Tuesday, December 31, 2013

More 2013 Wrap-Up Stuff... The It's All About Me Edition!

So, the last post of the year is another wrap up list. The one where I list my failures and triumphs during the year. Mostly it’s about failures.

Given my love of lists, I’ve decided to turn my year of writing into a list. So, yay for me. Boo for how short it is, only two items. 2012 was actually a pretty productive year, I suppose. Not really productive, but it at least appeared that way when compared to 2013, a year in which I accomplished almost nothing. Let’s review.

First, I worked on Total Depravity. I wrote the first draft of this story back in 2011. Very early in 2011, actually , it might have been late in 2010. Needless to say, I’ve been working on it a long time. This story started as an experiment, as I wanted to do an epistolary story. Then, I decided that it didn’t work that way, so I rewrote it from scratch. Sent it to some beta readers, then made revisional changes and thought it was, more or less, ready.

But something was nagging me about, something I dismissed. But when I sent it out for some edits, Andrew Leon wrote back a short critique and mentioned that he had a hard time connecting with the lead character.

And I’ve been in a downward spiral of self-doubt and pity ever since.

I’m kidding, but I did immediately see what he meant, after thinking about it some, I decided I needed a better opening, so I tossed what I’d written and started over.

From scratch. I reworked the beginning, then realized that some of those changes really alters the continuity of the story as I’d plotted it, so I had to replot as a result. I’m approximately halfway through the story concerning this. I’ve tried to add more emotionally resonant matter, and smooth out a lot of the continuity errors I introduced during my rewrites.

My hope is that the later portions of the story can stand, more or less, unchanged, as the payoff shouldn’t be altered too much. But I have taken my sweet time as a result. Currently, it’s only about 35k words long, but it’s been my wip for, more or less, 3 years now. Imagine if it were a full novel!

So, I’m pushing the completion date of this story back to Spring of 2014. Honestly, I’m thinking of selling it for $8 a pop, just because it’s been such a damned chore. Sheesh.

Second, I did write a first draft of a novel with demon hunters and demons. I was convinced that it was the most brilliant thing a human has ever conceived when I began, and was pretty sure it was derivative, childish, na├»ve, poorly written and all around a waste of my, and everyone else’s, time by the time I’d finished out November.

An excerpt of that is readable on this is available, btw, which is really just a way for me to fish for compliments, as I need external validation on such a repeated basis that I tend to want to smack myself.

I’m not 100% sure I’m going to continue with it. I think I will. Because I realize that the years are zipping on by at a furious pace and I don’t have much of anything complete enough to shop around to would-be agents, publishers, or fans.

Aside from that, I did, for the most part, nothing. A very quiet year for me, and one so unfulfilling creatively, that I ended up being pouty and annoyed for much of the time.

Damn, this isn’t even an IWSG post. Who knows what sort of self-pitying rant I could go on next time.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Year End List... The Best Books Edition!

Well, the week after Christmas is, traditionally, when the world goes list crazy while recapping the events of the year. As for me, I go extra crazy during this time because I love lists, and kinda wish there were more of them, period.

Like, when I go to the doctor and tell them I don’t feel well, I’d love to get a piece of paper handed to me that said:

The 7 Diseases you probably have (or will be getting soon)!

I took my vehicle into the shop last week because the missus was sure the brakes were going bad. I had a coupon for a brake inspection for $14.95 so I took it in.

The mechanic came up to me and said the brakes are fine, but here is a list of things I need to look at.

I was never so pleased to learn that my rear differential is messed up. Not because it was messed up, but because it was number 3 on a list. I had a list! Transmission flushing and replacing the self-sealing stem bolts were all there. It was heaven.

I had to stop myself from hugging the guy.

Oh well, since I already have my list regarding movies last week. Today I give you:

THE TOP 8 BOOKS I READ IN 2013 (by people that never visit my blog)

I added the disclaimer at the end because I honestly felt weird about including something in my list from 2012 from an author I knew when I didn’t include others I knew. Even though it wasn’t my intent, I felt it could easily have been insulting to others that were aware I’d read their works of fiction but decided not to include in my best of list.

Hence, my disclaimer. Just so everyone knows, I read at least 7 self-published/small published works this year that I thought were outstandingly good. And yes, I would probably have fit at least 2 of them into this list to make it a top 10.

And honestly, all of them would be included if I did a top 20.

But I’m not going to do that.

Also, I only read about 80 books this year according to Goodreads, that number is skewed somewhat by graphic novels and short stories I read. So the number of actual novels or novel-length works is probably closer to 50.  If I were to come up with a top 50 or something, it would feel a bit like I was just going to throw everything I read into this list. So, I decided, after reviewing all the things I read this year, that the 8 books below are worthy of mentioning to any would-be reader of fine literature.

8) The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To, DC Pierson:

I had this book lying around on my shelf for a very long time before I finally picked it up to read over Christmas. I was a bit antsy about it at first, because it was a) literary (shudder) and b) from a debut author.

Debut novels tend to be enjoyable, but flawed. In this case, that’s just what this was. The thing about it, though, is that I fell in love with this portrait of a nerdy kid that liked to draw. I immediately connected when he explained that he was complimented by fellow students, they always said he was a good drawer… not the thing you put clothes in at your home, but draw-er. It’s true! I must have heard that 100 times in school when I was a kid. I’m not an artist, I’m a draw-er.

So, yes, I was connected right away. Loved it. The story is about this nerdy kid and his even nerdier new friend… a kid that never sleeps. Period. They transverse high school together. I had a hard time putting this one down. It does have a bit of that thing that I sorta don't like as a rule, where it's the kid's first time experiencing a lot of things, and of a kid growing up a bit. But really, I was so enthralled, I didn't care. Loved this.

7) The Rithmatist, Brandon Sanderson:

Another recent read, it’s really taken heavily from the Harry Potter mold. I know magic school is a subgenre of its own, but this was one of the only ones I’ve read since Harry Potter that I felt like was a great story in its own right. I didn’t turn every page feeling like I was reading a rip-off, but instead was getting more and more engrossed in this fantastic world where 2 dimensional creatures drawn in chalk are trying to destroy the world.

Oddly, this was probably the book of his that I've been the least excited to read in a long time. The concept really didn't appeal to me at all. But, behold. Here is it on my best of the year list. Where some of the other things of his I read this year are not. 

This works. It’s amazing.
6) At Home, Bill Bryson:

Not a novel, but a history lover’s dream. As well as the trivia lover. I’m a fan of Bryson anyway, so I had a pretty good feeling I was going to enjoy this before I even picked it up. He writes so smoothly that even when he covers something I don’t personally find very interesting, it’s interesting. But then again, learning about the history of the hallway IS interesting.

Really, I can’t see how anyone can feel complete without having read this book.

5) Blackbirds, Chuck Wendig:

I discovered Chuck earlier this year and read this book in about 10 hours. More or less straight through. Then I ran out and purchased the sequel, and devoured it at about the same clip. I blinked, realized I’d lost a weekend, and then was happy to learn that he doesn’t have a backlog of 50 books that I was about to tear through over a few weeks like an addict on a bender.

Yes, I was very happy to learn that he’s relatively new to the game, despite my burning jealousy for how damned addictive his prose is, I’m a huge fan.

The author is also a bit internet famous, and is known as one of the more creative people on earth at cursing. He can turn an f-bomb into something as transcendent as a perfect slice of cake. The man’s a genius.

Ironically, this book is free through Dec 31st. I had no idea when I wrote down my list. How about that?

4) You, Austin Grossman:

Similar, in some respects, to the nerdy boy story I have listed at number 8. This one is about a guy who gets a job as a game designer in for a mega-huge video game company during the late 90’s. A game company founded by a few of his high school friends. Those friends went on to make millions expanding on the games they created together during high school while he was off at college trying so hard to be cool and leave his geeky past behind.

Then, a decade after high school ended, he came back when his life fell apart and took a job at the game company his friends founded. He tried to solve a mystery he found hidden deep inside the games they were making in high school together that was placed there by the recently deceased genius that wrote the code that made his friends rich and famous.

Geez, did that make any sense? Anyway, also similar to Ready Player One, which I read this year too, but as you can see, since that one isn’t on my list, it means that I found this one much more satisfying a read. It also makes me think that I shouldn’t be slapping stars on everything I read as soon as I’m done. I gave this 4 stars at the time, and in retrospect, I think it might have deserved a higher grade from me. I really, really liked it.

3) The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch:

Think of Ocean’s Eleven meets A Game of Thrones. Locke Lamara is a con man that seems like he is always in over his head. Dealing with powerful gangsters and wizards and surviving on his wits.

Absolutely a book of genius. The characters are so well done, the scenes are packed with tension. I think this could be used as a model of perfect storytelling. From the prose to the plotting, this one had it all.

I also recently learned of the author's struggle with depression. And that the long gap between his novels in this series were due to his struggles to cope with the illness. Pretty inspiring story. As of now he's dealing with it marvelously and, thankfully for us, is writing at much more brisk pace.

2) Abaddon’s Gate, James S. A. Corey

Funny, I was so disinterested in the first book in this trilogy that I almost didn’t finish it. I got the second one super cheap when Borders went out of business a few years ago and waited a very long time before I bothered to read it.

And then it blew my mind.

So, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for this one to come out, and when it did, I was all over it. I read this one and felt like it was one of the very best books I read in 2013 (The previous one in the trilogy was my favorite book of 2012, just FYI).

This one might get a bump from me due to it being written right up my wheelhouse as a fan. It sort of ticks all the boxes for what I want in an awesome book. It wrapped up the trilogy wonderfully, and still managed to leave the door open for more (and a second trilogy is in the works. Yay!).

I’m also impressed because James S.A. Corey isn’t a person, but a collaborative effort of fantasy author Daniel Abraham and previously unpublished author Ty Franck.

Well done, Gents. I’m waiting for more.

1) The Passage, Justin Cronin:

My favorite book of the year? I don’t know, I did put it at number 1 here. So, there’s that. I really liked the top 3 books on this list a lot, and probably could shuffle them up and get a different answer from me at a different time. But as of the writing of this list, it’s number 1.

Why? Well, probably because it was so well written, yes, I did get tired of the word “Now” which was overused to an extent I rarely see in modern prose (Arthur C Clarke had similar issues with “Presently” in 2001. Another book I finally got around to reading this year). But then again, it was a very long book, and it does very little to diminish the greatness of the story.

Part of what I love is that the first third of the book could have been a novel in its own right. And the shift from the story of a little girl caught up in a government experiment is so gut wrenching and harsh. Once it’s over I’m ready to quit. Not because it’s not good, but because I’ve already been through the ringer, emotionally.

My wife did just that. She loved it, but quit. I stuck with it and found the second part of the story to be just as compelling, if set 90 years later.

This is a non-traditional story in its structure, and very powerful. I can see why it was released to so much hype a few years ago when it came out. It’s an amazing achievement.

And that’s about it. I’m sure there is much more to discuss, but as it stands, I’m about tapped out when it comes to writing more. Happy day everyone.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Tale!

I have a story to tell for this Merry time of year. Funny thing… I was going to submit this as a Christmas themed story for Apex. They asked for a short, dark, sci-fi or fantasy themed Christmas story. The idea came to me, more or less, fully formed in my head. However, I could not cut it down to 250 words per the rules.

Then I missed the deadline.

So, then I had this story sitting here. I was going to submit it to Briane Pagel’s blog, since he takes story submissions now, but I realized it’d probably be mid Jan before this ever got through his submission process. Which I just assume is complicated, because most things he does are complicated, I think.

And of course, he, since he recently became, technically speaking, an editor (even if he says he will do no editing), then I am forced to assume he would reject anything I sent to him anyway, since that, apparently, is the main task that editors have, which is to reject me.

Anyway, below is my dark, sci-fi, Christmas story, which is, unfortunately, way longer than 250 words. But, if you read at a normal clip, you should be able to tear through this story in under 5 minutes.

Merry Christmas everyone. Happy Festivus, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, day away from the office, or Wednesday, take your pick:

I have 17 minutes left. You know, until the world ends.

The second hand on the clock by my desk moves silently, but I like the ticking sound, so I made one up in my head.

Tick tick tick.

I closed my eyes, counted the ticks in my head. And waited. They say, when our ancestors left the earth, that millions of people turned out to watch the launch. The ship, even in orbit, was large enough to dominate the night sky. It was a star brighter than any object visible aside from the moon. Thousands of colonists were there, entering into coldsleep. The best and brightest, each chosen for their skills, knowledge, attitude and health.

When those fusion torches fired up, the earthside lit up like the noonday sun.

Whatever, I’m not sure I believe any of it. It all sounds too… fairy tale-ish. I liked imagining what it would be like though, looking out a window at the earth tumbling far below, and seeing a whole city’s worth of people with lights held up to wish you well on your journey to the stars.

I might have slept. Because I glanced at the clock and there were only 12 minutes left.  It didn’t seem that long. Just a blink really, but five minutes disappeared.  

The room was dark, aside from the wall clock with the silent second hands and the tree in the corner. The bioluminescent fronds made itglow in greens and blues. Quite beautiful. That the silvery sap collected at the ends of the branches and solidified before they can drip down to the ground below, well, that was the kicker.

The trees were a Christmas miracle. A whole world, covered from pole to pole, with the most beautiful trees imaginable. Nothing else larger than a pinky nail appeared to live here. Not plant, animal, or structure of any type. Just a world of Christmas trees.

Tick tick tick.

When the colony ship arrived in orbit it had been traveling for nearly a thousand years. Things had gone to hell en route, and all the foodstuffs meant to keep everyone alive upon arrival we gone. We were barely holding on. Well, my parents were anyway. I was born here. After the arrival. I was the first local baby. They called me Nikki. You know, for Saint Nicholas.

So lame.

Nine minutes.

We arrived, or my parents did, and were forced to ‘live off the land.’ It was a scary time, and the colonists found forests full of these beautiful trees, decorated and waiting for people to come find them.

That was 13 years ago. We survived. In case you were wondering. The seed stocks took, the ground was filled with local biota that earth plants mostly ignored – and vice versa. We showed up near death, on the brink of cannibalism and madness. And found our salvation.

Four minutes. Tick tick tick.

To add one more thing to the mix, we’d made landfall a week before Christmas, ship-time.

The holiday immediately became much more popular. The trees were chopped and moved into people’s new prefabbed homes. The sap balls that looked like ornaments and the glowing needles that were just like lights.

Then, a week later, the Nguyen family came home and found the inside of their home destroyed. The place looked like a machine had exploded, the plaster and wood from the interior were splintered into pieces barely large enough to give a person a splinter.

Amy, their youngest, was in there somewhere. A laughing, crying, playful little girl one minute. And minced into organic matter so fine the next, that it took a few days to realize she wasn’t missing, she’d been mulched.

A few days later, it happened again with the Rodriguez family, they all died. All 5 of them.

Two minutes.

Half the colony was dead before anyone figured it out. They were looking for a murderous kid with a chemistry set. But that wasn’t it at all.

It was the trees.

The sap wasn’t sap, it was a sac of spores. When the tree begins to die, it pumps all of its remaining life into those sacks that dangle like silver bulbs from their glowing fronds. Some alien chemistry experiment goes on in there.

Then boom. Spores for everyone. They don’t release them into the wind, or depend on a wild animal to pick one up and carry it. They shoot the damn things out, like filaments fired from a grenade. They rip through wood, flesh, bone, even metal. The spores themselves are harder than diamond, they have to be, to survive the fiery blast from their birth.

Maybe its best to describe them as bits of glass and metal, they slice apart anything they touch, another evolutionary advantage in a world overrun with these things. On earth, trees would grow taller, reach for the sunlight with and block all the things underneath in a shadow that chokes them out.

Here though, in Grinch’s World, they just blow the shit out of each other, best guess, once every 18 years or so, give or take.

They kill everything that walks on land. Flies through the air, or breaths the air. Best guess is that there are approximately 120,000 of these things for every square mile of land on the planet.

There is no place to hide.

Twenty seconds.

When they all go, it’ll be like a nuclear winter out there, for the survivors, if there are any. Food crops will be ruined, all we’ve worked for for the past dozen years will be ruined. Sure, we can survive the hell week when the things all go crazy and start exploding, probably, but that’s just the beginning.

Any survivors will starve, turn on each other. That’s when the real nightmare will begin. These Christmas trees are made of alien wood. It’s less nutritious for us than regular earth wood would be.

And that’s all that’s here. Anywhere.

Time’s up. I look at the wall clock, seconds tick by. One, two, three.

I held my breath. Nothing. I looked away from the clock, towards the tree in the corner. The fronds were glowing, as were the ornaments, well, spore sacks. I’d never seen that before. It was hypnotic.

The colors danced inside the spheres, I couldn’t resist. It was hypnotic. I left my place by the desk to get a closer look. It called to me, this tree did. It begged for my help.

“I’m here,” I said, “I’m right—“

There was a flash, then darkness.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Taco Bell: A Love Song!

I've gone so long without posting over the course of the year that I've clearly forgotten how to write a post. Doing these things are like making a visit to the dentist. No, that's not it, maybe it's like going to the gym. You know, you do it every month or so and it's hard, your sore, and typically don't enjoy it. But you do it all the time and before you know it, it's easy as pie.

Although, as I've learned, pie is only easy to eat, not as easy to make. And when I think of something being easy, I tend to think of them as being easy to make. I'm not entirely sure I understand the phrase 'easy as pie.' I've tried to make some pies before, I'll buy the frozen pumpkin pies sometimes and will manage to burn them just heating them up. Actually making them from, you know, ingredients, that's basically done with witchcraft.

Well, whatever.

So, my kid got a job working at Taco Bell a few weeks ago. He has managed to make some money and seems like he enjoys the work. It's his first job. What's so weird about this is that MY first job was a Taco Bell. Working there taught me many lessons in life. Like:

1) The ground beef at Taco Bell isn't, technically speaking, food.*

I'm not one to be too finicky about what I eat. I like fast food, fine dining, gourmet, or homemade. Seriously, it's all great. I managed to gain about 50 pounds over five years because I just started eating things that tasted good.

But when I started working at Taco Bell, I was pretty proud of my work. I was a junior in high school and excited about having cash. I bought my first electric guitar, a pink Washburn with the floyd rose tremelo. It was, in a word, awesome.

I had several duties there, I ran the register, I washed pots, I cooked the food, pretty much did it all.** Cooking the food meant cooking things in masse. Ground beef came in these 10 pound bags and looked a lot like potted meat, except with more red. So, think of red colored silly putty. That's what the uncooked ground beef looked like.

During rush times, when we were going through the beef really fast I'd have to go pull out the bags of beef, usually 40 or 50 pounds worth, and dump them in a large metal tube, which, if memory serves, wasn't meant for more than 30 pounds or so of beef.

In it would go, and a cooking I would go. The red mush would slowly become grey mush. Then it was dumped into the metal things that hold the foodstuff and served to the people. I can't express this enough: It wasn't meat in any sense that I could understand. Nothing ever happened that I can look back at and think, oh, this is what happened and that's why I don't like it. No, nothing like that. I was just cooking it one day, I had my three foot long potato masher looking thing and I would move the meat like product around until it was a consistent color of grey, and I was staring into the see of reddish grey stuff in front of me and it clicked... that's disgusting.

That's it, I didn't find a rat's head, or a human thumb, or anything like that. I just looked at it, and decided I would never eat it again. To my knowledge, 25 years or so later, I still haven't.

I'm not sure if that's still how they prepare the ground beef there, but I do know Taco Bell was a defendant in a lawsuit about a year ago that claimed that their ground beef didn't meet the USDA minimum requirements to be labeled as beef.

That lawsuit was later withdrawn, I just find it funny. Taco Bell says 88% of their ground beef is ground beef, and so they can call it ground beef. Me, I just think it's gross, so I don't care what they call it.

My son, for what it's worth, loves the stuff and thinks it's amazingly tasty.

2) People are Jerks.

Despite the icky meat there. I never witnessed, or heard of, anyone dropping things on the floor, spitting in someone's food, or doing any otherwise nasty thing. In all, I thought the place was clean and much care was placed on keeping things that way.

Now, this was my first corporate job, and my first customer service/retail job. I did have a lot of those types of jobs later, as 1) I'm good at them and 2) would-be rock stars don't have lots of professional options.

But I quickly found myself in front of customers. Now, this was a time would you could but a taco (with grey goo as taco meat) or a bean burrito, or pintos and cheese... for $.49. I could get a tostada for something like $.69, which was something like an expensive item, I thought, at the time.

And of course, the mexican pizza was brand new, and was, I was sure, the greatest single food created in american since the hamburger. I did, of course, insist on eating it without meat because, well, I'd seen the meat, and cooked the meat, and would never consider actually eating the stuff.
But, that was a premium item, can't remember the cost, but I believe it was the most expensive item on the menu at the time. And this was a menu full of really cheap things. Again, I know because I lived for a whole semester on three bean burritos per day. Period. That was way after I no longer worked there, but was attempting to get through college while living as a hobo. So I went to class all day, then walked to taco bell which was about a mile or so from campus (sometimes I got a ride, but whatever) and I plopped down my $1.57 that I'd scrounged from my roomies, which covered the sales tax, and enjoyed my only meal of the day. Three packs of hot sauce per item.***

The point, Taco Bell was, at that time, a very cheap place to eat. So I had to deal with abuse that really only belonged in a movie about, well, social injustice.  Not from the gruesome overlords of management, but from customers who thought that they were being punished if I asked them to clarify whether or not they ordered a 'beef' burrito or a 'bean' burrito. Because the 18-wheeler that was honking its foghorn and the 6 screaming children in the dining area made it really hard to make out the difference in the crappy wall mounted speaker I had to use when I worked the drive through, because we didn't have those fancy headsets back then.

Somehow, me not being able to hear that one syllable correctly and knew I hadn't, and wanted to be sure I had the order right, meant that I was good for nothing, or that they'd already told me once, and they didn't spend their hard earned money (again, for $.49 tacos) in order to train me on how to do a job.

Yes, that's when I learned, really learned, that people are jerks. Not all of them, but enough that just about every day would see at least one person walk in that had no interest whatsoever in doing anything aside from taking out all their frustrations in life out on me.

Why, I was excited when I found out I was going to make more than $3 per hour at the time. I was well above minimum wage. But it was there, that I realized sometimes, it just isn't worth it.

Regardless, I'm looking forward to the life lessons my kid will take away from working there.

* "Technically," yes, it is.

** I did not, ever, clean the grease trap. It was a bucket that sat recessed in the floor that kept our used grease. It was the grossest thing I ever saw. I would get nauseas when I was within 6 feet of the area. It was the first time in my life that I realized I would say no to something because it was too awful for me to contemplate doing. I would have quit if they insisted I do it. Thankfully, it never came to that. 

*** Which I have to say, I was once in the drive-through at Taco Bell when I was in my mid-twenties and my son was a wee newborn at the time. It was a driving rainstorm and even to crack the window open was as brutal as opening a window in a submarine. Water gushed in as I squealed out my order (which would have included at the time, one mexican pizza - no meat - and a bean burrito - no onions) and when I pulled to the window I requested my normal 6 packs of hot sauce. 

I was told no. They only can give out 1 pack for every 2 items of food ordered. Which, I don't know if you've ever tried to argue with a person at the drive through window in the middle of a rainstorm, in the winter, btw, or at least late fall, but it's not a great thing to do. My driver's side was drenched, my kid was in the back, sleepy like a... well... baby, and I was telling the person that I have to have 6 packs of hot sauce because that's what I need to enjoy the food. If I don't have the hot sauce, I don't want the food. 

In the end, I had to park the car, get my son out of his car seat (remember, he's like, 1 month old or something) and walk into the dining area, water dripping from my pants, coat, my baby's clothes, and my hair (which was still rock star long at the time) and go to the SELF SERVE counter, and grab as much hot sauce as I could fit into a single hand. I waved it at the lady that worked the drive through, and left. 

I did, that next day, call the 800 number they used to have posted outside the drive-thru window, and report the incident. I asked them why they would have such small little packets of hot sauce, and such a stupid rule regarding how many a person can get at the window, but have no rules about how many a person can get for themselves in the dining area. It's not like I was vague about things, or am planning on storing extra packs for the apocalypse, I actually put 3 packs on each item I consume, hence, the need for 6. 

They person on the other end of the line had no answer, I gave ever bit of info I had, including the store number. I got a whole bunch of free food out of it, but honestly, I never got resolution that satisfied me.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

It's Time to Wrap-Up 2013

HEY EVERYONE! It's time to start wrapping up 2013 for me. If previous years are any indicator, that means I'll be putting out lists after lists for the next few weeks. If it were all me, I'd be putting up lists in every post. But I, being merciful, only subject you fine folks to it from time to time.

This time, it's movies. Movies are a tough thing for me at times, I do enjoy them, but at times I get the feeling that I'm watching the same one, with different actors, over and over again, when I got to the theater or see one on TV. Also, I don't watch that many, maybe a couple per month. I'm not sure actually, it goes in spurts. Nothing for a month or two, then sometimes two or three in a week. I just never know.

But. I've already heard so much talk about Superman and Star Trek and Iron Man and Pacific Rim and all those movies, and I'm not interested in talking about them myself. I'm not sure what to add. I saw most of the blockbusters that came out this year. I enjoyed them more than I usually do, as I think this year did a pretty decent job having decent movies at my cineplex. So as I started to compile this list, I thought it might be fun if I were to not include them in my year's best list.

That means I've arbitrarily decided that if a movie made more than $100 mil at the box office in the U.S., then I wasn't going to include it.

Doing so taught me one invaluable lesson: I didn't see many movies that weren't blockbusters. So all those flops that came out, like RIPD, or Riddick, I didn't see them. It also taught me a second lesson: I don't like many genre movies that didn't have big budgets. Because of the ones I did see, I did't like many of them.

That made compiling my list hard. I'll go ahead and note that all the movies I've listed here weren't released in 2013, so there's that. Regardless, here are my under-appreciated list of the...

TOP 6 GENRE MOVIES OF (Or, to be more accurate, that I saw in) 2013:

# 6) The Incredible Burt Wonderstone: $23 mil - is this even a genre flick? Well, considering how implausible some of the 'magic' was in this movie, then yes, I think it counts. This is really a movie about Steve Carell being mean, then being nice. But through it all is a competition between himself and Jim Carey's character, a more modern 'illusionist' that does gritty street magic. Think of it as a loose retelling of The Prestige, but with less death and more humor.

And not quite as good.

#5) Warm Bodies: Domestic Take: $66 mil - I was so dreading this, I was thinking it was Twilight, except with zombies. What I got was just a pretty heartwarming zombie story that was still entertaining in its own right. It did have a throughline of love conquering all and all that, but it was pretty well done. Good job folks.

It does occur to me that my super-low expectations might have played a part in my enjoyment, but, oh well, I've already formed my opinion. I can't undo that now, it's locked in.

#4) Trollhunter: Domestic Take (2011) $250k - This one has been talked up a bit now, it seems
like I blogged about it when I saw it - but I couldn't find my old post, so here it is again. Look, I'm not sure if I recall the details. What I remember of it is this: College students investigate bizarre circumstances, end up discovering Trolls are real and living in the Scandinavian forests. One of two found footage movies on my list. I think that's just because it's cheaper to make a movie that way. So I'm guessing it's the goto format for getting the most bang for your buck as a moviemaker. FX was great considering what I'm sure was a minuscule budget, and each encounter with the Trolls gets bigger and more dangerous, absolutely loved this movie. The cult following it has online is well deserved.

#3) Europa Report: Domestic Take : $125k - My first love in all spec fic in Hard Science Fiction. Now, Hard SF isn't a porn thing, it's science fiction that tends to be much more rigorous on the science aspect than most sci-fi. Movies like 2001, Contact, Europa Report... those all, despite having some fanciful flights of fancy, did put a lot of effort into getting the science right.

This movie, the second of the found footage type movies on this list, did not win any points from my wife, who hated it. It was a pretty somber movie, and could have done with more humor, way more humor, but for it's flaws, the sense of wonder it evokes in me doesn't come around very often. The FX were pretty great and the actors were all folks you'd probably recognize. It was a passion project from its creators and I thought it was amazing. But I only recommend this one for genre fans that don't need lots of action, but can let watch something paced more along the lines of 2001.

For me, it was almost perfect.

#2) Cloud Atlas: Domestic Take (2012) $27 mil - I know this came out last year, I can't remember if I blogged about this one either. Stupid memory. I think of movies as ephemeral things, and often forget about them altogether until someone brings something up, then I'm like, oh yeah, I forgot about that. For example, I wanted to add a movie to this list that I watched earlier this year about a Ninja that moves to the American West in the 19th century with the baby of one of his enemies in tow. I was going to include it here, but have no idea what the name of the movie was, or who was in it. So, if you know, insert that one just a step above Europa Report. Because that one was good.

So, where was I? Oh, this movie. I knew it was based on a book I didn't read, but other than that, I had no idea what this was about. It was intercutting a series of stories set in, I think, the 18th century, the 1920's (maybe 30's), the 1970's, Present day, a few centuries in our future, and one several thousands of years in our future.

Each time period involved the same actors, with their relationships with one another being different in each time frame (enemies in one, lovers in another, etc). This was a very different type of movie, and one that I think is way too complicated to sell in a trailer. If I had a complaint, it's that the larger, meta-story that I hoped was being told, doesn't quite pull together for me. I mean, there is a throughline in there, but even when I think about it, I'm not sure I connected all the dots. Nonetheless, it's a very, very, fascinating experiment in storytelling. I wish more movies were like this. I really do. Not this format, per se, but just that risk that was made in creating a movie like this.

As I told someone who asked me about it after I saw it, I said, 'that is the best movie I've ever seen that I never want to see again.' Hopefully, that makes sense so some of you. It was, after all, something in the neighborhood of 13 hours long. It's a tough slog of time. Even if feels like I'm watching something very special, it's still tough.

#1) The World's End: Domestic Take: $26 mil - Honestly, this is my favorite movie of the year, regardless of genre, budget, or receipts. For me, it's close to being the perfect film. I envy the person that gets to see this without already being aware of the concept, which was flashed all over the trailers and posters from the outset. I tend not to enjoy spoilers, because that immediately makes me want to say, 'oh, this is one of those kind of movies,' and then shoehorn it into a certain mold, which I then use to judge how well the movie did in measuring up.

But to just watch this, without a hint or clue of what is coming, for me, would have been about the best experience I think I would have ever had. I remember when I was a kid and even if we had cable, we only got to watch 13 channels. I saw more movies without a clue about what they were supposed to be about, just because I didn't have a choice, than I think I saw on purpose. I fell in love with things I might not have ever seen as a result. Now, you almost have to pick what you are going to watch ahead of time because you'd have to be insane to try to just channel surf to find something to watch. If I were to do that, I'd end up watching endless episodes of Pawn Stars or Bar Rescue.

As it is, this movie works wonderfully as a comedy, as it is terrifically funny, it works as a science fiction tale, because it makes sense, and it works as a coming of age story, because the growth of the characters, even if they are all in their 40's, is very touching. Even knowing that the movie was spoiled for me beforehand, I still fell in love with it. Yes, it is the final installment of the Cornetto Trilogy of films that began with 'Shawn of the Dead.'

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013 Wrap-Up and IWSG.

Hola Friends. This month I am back on the IWSG bandwagon, after several months of forgetting and/or being too freaked out to post.

Yes, I'm too neurotic to participate in Alex J Cavanaugh's IWSG some months. Anyway, today is a long one. Sorry, probably because I got so used to writing in several thousand word chunks over the month that I can't cut it down now to a reasonable length.

I'm not going to apologize. I'm not going to apologize. I'm not going to apologize.

I won NaNoWriMo 2013.

Funny, I remember when that competition used to be something I looked forward to every year. I started it in 2005 and it was an amazing experience. It was similar the next few years, but by 2010 or so I was starting to dread it.

I had all this internal pressure to create a masterpiece, something so much better than anything I’d ever done before that even the first draft would sing to me like a siren (not the kind from an emergency vehicle, but like the pretty ladies that lure sailors’ to their death… wait, that sounds awful. Why would I want a story to kill me with its beauty? Oh, I forgot, it’s a metaphor – somehow, that’s a good thing to happen in my metaphor).

So I had this pressure, each word that would come out of the keyboard had to be great. GREAT! And each one that wasn’t was another personal defeat. Yes, English and I were locked in a game of death, where there could be only one victor, and in every case, it was English that won. And I can feel my failure weigh heavier upon me with each and every word I typed.

Every. Last. One.

As a result, I took a few years off.  So when the time rolled around again this year I’d be raring to go again.

But this year, the case almost from the beginning was English vs. Rusty again. I think I’d mentioned that my premise was pretty amazing. I think I had it on my list of the greatest things humans have invented for all time.*

A day into the story and all that greatness had slipped away.

A week into it and I’d quit. I’d spent three days not writing at all. I’d decided it just wasn’t going to work. But then, just like in a traditional three act structure in the Hollywood screenwriting style,  I was called to action.

Except it was just a gentle pat on the back I got from someone in my real life writer’s group that did it. Just a, ‘good job’ sort of thing. But it was enough.

I put my head to the grindstone… wait, that’s a nose that goes there, isn’t it? Ugh, that sounds awful too. Are all idioms so equally horrible sounding?** Whatever it was, I did it. I plowed forward, and had moments of hope that were enough to help me carry on.

But with a week left, after three weeks and about 35k words, I realized I was a fraud. Again. And wondered why I ever was stupid enough to try this writing thing in the first place. So I kinda quit again. I prepared my loser’s speech. Weirdly, though, If someone asked, I would say I was still doing it. After all, I was in the home stretch, I just couldn’t bring myself to type any more crap.

And it was really hard. I kept staring at the page and started typing. When I would read over what I’d already written all I could see was, crap, crap, crap, crap…. Crapcrapcrapcrapcrap. After a while, it just started feeling like there is no point. I mean, the words might be different from one another, but they’re all synonyms of ‘crap.’
See the flat parts? That's where I quit. But I kept quitting my quits.

I’m better than that. I can do better. I’m not as incompetent as what my words that I’d written down kept indicating.  So I thought, I should totally quit until I pull myself together.

And I sat there, on Friday. I’d been off from work, I was tired. I’d overeaten the previous day, but I had set aside this time to write. I stared at the screen for hours. Thinking of the story that should have been, that could have been, that would never be.

I did remember the story that Neil Gaiman tells about writing American Gods. He’d called his agent (maybe it was his editor, I can’t remember) when he was about half-way through and told them that he couldn’t do it. It was too hard, that what he’d written was so bad that it was unpublishable.

He said he was really going to trash the novel and do something else. But after some panicked conversations with people who refused to let him quit, he was talked out of it. He finished. The rest is history.

Then there is the story of Stephen King and his first published novel, Carrie. The story is that his wife had to pull the pages out of the waste basket that he’d thrown away when he decided he just couldn’t do it anymore. She put the pages back on his desk and refused to let him quit.

For a brief moment, I believed. I realized I wasn’t capable of determining how bad my story was. No one can when gauging their own worth. I knew I wanted to tell a story I found entertaining. There had to be something there I could salvage.

On top of all that, I was embarrassed for myself, for my failure. So I wrote, and wrote, and wrote.

Of course the difference between Gaiman, King, and myself is that while they felt like imposters, I’m a real imposter. Big difference.*** But for 48 hours or so there at the end. I didn’t care. I believed. I pushed through until I completed the challenge.

Now comes the long, ugly slog to a) finish out the draft, because 50k a novel doesn’t make and b) start that multi-year long revision process. But, one thing at a time. First, I’m taking a few days to bask in the glory of my victory.

Then, I'll freak out again.

Anyhow, for those of you that are so bored you can't stand it, I've put up an excerpt. Click and enjoy. 

*I did. It was number 1. Sigh.

** Like my grandma used to say, “If someone says something mean to you, jam a shiv through their throat.’ Oh god. I just realized what that means. Oh grandma, no.

*** Yes, that means they were fake imposters, or rather, imposter imposters. I’m the legit one, the one true imposter. See, it’s these sorts of insights into the mechanizations of the human mind that really point out how much I realize I don’t know what I’m doing in any endeavor.