Thursday, March 31, 2011

CUISINE AT THE END OF THE WORLD

When I was growing up, in a small town in Alaska during the early 1980's, my parents didn't buy milk in a carton. Nor did they grow milk plants and harvest/drain the pods (ten points to whoever names the origin on that reference - I'm certain I can't remember). They bought powder, added it to water, and mixed it...often with poor results. Want to know what a dry lump of partially-reconstituted milk feels like in your mouth? Like a spore of Hell has landed on your tongue, that's what.

Why would parents subject their children to such a thing? Because it was less expensive than liquid milk, and had a long shelf-life. Those were the sorts of things we had to pay attention to in a place where almost all food stuffs were imported, and the import schedule was erratic. At the time, I thought the manufacturers of the stuff (Nestle, I think) were sadists. Now, in light of the (probably) impending zombie apocalypse, I think they might be geniuses.

For all the changes in the world and Alaska during my lifetime, we still can't grow much food here. Sure, there are animals and delicious fish, but the growing season is short and cool. We can grow 100 pound cabbages, but grains are tricky, and don't get me started on fruit. Also, some of those animals kill people on occasion. 

So, in the event of the end of the world, what would we have? I'm presuming here that the final curtain call will be preceded by a period of energy scarcity on such a scale that manufacturing ceases, etc. etc. We'd have massive Brassicacaeae, moose steaks (here's a how-to if you want to make your own), salmon, and tart berries. I sense scurvy in my future, unless a couple of Jamba Juices survive and start delivering. Which would be awesome btw, a perky little badass Jamba juicer hellbent on delivery in a Mad Max world. Quick - somebody go write that.

So, for all you authors of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic prose, where's the food coming from? Are all your characters hoarding Twinkies and raiding the 7-11 at the end of the world, or are they growing and harvesting? And what are you planning to live on, should the end times come a-callin'?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

COMPOSITE FROM THE CLOSET

If you need to blame someone or -thing for the cheeseball internal rhyme in the title, then you can blame my WIP. It's busy glutting itself on alliteration and internal rhyme, the muddled slob.


But, as I was saying, one of the best ways to add complexity to your works is to draw from multiple sources. Have a strong main character (MC) but translucent (and not on purpose) supporting characters, or the opposite problem? Have dialogue in which every line gets a tag because everyone sounds the same and you can only tell them apart through a complex system of color-coding? Have conflict that dwindles at 1/8th the length you were aiming for? Sounds like you need some depth.


You know that 12-foot brass urn of Shiny New Ideas rocking in the corner? Reach in and pull out a handful of scenes and bits of internal monologue and that terrible villain who haunts your dreams. Fuzzy up the sides a bit and slip them into your WIP. Do they fit? If not, why not? What about your world makes them impossible? 


Of, if they fit, where did they come from? What do they want that's so far outside your other characters' hopes and dreams? Where do they intersect, and what happens when they do? Your characters all want to find out what happened to MC's father. That terrible villain with one white eye just wants someone to own up to putting a dent in his Veyron.


And voilà, conflict is born and depth begins.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A REVIEW! - SUCKER PUNCH the movie

I've been looking forward to Zack Snyder's movie Sucker Punch since, oh, I first heard mention of it following Comic-Con. The preview indicated it would be fast-paced, stylish, fantastical in a comic-book kind of way, and there would be atmospheric music. Oh yes, there was music (our theater thought the movie would better be enjoyed if the volume was turned up to 11 - my ears are still ringing).

**WARNING - SPOILERS AHEAD**

I'm neither in the habit nor the business of doing movie reviews. But I really looked forward to this one, and while it exceeded my expectations in some ways, I was perplexed by other deficiencies. This is just my first-take opinion.

The premise: Girl loses her family, nasty step-father stuffs her into mental institution where she is scheduled for a lobotomy five days hence. She retreats into a fantasy world where she and four of her fellow inmates fight for survival while, in the real world, she works to escape the institution. I expected Sucker Punch to be sense candy. Brilliant visuals. Pulse-pounding music. Escapism. There would probably be a happy ending.

And then, a couple weeks back, the Sucker Punch crew began unveiling animated shorts set in the various fantasy scenarios the characters visit. They are grim, dangerous places, and I began to wonder just how dark this film was going to be.

The main character, Babydoll, (Emily Browning) is basically sold by her stepfather to Blue, a corrupt orderly (Oscar Isaac) who also plays the role of pimp and puppeteer in the fantasy sequences. Blue promises to get her lobotomized so that the stepfather will inherit his deceased wife's estate (it was left to her daughters-other daughter doesn't make it out of the opening sequence) for a chunk of cash. Meanwhile, in the background, the institution's therapist, a tense Carla Gugino, is conducting the unique therapeutic technique of playing music and having her patients act through the prior traumatic events that landed them in the institution.

The fact that the patient Sweet Pea (Abby Cornish) is sitting on a bed in a child's bedroom to act through her trauma was indication enough that the real world component of the movie would be grim. All the inmates are girls, and all are victims. If they weren't victims in their prior lives, they become so in the institution.

And so when we transition into the first fantasy scene and find that, there, the girls dance provocatively on stage and then service men in back rooms, it shouldn't have been a surprise. Even in their fantasies, the girls are commodities, under the control of and shaped by the depraved desires of their male captors. The therapist, ostensibly in charge of the institution, is nothing more than an aging whore in the girls' eyes. If anyone ever needed escape, ever needed to step into another world where they could assert control and have the strength to stand up to the threats around them, it's these characters.

I still wonder how dark this story could have been. It glosses over the worst of reality, blurring the real world with the burlesque stage setting of the fantasy world, from which the girls springboard into the larger fantasy realms. The movie entertains, but misses steps along the way. Or ignores them.


Sucker Punch has the feel of a second draft rushed into production when it should have gone another couple rounds. The action sequences are phenomenal, especially the fight in the German trenches. The worlds of the fantasy sequences are deep and complex. Looking for a scene to inspire your epic fantasy, sci fi, or steampunk adventures? Look no further. Even though we only see the small spaces the characters walk through, the glimpses of the active, 360 degree backgrounds, are amazing. You must see this on the big screen if you can. There were places where my hand twitched because I wanted to rewind a particular sequence and watch it again. And again. And, for good measure, once more.

But there are fundamental issues. Remember the old lesson of show versus tell? In the burlesque fantasy world, Babydoll's dancing is hypnotic, riveting all eyes on her. But it's never shown. Watches characters talk about something phenomenal that we could just as easily have seen is distracting. The real world and that first step into the fantasy world are blurred early and often, which makes it easy to forget as we're caught up in battles between automatic weapons and dragons, that there are real stakes in play. This, I think, is a big deficiency. The girls may be denying the desperation of Babydoll's situation, but it makes it more difficult for the audience to develop an emotional connection with the characters.

Sucker Punch isn't all flash-bang with no heart. It's just sort of a BYOheart situation. It hints at a bolder story, even whispers commentary on societal failures, but it also purposefully redirects the audience's gaze away from those things. That doesn't mean you can't explore them on your own.

If you don't want to think deep thoughts, then go enjoy a kick-ass movie. If you were hoping for a thought-provoking story, be prepared to do your thinking after the movie is over.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

CATAWAMPTIOUSLY CHAWED UP

It's been more than a week since I first encountered it, and I'm still stuck on this phrase. It's rare that I'm surprised by a word or phrase. Sure, I encounter words I've never heard or seen in print, a smattering of letters I'm required to look up. Some of them I remember. Some drift away, the meaning returning to whatever place it inhabited before I glimpsed it.

Catawampous has always surprised me, but catawamptiously chawed up is a real treat. You can practically taste, all but feel the meaning as you say it.

Meaning: utterly defeated, badly beaten. Catawamptiously chawed up. Brilliant.

What are your favorites?

Friday, March 18, 2011

THE WORD IS THE THING

"Watchu goin do wit em?" Garv asked.

Tal rubbed at the scab on his chin, poked at the squirmy pile on the ground with a short stick.

"Dunno."

"Maybe they'll burn."

Tal dragged one of the little objects away from the others. The men stared at it, its serpentine shape at once familiar and unknown. Unknowable, perhaps.

"Don't look like it'd give up much heat," Tal said. He dragged another one, more angular that the first, out of the pile. He flicked a third, which fetched up against the others. And then the three little forms shook like wet dogs and settled down beside one another. Expectant.

"Eat," Garv said. Then he looked away, pink blooming on his pockmarked cheeks. "I seen them afor. They says 'eat'."

"What is they?"

"Letars. When theys together, then theys a ward."

Tal looked down. e. A. T. He picked the letars up, rubbing the thin, slightly greasy forms between his forefinger and thumb. He lifted his chin and dropped them into his mouth. They crunched between his teeth, burst on his tongue. But there was nothing to swallow.

"What they tastin of?" Garv asked, his nose scrunched up in distaste.

"Pleasant. At first, they were sweet and sour, like a recalcitrant berry plucked from Mrs. Rangarajan's thorny plants. Then they changed, became viscous and savory as they climbed my teeth. And then..." He shrugged. "They seemed to disappear."

"Huh." Garv scratched at a sore on the side of his neck.

"You really should try one," Tal said, plucking three more letters and lining them up. Garv squinted at them.

"Maybes later," Garv said. "Lessus go down at the pond."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

TRANSITIONS, OR: WHAT GETS LEFT ON THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR

I dabbled in drama in college, and had a number of friends who were serious about careers in acting and directing. Many of them had come from Los Angeles, some from families in the movies business, and so maybe it didn't seem like such an impossible dream for them.

One acquaintance landed the starring role in a WB sitcom shortly after graduation. It lasted two seasons. Others have had plum roles in small movies, or small roles in big movies. A lot of their work has ended up on the cutting room floor.

I think of them every time I cut grandiose description, screaming neon "hints", and pages of characters looking meaningfully at each other. These are the hardworking scenes that I needed to move between major plot points or change location. They are transitions, impudent hatchlings which regularly outgrow a story's needs.

Got a bloated manuscript? Trust your readers to take steps with minimal guidance. Trust them to figure out the larger conspiracy even though your character can't yet see it all. I know my little transitions are dreaming of that one chance to shine, but sorry my sons and daughters, we're going to have to let you go.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

STATUS QUO

It's brilliantly sunny and appallingly cold here today (yes, this is one of those times when adverbs are acceptable). I'm overcaffeinated, reading Shakespeare and a cowboy slang dictionary, and fairly certain something amazing is about to erupt in my WIP.

How's your weekend going?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

SMALL VICTORIES-WRITERS CAN'T LIVE ON CHEESE SANDWICHES ALONE

Lately I've been discussing, with writer friends in various stages of the game, the importance of small victories. It's completing the 20,000th word, when before you've only ever written 8,000 before you abandoned yet another Great American Novel. It's having a short story accepted by a literary journal that's turned you down like doing so was its sole purpose (Clearly the journal was invented and funded by some long-forgotten nemesis, or perhaps an alien species studying humans and their reactions to rejection. The bastards). It's being told your piece, your CreationBabyJoyandHeartbreakAllRolledIntoOne made it through the first reader round to the second, which is only one level from the editor, who has only to type "yes, please" and you're in.

Small victories keep writers alive. I know, I know. Margaret Atwood said it's cheese sandwiches. Those help. But, before a writer gets hungry for a cheese sandwich, she has to want to keep living. And it's a series of fortuitous boosts that make a writer want to keep living (As a writer, that is. Most people want to live for other, more substantial reasons, like 5-bedroom houses with pools, or a designer handbag in every color, or to see their kids grow up, etc.).

If things aren't going well, if all you're seeing is a smattering of rejections (when you get responses at all) it's okay to siphon from the wins of others. Or, hell, dream big. Take heart from a friend reeling in an agent, or a stranger inking a SuperMegaOhMyGodFinnishFilmRights(!) Deal.

Writing is personal, and lonely, and sometimes heartbreaking. Savor each win, whether it's yours alone or a smeared-mascara in public kinda thing. If you don't believe that writers live on small victories alone, check out Chuck Wendig laying down the hard science* over at his obscenely brilliant blog Terrible Minds.

*The science may be slightly pendulous, but that doesn't mean it's not good.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

URBAN FANTASY WISH LIST - MARCH 2011

I'm seeing all sorts of lists of clichés and tropes that readers say they are tired of seeing in Urban Fantasy (though sales seem to indicate that readers are, in fact, not entirely tired of these genre staples). What I'm not seeing are wish lists.

I'm a big fan of the wish list. Mostly I park unachievable (the $75,000 a month rental house in Napa) or ridiculous (uranium) items on them and occasionally review them to make myself laugh. But, in addition, I also use them for their intended purpose: to declare my wantiest wants for all the world to see.

I give you: 
My Urban Fantasy Wish List
(Effective March 2011, subject to change at will or whim. Wish List not valid outside of United States, its territories or possessions. Void where prohibited.)

  • Male Leads
  • Main Characters whose days jobs are not investigative in nature
  • Animals that neither talk nor transform into 1) people 2) demons or 3) whatever the MC needs at that very moment to escape that very peril
  • Less Sex Addiction - Seriously, this is the only plausible explanation for characters to throw down and make the beast with two backs while beaten up and in an urgently dangerous situation
  • Pirates (The High Seas kind, not the Somali kind. Okay, maybe the Somali kind)
  • People falling through false doors into elaborate cave systems and having to find their ways out, possibly encountering Chester Copperpot as they do so (No, I have not watched The Goonies recently, why do you ask?)
  • EDIT: Adding automats, because they are teh awesome!
  • Nature vs. Man - Specifically the natural world revolting against human-cultivated magic or technology
  • Main Characters who do not compulsively bully their friends or treat their significant others with disdain
  • Ancient scourges so scourgerific that I'm compelled to keep all the lights on at night
  • Fallen Angels/Mythic Creatures whose primary purpose is not to get in the MC's leather pants
I think that's it for now. What's on your wish list?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

THE STATUS, IT IS NO LONGER QUO

Hello, dear people. Did you miss me? Uhm, or even notice I was gone? Or, well, is this thing on? Other than celebrating my new cowboy hat (which my son immediately absconded with upon my triumphant return from trapping and taming it), I've been:


  • Traveling (Arizona this time)
  • Meeting fellow writers *waves to Kevin and Tiffany*
  • Having an airline randomly cancel my pre-paid ticket and then try to stuff me into a dreaded middle seat on an oversold airplane *eyetwitch*


But I'm back in Alaska, and my schedule should be regulating soon, which means? *da-da-da-duhm* More blogging! Hurrah! Stay tuned. Excitement is afoot!