Thursday, June 27, 2013

Books Report

"All these worlds are yours..."
One must be a reader in order to be a writer. I've heard that over and over and over and it dovetails nicely with how I do things so it's advice I take to heart. Despite there being times in my life when I didn't read so much, I have always read something. As a child and into my mid-20s I read voraciously, devouring a book every three or four days. I've talked about all this before so I won't bore you with the repeated details. It's enough that I'm a reader, right?

So a friend on Facebook mentioned that he recently had listened to John Scalzi's Redshirts and was terribly amused by it. I was aware of the book because I've been reading Scalzi's Whatever blog for several years now, which is also often terribly amusing but also really informative. Especially during his tenure as president of the Science Fiction Writers of America. Anyway, I was at the library a couple of days after Richard mentions Redshirts and I'm wandering the SF section and there's a copy of the book. I pick it up.

The same week, I'd read an interview with Harlan Ellison again (because Harlan gives great interviews) and he mentioned Clifford D. Simak. There's an author whose name was very familiar but whose work I'd never read. I don't know why, I just hadn't. So I'm at the library, in the SF section, looking at authors whose last name begins with 'S' and there's a Simak book: City.

Maybe all this is subliminal because Man of Steel was coming out and the 'S' is everywhere. Maybe it's just a lucky confluence of whatever. I don't know.

Maybe it's having read Jo Walton's Among Others on the recommendation of another friend (thanks, Ted!) which is a book about a voracious reader devouring classic SF books by people like Simak, Zelazny and a ton of others.

Another friend, Steve, is reading the Hugo and Nebula award winning books as a project. This blows me away because I never would have thought to do that. So I looked at the list of SFWA Grandmasters to see how many of them I've read. Here's the list:


  • Robert Heinlein
  • Jack Williamson
  • Clifford D. Simak
  • L. Sprague de Camp 
  • Fritz Leiber
  • Andre Norton
  • Arthur C. Clarke*
  • Isaac Asimov*
  • Alfred Bester
  • Ray Bradbury
  • Lester Del Rey
  • Frederik Pohl*
  • Damon Knight
  • A.E. Van Vogt
  • Jack Vance
  • Poul Anderson
  • Hal Clement (Harry Stubbs)
  • Brian W. Aldiss
  • Philip Jose Farmer
  • Ursula K. Le Guin* 
  • Robert Silverberg
  • Anne McCaffery
  • Harlan Ellison
  • James Gunn
  • Michael Moorcock
  • Harry Harrison
  • Joe Haldeman*
  • Connie Willis
  • Gene Wolfe
The highlighted names are the authors who I've read at least one book from. Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, Bradbury, Moorcock and Harrison are the ones I've read either all or a majority of works from. 15 out of 29 isn't a bad ratio but it seems like I should have read more of these authors, don't you think?  I know I've picked up an Aldiss book or two but never read them, same with Silverberg. I have a book that Gunn edited, and a couple of collections of Wolfe are on my 'to read' shelf.

The asterisk denotes the Grandmasters who've won both the Nebula and Hugo awards for a single work. Clarke, Le Guin and Haldeman have all done it twice. Turns out I've read a number of books that won both awards:


  • Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
  • Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  • Among Others by Jo Walton

I have a copy of Paolo Baciagalupi's The Windup Girl also on my 'to read' shelf. So it's not that I don't feel like I've never read any meaningful SF, or great SF authors, but I have to wonder now why I didn't read more. I guess it's probably because I read more than just SF. There's Stephen King, Anne Rice (yeah, even after she got excessive with the Vampire books) and a lot more. Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, some of the classics, various non-fiction things that interested me. Hemingway, Fleming, Dahl, Maugham, Wodehouse, Greene all have places in my heart. 

Writers like Charlie Huston and Lev Grossman fascinate me and I love their books. Huston I read on recommendation from a friend (hi, Jonathan!) and Grossman because I heard him on the radio talking about The Magicians. Then there's other comic book writers like Gaiman who've stepped outside the four-color funnies: Warren Ellis and Mike Carey. And because writing is an art, I have to include Nick Bantock's books, too. Check out the Griffin & Sabine stuff, at a minimum.

So, the lesson I guess in this is to read widely, even within the genre one prefers. That's why I have Simak near at hand right now. I'm learning some things from him that I hadn't known yet about style and sentence structure. Also about what SF looked like more than 60 years ago. 

Thanks to my friends and the books they've recommended, I'm a better writer. Bet they didn't know they were helping me so much.

I liked Redshirts. It was damned funny, maybe the funniest SF I've read since Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy and I read those books as they came out. I can't write comedy that makes others laugh and I appreciate those who can (like Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat books). The inevitable comparison to Galaxy Quest is somehow less than satisfying, though, when one gets to the last third of the book. Scalzi's investigation of the aftereffects of the events of the novel as a writing exercise in point of view is interesting. Separate from the story but not, it made me think about the ramifications of storytelling. So Redshirts isn't just funny, it's thought-provoking in a way I really didn't expect. 

Which is what makes great SF. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Geek Concerns

Just enjoy it, stop being critical. Let go and suspend your disbelief.

Every time a geek property is adapted, from the Harry Potter books to the latest Superman film, Man of Steel, there are millions of fans who will analyze and dissect the minutiae. They take laser scalpels and carve out fine, fine points to examine to death then argue that the adaptation isn't as perfect as it should have been. To the point where they can't find any enjoyment in what's been done for them.

News flash, geeks: nothing is perfect. Not even the comics or the original books or series the films are based on. Get over it.

And another news flash: you still have the original property the film was adapted from. You may remember that Alan Moore refuses to have his name on any filmed adaptation of any of his works, right? Did you know that he's not taking the Hollywood money, too?

This goes along with the notion that fans own their favorite characters more than the creators. Yes, fans are terribly important to the success or failure of any given story. I don't deny that. However, it's so popular to run down anything that isn't just so according to some mysterious rubric generated by the faceless, anonymous Geek Authority on Perfection.

This GAP anoints a studio's choice of director, scriptwriter, stars and even composer on the Internet. If the GAP loves a choice, the film usually has a great shot at success. They have decided that the studio's choice is either the best choice or the worst. The GAP will be the loudest proclaimer of "See? We were right!" when the film is still two weeks from release. The GAP will be minded.

However, the GAP is not representative of all geeks in the same way that not all critics represent all moviegoers. Some of those critics are saying that Man Of Steel isn't what they want a Superman film to be. There's no Lex Luthor, he doesn't save any kittens, blah blah blah.

Get over it already.

Remember, you still have your comics. I don't remember a lot of people complaining that Dan Turpin was redesigned in Superman: The Animated Series to look more like Jack Kirby. That was a significant change but because it was obviously (to the GAP) done with love for Kirby it was okay. That series, by the way, is the closest we Superman fans had to an improvement on the Christopher Reeve/Richard Donner films for a long, long time.

You may be surprised to learn that I didn't watch even one entire episode of Smallville. Not one. It wasn't because the show was bad (obviously not, it went on for what, nine or ten seasons?) but because it wasn't the Superman I wanted. I've heard its praises sung, I kept up with how it linked a whole bunch of characters from the DCU but my experience with superhero TV hasn't been good. I've always preferred animation.

But I didn't gripe about it. I didn't tear down the creators or actors and anyone who worked on the show because it wasn't what I wanted. I just didn't watch. Thus, I lose some Geek cred and keep myself removed from the GAP.

Nitpicking is boring, gang. Buy some popcorn, sit back and take in your favorite geek film and enjoy it for what the creators have done. So what if they didn't make it the way you would have? In this day and age you have the ability to make the film you want, all you need is a camera and an Internet connection. Really.

If you don't want to do that, then you'll have to respect the efforts of the filmmakers and creators. If you don't like it, don't go. And don't ruin it for the rest of us. You don't own Superman and neither do I. You don't own the Marvel properties, either. Let it go and enjoy what's been done.

Take Alan Moore's example and disassociate yourself. Then make your own stories and see how it feels to be nitpicked into the Phantom Zone.

Mind the GAP.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Gaiman's Ocean

I went to the bookstore just down the street from me to buy a copy of Neil Gaiman's The Ocean At The End of the Lane, his first novel for adults in eight years.

The anticipation has been delicious. I've been waiting for this book ever since I heard it officially announced. The cover has been my desktop image at work for months.

It's been tempting to preorder on Amazon because I wanted this book so much and once I held the last copy the store hand in my hand

I was disappointed.

Less than 200 pages and $26.

I know that Gaiman doesn't  have control over pricing so I don't blame him for that. In fact I don't blame anyone for anything regarding the novel. It is what it is and the publisher has to make some money to pay for his contract. I get it.

No, really, I do.

But I'm disappointed. I wanted to support my local bookseller by buying the book there rather than online. THAT'S what I'm disappointed about, when it all comes down to it. The publisher has made it difficult for me to buy the book locally.

Instead I will likely buy it from Amazon because a) I have a gift card and b) it's less than $15 there. Even with shipping I'm out $20 at the most. It's also disappointing that it's going to be such a quick read, too. Mr. Gaiman's kept his adult fans waiting for a grown up book and this is all the story we get? There couldn't have been more? Sigh.

I'm a longtime fan of Gaiman's. I am. I've been as near a completist as I can afford and even an apologist to my friends who don't understand why I think he's one of the best storytellers out there. He's a treasure.

It looks like my unreasonable, fannish expectations and reality have collided with terrible force. I will buy the book from Amazon, despite exhortations to support local booksellers. In that regard it will be delivered by the USPS so at least I can support my local mail carrier.

Is there a solution? Is it possible for the publisher to so deeply discount copies to brick and mortar stores  to compete with Amazon and their ilk? Why wouldn't brick and mortar stores be given that opportunity?

I don't know. It's disappointing. I want to do the right thing and spend money in my town but this was too much for such a small book. I was prepared to spend the $20 bill so I bought a copy of Joe Hill's new book, NOS4A2, which I wasn't sure I'd actually buy. It was on sale for $19.99.

There's a blurb from Gaiman on the back.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Overwriting

Over at The Confabulator Cafe I've been writing a short story a month. You can check out the links on the Free Stories page here if you like.

Anyway, we're supposed to write flash fictions of around a thousand words. A year ago I didn't have any problems writing some short, short stuff. Over the last six or seven months I've been writing stories that don't strictly fit into any definition of flash fiction. I think the stories are better for having a little more room to breathe, and I love having a deadline to create something, too. But I'm NOT following the guidelines.

Perhaps the tales are slightly overwritten but maybe not. It's hard to tell sometimes. They're flash fiction in the sense that I sit down and hammer them out pretty much in one sitting, put them away for a couple of days and then give it a once over before it posts. Sometimes I've been ahead by a couple of days or even a week or more, others I've dropped at the site as much as six hours after my deadline. You can probably tell the difference but I'll never admit which ones are which.

Still, the struggle is to tell a decent/good story in a thousand words. It can be done, lots of people do it. I've even done it.

But why are my stories taking so much longer to tell? Is it the ideas themselves that have gotten bigger? Can I not think smaller any more? Is this a byproduct of working on novels?

I don't know.

I'm not even certain that this is a problem. I mean it's a problem for the Cafe because I'm not following the guides but it may not be a problem for me. Stories that run 2000 to 3000 words are pretty comfortable for me right now. Anything shorter feels - unfinished. As a matter of fact the last three stories are connected to each other and even connected to other stories within the Cafe.

In fact these stories are inspiring other stories that will need to look for homes somewhere. Maybe eventually in the Cafe, hopefully in a paying market.

Still, I'm sort of bothered by the fact that once I start writing I'm missing the mark. I know how to work within guidelines. Limits are there for a reason.

A little self-control is in order then.

If you're a writer, how do you do it? How do you trim your ideas to fit?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Thoughts on Man of Steel

I'm a Superman guy.

Some people prefer Batman, but I've always been a Superman fan. It comes from being from Kansas (and not all that far, really, from where Smallville would be if it were a real town) and from loving first contact with aliens stories.

I grew up in the 70s when there were great Superman stories being told in the comics and even on 33 1/3 LPs by Curt Swan, Elliot S! Maggin, Cary Bates, Jose Garcia-Lopez,  Ross Andru, Kurt Schaffenberger, Bob Oksner, Neal Adams and so, so many others. These were the creators who helped me love Superman in his battle for Truth and Justice. I don't think they necessarily put forth 'and the American Way' like the 50s TV series did but maybe. It didn't hit me over the head so I focused on Truth and Justice.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm writing these first paragraphs before I go see Man Of Steel on opening night. I want to get down my pre-film expectations before I write anything about the film itself.

Being a child of the 70s, Christopher Reeve was my Superman, maybe always will be. I believed he could fly. Reeve looked the part, played Clark Kent as well as he did Superman and that made quite a difference. When he lost his powers in Superman II, I believed it. Of course the next two films in the franchise were terribly, terribly disappointing. Awful, in fact.

So when Bryan Singer brought out Superman Returns and paid homage to Richard Donner's films I was excited. Using Marlon Brando's voice as Jor-El was inspired thievery in the trailer, but the film itself didn't live up to the promise. It wasn't the conceits of the story so much as it was the execution. The changes didn't bother me because they weren't big enough. Brandon Routh looked the part, even scarily like Chris Reeve as Clark, but there was something missing from the film. Like most of us I was disappointed

So cue up the current incarnation. Zack Snyder doesn't thrill me as a director and my hopes for the film immediately dropped. When Henry Cavill was cast I became a little more hopeful. And then Warner Bros. did the right nerd thing and involved Christopher Nolan. My hopes, and those of lots of other Superman nerds, rose. I think we're all still a little wary until we see the picture and we should be. But there's hope again.

Hope is what the symbol on his chest stands for, or so we're told in the trailer. It comes through in the soundtrack which I downloaded first thing Tuesday morning and have been listening to ever since. It's brash, bombastic, filled with soaring chords and thundering rhythms. It is - despite the volume swells - a work separate from composer Hans Zimmer's work on the Batfilms. Here, Zimmer has music that is strong, sensitive, introspective, hammering. It's not recycled from The Dark Knight or any of his previous works but does contain some of what he does so well. He pulls you into a piece then lets you go, the way great film scores should.

If you like the music in the trailer, you will like the entire soundtrack. I bought the deluxe edition with extra stuff and it's worth every penny I paid. I can see Superman when I close my eyes.

What appeals to me about Superman is that he's this enormously powerful otherworldly being - an orphan and a stranger in a strange land - who wants to help people. He's always been nice. To the point that characters with less character than him in the comics refer to him derogatorily as a Boy Scout.

It's difficult to always be the nice guy, to always be frustrated that not everyone thinks the way you think they should. He respects individuals who don't respect him and who will as soon as they can betray him. He's trusting and sometimes naive, believing in the individual right to live your life the way you want to as long as you don't hurt anyone. He's a protector but not a demagogue. He cannot solve all the world's problems and he has no intention of doing that. He wants his own life.

So - he's powerful, smart, good-looking and can do pretty much whatever he wants. He could be super bastard but he's not. He's nice. And that ought to bring him into conflict with the rest of the world of 2013 more than anything else. That should be the struggle he works against and I hope - because the trailer has led me to believe this - that the film focuses on this.

We'll see.

***

Back from the movie.

Wow.

Where to start?

Let me set this up just a little. We went to the last show on opening night in my town and the theater was probably 80% full, maybe a little more. The trailers started up and I wondered why we were seeing so many previews of comedies. Turns out someone in the projection room had loaded the wrong film but we didn't know it for sure until the opening credits for The Internship came on. A ripple of confusion went through the crowd and a dozen people ran out to inform someone of the mistake.

Man Of Steel started up shortly and we got on with it.

I've only seen two of director Zack Snyder's films and both were comic book adaptations that had very similar visual styles. Going in to Man of Steel I hoped that this one would be different from those two. Henry Cavill looks the part of Clark/Superman and that's a great start. The rest of the cast is well chosen, too, though I was apprehensive about Amy Adams as Lois Lane.

I needn't have been.

The film is visually stunning, starting with the Kryptonian costumes and the planet's landscape and even some of its wildlife. The camera work is reminiscent of J.J. Abrams' movies with zooms in on moving objects and some lens flares but the effects are stellar. It's a comic book come to life. The fights, especially on Earth, are intense and fast and violent. This is the way Superman should be. Snyder's given us a realistic (as much as it can be, anyway) portrayal of the kind of power that was only hinted at in the Richard Donner movies. Technology's come a long, long way.

It's packed with characters that get enough screen time to flesh out Clark as a person. The downside to this is that sometimes the film drags. I can't tell you there's any scene that's not key to either plot or character, but when it bogs down it's usually for an emotional reason. The trouble there is that not every emotional punch is as tough as every physical one even though that may've been the intent. The actors are wonderful and I admire Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as the Kents. Clark's Kryptonian parents are excellent, too, though I was disappointed at Lara's somewhat diminished role.

General Zod and his lieutenant Faora are great villains proving the adage that the villain is the hero of his own story. Zod's overt statement of intent reenforces everything he does throughout the film, too. It might seem heavy handed on repeated viewings but on opening night it made sense.

Lois is finally portrayed as the scary-smart person she always has been. Gone is the 'galactically stupid' person who is fooled by a pair of glasses and a change in hairstyle. She is intuitive, tenacious and brilliant. Amy Adams acquits herself nicely in the role and I thoroughly enjoyed her in every scene. Plus, she has a bit of chemistry with Henry Cavill.

As for Clark himself, he's very, very human. He is searching for himself for a reason that isn't implicit in any dialogue but is meaningful. His story, and the film itself, is really about trust. Who can Clark rely on? He learns a great deal from his father(s) and tries to apply it the best he can but the choices he has to make are difficult and there's no one to comfort him. For every answer he finds, Clark gets another question. It's difficult being the nice guy when it would be so easy to be selfish and just take what he wants.

Henry Cavill looks the part and is convincing as Clark. The best part of the performance is that he doesn't separate Clark from Superman, they're the same person. The fact that when he's weakened he keeps on fighting is testament to that. The flight scenes are spectacular, the speed of them got my heart really thumping. Without giving anything away, his struggle with gravity is convincing. Cavill sells it well. He's affable, even humorous.

And the music works well throughout, too.

Overall, I got everything I wanted out Man Of Steel. It's action-packed, full of character development and every actor gives an excellent performance. I'm excited that a sequel has already been greenlit. Christopher Nolan's hand is obvious in this film but credit goes to David Goyer for the script, too. Snyder had excellent material to work with and a terrific cast to pull it off. I left feeling like I've been set on a journey much like the one in Batman Begins.

I'm still thinking about this movie but I'm very, very pleased it was as good as I wanted it to be. Finally we have the film we've been dreaming of.

Absolutely amazing.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day Redux

I blogged this last year on Father's Day and it remains one of my favorite posts. I'm reblogging it today because of that. Happy Father's Day to everyone out there who does the things my Dad did and continues to do for me. 




When I was a kid we weren't all that far removed from the ideal of Leave It To Beaver, where the dad went to work and the mom stayed home to raise the kids and clean the house. 

Well, it was the 70s. Things were changing. Protesting was becoming an artform and there were still only three networks. HBO was a pretty new thing and I recall we had it before we eschewed city life and moved to a family-owned parcel of land out in the country where my Dad built a dreamhouse.

I've told you that before. I think what I haven't said is that my Dad is my inspiration and my hero. He worked to make sure that Mom didn't have to, so that she'd be home when my brother and I got off the bus after school. He influenced me with his dedication to work and his single-mindedness that nothing will get in the way of what he wants.

He was also a helluva lot of fun. One Halloween before we moved out of town, he painted himself and sat under a blacklight while the Disney Haunted House LP played over the sound system. The front door of the house was wide open and the candy was right next to him. All the kids had to do was walk in about six feet and grab a fistful of sweets and off they'd go.

"Come on in," Dad would say in a creepy, almost Boris Karloff kind of voice. It was friendly, inviting, but the combination of his outre appearance and the ultra-creepy sounds of the LP were frightening to the vast majority of the trick-or-treaters that year. Dad had a great time. (For more about the LP and to hear a couple of samples, click here. If you scroll down, you'll also find that it's now available on iTunes, which makes me VERY happy. But I digress...)

Dad was the coolest guy around back then. There was a period where I knew more than he did, when I didn't need his advice, or even his approval. I look back on that period and realize I was pretty stupid about a lot of things. If I'd just opened my ears, I might've saved myself some troubles. 

Happy Father's Day to all the Dads out there, but especially to mine. 

Believe it or not, Dad, I did hear you all those times. I'm trying to apply the lessons you taught me to how I approach being a Dad. I can't thank you enough for all you did for me. I hope you have a great day and I'll see you for lunch.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

What's In The Cards

Gift cards. Inside greeting cards. Both can be acquired at my local grocery store while I'm getting milk and eggs and bratwurst. (Hey it's grilling season.)

I passed two giant displays - one free standing and the other on an end cap - when I went to the store the other day and it got me thinking (again) that gift cards have made us lazy. This is, of course, an anecdotal and unscientific conclusion but I think it may be indicative of larger issues.

Retail stores such as my local grocer try to be one-stop shops for us. They contain not just the staples of a healthy diet but also a coffee shop, a bank, a dry cleaner, a florist, a pharmacy and more. They used to contain video rentals (first VHS then DVD) but that has moved to a red kiosk on the outside of the store where lines can form blocking the sidewalk just outside the entrance. People park their cars three feet from the red kiosk, leave the engine running and look at the screen for five minutes before making their choice. Sometimes they consult their three or four children as to what to purchase.

I've long held that the explosion of the Internet has made American society as a whole - with some exceptions - lazy.

The idea that you can get everything you need at the grocery store is ludicrous. Of course you can get beer, but in Kansas we still have boutique liquor stores that aren't allowed to sell openers or mixers. Downtowns have a variety of stores, restaurants and bars in a tightly compressed area and my downtown has a much higher percentage of bars than boutiques in its five block long and three block wide area. In all of that space there are three bookstores and the public library. I can't count the number of bars.

My grocery store, of course, has some books and magazines but that section is shrinking every year. It was, in fact, at the grocery store that I found the best SF anthology I've ever read. And the last new book I bought I picked up at the independent bookseller downtown. I go downtown to get my coffee beans, too, even though I could buy some at the grocery store. Or I could order them from somewhere on the Internet and have them delivered right to the house, which would not require me to go anywhere.

When I shopped the video sections of the grocery store, I would share the space with people and sometimes we would talk about a particular film and I might pick something that a stranger recommended. I can do that on the Internet, too, but that personal interaction meant something different, felt like a connection that was real. Sometimes I would run into that person again at the store and we'd chat about the movies. Sometimes not.

Now, in my grocery store, there are gift cards for everything from coffee to internet auction sites. My son would rather have gift cards than anything else. That way he can surf the 'net and buy exactly what he wants.

But giving a gift used to be something personal. A giver would consider what the receiver liked, what she might really want, and then go shopping in a mall or downtown. Sometimes the gift wasn't exactly right but the thought was there. "It's the thought that counts."

So it seems to me that when I ask someone what they'd like to have for a gift and the response is "oh, just a gift card to _________" what I'm being told is "you don't know me well enough to give me what I really want". I know it's not necessarily that, but sometimes that's how it feels. I like gift cards for things I can't go to boutique stores in my area for. There used to be half a dozen record stores in my town. Now there's two, one downtown and the other out south. I've bought a couple ebooks for my Kindle app on the iPad but only because they were digital only releases.

Who doesn't like getting gifts? The best part is when you get a gift and it's something you can actually use, isn't it? Isn't it more exciting to rip the bow and ribbon off a gift, tear into the paper and open the box and find exactly what you wanted?

And all it takes is giving someone a list of things you want and then waiting for them to give it to you. I told my son last January what I wanted for Father's Day. He went out and bought it (I'm pretty sure he did, I won't KNOW until I open it next weekend) and has had it ready to go ever since. Which I think is cool. I am disappointed when Christmas comes and all it is is a gift card exchange. There's no thought, no effort in the giving.

So when that's the case, what good is it? Gift cards in greeting cards bought at the grocery store the night before. That's not thoughtful giving.

That's lazy.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Feed

I am the new Number Two. (And all that that entails.)
Several years ago I turned on to RSS feeds. There were more and more blogs I wanted to keep up with and then things really exploded and I started needing to keep track of research stuff...

Well, you know.

Warren Ellis - the Internet Jesus - pointed to the original Bloglines and I liked that. I figured out how to set up what I wanted to keep track of and then set it up so I could read on my phone, too. In the spirit of full disclosure Warren Ellis is kind of a guru to me. I read him religiously for a long, long time. As my interests grew across the depth and breadth of the Internet tt was easier to keep up with him via RSS, though.

Bloglines went away for a while. Before it did I killed my account there. I don't remember what happened. (Ah, I see that Wikipedia has the tiny history of it, though. Apparently it never really did go away even though I thought it did. Huh.) Anyway, I migrated over to Google Reader. This is 2010.

The coolest thing about Reader was that I could add a blog feed at the click of a button on most websites. Since everyone is enamored of Google it was EASY. Now that Google has - in its infinite wisdom - decided to kill Reader because they weren't visionary enough to figure out how to monetize it I thrashed about looking for a new device that did as many of the same things.

Of course nothing will be as easy as Reader was. Like I said, it was pretty well built in to almost every website since before I started using it. This here blog is hosted on Blogger, which is a division of Google.

I guess it's the move to the Cloud. From that you can probably deduce that I'm not enamored of the Cloud though I see it has some uses. AND I know that Reader essentially was the Cloud, having stored my feeds in my account ready and waiting for me to access them from any computer I sat down at, or my phone. Or now the iPad.

So I've migrated away from Reader and to a new service called The Old Reader which is essentially the same thing as Google's app was. This device behaves in so many similar ways it feels like the home I grew up in. In some ways, though, it's not so comfortable and it feels like I'm going back to the home I grew up in twenty years after we moved out and the owners since then have done some extensive remodeling.

The Old Reader isn't perfect and it certainly isn't exactly the same as the last iteration of Reader.  I'm not complaining. It's just change and I remember the change from Bloglines to Reader being a little dramatic, too. It just takes some getting used to.

Because information is what I need.

It's about keeping up with the things I have to have to keep my mind active, to keep the juices flowing and to sort of attempt to stay connected to the wider world of things that I should know.

Information. Information! 

You won't get it.

By hook or by crook, we will.

And that's it, in a nutshell. I need a centrally-located dump of things weird and wonderful, the sacred and profane. I need those things to collect in a rocky pool, waiting for me to come along with some kind of sieve to find the nuggets that make up a story.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Intake

Here are some reviews of things I've consumed lately. You know, if you care what I think about any of it.

Gun Machine by Warren Ellis is a book I was anxiously anticipating (not as much as Lev Grossman's third novel about magicians, but still...) and I wasn't disappointed. It had all the trademarks I've come to expect from Ellis and the dialogue crackles even if it's a bit recycled from his comics. Still, the idea that there's an apartment in New York City filled to bursting with guns that have each killed people and arranged in eerie patterns is intriguing. The mystery is pretty transparent and since I keep up with Ellis' website I wasn't all that surprised by the revelation of the apartment at the end, especially since he set it up nicely earlier on in the book. Both the main character and his antagonist are interesting if a little thin on characterization. I look forward to his next novel which should be as much improved as this one was over his first. Recommended.

The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here is the second album from the reformed Alice In Chains. Their breakthrough album, Dirt, is one of my all-time favorite records and when they came back with new singer William DuVall and released Black Gives Way to Blue I was excited. Black had some excellent tunes on it and had promise that there would be more. Now there is and Devil is a bit more of a departure from Black, which isn't a bad thing. The thing I don't like about this record is that every song seems to be the same tempo. There's only one really fiery guitar solo and it's played by DuVall. Like Black there are a couple of interesting tunes including Phantom Limb, Hollow and the title track. Not enough to say that I highly recommend the record, but enough that if you're a fan and/or a completist you should pick it up.

Not Fade Away is David Chase's feature film debut. The uproar after the end of The Sopranos was cacophonous and I bet Chase was hoping that it would resonate with viewers more than it did with me. I really wanted to like this film but no, there's no way. It's really episodic, like a series of vignettes that are supposed to connect and do only because the characters tell you they do. The throughline of a band's formation, disintegration and reformation is tedious. James Gandolfini as the cranky patriarch is the high point of the film but he can't sustain it. I didn't even know the main character's name until halfway through the film. Maybe it was me not paying close attention but it's also that the story just isn't there. A narrator at the beginning and the end only confuses the issue. I can't recommend this film at all. 

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Fan Cooled

I create worlds and characters to amuse myself first. If others like what I write then that's a measure of success but it's not what I depend on in order to be a writer.

I write, as I noted here, to get the voices out of my head. It's not as insane as it sounds but it's certainly the most apt metaphor. There's a lot of clamor in my imagination, a lot of things that compete for attention. Some of the stories raise their hands and give me a kind of Alcoholics Anonymous summary ("Hi, I'm about a guy who hits a patch of black ice and wakes up in a different world...") and some of them are like a conversation over coffee. You get what I'm saying.

So it goes for most writers, I suspect. Of course there are a few writers who write strictly for commercial purposes. A few who write fiction, too, as far as I can see. And that's not a criticism, merely an observation.

As a writer, I'm a fan of certain other writers. Lev Grossman, Robert Heinlein, Richard Kadrey, Stephen King, lots and lots of others. Never once in my life have I felt like the writer of any given story betrayed me with how they told a story. I have felt like there were bad endings or stupid choices that diminished a story, but I accept that they weren't my endings or my choices. I have tried to understand why the author thought that was the best way to go and set the book aside.

Thanks to Holly Messinger, I learned that there are quite a few people who are REALLY upset with how the Sookie Stackhouse series ended. That reminded me that there are fans (remember that comes from the word 'fanatic'?) who are deeply, deeply - perhaps irrationally - invested in someone else's creation. That's given rise to fan fiction of all sorts. (Fanfic has been around as long as there've been stories, it's nothing new. Felt like I had to say that. Moving on.)

I don't write fan fiction. I have too many original stories to tell. But I understand the need of some to pursue this. Fan Fiction writers are so invested in the characters and worlds they have to tell the story they way they see it in their heads. Some of them even see it as 'fixing' the original work. That's investment, but that's kind of crazy. Taking characters and putting them in situations that never happened in continuity or 'canon', changing them to suit personal tastes and mores, is viable I suppose. And it's certainly easier to take a world already created and work with that.

That's why Hollywood has so many damned sequels.

All right. What I'm getting at here is that fan investment is very, very important. That's how a creator knows that a piece of writing is good. Right? If all I do is print off a piece and stick it in a drawer then I've got all the control but no one else even knows it exists.

The act of my sending a piece of work out into the world opens it up to interpretation and that's part of what makes being a writer exciting. I love learning what other people got out of what I wrote. The coolest part is knowing that the story connected with a reader on a level I hadn't really considered. You've probably had conversations about books or movies and had that same kind of thing happen. Interpretation is deeply personal, based on our experiences and knowledge.

Debate is good. And the internet has encouraged a great deal of debate about even the most trivial of things. Did you read the comments on the Charlaine Harris book? Wow. That's some serious investment. There is always a great deal of criticism of anyone who's popular. Now there's some critique of Stephen King publishing a book only in paper form.

Good lord, really?

Sigh. This is getting way out of hand. Writers, creators of any sort, have the right to create what they want in the way they want. If readers, viewers, invest enough it shouldn't matter what they create. If they don't like something, they don't have to buy it. However, it's not up to the creator to meet or even consider fans' expectations. Not at all.

So, really, let creators do what they do best: tell stories and create worlds and characters that engage us, the readers. Stop making it personal when the writer does something you don't agree with. You know who did that?

Annie Wilkes.


Monday, June 03, 2013

The Drive to Write

My motivation to tell stories is to keep from hearing all the voices in my head clamoring for attention. If I focus on one of those voices I can tell a story with its words. At any one time there are a dozen voices demanding attention.

So it's noisy in there. Like a mad party.

It's not enough to sit and write just every so often. I have to do this every day. Something has to be written. Often it's notes made on a piece of paper while I sit in the car at a long stoplight, or a sentence scribbled on a napkin after lunch at the day job. Sometimes I can open a document in my Google Drive and type in a paragraph or so.

But sometimes a story rolls around in my head and gestates for a while. Sometimes I can see multiple angles of the story, different points of view, different ways to tell the story or to expand the story by not retelling it but spinning it with different elements.

That's happened recently. An idea has been percolating like crazy and worming its way deep into my subconscious. It's been there a while because it already generated one aspect of a possible novel and then over the weekend it triggered some other synapse and fired neurons into a heretofore unused portion of my story brain, allowing for another aspect of a possible novel. Both ideas are good, and can lead to completely separate novels though set in the same universe.

But which to write first?

Whichever one develops faster, I guess.

But that doesn't really solve the problem. Ideally, I would be writing full-time and making a living at it. Hasn't happened yet. As I mentioned the day job above, that's the real trick. Commuting gives me the opportunity to write in my head (or scribble things down...) but it's time away from a keyboard. I'm figuring out how to make the best of all my time, still, and I haven't hit on the solution yet.

So the time I was spending writing I'm now spending driving.

But there are all those voices in my head. They keep working on things, developing stories that I have to write before I can get them out of there...

It's a kind of madness that is comforting and frightening at the same time. At least the sun shines in there.