Streaming Services that Work (for Me)

A rectangle listing some of the major streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, Sling, Showtime, CBS All Access, HBO Now, Acorn TV and Disney+
Image Source: https://www.seattletimes.com/explore/shop-northwest/how-many-streaming-services-are-too-many/

As a Science Fiction and Fantasy reader and writer (and a lover of most things of a speculative nature), I find myself (Pre-Corona virus) browsing bookshelves in libraries and bookstores for the Sci-Fi and Fantasy offerings. Not surprisingly (I guess), is that I end up doing the same things for various streaming services. The first thing that I do when I look at a service or assess as to whether I’m going to sign up, is to take a look at the offerings for Sci-Fi and Fantasy. While not the only criteria (price plays a role as well), I often decide on what streaming services to subscribe to, in large part, based on what offerings they have that appeal to my as a speculative fiction afficianado.

Netflix

I subscribe to Netflix because (initially) because, originally, it was an innovative way to rent movies affordably. While I didn’t always love the “DVD/Blu Ray” by mail system, even then I thought the movie companies should have had an online streaming licensing clause available to Netflix — similar to what Hoopla has for libraries now–even back then I found Netflix to have a strong back catalog in Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Even now, with their original programming, I find that, in many cases, Netflix has more Sci-Fi/Fantasy shows and movies than I can reliably watch. While I wish Netflix would work on beefing up their licensing deals with Hollywood content–there’s rarely a a movie in the speculative genre that I haven’t seen on their service, I still find they do a pretty good job with content for a reasonable price.

Amazon Prime Video

So, Amazon Prime Video is a mixed bag for me. They have some really good content and my current favorite spaceship show–after a rocky start as I didn’t like it at first, The Expanse–is exclusive to the service. However, while not as expensive as Netflix, it does come out of my out in a large one-time sum. Now, Amazon Prime Video has other services that make this a fairly compelling value (2 day shipping on orders, a watered down “free” music service–there’s a paid version of the service as well, and other benefits at the time of this writing), but their movie offerings leave much to be desired. Amazon Prime Video has a few big name Hollywood movies, but they’re ones that I’ve seen before–rarely do they have new ones that I want to see (they currently have Knives Out, which, while not speculative, still is a pretty high profile “get”) and one that I hope to see soon.

Disney + and AppleTV+

I almost forgot these two, and since I got them from the same source, I’ll talk about them together. These are two that I got as a part of my needing to get a new iPhone after the old one broke–with a free 1 year trial. While I use both services, I find that I use Disney+ the most as I’m catching up on the Star Wars animated shows that I wasn’t able to watch before they left Netflix. I’m also catching up on the Disney live action movies, such as Aladdin which I enjoy. I own pretty much all of the Marvel content, so while a big draw for some, it isn’t really as much a draw for me. Apple TV+ has been mostly a “wash” for me as I’ve not yet seen any of the shows. I keep marking shows to watch, but I never seem to get around to them–and because of the way the interface works, I only notice AppleTV+ when I actually go looking for it (I may need to move the icon around and put it next to Amazon Prime and Netflix on my screen to “remind” me that there are shows that I’d like to watch before the free trial period is over. While I’m not sure I’ll keep either after the 1 year trial–although Disney+ does have my attention, Foundation for AppleTV+ is looking awesome, but that doesn’t come until 2021 after my trial is over, so we’ll see.

Hulu

This is one that I get because I’m a student and I get it through the student offer for Spotify. Technically, I also get Showtime through this as well, but since I rarely log on to Hulu, I’ve not taken the time to really set up the Showtime account (yes, I know I’d find a lot more Hollywood movies there, but as a student, there’s already way too many distractions for my time–the last thing I need is another streaming service competing for it). Hulu is the service I use the least and currently has the least amount of speculative content (that I’ve not yet seen, especially for movies). For television shows, they do have a fair amount of speculative fiction (for me) that I’m interested in, but they don’t have an original series that has really set me on fire the way Netflix and Amazon Prime does. Once I’m no longer a student and have to pay full price for the service, I’m sure how long I’ll keep it as it is justified at the current price point along with (Spotify and Showtime), but not by itself.

Tubi

This one is free and I actually like it quite a bit. It is on par with Hulu for me, but instead of a subscription fee, it requires you to view ads during the movie. For that reason alone, it is my least watched service. But, I thought you said you liked it, I can hear you ask. I do, because it has a fair amount of Speculative fiction on it in terms of Hollywood movies that I’ve not yet seen. Appleseed Alpha and The Last Witch Hunter were both movies that seemed to be made for streaming, and yet, none of the other services picked them up–not even for a 6 month licensing deal. There are tons of Hollywood movies released every year (well, maybe not this year), that would do so well on a streaming service just to recoup some of their investment, yet they end up only releasing for sale or stuck on some cynical corporate streaming service (CBS All Access, anyone?) which makes no sense. Tubi has a surprising number of speculative works. Now, it doesn’t look like they refresh their content as often as the others, so once I go through that content, I may find it all a bit stale in 6 months to a year from now, but as of now, if not for the ads, this service would probably be used more than Hulu for movies (ad and all)–although Hulu would still win out for TV content.

Well, that’s all for now. These are just my experiences with the various services, looking in general at what they offer in terms of speculative content, for me personally. I’ll be sure to let you know of any major changes (like, if I get Showtime up and running–probably won’t happen, though) and I see they have a major speculative presence or the like. Anyway, have a great day!

Sidney


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




Currently Working On (7/2020):

  • “Project Wall” (Science Fiction Story)
    Drafting: First Draft
  • Unhallowed (Weird Western Story)
    Drafting: 2nd Draft (Working Draft)
  • Childe Roland Graphic Novel 
    Up Next: Rough Draft (Story)
  • I, Mage (Urban Fantasy Story)
    Drafting: 1st Revision

Weird West Story Project Arizona = Unhallowed

Female Gunslinger in wide-brimmed hat and long flowing duster with a gun in a holster and knives on her belt looking out towards the audience with a orange sky and yellow sun at her back.
Image Source: https://www.wattpad.com/296700758-fantasy-sub-genre-guide-weird-west

On Monday, June 29th, I finished the first draft of Project Arizona. I’m sure it needs a lot of work, but I like the way it turned out (except for the end, but I’ll talk more about that later in the post). It’s official title is Unhallowed, and it is a Weird West story (a fantasy story with magic and the like mixed with tropes from the Old West — American West). The main character’s name is Arizona and she is an African American woman who becomes a “gunslinger” (one who is Hallowed) in the parlance of the world to fight the evil of the Unhallowed.

Why This Story and Why Now?

Much of the theme around this story has to do with the idea of Justice vs Vengeance. Justice means literally means “just behavior or treatment” and/or the “impartial adjudication of laws” (google it to fact-check me). Vengeance means “punishment inflicted or retribution exacted for an injury or wrong” (again, fact-check me). As we have visual evidence from the past two months (May and June 2020), the American Justice System says that it stands for justice, but what many people involved with it actually try to dispense is vengeance. Now, people may see this as political, but I recognized this much earlier based on the way in which America has conducted its wars in the 20th and 21st centuries (remember, I minored in History). I noticed a discrepancy in which the way America articulates its values and the ways those values actually get realized when we go to war–in my mind, they are two different things, and I wrote this story to explore that idea. The fact that there were multiple high profile cases of social injustice as I was writing this story, just galvanized my desire and need to write it. America (and Americans) say one thing, but do another, and to me, that’s a problem that I’ve been seeing for a while now and major failing that we need to solve.

Why a Weird West Story?

Well, let’s not overlook the fact that Weird West stories are cool 🙂

Also, on a more serious note, Weird West stories are enjoying a moment. As noted in an older blog, the Western as a genre is pretty much dead (for now, especially in movies and TV), but with rise in popularity of the Red Dead Redemption video games by Rockstar, the Western is actually seeing a bit of a resurgence. As such, more inventive stories in the Old West/Wild West are seeing a spike in interest. I think there are at least 3 different Wild West/Weird West games in development (and one of them is actually called Weird West). Not to mention there is at least one RPG that is devoted to the setting (Deadlands). I think that if there is a resurgence in popularity for the Old West/Wild West, it will come from the Weird West genre.

Also, Weird West stories don’t always have to involve Fantasy and Magic. They can be Science Fiction stories as well. Cowboys and Aliens was attempt at such a fusion that didn’t quite work–the title, in typical Hollywood misguided fashion gives an indication why. Still, as one can see, the fusion of different genres can, if done right, infuse the Old West/Wild West with some much needed originality in the storytelling and setting (which is what I hope to accomplish with Unhallowed).

What’s Next For Unhallowed?

I’m working on the 1st Draft for another project now. When I finish it, I will return to Unhallowed for the 2nd Draft. I think I did well on the character, but I want to add in more sensory details, more setting, and fix the ending.

The ending was supposed to feature an elaborate fight scene and “will she/won’t she” choice. The fight scene was massively cut down and the choice was effectively taken from the main character by a discussion in an earlier scene–if she does it, then she loses all support from her team. These are two places that I most definitely need to revisit as they rob the ending of much of the suspense that I envisioned for the end of the story.

Hopefully, during my second pass, I can make the ending as suspenseful as I envisioned it being in my mind’s eye when I had the original idea and wrote out the Rough Draft for the story. But at least it is finished (and done within a month and not the 2+ years that I normally do things, so hurray for small victories!

Have a great day!

Sidney


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




Currently Working On (7/2020):

  • “Project Wall” (Science Fiction Story)
    Drafting: First Draft
  • “Project Arizona” (Weird Western Story)
    Up Next: 2nd Draft (Working Draft)
  • Childe Roland Graphic Novel 
    Up Next: Rough Draft (Story)

Mini-Review: The Last Witch-Hunter

Vin Diesel walking at night in dark clothes and long black trench coat on a wet city street full of puddles with a car behind him that has its headlights on full beam.  He is walking in front of the car, towards the camera.
Image Source: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1618442/

Sorry this blog post is a little late, but I didn’t really have time yesterday to work on it. It will be a little shorter than normal today as I have a couple of deadlines that are today (6/30) and one tomorrow that I need to be sure and meet. However, I did see a movie over the weekend–The Last Witch-Hunter–that I’ve been wanting to see for a while. It is currently streaming on Tubi–a free streaming site supported by ads that play during the movie (more on that later).

Vin Diesel “Vehicle”

This movie is primarily geared around Vin Diesel as the star of the movie. It focuses and spends quite a bit of time with Vin’s character. In many ways this is a good thing, as Vin is always likable in this role. However, the focus on his character means that we see little-to no character development or motivation for the other characters. The “twist” is poorly set up, coming through expositional dialogue rather than being organically revealed via the plot and the villains have almost no motivation, especially the Witch Queen who serves as the movie’s “Big Bad.”

While there are other named actors in this movie, such as Michael Caine and Elijah Wood, they aren’t really used to great effect in the roles they play and their screen-time is greatly diminished do to the almost relentless focus on Kaulder, Vin Diesel’s character. For me, the highlight of the movie was actually the performance of the female lead, Rose Leslie, who played Chloe. I enjoyed the “pluckiness” of the character and thought that it turned something that was fairly familiar into something that was enjoyable.

Highlander By Way of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

When I say familiar, I mean it. Essentially, this movie is a compilation of many of the scenes/ideas from both Highlander and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. There are even flashback scenes evoking the lost “love” of Kaulder’s life during his “sword and sorcery” days just like in Highlander. The modern day elements play out more along the lines of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but there still shades of Highlander even there.

While I’m sure the movie nodes to other modern day “undying heroes” movies and tropes, these are the two in which I kept seeing the most references for as I watched the movie. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if you happen to like those two movies. If you’re unsure at all, then watch how the history of the hero unfolds and keep track of how the character is introduced and interacts with the love interest, and in both instances, you’ll see similarities within what I’m going to refer to as the “Undying Hero” genre.

Commercial Breaks Really Hurt

This is the second movie that I’ve watched on Tubi, and I have to say that while they have movies that none of the other streaming services have (especially ones that I’m interested in watching for the most part), their model while free, really hurts them in terms of me watching them on a long-term basis. While I don’t agree that every network needs a streaming service–CBS AllAcess, why do you even exist, except for corporate greed as your star show, Star Trek Picard is available on Netflix everywhere else in the world–I would be willing to pay a small fee for Tubi (no more than $2 a month), or have them added on to Netflix, again for a nominal fee. I stopped watching movies on commercial TV a while back because commercial breaks began to become onerous and the networks would edit content. While not quite as egregious as normal network TV (and certainly no editing of content), the ad break would happen in places that broke the tension. I don’t recall an ad break happening in the last half hour of the movie, but I think there were a total of 7 or 8 breaks over the run-time of the movie.

Overall Rating (B- 80-82)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

So, “Your Mileage May Vary” definitely applies here. Your enjoyment of the movie will probably hinge on two very important factors: 1) do you like Vin Diesel and his acting style and 2) do you like the “Undying Hero” genre, or in other words, do you like Highlander and/or The Sorcerer’s Apprentice? If the answer is yes to both of those (like me), then this is going to be a fairly enjoyable watch, if your answer is yes to one of the two questions, then you’ll probably find it bog-standard average–nothing special, but totally watchable, but if your answer is no to both of these things, then you’ll probably want to watch something else as there’s no escaping either of these two factors.

Sidney


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




Currently Working On (6/2020):

  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    Finished: Revision 1
  • “Project Arizona” (Weird Western Story)
    Finished: First Draft
  • Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    Finished: Script, Issue #1
    Next: Script, Issue #2
  • “Project Wall” (Science Fiction Story)
    Finished: Rough Draft

New Pulp Sub-Genre

Four diverse book covers, each showcasing a different type of New Pulp hero: A Detective and fantasy cover are display prominently
Image Source: https://thepulp.net/the-hunt/new-pulp/

I just submitted an entry to a new directory that will be coming out that lists creators (writers, artists, editors, reviews, and publishers) of New Pulp stories. I didn’t really know that I was one until I published in Storyhack, but after researching more into this fairly new sub-genre, I think that many of my stories have, at least at their core, a New Pulp aesthetic that I may try to emphasize more.

So, What is New Pulp?

Great question that–to be honest, I had to do some digging on the web to really figure it out myself. I guess the easiest way to define it would be to give you a definition of “Old” Pulp and then tell how “New” Pulp is different.

Basically, these are the stories from the 1930s – 1950s that you hear so much about. These are sci-fi and adventure stories that cared far more for the flavor and zest of the story than actual realism or verisimilitude. These are the stories in which rocket-ships have fins, aliens live on Mars without vacuum suits, and hidden civilizations hide under the earth or in deep forests. Pulp was no so much interested in the “real world” effects of science, so long as the authors could use their imaginations and create stories that illustrated conflict.

New Pulp are stories that take the same action and adventure element, but which do not necessarily throw away realism or verisimilitude to achieve that adventure aesthetic. These are stories that have the adventure/action element at their core. Essentially, this is the “Action Movie” genre for fiction.

This is What I Like To Read

One of the reasons that I’m not as invested in Sci-Fi and Fantasy (in fiction) as much as I used to be is that the concept of a “hero” has pretty been dumped and the new concept is either “morally ambiguous” (aka “gray” characters) which basically just means the protagonist is either a “badass” that does things for his/her own self-interest (Pitch Black) or “mean people doing mean things to each other (Game of Thrones) or the idea of “literary” sci-fi (which is “character-driven”) which means little-to-no action. It’s all about the dialogue and the internal conflict.

I love characters and characterization, but I love characters doing something meaningful. That’s the type of fiction I like to read and write: characters who are engaged in an action or problem and seeing how that character will succeed or fail based on his/her personality traits or flaws. What happens when you’re an “ace” pilot, but the ship you’re piloting is a piece of junk? How do you survive on an alien world with just an umbrella when it’s raining lava, but you’ve seen Fred Astaire’s Singing in the Rain since you were two years old and know it by heart? New Pulp (or at least what I understand it to be) comes closest to this, and while I won’t always be writing/publishing in the New Pulp sub-genre, I can tell you that the aesthetic will always be there–I want my stories to be fun, adventurous, and exciting, which are (as I understand it) the very hallmarks of the New Pulp sub-genre.

Now, when I write, am I thinking about writing a “New Pulp” story? No, I’m thinking about writing a Science Fiction story or a Fantasy story, but I do so with a lot of action, and knowing about the New Pulp sub-genre gives me more places and opportunities to market my work. Hopefully, there will be fewer rejections than from tradition/literary markets who (by and large) don’t give a flip about the things that I like about the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres, rich characterization AND really cool plot/action.

How Can I Find Out More About New Pulp?

Well here are a couple of websites that can help you out:

https://thepulp.net/the-hunt/new-pulp/

https://www.writermag.com/get-published/the-publishing-industry/pulp-fiction/

Also, here is a good publisher of Pulp/New Pulp (and full disclosure: the place where I sent my entry to be included in a directory of New Pulp creators that I mentioned in my introduction.)

Airship 27: http://www.airship27.com/

Well, that’s all I have time for today. Sorry this post is late, but between work and watching the Playstation 5 Reveal event, I’m behind in getting this one out. See you the next blog post.

Sidney


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




Currently Working On (6/2020):

  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    Editing: Revision 1
  • “Project Arizona” (Weird Western Story)
    Drafting: First Draft
  • Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    Finished: Script, Issue #1
    Next: Script, Issue #2

“Project Arizona”: The Research

A woman whose face is hidden in shadow of a wide-brimmed had wearing a long flowing duster, with a gun in a brown holster and various throwing knives on her belt.  Her hands are down at her sides.  She is standing on a desert-like landscape with the sun shining above her head.
Image Source: https://www.wattpad.com/296700758-fantasy-sub-genre-guide-weird-west

I don’t want to jinx it, but I’m closing in on finishing the First Draft of “Project Arizona,” my Weird Western (Fantasy Western) story. I thought I’d just quickly highlight a few of the websites that I came across while doing research for this project. This by no means an exhaustive list, but I found out several interesting things and found several unique websites while doing the research.

There Were Black Cowboys

Smithsonian Magazine: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/lesser-known-history-african-american-cowboys-180962144/

Here’s something they don’t teach you in traditional American History classes: not only were there black cowboys in the time of the Old West, but they were fairly prevalent. According to the article, 1 out of every 4 cowboys in the Wild West was black. A side note here: that means, Hollywood, that every Western movie made in the 1950s and 1960s (the heyday of the cowboy movie) that had 4 or more cowboys featured should have had at least 1 black actor. Did that happen, Hollywood? No, it didn’t, you say? Well, just some food for thought, Hollywood.

I digress, however. I wanted an African American female protagonist for “Project Arizona,” but I wasn’t sure if African Americans were even a part of the Old West outside of the “Buffalo Soldiers,” but with this source, I was able to find out that not only were they a part of the Old West, but racism was blunted due to the nature of the West being a dangerous place and cowboys (of all colors) had to depend on each other to survive and couldn’t afford to let racism get in the way of survival.

Black Cowboys Existed into Modern Times

AZCentral Website: https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-history/2019/03/17/black-cowboys-were-common-old-west/3180296002/

True West: History of the Western Frontier: https://truewestmagazine.com/the-racial-frontier/

Here’s where I found some more information about black cowboys and how the change from the Old West into “modern society” affected them. This site talks about how Hollywood changed the depiction of the Old West from what it was to how it is perceived in America today. More importantly, for my story, this is where it showed modern interpretations of African Americans (in the 1960s and 1970s) competing in contests such as roping and riding. While there’s not a lot of that in my story (well, none at the moment), it did give me a good sense of how African Americans could contribute in an Old West Setting.

The True West website gave me some good context for where the black cowboy tradition began and also some ideas for period specific clothing and gear for my story.

Wild West Prisons

True West: History of the Western Frontier: https://truewestmagazine.com/old-west-prisons-were-no-place-for-sissies/

A significant portion of the story takes place in an Old West prison (not a jail like you see in traditional western movies), so I needed to find out what prisons looked like in the Old West looked like and how they operated. I like this site from True West because it has the rules that one prison operated under. While I didn’t actually need to use these rules for this story, it gave me the “flavor” of the prison setting, and who knows, maybe on the next iteration of the story, I might need those rules. I’ve already done a little research into Civil War prisons due to an interest from the way they were depicted in another movie–The Outlaw Josie Wales? Glory? I can’t remember exactly–but the point is, I knew there were prisons earlier than the Old West, but I didn’t know how they changed.

Well, that’s all I have for today. Just wanted to highlight some of my research as I’m slowly wrapping up the first draft of “Project Arizona.” Expect to hear more about it in the coming weeks as I finish it up.

Sidney


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




Currently Working On (6/2020):

  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    Editing: Revision 1
  • “Project Arizona” (Weird Western Story)
    Drafting: First Draft
  • Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    Finished: Script, Issue #1
    Next: Script, Issue #2

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


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




  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    Editing Draft
  • Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    Finished: Script, Issue #1
    Next: Script, Issue #2
  • “Project Arizona” (Weird Western Story)
    Finished: Rough Draft (Idea phase)
    Next: First Draft (Plot phase)

Writing Log: May 15, 2020

A hand holding a pen and writing in blue ink in a journal.
Image Source: https://www.grandforksherald.com/lifestyle/2199089-share-your-story-logging-exercise-food-and-life-journals

So, I’m still in the process of figuring out what I want for these “logs” in terms of content. Ideally, I’d like them to appear about 1 every four weeks (about a month apart) to give you (and myself) a monthly look at what I’ve been able to accomplish in terms of the major areas in my life that I feel are important: Reading, Writing, and Video Games. However, as you can see, I’m missing a fourth category. I could do media such as TV/Movies, but I already discuss them at length with mini-reviews and rewatch posts. I guess the point is that, for the time-being, these will probably be every three weeks until I can find a strong “fourth” category that would make a good “log” topic in order to appear on Fridays. And now without further ado, on to the writing:

Creative: “Project Arizona”

This is the project that I’ve been working on so far this month. I’ve finished the rough draft of the story. I’m working on the first draft now. I’ve decided to try to work in “stages” with this story. Basically, I’m trying to build my story from ideas into execution into a “story” in stages (drafts). We’ll see how well it works. So far, I’ve liked the fact that the story seems to be coming together fairly well. I’m consistently writing it out in long hand in my “notebook.” I’ve been less successful in transferring what I’ve written into my notebook on to the computer where the “magic” happens. I think I’m trying to “dramatize” what I’m writing too soon, and that I’m trying to put in character moments when I should be focused (in this draft) of just establishing and interesting and believable plot that makes sense and doesn’t have any “huh?” moments for the reader.

Creative: The Independent

I’ve been working on editing this story. I’ve managed, with the help of the MTSU Writing Center to edit the story. Max, the husband of my mentor professor, is also a short-story writer and has worked at the Writing Center this semester. We’ve gone through about two-thirds of the story. One of the things that I’ve realized by doing this is that I’m rushing through the editing process. Like writing, good editing takes time, so I’m slowing down and trying to spend a month on editing, just as I would on writing. Another thing that I’ve learned is that I’m getting stronger at characterization, but at the expense of world-building. The plot is there, the characters are (getting) there, but the world is suffering because I’m putting a lot of my focus on what’s happening and the character–and that’s something that I’m going to want to address going forward.

Academic: Prospectus “Outline”

One of the things that I was supposed to produce this semester was the prospectus that I would “defend.” Basically, the prospectus is a tentative outline of what you propose to write your dissertation about. It used to be very informal, and as long as your director signed off on it, you could begin writing your dissertation. However, a couple of semester ago, they put in a new rule at my school that the dissertation committee had to sign off on it and that you had to “defend” it in public (like a dissertation). So, in essence, the prospectus has become a “mock” dissertation — same basic accouterments (full committee, defense of it, etc.) of a dissertation, but not nearly as long or detailed.

Well, Covid-19 put this on hold, so my director suggested working on the prospectus in the summer and defending it in early Fall. So, I slowed down on trying to get one written. However, over the past few weeks I was able to get an outline down that I really liked. My mentor this semester, Dr. Meyers, helped me integrate the idea of “empathy” into the outline as well, and this is what I’m currently working towards now. I have a written a (very) crappy introduction that I intend to redo.. I think I’m going to start working first on the video game section as the two major video game projects this week discussed ways in which they were bringing in filmic techniques to gaming, which is a central thesis as to why I’m discussing them in relation to Afrofuturism.

Writing Time: Waking Up to Write

As I mentioned above, I’ve found great success over the past three weeks with writing consistently. I tend to wake up early, but my body doesn’t actually want to get up (not a coffee drinker–so even though I’m awake, I’m not really awake, if that makes sense–so now, I’ve taken to grabbing the notebook and either drafting the next section of the story or jotting down dreams/story “seeds”/character ideas that I’ve thought of over night. This has helped me really me move along on “Project Arizona.” I’ve been less successful, as I’ve noted, actually getting what’s in the notebook translated to the computer. The ideas just seem to flow easier and better writing in the notebook than on the computer. However, I really need to do this daily. I caught an interview with Stephen King on NPR and he writes for four (4) hours daily. In essence, King has made writing his “part-time” job (20 hours a week in America is considered part-time while 40 hours is considered a full time job). And I have to say, as much as I might fault some of his works individually, he is still one of the most consistent and successful authors out there (mainly because he puts in the work). Outside of these blog posts, I struggle with putting in more than an hour (1) daily at the keyboard daily. So while I’m finding a fair amount of success writing daily in my notebook, I still need to work on finding “keyboard” time as well (as NO ONE is going to pay for handwritten copy, no matter how good it is).

Well, that’s all I have time for today–hopefully, I will find that 4th category so that I can give you a proper update in about a month or so. Next week should be the return of the Reading Log, so until next moth, Happy Writing!

Sidney


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




  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    Editing Draft
  • Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    Finished: Script, Issue #1
    Next: Script, Issue #2
  • “Project Arizona” (Weird Western Story)
    Finished: Rough Draft (Idea phase)
    Next: First Draft (Plot phase)

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


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




  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    3rd Draft of 3 Drafts 
    Revising Section 3 (of 3)
  • Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    Finished: Script, Issue #1
    Next: Script, Issue #2

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


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 3 (of 3)
    Mythic Mag. Deadline = January 31, 2020
  • Project Arizona (Fantasy Short Story–Weird West))
    Finished: Story Outline
    Next: Character Sketch
  • I, Mage (Fantasy Short Story)
    Mythic Mag. Deadline = July 31, 2020
  • Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    Finished: Script, Issue #1
    Next: Script, Issue #2
  • Ship of Shadows: Screenplay
    Finished: Script Outline (Rough Draft)
    Next: Script Outline (1st Draft)

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