. "The Outlaw Josey Wales" - Aside from giving me my namesake, this movie has a lot of things going for it. It was the first Western where all the Native Americans were played by Native Americans. They were also portrayed as the threat they were to settlers rather than just people on horses who charge forward and run away. Josey Wales the character is the essence of Clint Eastwood's Western career boiled down to pure awesome. It's long and may drag a little at times, but when you see him glare and then spit, you know it's on!

1b. "Unforgiven" - Much like Rocky/Rocky Balboa, this movie allows Eastwood to add some craft to the whole creation. The case could be made that William Munny is Josey Wales as an older man. There is one scene in particular where Munny talks about how he doesn't know how he kills so well, he's just always been good at it. That's the exact opposite of Josey Wales who can read a gang of four soldiers and know who to kill and in what order. It's more an exploration of how two different men ended up in the same spot. And the end? With Ned? GOO!!!

3. "High Planes Drifter" - WOW! This one is all about atmosphere and hate and revenge and if I ever needed a movie to epitomize the Deadlands role playing game, it's "High Planes Drifter." With such big-name movies like the two above, this one is often left off of the must-see lists of Clint Eastwood movies, but if you haven't seen it, go rent it right now. I can't even tell you without spoiling it and you'll hate me if I do.

4. "The Specialist" - Yes, I said "The Specialist" and not "Rio Bravo" or any of the other myriad John Wayne movies (despite its inclusion of Dean Martin of whom I am a huge fan). John Wayne's characters had a certain style, much like Clint Eastwood's. In "The Specialist," he breaks that style and how! I would never have thought to see John Wayne play that kind of character. I expect Clint Eastwood to play that kind of character, which is probably why I like this one so much. :)

5. "Pale Rider" - Some people claim that the character from this movie and the character from "High Planes Drifter" is the same. I disagree for reasons I can't post because of spoilers. I do think the premise can be similar and that's all right because the premise is so awesome Clint is allowed to tell it twice. Any time you see a story quote Revelation about a man riding a pale horse? Yeah, a poor comparison to this movie. This is where that awesome was born. (It also has the tall guy from Happy Gilmore, and that's always interesting.)

Honorable Mention - Young Guns Emilio Estevez (Estevez), Keifer Southerland, and Lou Diamond Phillips? Nuff said.