Whale Song Revision

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MTSU Writing Center, Image Source: Tucolla.Wordpress.com

Another short (and late) blog post.  I went to the writing center yesterday as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post entry and it was EXTREMELY helpful.  I had a short-story entitled, Whale Song that I’d sent out for a while before becoming frustrated by the rejections.  Specifically, when markets gave feedback on the story, they mentioned that the protagonist felt very “high-handed” and didn’t come across as sympathetic.

During the session, I mentioned this and brainstormed ways to combat this impression while keeping the core of the story intact.  With the help of my consultant, I was able to think of ways to both change the character as well as the structure so as to better tell the story that I wanted.

I will post an Author’s Note here when the revisions are complete.  There is an anthology that I’m hoping to submit the story to and its deadline is Nov. 1, so (in addition to the graphic novel and the rough draft of the short story I’m trying to create), I will be revising the story with this deadline in mind.  I keep you posted on my progress.

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Leave It To Chance: Monster Madness and Other Stories

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Leave It To Chance: Monster Madness and Other Stories is the third book (Vol. 3) to the Leave It To Chance  series (yes, I know I’m out of order, but Vol. 2 was longer than I had time to read this week with grading and all) that I reviewed last week.  While I like this volume, I don’t like it quite as much as I liked Volume 1.  It tries to do something fairly unique, but the story (as presented) doesn’t quite work as well as it should.

Monster Madness takes the idea of what would happen in “movie monsters” came to life in the “real world” of Devil’s Echo (the city where the Chance stories take place).  However, it seems to focus more on Chance’s interaction with a “mysterious” character named “Lightfoot” than it does with her actually trying to solve a crime.  In fact, her dragon is knocked out for most of the story, and she is relegated to the sidelines while her father does most of the sleuthing/fighting the bad guys.  It doesn’t help that while Lightfoot is intended as a “possible” love interest in that Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys way of dropping similar characters of the opposite sex together and watching the sparks fly as their similar ways cause conflict (and interest), Lightfoot is drawn in such an unappealing manner that I (for one) was actively routing against Chance having anything to do with him.

I think Monster Madness (and the other story, which has heart, but still isn’t as good as the first volume’s story).  I think that while this was a good volume, Chance’s strengths are when she’s the center of the action, doing the sleuthing, rather than as a standby character who merely interacts when the action comes to her.

OVERALL GRADE: C+

Leave It To Chance

Leave It To Chance is a young adult graphic novel that I really, really like.  I wanted to take a moment to highlight this great (& short) graphic novel series.  I just finished rereading the first volume this week (I’m trying to read all my graphic novels as a way to remind myself of the graphic novel format since I’ve been away for so long).

Leave It To Chance was published in the early 2000s (2002) and it was written in the height of the GrrlPower movement (James Robinson’s Forward is dated 3.25.97 and this is in the height of the movement, but as the hardcover collection wasn’t published until 2002 which, by then, was the tail-end of the movement).  The protagonist is Chance, a young girl who is the daughter of Falconer, a mage of eminence and importance in the city of Devil’s Echo.  She is “protected” from the magical intrigue and derring-do by her father, but she is of age to take up training to become the next in the line of Falconers who are sworn to protect the city.  Her father refuses to train her simply because of her gender (noting that this “burden” of training is passed from male heir to male heir).  Chance decides that this is horribly unfair and seeks to rectify this (& gets into adventures on her own).

James Robinson and Paul Smith collaborated on the story and art.  This is actually my first (and I think, my only) examples of their work, but I really enjoyed the story when I first read it at the Public Library–so much so, that I bought a copy for my personal collection.  I like Chance’s character–they made her very much like a Nancy Drew detective and set the world in a Neo-Noir setting (grim, dark alleyways merged with aircars).  Chance also has a “Jubilee”-vibe to her and dresses similarly (who in turn, has bit of the Frank Miller’s female Robin from the Dark Knight look) as well.  You can almost see a direct progression from Miller’s female Robin to Jubilee from the X-Men, to Chance.  I own all three books in the series (will be doing reviews of the other two as well), but as a pure story, I think this first volume, “Shaman’s Rain” holds up the best storywise.

I think too, that the setting of Devil’s Echo was very well used.  It definitely precedes the entire Urban Fantasy craze that authors like Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, and Kim Harrison (to name a few) helped popularize in the mid-to-late 2000s & early 2010s.  I personally love the fact that Chance has her own (mini-)dragon–as it recalls to mind Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsinger books of the 1980s.  This one is a great series for both Young Adult Readers (& younger children), but has enough complexity, character development, and setting that will at least keep older readers from being completely bored with it, even if it doesn’t completely captivate them.

OVERALL GRADE: B

The Green Rider

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Green Rider Book Cover, Image Source: Amazon.com

So far, I’m about a quarter of a way through The Green Rider and I’m liking it.  It isn’t a favorite like the work of Brandon Sanderson, Tad Williams or Elizabeth Moon (my current favorite go-to authors), but it isn’t as bad as I remember it.  I think that I was wanting it (based on the reviews and the way people were talking about it) to be amazing and while it is a good, solid fantasy, it isn’t, for me, amazing.

I suppose I could look it up to see if this is Kristen Britain’s first novel (my computer isn’t actually connected to the internet as I’m typing this so as not to get distracted), even if it isn’t, it seems to have many of the first novel issues.  Just in the first third of the novel, there are pacing issues.  We get introduced to the “big bad” (who apparently is under an even “bigger bad.”  We get a world that is both incredibly airy and light intermixed with one that is incredibly savage.  The main character seems quite unprepared for both–the savagery of the world where she has to fight for her life and the rustic, almost idyllic world of the sisters who offer her respite.

I think this is one of the reasons why it is so hard for me personally to commit myself to writing novels (even though that is what I really want to do as a writer).  I find myself doing exactly the same thing–too many storylines and plot lines when what I want is a coherent whole that doesn’t meander, that doesn’t wander, but tells a compelling story from start to end about a character who starts out one way, but learns about himself/herself on the journey of the novel.  I’m sure that I can learn and master this form as it is the primary form that I read and enjoy, but when I sit down to write it, I find myself doing exactly what is occurring in The Green Rider where I am going down diverse tangents and the story doesn’t seem to have the linearity that I’m looking for and I end up abandoning the project.  Perhaps the lesson The Green Rider can teach me is to finish a rough draft for the project.  Write the whole thing for start to finish and then try to find ways/techniques to revise the story on the paper/page into the one that resides inside my head (& heart).

Mini-Review: The Mummy (2017)–No Spoilers

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The Mummy Movie Poster, Image Source: Dhaka Movie

For the Labor Day Holiday (in the US), I watched The Mummy (2017).  I thought it was fun and the action set pieces were very interesting, but The Mummy tried to mimic several things from the previous Mummy movie (with Brendan Fraser) and didn’t do it as well as it could have.  Here is a short review (& rumination) on some of the reasons why the movie was not as successful as it should have been.

Characterization

We were supposed to understand and buy that the main character is a “rogue,” similar to Han Solo.  He is a man of questionable actions and intents, but ultimately has a “good heart.”  This doesn’t come through in the script.  This is told to us by other characters, mostly by the female lead, but we don’t actually get to see him be a good man or a scoundrel.  We just get to see him make several questionable choices that don’t really make sense.  The filmmakers needed to have given him one “trait” that he could have done over and over again to emphasize that he is “impulsive,” let’s say, or something similar.  He frees the mummy without asking the “expert,” but is unprepared to deal with the consequences.  If he kept doing impulsive things throughout the movie, then that would show us that he acts before he thinks and this would have been a problem that he could have worked to solve (or understand) by the end of the movie, but that’s not what happened.  Look at World War Z if you want to see characterization by showing rather than telling.

Dialogue

“Witty Banter.”  My bane in Ken Smith’s Writing Class at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (at least during my early, formative days as a writer).  I had to learn that witty banter (a la Star Wars and Star Trek) doesn’t equal a good story.  Witty banter comes about with characters who are in opposition with each other, but who are also clever and know they’re clever and they fight not just with guns and swords (or phasers and lightsabers), but who also fight with words.  The writers used witty banter in place of true characterization and instead of making the characters seem human and real, witty banter was included to make the characters seem hip and cool.  The problem is that without true characterization, the banter felt (to me) forced and didn’t have the necessary zing to it.

Tone

Finally, there was a problem with the tone.  The movie wanted to be everything at once.  It wanted to be dark, funny, irreverent, clever, scary, and a blockbuster all in one go.  It had too many elements that didn’t mesh as well as they could have.  It was trying to channel the old irreverence of the Brendan Fraser Mummy while still trying to tell as serious story like King Kong: Skull Island or something similar.  It reminded me very much of the movie Sahara starring Matthew McConaughey in terms of tone.  It was angling to be a much more serious movie, but was undercut constantly by in-jokes, witty banter, and improbable plot turns that turned it into something more like a comedy than an action movie.  The same is true here.  It had the same type of protagonist, the same “ditzy” sidekick, and the same independent woman/dependent woman love interest.

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Sahara Blu Ray Cover Art, Image Source: Amazon.com

Now again, I thought it was fun movie, but even as I watched it my mind was critiquing it for the problems that it had.  Truly exceptional movies, however, have the power to withstand my inner critic and only upon repeated viewings do problems arise.  If the makers of The Mummy (2017) really want a successful movie franchise, then they’re going to have write it in a much more believable and consistent manner or audiences are not going to show up for future installments.

 

ReReading: Dungeons & Dragons: Shadowplague (Graphic Novel)

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Book Cover: Five fantasy adventures ready to do battle.  Image Source: OgreCave.com

So, I’m in the process of moving all my academic books to a bookshelf (looks like it actually be a bookshelf and a half or perhaps two bookshelves total) with me as I work on my degree.  However, this leaves me with a fairly large gap of three to four shelves that I probably should fill.  I already have my graphic novels (& comic books) on my main bookcase, but I’ve decided to reread my graphic novels (& comics) and place them on those free shelves.  I have several fairly large graphic novels that don’t fit on the shelf with the other graphic novels on my main bookcase, but this secondary bookcase has more than enough room for them.  If I can remember, I will try to take a picture at the end of the project and post it here.

DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS: SHADOWPLAGUE

This is the first of a “new” series of graphic novels with original characters in the Dungeons and Dragons universe.  I say new because this was tried in the late 80s/early 90s with a different group of characters written by Jeff Grubb, a prolific writer of D&D novelizations of the time.  This book is written by Jim Rogers and is full of post Lord of the Rings (Peter Jackson) adventure/banter.  While not a comedy, Rogers does the “witty banter” so often found in comics and comic book movies that irked my late creative writing professor, Ken Smith when I tried to present stories in his fiction class with this same type of banter.  For Ken, the banter trivialized the drama and lowered the emotional stakes for the characters.  His argument (loosely speaking) was that if the characters are joking around during a life-or-death situation, then we get the feeling that the characters aren’t really in any danger.  I can plainly see that here as I didn’t get the sense that any of the characters (protagonists) were any in real danger, per se.

This sounds like I don’t like the story and that’s not true–I do like the book, but this is a fun, rip-roaring comic book adventure, but it doesn’t have a sense that the characters are ever really in jeopardy.  This book introduces and follows a team of intrepid adventurers of the mostly standard races (Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling, and newcomer race, Tiefling) as they go through various adventures to discover the secret of the Shadowplague, a magical plague that turns ordinary people into zombies.  Abundant fight scenes, magic, and characters who all display a penchant for witty banter and sometimes painful backstories make this a fun and interesting story.

I did not happen to buy the other graphic novels that make up the rest of this series, but you can bet that I’ll definitely try to grab them as time and money allow.  The cover price of 24.99 is a bit steep for the product.  It is hardcover, but still it is really only worth about 14.99 to 17.99.  If I can find it for under 9.99, then I’ll definitely pull the trigger.  The problem is, the last I checked, it had gone out of print and Amazon 3rd party “scalpers” had driven the cost to above $30 dollars.  Sad days, indeed.  This is a fun little series that I wouldn’t mind getting a complete collection for myself–but if the remaining volumes stay out of reach, then this one volume will have to suffice, witty banter and all.

 

Using Books to Escape a Horrid Summer

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Tent blowing away in a summer storm.  Image Source: Yoga Mobility

Apologies for not posting as the past few days were the perfect end to an absolutely horrid summer for me (and by perfect, I mean utterly devastating for me as a human being and as a person).  Rather than coming online to vent my spleen (to use an old outdated expression of anger), I decided just take a couple of “mental health” days and refrain from posting for a couple of days (would that online Trolls would do the same thing and internet trolling would be a thing of the past).  I won’t go into details, but just reread my post on Sometimes the Bear Gets You and multiply it by a factor of 50 and then you’ll have some idea on why it was probably a good idea to step away for a couple of days.

Anyway, moving on, my library books happened to be due this week, so I stopped by and saw all of the changes that have occurred in the 4 years since I became a teacher and a PhD student.  It really is incredible!  One of the librarians, when I told her about my horrid summer, said to just put it out of my mind and to focus on my upcoming tasks, so I decided to take her advice.

To that end, I’ve checked out two books: The Green Rider by Kristen Britain and J.R.R. Tolkien, A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter.   Now I’ve checked out these books before but there is a story behind each of them.

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Book Cover: Young Lady on a Horse.  Image Source: Goodreads

I tried to read The Green Rider by Kristen Britain before when it was first released, but abandoned it shortly after I started reading.  I think it was because she does a lot of POV switching early in the book (I can’t remember if this is her first novel or not–I’ll have to research it), but at the time, I was a beginning writer and the advice to stay in one POV was ringing in my head and it drove me nuts that an author could get her book published while ignoring this “basic” rule (of course, I could be misremembering and this might not be the reason at all–hey, cut me some slack, it’s been a LONG time, but my best recollection is this is the reason why I stopped reading).  As both my school’s starting time and my library’s loan period is about the same time (3 weeks) I’m going to (in the short period before school resumes) try to read it again and see if I can stick with it long enough to finish it.  I’ll report back on my progress here.

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Book Cover: Tolkien seated beside a tree.  Image Source: Amazon

The second book I picked up is a biography on J.R.R. Tolkien that I’ve read before.  Last summer, when I started the PhD program we had to pick an author and do an in-depth study on him/her.  I wanted to pick Tolkien, but I was talked out of it by well-meaning (but ultimately flawed) advice: i.e., even though he’s deceased, the amount of editions in print and the amount of scholarship would be overwhelming.  So I picked Langston Hughes, an author who I’ve done a little bit research on and who seemed to fit the bill for the class (I wanted to do David Eddings as a 2nd choice, but there was almost NO research on him at all, which would have made finding 50 critical articles a near impossibility).  However, here’s what I (re)learned from that experience–I have to follow my OWN heart, otherwise it all goes wrong.  Langston was manageable, but uninteresting.  I struggled to complete the assignments because I wasn’t invested in Langston’s life and works as I had been as an undergraduate.  I had moved on as a person/scholar and I didn’t really have the zeal to do a critical study of him.  This is the “kiss of death” for a scholar.  If you’re going to spend all that time working on a project, you’d better make doggone sure that you’re interested in it.  I’d learned this lesson before by taking a graduate Shakespeare class at UTC.  The class wasn’t the one I had planned on taking that year, but a friend told me to take it and it (much like this summer) didn’t go nearly as well as I had hoped.  I learned then to trust my own judgement and not the judgement of others, a lesson which I forgot, (and had to re-learn) from my disinterest in Langston’s life and works at MTSU.  So, in honor of such a crappy summer, I’m going to reread Tolkien’s biography to hopefully remind myself that it is MY opinion that matters in deciding matters about MY life.