Reading Log: Shadowmarch

The four book covers for each novel in the series: Shadowmarch, Shadowplay, Shadowrise, Shadowheart.
Image Source: https://www.tadwilliams.com/books/series/shadowmarch-series/

So, today I’m going to talk about a series of books, both as one series and individually. The series is Shadowmarch by Tad Williams, one of my favorite authors. A quick bit of background: I’ve been a fan of Tad Williams work every since I discovered his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy in high school. I’ve told this story before on the blog, but I first found about Tad Williams after purchasing The Dragonbone Chair from a bookstore in Atlanta, GA in the (now disused and mostly abandoned, but then thriving) Underground Mall area. The back wall in this bookstore was pure rock, hewn from the ground, and so, even though I don’t always read every Tad Williams novel, I’m still interested when I hear he has a new novel.

Shadowmarch

I really like Tad Williams’ novels when he writes Epic (or what used to be known as High) Fantasy. Tad’s world building is impressive. I’ve tried to read his Sci-Fi series and his non-epic works (The Otherland books and The War of the Flowers), but none of his non-epic works ever capture me in the same way as his fantasy novels. Basically, Shadowmarch is the story of a war between the humans and the fae, but for reasons that are very hard to decipher–at least initially. While I won’t give a plot synopsis here, I will say that even though I bought everyone of the Shadowmarch novels, I’ve only read them once before, right after their initial publication. That’s unusual for me, as I only buy books (or keep books) that I truly love. I think it is because, after establishing all the major characters and relationships in the first book, they go there separate ways in the subsequent volumes, only to return together in the 4th volume (as a group).

Book 1: Shadowmarch

As mentioned above, this book sets up the world, character, plot, and relationships of the various humans on one side and the fae on the other. It gives us our two main protagonists of the book, Princess Briony and her brother Prince Barrick, and then sets into motion a war that is initiated by the faeries. These are not your traditional fae and are formidable opponents. This is probably my favorite book in the series in that it establishes the most things in the novel. While not small, we get a LOT of world building, characterization, and plot development in this novel.

Book 2: Shadowplay

I remember not particularly caring for this one when I originally read it, and upon rereading it, I think I know why. While it focuses on all the major characters, at the time, I thought the Princess Briony was, by far, the most interesting character, and the places where she wasn’t “on the screen” really dragged. Also, while I don’t hate Prince Barrick, he isn’t a particularly likable character in this chapter of the story (unlike Chapter 1, where he had Briony to balance him out and neutralize some of his rough edges), and since we spend so much time in his POV, or in the Guard Captain Vansen’s POV (who is with him), that we get to see/interact with Barick a LOT, which makes the whole book seem to slow down. I appreciate it more now than I did at the time, but originally, it was really hard to get through Barrick’s sections.

Book 3: Shadowrise

This is where I remember the series really coming into its own when I first read it, and even upon rereading, I still think this. I think the answer is two-fold: 1) we finally start getting some answers in the form of clues, revelations, and hints about the story. While a lot is in mythology, the answers given are like pieces of a puzzle and the more we’re given in this volume, the clearer the overall narrative becomes, and 2) Prince Barrick finally becomes likable. While far from perfect, you can see why he has been such a “jerk” in the past and his demeanor gets heavily tempered in this book. While Briony’s “journey” stops (she no longer advances the plot as she had before), she gets some fairly heavy characterization in the form of serious court “intrigue” that is deadly serious.

Book 4: Shadowheart

This probably my 2nd favorite book in the series. Firstly, because Tad Williams “sticks the landing” with this series. So many authors that I’ve read (and even admire) have books whose endings just fall apart from me. However, this book manages to bring everything to a satisfying conclusion (for me). I do wish the final battle had been a little more involved (I think the “obstruction” sub-plot to keep one of the side characters from enacting his final plan to help take out the ultimate enemy went on too long and could have been shortened), but the battle that was depicted was epic enough and, at 727 pages, the book was already long (having originally been planned as a trilogy, but having to be changed to a 4 book series due to the original size of the third volume), so I can understand that the climatic battle might have been shorter than I might have liked. Also, both Barrick and Briony get to shine in their respective roles. While there is an annoying romantic “triangle” that Briony is involved in, I can say without spoilers that it doesn’t get in the way too much, and adds a bit of depth to Briony’s character–in other words, the author has Briony dwell on it for a paragraph or two, sometimes interweaving through a section, but she’s never on the subject for too long (in my opinion). We finally get answers to our questions and the full tapestry is revealed and I think it is a successful end to the series. I’m glad I bought it, but wish I’d reread it sooner. It is a great series and would make a great story to adapt into live action (series or movie) one of these days.

Are you listening, Hollywood?

Sidney


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Epic, Unreal Engine 5, and the PlayStation 5

White and Black PS5 controller with blue highlights.
Image Source: https://www.theverge.com/2020/5/13/21256959/playstation-5-release-date-no-delay-sony-fy-2020-earnings

Why did I skip yesterday’s blog and upload this one so late? Well, when you read the following paragraph, you’ll get some hint of where the is post was originally headed–rather than talking about the PS5, I went “deep” into bashing both Microsoft and the media’s love for Microsoft and their absolute disdain for Sony. However, I felt that I was way too negative and simply was contributing to the “toxicity” that is all too common on the internet these days. So as I was rethinking the blog post, Epic Games discussed their Unreal 5 game engine and showcased it on the PS5. So, I changed the post to reflect this new, more positive, direction in the games’ industry. I left the original paragraph below as I think it is germane to the discussion and would like games’ media to consider as they go forward in covering the transition to the next generation.

A recent “headline” in Forbes cried out in regards to Microsoft’s recent teaser for its upcoming gaming console, “Micosoft Just Showed an Uncomfortable Truth About the X Box Series X and the Playstation 5.” I wonder how that could be since, to my knowledge, no Sony Playstation 5 game was actually shown on the stage. Wasn’t the whole point of an X Box presentation to show how “great” Microsoft’s new system was going to be? How then, do you as a writer, justify linking one console’s lackluster debut to the other one? How does the “stink” of Microsoft’s mistake translate back to Sony? When Sony makes a mistake, such as a “boring” presentation, that in no way translated back to Microsoft, so how does Microsoft’s missteps always seem to translate back to Sony?

Moving On . . . From Microsoft’s Marketing to Sony Substance

Unreal 5 running on a Playstation 5

Luckily, Unreal 5 (a game engine that helps to power games) was announced today. What was notable is that is was specifically noted that the demo is running live on a Playstation 5! And it (in my opinion) is stunning! Now let’s not kid ourselves–X Box will get this engine too. However, the fact that it is an impressive demo, running on a PS5 and truly doing two things: 1) showcasing new technologies that will better enhance creativity and graphical fidelity and 2) showing visuals and enhancements to the next gen experience (something that MS’s conference didn’t do according to “social media” and the media) is something that needs to be applauded and should translate to Sony (and not Microsoft).

It is a tech demo, but does some really interesting things. The technology behind the demo sounds impressive and looks like it will handle the vision of artists in new and unique ways. The game design engine does what Sony tried to articulate, but was “booed” for (called boring and unintersting) by the public–and by the people who should have known better–the games’ media. This what got my ire up and why my “claws” were out in the earlier draft of this post.

Just because something isn’t meant for you (aka the public or the media), doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from it. Sony’s talk was originally for GDC (designers), but talked about problems that other consoles and generations weren’t trying to solve. Today’s event really helped, to me, crystallize and visualize what the next generation of games might come to life and this is just one company.

The Coming Future

My hope, in addition to breaking the love affair between Microsoft’s Marketing Department and the media, is that this announcement will be the beginning of getting the “conversation” started for the next generation of gaming. For me, the big take-aways from this announcement are 1) artist’s assets don’t need to be scaled down in any way from the platform they were created, 2) the dynamic light source, 3) sound separation and authoring (esp. in light that Sony is also trying to address the sound issue), and 4) water and the way it is generated and created in games (this was a small mention in the demo, but has huge potential for games as water is often the hardest to achieve, but is one of the best ways to aid in graphical immersion.

For me, the next generation discussion started today–and I’m so glad that Playstation 5 was the platform that got to help kick off the discussion in a meaningful (and positive) way.

Sidney


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Writing Log = Finished The Independent!

Picture of an excited baby with its mouth agape with the caption in white lettering: "This is my super excited face"
Image Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/575475658618524560/

So this post is a little later than normal as I wanted to make sure that I actually completed the works that are listed in this post. However, I was able to get everything done and I’m very excited about it!

Finished The Independent (aka “my Space Truckers” story)

Yesterday evening, I finally finished The Independent which began its life as my “Space Truckers” project. This one has taken a long time to do (way too long), but I finally was able to get the handle on what I really wanted to do late last year and early this year and began to make serious headway on the story in January and February. After not working on it because of the trip to Boston and subsequent Spring Break and early Corona virus news, I finally was able to power through the rest of the story and finished off the story last night. Some facts about the story: It is currently 5,100 words long. I will be working to get that down as most markets have a (generally speaking) a 5,000 word limit. It is a “spaceship” story–the action happens on a spaceship in space and contains a space battle (my favorite type of story) and one that I feel is done way too seldom in Sci-Fi media. Lastly, it features a female character–I hope (as a male) I do a good job in creating a believable character (I have before–I’ve published two other stories where the protagonist was female), but time will tell.

So, what’s next: I’m going to let it lie fallow for a week (maybe more) and then I’m going to schedule a time with the MSTU Writing Center and ask a consultant to look over it (I may do this a couple of times–once for content & story construction and once for grammatical issues) and work on getting as compact as possible and then I should be sending it out to markets later this month or early next month. Huzzah!

Finished Rough Draft of “Project Arizona”

So, “Project Arizona” is one that I wrote a blog post on a while back. It is a Weird Western that has been kicking around in my mind lately, so I went ahead and wrote the “Rough Draft” for it. Like The Indpendent, I will go through multiple drafts honing it in (hopefully it won’t take as long to finish though).

There’s not too much more to say about it yet–after I finish the first draft I might reveal the “working” title of the story. I may do an Author’s Note when I get a little deeper into drafting, but right now, I’m more interested in finishing it than discussing it, so I’ll add it to my list of projects in the Signature line.

HawkeMoon = a Milestone

So, I went back and checked and HawkeMoon represents my 10th published short-story! I now have enough to do a short story collection (I may even do that if I can ever find the time/right publisher).

While HawkeMoon is overall my 14th publication (when you include my comic book story split into 3 parts, and my non-fiction article on writing), and 16th when you include my work for MTSU’s Off Center Journal, it is still significant as it represents double digits in a particular style of writing. Here’s to trying for triple digits next!

Well, that’s all I have! Have a great weekend!

Sidney


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Mini-Review: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

A image of ancient Chinese characters: two women and two men.  "A Film By Ang Lee" Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
Image Source: http://www.mediacircus.net/cthd.html

So, in an effort to be a better film student, I’m trying to catch as many of the “major” and important releases that I’ve missed before they go off of various streaming services. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a movie that I’d always intended to see (due to my love of martial arts movies), but was, in all honesty, put off by because of the Oscar hype that surrounded it. I won’t go off into a long discussion (rant) about hype, but let’s just say, in some cases, hype has the opposite effect on me–it makes me less inclined to see a movie, not more. However, with it (at the time of this blog post), scheduled to go off of Netflix later this month, it seemed like the perfect time to check it out.

What I Liked

In a way, waiting might have been a good thing. I don’t think hat I would have appreciated Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon nearly as much. What it does, it does very well and is an example of something that “transcends its genre.”

I liked the personal story being told and the way it handles its central characters. In a way, this is a story about love–what is it, how is it exhibited, what happens when it is unrequited, what happens when it is set free, what is the place of marriage and love–are they analogous, or are they mutually exclusive? It is also the story of women and their roles and functions in a patriarchal society. This is the element that I feel that I would have missed had I seen it when it came out. Hear me out, as I’m not an unenlightened neanderthal. However, there are certain genres that turn me off–crime/mob stories, heist stories, and, yup, you guessed it, “love” stories. In my earlier days, this focus on love, marriage, and women’s issues would have “ruined” the movie for me. However, having taken Dr. Hixon’s Disney film class, I now understand how those tropes have permeated through the movie landscape (for good or ill) and I’ve learned to pick up on them and not “hate” them as much as I used to.

I also liked the martial arts. For a martial arts movie, I thought the actual fights were good Now obviously, that isn’t the true focus of the movie and they could have been stronger, especially the earlier ones. But I found the ones in the later half of the movie to be particularly interesting and well done in terms of choreography.

The characters were also well done, although the women characters are the ones who truly shine in story. The men are a bit one note, even the two main male leads. Both seemed under used. While I’m glad they didn’t go with the traditional “love” triangle for this story, breaking the focus up between the two male characters meant that neither the “strong, silent” protagonist or the “rebel without a cause” protagonist had a chance to shine. They both seemed under developed due to the lack of screen time they were given.

Finally, I like the story. Again, it wasn’t as strong as I’d been led to believe by the hype–it isn’t the best story I’ve seen in a martial arts movie–the Ip Man movies come quickly to mind, but it is far from the worst. I would give the plot (just the events of the story) an A-/B+ alone.

What I Didn’t Like

Okay, really the only thing I didn’t like is this movie’s claim to fame: the unrealistic gravity defying “flying-running” on air. I understand this from a stylistic choice and even from an aesthetic choice to differentiate your martial arts movie from everything else out there, but every time it was on the screen, it took me out of the action.

Look, I’m more into well edited, hyper kinetic fight sequences. The pseudo-rolling combat of Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow, the methodical and clearly paced combat of Donnie Yen’s Ip Man, and the frenetic energy coupled with masterful comedic timing of Jackie Chan’s earlier movies (specifically thinking of Rumble in the Bronx here). Each one of these shows that it is possible to create a believable fight sequence that is both clear and fun to watch (okay, okay, so the edits in Marvel Movies are sometimes hard to follow, but as my mind mostly fills in the gaps, I’m okay with it).

However, knowing that it is clearly impossible for the action in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to be occurring without wires really takes me out of the action and story. I would have even preferred some sort of supernatural/hypernatural explanation because for humans to run up walls, jump from rooftop to rooftop and fight on swaying limbs was just too far for me. It didn’t help that the actors/stunt people clearly looked like they were being held upright by wires, even if we couldn’t see the wires. The way their bodies moved and swayed, clearly indicated that gravity was affecting them in a way that only wires/harnesses could have mitigated.

Had the movie been made today, a lot of the action would have probably been digitally created using digital models of the characters and animated with appropriate physics. I know it is heresy, but it would have to have been done this way for me to have liked it and kept it from distracting me and taking me out of the story.

Overall Grade: A-

Overall, I think this movie did what it set out to do: tell an interesting story about two female characters in a repressive, patriarchal male society in ancient China. While I’m not sure that I like the very element it was praised for (the unrealistic flying effects), I can say that I did like the story, characters, and martial arts far more and those elements really made the movie come alive for me.

Sidney


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HawkeMoon Reviews Are In

Storyhack Issue 4 Cover
HawkeMoon by Sidney Blaylock, Jr.
Has a scarecrow with hood and young red-haired lady in blue tunic with crescent blades.
Image Source: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07WJXVR9D/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

I was cruising the internet yesterday, trying to see if I could find reviews on my latest published story, HawkeMoon which appeared in Storyhack #4 last year. There are couple of major sites that do short fiction reviews, but to the best of my knowledge (Tangent Online and Locus Magazine), but I guess neither reviewed Storyhack because I didn’t see the magazine listed for either site). However, the issue was reviewed by a couple of places. One, a fellow WordPress blogger and the 2nd was a market that I think I’ve submitted to once before. Both had interesting things to say, so I’ll link to their reviews.

Planetary Defense Command

The first review comes from Planetary Defense Command whose tagline reads: “Defending the planet from bad science fiction.” I’ve not read this blog before, but they do give a short review of Storyhack #4. While I’m not going to post their entire review (which you can read by clicking on the “short review” link in the previous sentence), I am going to repost their review of my story for commentary purposes.

They say: Hawkemoon by Sidney Blaylock.  A strange form of undead, an assassinated king, and animal magic sounds like too much to cram into one story, but it fits together nicely.”

This is a hopeful review for me. I read novels, but I write (at the moment) short-stories. I’m always trying to get a lot accomplished in the 5,000 or so words allotted to me by the short-story format. I do have a lot of elements going on in my stories–because I think of them as mini-novels (or maybe better, proto-novels). I just can’t be as grand in scope with the myriad of plots and subplots as I would like because I don’t have the space to go into that level of detail. I have just enough time to one major plot with a character arc and then I’m pretty much out of space. How can I expand my stories out more so that they can breathe and not feel like I’m putting too much in and making them too busy?

Now, the final statement of the review isn’t a criticism. As long as I can balance all the elements, like I did for this reader, then it will work fine. However, as you can tell from this blog entry, I tend to be quite detailed and meticulous and I often want to imitate the complexities that I read in my favorite authors (Brandon Sanderson, Tad Williams, Elizabeth Moon, and Robert Jordan) in short form where as all of these writers are primarily long form writers.

My goal is to work on my stories to get them to where the reviewer would like to see them turned into novels as he/she does for the last two stories reviewed. That’s ultimately where I’m going anyway, so if the reviewer notes that that story could be the entry chapter in a novel (or expanded out into a novel), then I’ll know that I’m on the right track with getting my stories where I want them to be.

Broadswords and Blasters

The 2nd review is from an online market that I think I’ve submitted a story to in the past called Broadswords and Blasters. No, they didn’t take whatever story I sent them, but I don’t think it was HawkeMoon that was submitted (but I’d have to check my submissions via Duotrope to be sure). They had a much longer review (with criticism) of the issue as a whole, but I’ll just repost my review (again, for commentary purposes).

HawkeMoon by Sidney Blaylock, Jr. A king has been assassinated, so the captain of the royal guard goes in search of the one master assassin who was responsible… only it turns out she wasn’t the one behind it. This story is memorable for its characters, but even more so for the ultimate villain of the piece, The Scarecrow King.” I wished the setting had been a bit more developed than it was, as it felt very much a cardboard backdrop against which the characters acted, as opposed to a fully developed world. I know, that’s a lot to ask for in a short story, but I still think the overall setting was too roughly sketched, and thus seemed fairly generic for my taste. This story is the cover story for the issue, and I can absolutely see why.”

Okay, so there’s a lot to dig into here. First off, the characters. It is gratifying to here that the reviewer responded to the characters. While I did focus on them, they weren’t completely my focus like with a couple of my stories. Yet, hearing that the characters were the most memorable parts of the story really heartens me and helps me think that when I focus on characterization (& not just the cool visuals/plots happening), I can create a story that is interesting and intriguing to the reader. Now the criticism–the reviewer did not like my world–he/she thought it was too “sketchy” and underdeveloped. It is a fair criticism. I did have a more detailed world in mind, but it didn’t get from my mind on to the page. The world was supposed to be a mix of traditional fantasy lands, kings, knights, guards, but with the beginning of the new (German) renaissance–burghers, merchants, mayors, etc., just beginning to come into play, with an Old Town (more like a medieval village) and a New Town (more like the early modern Germanic towns in which the “Kris Kringle” legend sprang up (without the guns/gunpowder of the period). However, I couldn’t figure out how to work that into the story without a great big exposition info dump. The best I could come up with was having New Town be where the castle and townspeople were located and Old Town being more like a rundown fishing village.

Still, this criticism is both valid and constructive and I can use it. I knew that the world I had in the story seemed generic, but chose to ignore that fact. Now what I plan to do is identify places where I think the story is weak and see if there is a solution that addresses the weakness in some small way to at least alleviate, if not fix, the problem area in the story.

Sure, as writers we’d like to have perfect feedback, but now I’m learning that world building, while not really a weakness, may be a bit sketchy for me as I focus on characters and characterization. It’s something that I know I need to be aware of going forward to make sure my stories are the best they can be and so I can get reviewers to want to say that they’d love to see my stories as novels (or as the beginning chapters) to a novel.

Sidney


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Mini-Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson all look out in amazement with a forest as their background.
Image Source: https://www.vox.com/culture/2017/12/18/16780992/jumanji-review-welcome-jungle-rock-jack-black-kevin-hart-karen-gillan

I’ve been wanting to see this movie (the new one with Dwayne Johnson (“The Rock), Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, and Jack Black. I finally got it for Christmas. Outside of one small issue, I think that it was a very fun and enjoyable movie. It has the right amount of humor and action. While it is ostensibly about being inside a “video game,” there’s very little CGI even though they do make fun of several overused tropes in the video game/gamer community. They even manage to touch on the idea of “lives” in a meaningful way that is both thoughtful and inspiring.

Fun Movie (and Funny too!)

So, at its heart, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a fun movie that leans into its idea of being a game/video game. The characterization makes sense (with one exception) and the chemistry between the actors really helps to sell the script. The story is isn’t revolutionary, but it doesn’t need to be–it is the characters and their interactions that is at the heart of the movie. Once they get into the game world, then it’s the opposition between their inherent real-world characteristics and their in-game characteristics that provide the humor and the double-layered characterization. It works well–although as noted, there is one problematic element kept me from enjoying it as fully as I might have wanted.

To be clear, however, I liked the movie, especially the action, comedy, script, and actors.

The Messages (Themes) Were at Odds With What was Presented on the Screen.

So, there are several messages playing though out the film. The main one is that you should be true to yourself as you only get one life and you should try to make the most of that life–exemplified by the two main characters being encouraged to act on their burgeoning “romance” in the real world. This is backed up by the fact that both the “female” characters (you’ll want to see the movie if you haven’t already to see why female is in quotation marks) bond and push the idea of “girl power” forward. I have no problem with this subplot & theme and it works well in the story.

No, the problem I have is with the guys. While I’m fine with the squabbling of the two initially based on the reversal of their formal relationship, I’m much less enamored with the idea/intimation that the African American character is “poor in school” and only loves “sports” and “needs someone else” to do “his schoolwork for him” in order to pass. That is a stereotype that is definitely at odds with the feel good “one life to live so make the best of it” theme that the movie wants to push. It is also detrimental as it (continues) to promote the idea that African American males are one-dimensional, non-scholastic creatures who are only interested “in gaming” the system (esp. the educational system).

While personal experience is not nearly as strong as experiential data, I can say with confidence that this is a stereotype that simply needs to die. Not even using me as an example, I can think of the star basketball player in my high school whose grades were as high as mine (probably higher in the freshman and sophomore years as it took me a while to adjust to not being one of the smartest people in the school anymore when I got to the high school level). I have to say that this one choice, while setting up an oppositional dynamic, did NOT ring true (nor was in keeping with the story’s tone–yes, I know you needed a “detention” scene, but there are many other ways to get there (telling the teacher the assignment is stupid or simply stating that you are going to do it at all are two surefire ways of getting to that detention scene.

In a movie as good as this one was, this type of lazy storytelling and characterization irked me, but ultimately, it wasn’t enough to sink it for me.

Overall Grade: B

While it should probably be lower because of the lazy stereotyping, I liked the characterization and rise of Karen Gillan’s character, the humor, the action, and the overall story construction enough to forgive (or at least minimize) the characerization of the African American male as a “poor student” who needs “help” (i.e., “cheating”) in order to pass. Had not the Karen Gillan section been in it, I probably would have scored it lower. Still, looking past that one faux pas, I found it to be an enjoyable movie.

Sidney


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I Would Rather Be a Reader, But . . .

Bookshelf in the MTSU Graduate Office_Oct. 2019 (Sidney Blaylock, Jr.)
Image Source: Bookshelf in the MTSU Graduate Office_Oct. 2019 (Sidney Blaylock, Jr.)

I would rather be a reader, but you can’t earn money from reading. Well, that’s not exactly true. There are “Readers,” people who earn money (salary) in Hollywood by reading scripts and passing them on (along with notes) to Hollywood executives who actually decide whether or not to purchase the scripts in question. There are also “Readers” who get paid to read stories on the “slush pile” (you know, those who aren’t written and submitted by “named” writers like Stephen King or George R.R. Martin–in other words, everyone else). Depending on the magazine, journal, or digital platform they may earn a salary, commission are paid by story (rarely), or may even volunteer their time.

However, the closest one can really come to getting paid for being a “Reader” is what I’m trying to do now which is earn a PhD and teach. Even that isn’t truly reading because, although you read and integrate the knowledge, you must then synthesize it and be able to successfully articulate what you’ve read (learned) back to the students in your class. Traditional lecture no longer works (if it ever did) and so not only must you find a way to articulate it back, you now have to find ever-more creative ways of getting that information back to the students (acting as a translator of sorts between the text and the students). Yet, it is only one of the truly acceptable ways in which one can make a living in which the majority of one’s “work” involves reading.

And So I Write . . .

I write because no one, at the moment, is writing what I want to read. Well, again, that’s not entirely true. There are still a couple (in this case three to five) authors that still write in the modes that I like to read. Most of the authors of the “older” generation have died or while they are still writing, their books are no longer considered relevant: David Eddings, Anne McCaffrey, and Robert Jordan are three that fall into the deceased categories. Each author’s books were bestsellers and were “big deals” when they were released. Now, however, they are considered “also rans.” The new generation writes in modes that simply don’t interest me as a reader. There’s nothing particularly impressive about George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire (especially when you know that it takes its ultimate inspiration from The War of the Roses. Hey, other fantasy authors out there: There’s also the 100 Years War, the 30 Years War, The War of 1812, the two World Wars (obviously), the Norman invasion of 1066, and Napoleanoic wars, and that’s just off the top of my head without any research. There you go, pick one of those, add in quite a bit of sex and a lot of head chopping (among other things), create unlikable characters screwing each other over (among “other” things) and you should be all set with your own (modern) fantasy opus.

The things that I write are simply the things that I like to read. I can’t put it any more plainly and simply than that. I like reading about interesting characters who struggle and overcome. They don’t have to be “heroes” per se, but they do have to actually try to overcome their problems rather than wallowing in them and making themselves and everyone else in the story miserable because of it.

For me, writing is something that I do because I can’t find authors (with the exception of a few select ones) who write fiction–fantasy or science fiction that actually matter. The new generation seems to find things like “dream-boat vampires” or anti-heroes that would spit on you just for daring to look at them as the epitome of characters, while sneering down their noses at characters who actually aspire to values (and stands up for the values even though it costs them to do so).

For me, authors like Brandon Sanderson, Elizabeth Moon, and Tad Williams are ones who write characters that I still enjoy reading about and hope to one day emulate. And I won’t lie, emulating their success would be nice as well. Other authors that I still read, although I haven’t read recently include: Kenneth Oppel and of course, Diane Duane, whose original “wizardly kids/teenagers” books never enjoyed the amazing world wide phenomenon that another “wizarding” series did years later.

I write, not be successful (although, I won’t lie, that is an important sub-goal). Mainly, I write because I can’t find anything to read, or rather, I can’t find anything worthy of reading anymore because everyone else’s definition of “what’s good” has changed.

So now I write to (ultimately) so that I have something good to read as well.

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    3rd Draft of 3 Drafts 
    Drafting Section 2 (of 3)
    Mythic Mag. Deadline = January 31, 2020
  • I, Mage (Fantasy Short Story)
    Pre-Production Phase (Planning)
    Pre-Writing on Rough Draft & Character Sketch
    Mythic Mag. Deadline = July 31, 2020
  • Current Longer Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    (Sci-Fi) Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32
    Personal Deadline = December 30, 2019

Hawke and Moon: The Characters of HawkeMoon

Image Source: https://findtattoodesign.net/designs/884-hawk-and-celtic-moon

In celebration of HawkeMoon’s publication and “cover story” status in Storyhack, Issue 4, I’m delving deeply into the story, its characters, my process, and generally doing blowout coverage through the entire week. If you want to read the original Author’s Note for HawkeMoon written when I had just finished writing the story, here is the original blog post.

Storyhack, Issue 4 (Print): https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1686240082

ebook version: https://books2read.com/storyhack4

Hawke

So, in the issue, Hawke isn’t actually depicted anywhere that I could see–which is okay–but he is very much the protagonist of the story (at least, in my mind). He is the first viewpoint character and it is his motivation to find the King’s killer that drives the story along initially. Hawke is a strange character as he is the fantasy equivalent of an “African American” in a predominately “European” fantasy world. While I don’t delve into Hawke’s backstory at all in the story, he is described as having dark skin. I would imagine in this world that there is a southern region that functions much like Africa/The Middle East (hot, arid, and the sun beats down on the land increasing the melanin of the inhabitants). The two lands probably rarely interact so I’m not quite sure how Hawke would have come into “The Lands” (the European part of the world). I doubt it would have been slavery or any real world amalgam as that concept is foreign to this world, but he was “cast out” by his tribe, so perhaps he was taken in and expected to work for his meals? Not really sure at this moment to be honest. I do know that he is doggedly determined and highly moral and this has allowed him to rise through the ranks to become Captain of the King’s Guard, which is where we find him at the beginning of the story.

Moon

Moon is the character that has really caught the attention of the editor and the artists, I think. Having read The Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb and playing (& finishing) pretty much every Assassin’s Creed game from the beginning of the franchise (except for the smaller 2D offshoots), I knew assassins as an organized group were still pretty popular, but I almost made her a thief instead of an assassin due to the moral implications of killing for money. What I finally decided was the Moon needed to be an assassin as only an assassin would risk an attempt on the King’s life (especially with a feared Captain of the Guard like Hawke protecting him), so I gave her a moral code. She only accepted contracts for those she felt embodied “evil.” While I don’t explicitly get into this in the story, you do get an implication that she doesn’t kill indiscriminately. She is more of a surgical tool and works to make The Lands better through judicious use of her skill set. However, making her an assassin came with an added benefit: she became more than a match for Hawke. Moon doesn’t play “second fiddle” to anyone and her skills put Hawke to the test–again, great for tension and challenging the protagonist. Moon would be considered a “European” (i.e., white) in this world, which is where the artists take her. I personally envisioned her as extremely pale (as in “no sun”), but the artists have made her much less pale and more normalized. Again, this is fine–I’m just noting some of the differences between the way I envisioned her and how others envisioned her. Her crescent blades are also different, but I knew they would be–that mental image was very hard to describe in words. I’m no artist by any means, but I had to draw out what I was envisioning–to my knowledge, there is no real world weapon that is analogous to the crescent blades that Moon wields.

Setting

This story takes place in The Lands. In my mind it is a loose confederation of nations ruled by a King. The level of technology is about mid 1500s to early 1600s society–with burghers and the like from Amsterdam and that area. Again, none of this is explicit in the story, but I wanted to give readers of the blog a peek into what I was thinking when I wrote the story. The Lands have older medieval civilizations, but are much more modern and moving towards more enlightened society. I don’t think there will ever be a full-on renaissance in this world, but I could be wrong.

As mentioned earlier, The Lands represent a “European”-like society, but there is also a Southern area that has people of darker colors. This society and The Lands trade with one another and do not have any animosities towards one another. I haven’t really nailed this part down, though. This would be the first thing that I would work on if I choose to expand this out into a longer work (graphic novel/novel/screenplay).

Well, that’s all that I have for now! I hope you enjoyed this deeper look at the characters and setting of HawkeMoon.

Storyhack, Issue 4 (Print): https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1686240082

ebook version: https://books2read.com/storyhack4

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    3rd Draft of 3 Drafts 
    Drafting Section 1 (of 3)
    Mythic Mag. Deadline = January 31, 2020
  • I, Mage (Fantasy Short Story)
    Pre-Production Phase (Planning)
    Pre-Writing on Rough Draft & Character Sketch
    Mythic Mag. Deadline = July 31, 2020
  • Current Longer Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    (Sci-Fi) Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32
    Personal Deadline = December 30, 2019

HawkeMoon is the “Cover Story” for Storyhack and is Available Now!

Storyhack, Issue 4.  HawkeMoon by Sidney Blaylock, Jr. in stylized font.  A picture of a scarecrow like monster in a hooded cowl menacing an Assassin (Moon) who is holding her trademark scythe-like blade with a dead brown tree in the background.
Image Source: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1686240082

Wow! Just Wow! I honestly cannot believe it. If you’ve been a long-time reader of the blog, or even if you’ve just joined, you’ll know that I’m a “semi-pro” writer. I write (and hopefully, receive payment & get published), but I’ve not yet written any long works, such as novels, so I don’t yet consider myself a true “pro.” The blog was my way of both promoting my work and talking about things I like (in the interim when I had nothing currently in print), but I am also using it as a motivation/springboard to “level up,” so to speak, to get comfortable writing longer, more intricate works. While I’ve been published before (and every time is an awesome feeling!), this time my story is the cover story for Storyhack, Issue 4! This is the 1st time that I’ve ever had a “cover story!”

Storyhack, Issue 4 (Print): https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1686240082

ebook version: https://books2read.com/storyhack4

Cover Story

What I can’t believe is that the editor chose my story as the cover/featured story! I knew it was first (based on the galleys), but I never once considered that it would be the cover story! Wow! I almost can’t express myself. I never expected that one of my stories would be chosen as a cover story/featured story. Not only is the cover sweet and presents a really cool and dynamic imagining of Moon, but the story also includes a interior image of Moon as well.

And it isn’t just my own work that’s cool! The whole issue looks really nice and the artwork for the other stores looks awesome. I can’t wait to read the other stories by the other authors who were selected based on the intriguing and awesome artwork included. I can say that this is truly a quality magazine and I am so happy that the editor, Bryce Beattie, selected my work for his magazine.

A Week of HawkeMoon

I hope I don’t wear out my welcome, but I’m so giddy at being selected as the cover story that I thought I’d do a week’s worth of coverage on the story. Specifically, I want to talk about the inspiration for the story, the characters, where I see it going in the future (any sequels, etc.). I’ve pushed back a couple of blog entries that I’ve already done to next week, so (fingers crossed), you might actually get two whole weeks of blog content from me this time, even though school is starting soon. I’ve actually already done an “Author’s Note” blog on HawkeMoon when I finished the initial story, but I intend to go more in-depth about the creation process and the finished product, now that it is available.

Please, please, pleasseee, consider purchasing either the print or the eBook edition–not for me, but to show support to the publisher. This is how we reward quality work and make it possible for people like me to continue to have opportunities to publish. Large corporate publishers are only interested in authors like Stephen King or J. K. Rowling who can reliably deliver large returns of investment, and so they’ll never even look at me, or someone like me, no matter how good our work is because we can’t give them huge audiences. However, if we support small presses like Storyhack, then we give opportunities to good and talented writers to find their voices and get publishing experience to perhaps become the “next” big-name writers–and I’m not talking about just me, but for all those like me who are suffering rejection after rejection for the one Acceptance/Publication that makes their dreams of being a published writer a reality.

Please feel free to reblog this post as/where necessary! Have a great week!

Storyhack, Issue 4 (Print): https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1686240082

ebook version: https://books2read.com/storyhack4

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    3rd Draft of 3 Drafts 
    Drafting Section 1 (of 3)
    Mythic Mag. Deadline = January 31, 2020
  • I, Mage (Fantasy Short Story)
    Pre-Production Phase (Planning)
    Pre-Writing on Rough Draft & Character Sketch
    Mythic Mag. Deadline = July 31, 2020
  • Current Longer Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    (Sci-Fi) Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32
    Personal Deadline = September 30, 2019

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