Star Wars: The Force Awakens Impressions (No Spoilers)

Star Wars Force Awakens

So, I wanted to wait a little bit before posting because I wanted to make sure that I thought about what I wanted to say and phrase it carefully because I didn’t want to spoil in any of things in the story & also because I wanted to make sure of my own feelings toward this movie.

STAR WARS 101

I think that this movie is great!  If I was grading it, I would give it an A (95-98).  It wouldn’t get an A+ for reasons that I will discuss later (no spoilers), but this is an Excellent movie (going by the “grading scale” of many universities).

No offense to George Lucas (as creator of the world and characters), but this is the Star Wars adventure I was hoping the Prequel trilogy was going to be when it released.  This one had old characters and new merged into an exciting new adventure.

THE FORCE IS STRONG WITH THIS ONE

I love both the old characters and seeing them return, but I also like the new characters.  I like the characters and the actors portraying them.  I think that they have enough depth to carry them through a trilogy and the story definitely gave them room to grow in future episodes.

I won’t reveal any of the characters twists, but I will say that BB-8 has probably become one of my favorite droids.  Like R2, the audience can’t decipher what his “beeps” mean without another character translating, but as expressive as R2 is, BB-8 is more so.  They convey a surprising amount of emotion through the droid and it is well appreciated.

LAUGH IT UP, FUZZBALL

As many internet reaction videos will attest (and you should watch NONE of them until you’ve seen the movie for yourself), the humor is really good in this one.  I think one of the reasons that I like Star Wars so much is the use of sardonic humor.  Rather than slapstick, SW has this wry humor that pervades the action.  From the “cheesy” dice in the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit in SW, to the way Vader “disciplines” Star Destroyer commanders & the “hyperdrive” subplot with both Han & Lando, to Han’s outlandish comments to Chewie during the tense scene when they are trying to pass themselves off as a shuttle crew when they are sneaking to the moon of Endor (“I knew it was going to work,” Han says.  He had just told Chewie moments ago to fly “casually”).

Again, without spoiling anything, I think that the wry humor is back and updated for the “new” generation.  I could definitely see some humor that would appeal to Millennials, but there were also some nods back to Gen X’ers like myself.

Whatever you do, keep a close eye on BB-8.  For a CG character, many of his humor beats are pure comedic gold.  He’s a scene stealer almost every time he is on the screen (can you tell I really like this droid?)

THERE IS A DISTURBANCE IN THE FORCE

Now, I’m not going to lie and say that this is the best movie EVER.  When we were leaving the theater one young lady was remarking to her friends, “that was the worst movie ever–they way overhyped it.”  My mother was in instant disbelief.  Myself, I could only shake my head as it wasn’t the marketing folks who overhyped it–it was the young lady herself.  She went into the movie with the wrong mindset.

It is not an revolutionary movie like the original SW was, but an evolutionary one.  It takes the SW series back to the path it was on BEFORE the Prequels.  The Empire & Death Star were such an engaging conflict, of course we want to find out what happened AFTER those events.  SW:FA gives that opportunity.  It also gives us new characters with which to continue the adventure–just as Lando added history to the Millennium Falcon and Han’s backstory in Empire & Jedi, so to do these new characters give the audience a way to into the story.

The reason why I personally wouldn’t give this story an A+ is for 2 reasons: 1) while I like it and think that the movie is well worth the admission price, it isn’t my favorite SW movie.  I’d still have to rate the original series higher (nostalgia is coloring my perception, probably, but there it is).  I think this is the BEST movie I’ve seen in 2015, but I still like the original series of movies (as a whole) better and  2) they do have a lot of story elements from the original series as both a callback and as a structure.  If you have the original SW movies memorized like I do, then it will be EASY to pick out the story structure.  In one of the final plot elements, I had to willingly suspend my disbelief CONSCIOUSLY in order believe an element that happened.  Luckily, it was the only time and I felt that they were trying to appeal to nostalgia rather than just poor plotting, but I did have to do so.

THE FORCE WILL BE WITH YOU, ALWAYS

Still, even with those distinctions, I have no problems recommending this movie.  If you are a SW fan, you’ll love this movie.  If you’re not, or aren’t a Sci-Fi/Fantasy fan, you’ll be fine as long as you keep your expectations in check.

Remember, there can only ever be one REVOLUTION.  Everything else that follows is an EVOLUTION of the original.  Sometimes that evolution can be misguided and lower the value of the original (the Prequel trilogy in my opinion) or it can raise it to new heights (Empire and Jedi, again in my opinion), or it can reset the bar and establish a new course and new bar for the original (and that’s where I think SW:FA comes in and accomplishes wonderfully).

In short, if you haven’t seen it, run, don’t walk to the theater.  For myself, I can’t wait to see it again to pick up on the things that I missed during the 1st viewing.

May the Force (Awakens) be with you!

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Dream Chattanooga

Chattanooga,_Tennessee_Skyline.jpg

I’ve lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee for most of my life and I like the city–it’s large enough to have everything that a mid-size city should have (attractions, businesses, etc.), but not so large that it is impossible to move around and get things done in a timely manner.  It is familiar.

However, being the Fantasy/Science Fiction writer that I am, I tend to dream about Chattanooga being a more fantastic place than it already is–or perhaps I should say, “fantastical.”  I’ve noticed that I tend to dream of the city and when I incorporate it into my dreams, the results seem to mirror the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” in some respects.

THE STRANGE

A particular theme of my dreams when I incorporate the city is the idea that I’m looking for something, well, in a word . . . fantastical.  There is an element akin to something like Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, where it looks real, but in fact harbors the Strange and the Wonderful.  Another thing that I’ve noticed is that I always seem to be looking for some artifact in the dreams about the city.  I either find it and it is the best thing ever, or I go into the “dream world” remembering where it was and I’m always trying to find it again somehow, but (usually) it isn’t there anymore.  Dream interpreters, make of that what you will–I have my own thoughts about that however.

One dream that I can remember clearly where this happens is a dream that I’ve had at least twice since I was a child.  McCallie Avenue is a major artery into the city (downtown area).  When I was a child it was even more so as it was four lanes into the downtown area (about 14-15 years ago they changed it to a two-way in & two-way out to accommodate the increased college expansion on the other side of McCallie.)  When it was a 4 lane there was a small store/deli at the very terminus of the road where it split going to the left and the right.  Now in real life, I’ve never been in that deli/store, but it looks like a 1 story construction.  In my dream it was two stories and underneath was this mall-like area and there was a store that sold the most amazing things.  What were they?  I don’t know–can’t remember that part of the dream, but the impression was that they were awesome.  I made a promise to myself that I would come back and then I woke up.

Sometime later, I did dream that same dream, but when I went down to that area, and the “mall” area was still there, but the store that sold the “amazing” things?  Gone.  Nowhere to be found.  But, I would find it again . . .

DREAM GEOGRAPHY

Something else that I’ve noticed is the way my mind constructs the Dream Chattanooga.  It seems to meld places together.  As a child, my parents used to take my “around the mountain” to Tiftonia to buy fireworks.  Now, there’s no way to get there from Navajo Dr (a street off of Brainerd Rd and S. Germantown), but in my Dream Chattanooga there is and it will lead to this most amazing group of stands and stalls.  Imagine a farmer’s market, but instead of fruits and vegetables, you have trinkets, magic books, amulets, and the most amazing collection of fantastical “stuff” that you can think of.  This is where my store had gone.

Again, one night I found myself dreaming and on this same fictional road so I remember my dream-self saying, “Okay, let me see if I can find this store again.”  And I drove down the road, but where it should have been, it wasn’t.  And I continued to drive and drive, but could not find it again in that spot.

STILL DREAMING

So this “store” has popped up in many different locations all around the “dream city of Chattanooga.”  From a fictional “bookstore” located at the base of the McCallie Tunnels where the road splits and allows you to get on to Dodds Ave (there is no real bookstore there), to a fictional merging of Red Bank and Dodds Avenue where it appeared as a “superstore” (these two areas are on the opposite sides of the city.)

As late as two or three weeks ago, I dreamed of the store again.  It was on a fictional hill that is an amalgamation the “Ridge-cut” in the city along with Shallowford Rd blended with St. Elmo community.  All of these places are nowhere near each other (although St. Elmo and the Ridge-cut areas are not too terribly far from one another now that I think of it.)

THE DREAMERY

I’m writing this post for a couple of reasons.  1) I wanted to get this down in a fixed form because I’d like to write a story that features this “amazing store” in some way.  This idea of a “fantastical store” that disappears and reappears is appealing to me, and 2) to show that story ideas come from the unlikeliest of places.  I don’t know why my mind amalgamates streets and neighborhoods in the city like it does, or why when I revisit places in the dreams, the “amazing” things that I’m looking forward are no longer there.  I don’t know what any of this means, but I’m hoping that a story about might help me to figure it all out.

GOOGLE MAPS

Chattanooga natives will probably know where all these areas are, but if you’re reading this blog and you’re lost, I’d just google or google map some of these names and it will give you an idea of the places mentioned in this post.  🙂

  • McCallie Ave. (Across from the Memorial Auditorium)
  • McCallie Ave. (Dodds Ave)
  • Navajo Rd
  • Red Bank
  • St. Elmo
  • Brained Rd
  • Shallowford Rd
  • The Ridge-Cut

Concepts

2016-Audi-R10-Concept-Cars

CONCEPT CARS

Check out this fabulous Audi 2016 concept car.  I happened across a Wall Street Journal video on their app on Apple TV covering the 2016 Japanese car show and they showcased quite a few concept cars.

I started thinking about the idea of concept cars and how car makers use them as a “test bed” to test out various ideas and technologies.  I wondered why I, as a writer, couldn’t try something similar.  I have multiple ideas for projects in various different genres–short stories, novels, graphic novels, and screenplays.  However, the only thing that I’ve put together consistently are short-stories.

CONCEPT WRITING

I have notebooks full of ideas (what writer doesn’t, after all?), but they are all still just ideas.  I’m not really happy with not writing even though I know that the GRE and applying for Graduate programs are important, but I feel like I just figured out how to tell a great story with “Here Be Monsters,” and I don’t want to lose what I’ve learned.

I’m going to see if I can’t take half an hour (about all the time I can really spare these days 😦 )and try to generate as many “Concepts” as I can each day–probably only 1 per day if I’m realistic.  This way I’m still writing and creating, even if I’m not formally working on a draft, and if one of them really strikes me, I can work on a rough draft while prepping for the GRE and Grad school admissions.

ANNE MCCAFFREY

Now this idea isn’t really novel or unique.  I feel that I must give a shoutout to the late Anne McCaffrey as this idea is really just an extension of her “Tunings” that she Melony explain in her Harper Hall Trilogy.  What?  Haven’t read this trilogy by Anne McCaffrey?  Run, don’t walk, to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or the library and find this trilogy.  I put it far above the depressing stuff that passes for fantasy these days (yes, Song of Fire & Ice, I’m looking disapprovingly at you when I say this).  Anyway, my “Concepts” are a lot like Melony’s “Tunings,” just little practice pieces that will allow me to get a handle on themes, characters, settings, plots, and emotions that I want to display in the piece.  Possible epigraphs, snatches of dialogue, potential scenes, and hinted resolutions should find their way into these “Concepts,” so that when it is time to start writing again, I (hopefully) won’t have to relearn all the lessons that I learned from HBM all over again. 🙂

Potpourri ( . . . a little bit of everything)

holiday-stove-top-potpourri_small

So this blog post contains a little bit everything (hence the title).  I will try to keep this post shorter than normal; it (hopefully) will be just an update post.

WRITING

I was really happy with the way “Here Be Monsters” (HBM) turned out.  I haven’t heard a response from the 1st market that I sent it to yet, but having the setting allowed me to focus on the characters in a way that I haven’t been able to since “Dragonhawk” (DH).  I actually like HBM a quite a bit more than DH although they have a lot in common.

READING

Finished “Conquistadors” (finally) after struggling to read it all summer and fall.  I shouldn’t complain because it gave be the initial idea and setting for HBM.  I loved learning about the Conquistadors and the Aztecs, Maya, and Inca.  It’s just that I’m so stressed from teaching that it is hard to pay attention to an in-depth non-fiction work. For the past couple of years, I usually read Fantasy (David Eddings, Brandon Sanderson, and Diane Duane) or Science Fiction (David Weber, Elizabeth Moon) in order to “de-stress.”

Picked a new “history” book from the back of the Conquistadors.  It is the Condottieri. Hopefully, lightning will strike twice and I’ll be able to find an awesome story from this time period.  I just ordered a used copy from Amazon.com today.

REVISION

I plan on revising Rocketman for my next project.  It will follow the same 3 act structure (beginning, middle, end) as HBM, but I think I need a short half a page prologue/epilogue to completely get it where I want it.  I think I’ve settled on an epigraph to highlight the theme.  More on this later.

SCHOOL

I really want to see if I can raise my game and go back to school.  I’d like to perhaps teach in Higher Education and for that I’ll need a PhD.  I’m going to apply to PhD programs this year in hopes that I will be accepted.  Much of my “free” time will be spent studying for the GRE and preparing applications for various schools, so my writing output will be reduced temporarily as I try to accomplish this goal.

NEW STORY

The creative process will not wait, however.  I’ve begun to write down ideas for my next story.  I don’t have a title yet (although I have a tentative grasp of some of the characters and some of the plot.)  All I can say at this point is the inspiration that inspired me to start planning out the story.  One was a dream that I had last night with a gunslinger.  The other was a phrase that I wrote down about a month ago while still working on HBM: “Jedi Gunslingers.”  More on this later!

That’s all I have at the moment!

Author’s Note: Here Be Monsters

conquistadores

I finished a new short story!  It is entitled “Here Be Monsters.”  I tried several new things with this story, so I wanted to do an in-depth Author’s Note about the story to detail some of the things that I tried.

AUTHOR’S NOTE – HERE BE MONSTERS

Title

“Here Be Monsters” is the title of the story that I said that I was working on under the name “Project Monster.”  I’ve always had HBM in mind as the title of the story, but I used Project Monster as a code-name in case I decided to call it something else during the creation of the story (I rarely change titles once I decide on one, but it has happened.)  My concern that the title, when paired with the epigraph, may make the story’s theme too on the nose, but I like the way it works with the theme, so I’d rather not change it if I can avoid it.

Theme

This is the first story that I’ve called out what I think the theme is based on an epigraph (quotation of a famous person at the beginning of the story).  I’ve only used an epigraph once before–an article that I wrote on rough drafting–but I like the fact that Brandon Sanderson uses made-up epigraphs in his Stormlight Archive books.  Every story that I can find a suitable epigraph for it will probably have a epigraph from now on out.  I will definitely create a theme for every new story in the Rough Draft phase–I really like the way I create when I know the theme ahead of time.

Length

So, this story isn’t the shortest that I’ve done, but it is the shortest that I’ve done recently.  This story clocks in at approximately 4,100 words.  HawkeMoon was 5,600 words by comparison.  Considering that quite a few markets have a 5,000 word cap, this story would be able to be submitted, while HawkeMoon wouldn’t.  It has a beginning, middle, and end, and that is the way I created it.  I didn’t try to do a 5 scene structure and I think the story works better for it.

Time to Create

So, this took as long to create as other stories–but that was because I was sick for most of the month.  I finished the 1st scene right after Labor Day and then didn’t come back to it for nearly 3 weeks.  I finished it in the last week of Sept., and 1st week of Oct.  I think that I would have finished it in about 2-3 weeks.

Research

Conquistadores

So I’ve mentioned it before, but this book is one that I’ve been reading that directly influenced this story.  I minored in History, but I don’t think that I’ve really used my history degree.  I have quite a few books on history, but this is the shortest one that I own, so I thought I’d try to give it a read to cut down on the stress of teaching.  I really liked the book and the series and I’m looking to buy more on Amazon.  I have a book on Florentine history (much longer) and a book on Scandinavian history, so I can definitely try to mine those for ideas, but this was a revelation.  Instead of trying to create everything from scratch and ending up with a generic pseudo-european mishmash fantasy, I was able to give specific names to armor and weapons, the setting was influenced by real life and I was able to really get into the characters and their emotions.

Characters

So, I limited myself to 3 characters–the protagonist and his 2 companions.  I tried to keep the enemies fantastical, but keep the characters grounded in reality.  As I mentioned above, I wanted to really go deep into my characters and emotions.  I think these characters are as complex as the ones I wrote for Dragonhawk.  The characters have an arc and they seem to react appropriately based on their natures.  What I didn’t want to do was be disrespectful.  The culture is not my own, so I wanted to portray the conflict in an “everyman” kind of way, so as not to be disrespectful to another culture.

UP NEXT

I liked writing this way so much that I plan to revise a story (Rocket-Man) and put it in this 3 scene structure and give it a theme (already looking for an appropriate epigraph).   Once finished, I’ll start submitting it again.  Then I’ll start on a new project (probably a Weird West project that has been percolating since I started Here Be Monsters).

New Month, New Project

Coming Soon

It’s a new month and so far I’m still on track with my writing goals (yay!).  So I’ll be starting a new short-story this month.  It is a Fantasy story set in a made up secondary world based on the time period of the “Conquistadors.”

I think I have a title for it, but for now I’m calling it “Project Monster.”  It is an entirely new story inspired by a book that is on my Goodreads Currently Reading Shelf: The Men-At-Arms Series #101: The Conquistadores by Terence Wise and Angus McBride.

Conquistadores

I’ve already done the “rough outline” for it and will begin the “rough draft” after I submit Skin Deep.  I have the theme, characters and plot fleshed out in my mind, so I’m hopeful that the creation of the story will be strong.

New Story, New Style

I’m noticing a new trend.  It is much harder to sell longer stories.  Many sites have a firm word limit and these word limits tend to be shrinking.  I know of at least 3 markets that will not take stories over 3,000 words long.  For me, 2,500 words is about the bare limit that I can do.  About half of the markets are about 5,000 words firm and then the other half let you go up to 7,500.  I can only think of a few that will allow 10,000 words or more (and they are very slow responding markets, some take as much 9-10 months to respond).

I normally write stories in 5 scenes (kinda’ like a 5 act play).  With “Project Monster,” I’m going to shorten my scenes to 3 (beginning, middle, end).  I don’t intend to be locked into this; I’ll let the story dictate the ultimate form of the story, but “Project Monster” definitely lends itself to this form.  I want to experiment to see what the word count is on this story because if it is under 4,000 – 5,000 words, I may find myself gravitating to projects that lend themselves to 3 parts to maximize my chances of selling them to markets.

Author’s Note: Skin Deep 2.0 (Rewrite)

Jamaica

I finally finished Skin Deep’s rewrite this morning, so I wanted to take a moment and do an Author’s Note on this project, so here goes:

AUTHOR’S NOTE: SKIN DEEP 2.0 (REWRITE): 

I finished the original draft of Skin Deep a while ago, but never submitted it because I thought that the character wasn’t as strong as she could have been (she had a generic name) and that the story’s setting was totally generic.

As I mentioned when I started the revision, I know of two people who are from Jamaica and they had told me about the island in conversation.  One thing that I took from what they said about the island is that there is almost a “small town” vibe to it in that most people on the island know what is happening in their neighbors’ lives.  While they may not know everything that’s going on, they would know more than a typical big city community might.  They know where the good parts of the island’s towns are and where the bad spots are and so forth.

I wanted to set the story here for this reason.  I moved it to 2086 to explain the advanced science in the story.  I changed the protagonist’s name and expanded the story so that it made more sense.  It grew from 3,500 words to 4,000 words and seems to be a stronger story.

I will start submitting it next week when I send it for submission to Rhonda Parrish’s Magical Menagerie series: Sirens.  I’m not sure that it has a chance as she’s looking for Fantasy stories and this is sci-fi, but it does seem to fit her guidelines, so I plan to try anyway.  I intend to spend the next week polishing it and making sure that it is as good as it can be before I submit it to Rhonda Parrish.  Wish me luck! 😄

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