Less Twitter. Less of the Twitter Effect.

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Rest in peace, Chadwick Boseman.

It took the passing of movie star Chadwick Boseman at the young age of 43 to make me realize that I needed to cut way back on Twitter.

See, I wanted to write something on this blog about Boseman’s passing, about the work he’d done while he was sick, knowing that his life might be cut short. About the impact he’d had and the joy he’d spread. That I admired the legacy he left behind and feel awful that he’s been cheated of the time he could have spent with the people he loved. 

But I can’t seem to focus on the subject. I can’t even sort out my own feelings about the passing of this famous stranger. Everything’s all jumbled up.

And this isn’t true just with this one subject. It’s true about politics, movies, all sorts of things. I’m more distractible. I’m finding it harder to focus.

The more intense the problem becomes, the more I’ve begun to associate it with Twitter.

Obviously, there are other causes, too. Generalized anxiety about the pandemic. Being stuck at home, looking at these same few rooms. But I think the bulk of the problem comes from what I’m calling the Twitter Effect: a continual flood of information in small doses on widely disparate topics. 

As an example, this is what’s popped up in my Twitter timeline as I write this:

  • Sports team urging people to vote
  • A snide remark at a pundit’s old tweet
  • Trump administration
  • Abolishing Daylight Savings Time
  • Trump’s golf shoes
  • Misinformation from QAnon
  • Joke about Plato
  • Snide election comment
  • Halloween book recommendations
  • #WritingLife
  • State-level (but not my state) police reform
  • Retweeted cross-promotion for a TV show
  • Author promo
  • San Francisco rent laws
  • Superhero commentary
  • Trump joke
  • Mask commentary
  • COVID-19 symptoms/treatment
  • Voting
  • Superman joke
  • Trump tax returns
  • Climate change policy
  • Alexa’s “whisper mode”

I stopped scrolling just now when I came to a cartoon with the caption “My desire to be well-informed is at odds with my desire to stay sane.”

It’s not just that social media can feel so combative and alarmist. That, I can manage. It’s that I’ve spent 13 years training my brain to take in random, scattershot input about all sorts of different things. I need fewer soundbites and more long form thinking. More time reading outside Twitter, in other words.

For a long time, I held on to Twitter because 1) it has replaced blogs as a source for interesting/amusing links, 2) I follow some very fun and funny people and it’s become my main source of laughter during the day, 3) book talk, which is mostly pretty dull but this is what I can get, 4) film and tv talk, which tends to be more analytical and therefore more interesting, 5) and finally, the big one, politics.

Twitter was the place where I kept up with political scandals and wonky procedural shit and climate change and so on. Turning my back on that felt like being a bad citizen. 

And few things are as irresistible as an addiction that feels like virtue.

So I’m cutting back on Twitter in a big way. Years ago, I set up my writing laptop to block it during the day so i could get shit done. This past weekend, I set up my desktop to block Twitter (and Steam, because 2580+ hours of Sentinels of the Multiverse is plenty) from midnight to one in the afternoon. 

That still leaves my wife’s iPad, which I can use to access the service if I want, but that belongs to my wife and it’s not convenient. Part of any plan for breaking bad habits is to make them inconvenient. Plus, I’m not trying to drop Twitter completely, as I did with Facebook. I just want to cut back.

So I’ll be on Twitter less because less. I won’t be completely gone, but I hope to put an end to doomscrolling and political hobbyism.

It’s a relief, honestly. Social media feels both necessary and damaging at the same time. I’ve sort of grown to hate it.

Quarantine Post (Lucky) 13: I Swear the Singer is not Singing the Lyrics Listed on Lyric Sites. Plus Grim London

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Let’s return to the Avalanches for one of the most persistent (but enjoyable) earworms of the pandemic:

And we jump from that upbeat song with the dark video to a site that’s straight dark. Grim London is one of the resources recommended in the tabletop rpg Liminal (As I type this, I’m about half an hour away from our first session) as an interactive reference to hauntings and murders in that very old city.

Obviously a labor of love. Very cool.

5 Things Make a Post (nostalgia remix)

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1. Remember the old days when a person would simply turn to their blog and record a bunch of thoughts, instead of giving them away to a profit-free social media company like Twitter? Man, those were the days.

2. I’ve reached a tricky part of The Iron Gate. That’s not a bad thing (the exact opposite, in fact) but this is a part of the narrative where I’m going to be second-guessing myself and jumping around, trying to iron out a decent sequence of events so that things are fun and also cool and also make you want to keep reading. Every once in a while I see writers talk about writing a first draft and just going out with it, and I wish I could do that. Never happen, though.

3. Watched Ernst Lubitch’s final completed film last night: CLUNY BROWN. It’s a rom com that doubles as a satire of upper class British manners. (“Darling, if I trust you now, I’ll always have to trust you. And I won’t.”) Often, when a movie criticizes social mores, it makes itself a period piece. Its much more palatable (marketable) to GREEN BOOK racism than to address racism in the here and now. But CLUNY BROWN, released in 1946, was set in 1938. Anyway, it’s a funny, clever film with terrific performances. Worth watching.

4. Two weeks ago, I asked you guys to please review One Man and my other books, too, and you have really responded. Before I that blog post, sales for all my work on the Kindle store were in the mid-20s. Almost immediately, they jumped to the high 50s or low 60s, and now One Man is only 8 ratings/review from that sweet 100 mark on Amazon. Thank you all. It really makes a big difference to discoverability and to overall sales. If you’ve been meaning to post a review but haven’t gotten around to it, the links at the bottom of the main post should make for easy clicking. Thanks again.

5. My son has been working on a novel and has given me his first draft. It’s pretty good for a first effort, although no where close to ready for public consumption. But every moment I spent doing something other than editing his book or working on my own makes me feel guilty, like I’m slacking off. Luckily, guilt has never stopped me from being super lazy, so I’m going to log off, make a couple of notes about our respective works, and then put in the library dvd for TITANS, which I’ve heard is terrible. If so, I can turn it off after ten minutes or so and never be tempted by it again.

It’s Not the Thing You Don’t Know That Get You…

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It’s the things you think you know but are wrong.

For ex:

Everyone was telling me that five cents a word was too low, and I kept responding by saying some variation on, “SFWA set the minimum pro rates (for short fiction) at five cents a word. That’s the number I’m going to use!”

Except I was wrong.

As pointed out to me by another author (and if you have a middle grade fantasy reader in your life, or if you like historical fantasy with lots of Big Romance, you should definitely check out Stephanie’s books) SFWA changed the minimum pro rate months ago. I should have gone with eight cents a word.

Which is hilarious to me. It would have been the work of sixty seconds to check that, but it never even occurred to me that I should.

And of course, nothing has changed about the Kickstarter or the books I’m planning to write, except now I have to explain to my wife that she was totally and absolutely write all along, and with a little more smarts I would have done what she wanted me to do.

Anyway, as you can see by the embed below, one novel is already paid for. You can help make a second happen by pledging $4 or more. (Which gets you two ebooks)

The Iron Gate Kickstarter Campaign at 24 Hours

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screencap from KS dashboard showing 921% of goal

That’s pretty much a novel right there.

After 24 hours, the dollar amount guarantees more than 90,000 words, so I’m thinking The Iron Gate is going to be a novel.

It also looks like the campaign might reach the upper limit, which means I’d have to write the next Twenty Palaces book pretty much right away. (For more info about the upper limit, check the campaign page itself).

This is wild, guys. This is also a lot of work. I spent most of yesterday wandering around my apartment, then checking the pledges, then washing a few dishes, then checking pledges, then vacuuming, then checking, then playing SOTM, checking, scrub toilet, check, open the file for The Iron Gate, then close it again so I can check.

Which means I haven’t been as productive as I need to be. That changes today. If I’m going to get this first book to you in 12 months, I have to do some thinking and some typing.

Anyway, please spread the word to any other fans of Twenty Palaces or contemporary/urban fantasy that you know. I’ll keep tapping away at these keys.

Here’s the updated version:

The Iron Gate, a New (Break) Kickstarter Campaign

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Kickstarter is running a “Break Kickstarter” campaign, which invites creators to use the platform in unusual ways. Not to break their rules, but to organize a campaign in an unusual way.

Until I saw that promo, I hadn’t been planning to use Kickstarter again. To be honest, I was gratified that my 2013 campaign for The Great Way did so well, but it was a crapton of work, and I’m a naturally disorganized person. I screwed up a few times while fulfilling that campaign, and that was extremely embarrassing. I didn’t want to put myself into that position again.

But if there’s an opportunity to flout the usual expectations? I’m signing on for the next Twenty Palaces story, The Iron Gate.

Here’s what’s going to be unusual in this campaign:

No video
No stretch goals
One reward: an ebook (although you could decide not to take a reward if you prefer)
One pledge level: (although KS lets you pledge more if you want)
You decide how long The Iron Gate is going to be

The Twisted Path was a novella, and some readers really wanted me to go back to novels. I’m not sure how much demand there is for this, but let’s find out.

For every $50 pledged to this campaign, I will write a thousand words. That’s the minimum professional rate, established by SFWA, of five cents a word.

In practical terms, I’ll look at that as a minimum word count.

So, if the campaign meets its goal of $500, I’ll write a 10,000-word novelette, which is about the length of “The Home-Made Mask”. If all twelve-hundred-ish people from the Great Way campaign pledge $4, that’ll be about enough for a novel.

I’ve set an upper limit, too. If you want to know what that is, or have other concerns, please check out the campaign. Also, if you’d like to take part.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/harryconnolly/the-iron-gate-break-kickstarter

The Pressure to Continue the Story After the Story

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That video below? Worth watching, like Ellis’s other work.

(Actually, I’m sort of assuming the video shows up, since WordPress’s new “block” system doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.)

If you’ve watched it (and let me say again, you should) you already know that it’s a discussion of some relatively recent critical schools of thought about literature, namely, does the author have any authority over the story and characters outside the published text? Or, to use the examples in the video, does the author get to tell us what happened to the characters after the last page? Do we have to take seriously the secret things they tell us about the characters that’s not in the text (such as, that Dumbledore is gay)?

Like John Green in the video, I’m of the opinion that readers get to choose for themselves, and at least should be able to extrapolate from the story.

As a personal example, a number of readers asked me what happened to Lar Italga after the end of The Great Way. Me, I thought it was so obvious that I didn’t even bother to write it. But that wasn’t good enough for some, and they seemed annoyed when I turned the question around and asked what they thought happened to him. They didn’t want to extrapolate. They wanted the authoritative word.

A number of people also wanted authoritative insight into how the names were pronounced, and “however you like” was apparently not an acceptable answer. I’ve read I-don’t-know-how-many fantasy novels with goofy pronunciation guides and I’ve learned to ignore them. In the privacy of my own head, I think of the characters’ names however I like, but a significant number of readers want the “correct” form.

The video takes JK Rowling to task for many of her pronouncements about the world of the books and the future of the characters. Is it especially laudable to make Dumbledore gay if you don’t include it in the actual book where it would have counted? Do we need an apology about who Hermione ended up with? Do we need to be told that, before indoor plumbing, wizard students crapped on the floor and them magic-ed the mess away?

Lots of people had a laugh at that last one, but it seems she knows what she’s talking about. Click the tweet below to see why I will never ever time travel back to the middle ages in Europe.

I’m lying here being sick while @seraph76 reads me bits of a history of French royal court poisonings and I think we need another terror— rahaf mohammed al-qanon (@AliceAvizandum) January 5, 2019

I know it starts off talking about poison, but it quickly moves to sewers (or the lack thereof) and no, please, authors, do not try for this level of realism. Just click the tweet to open and read. It’s hair-raising.

So, yeah, Rowling has a history of coming up with a bunch of extraneous stuff about the Harry Potter books–seemingly without giving it a lot of thought–and not to the benefit of her books or herself. To which I have to say: Can you blame her?

The Harry Potter books were such a gigantic hit that she has been deluged with questions, many from very young readers. Is she supposed to tell a ten-year-old Hermione fan that the character is a fictional construct with no life or existence outside the text? Yeah, that would go over well.

It’s entirely unsurprising that she launched an entire website (literally “More Potter”) which lists a bunch of character biographies and other bullshit that Rowling (or one of her interns/social media hires/whatever) threw together in an afternoon. That it draws in the hardcore fans (and tries to sell them stuff) is an entirely reasonable way to avoid all those earnest questions flooding the author’s social media.

And then, when a new Fantastic Beasts movie comes out, superfans get upset because the backstory in the movie doesn’t match the extraneous BS listed on Pottermore. Not that it matters. The Hogwarts Cinematic Universe is different from the books, obviously.

So yeah, I get why John Green and other authors (like myself) don’t want to add more story once the story is done. I also believe that Rowling’s circumstances are unique to her, and the pressure on her to drop these little bits of extraneous story must be incredible. I don’t always like what she says, but she has my sympathy.

Movies with Mikey vs. 8 Harry Potter Films: The Path to Success

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Hey, let’s talk a little bit about something that way too many people have already talked about: the Harry Potter films. And by “talk about” I mean “share this series of three Movies with Mikey episodes about the franchise.

Go ahead and watch. They’re good. If you’re not sure why you should bother, read more below.

The first time I told someone outside my family that I planned to binge all eight Harry Potter movies (nearly 20 hours worth of films but maybe more with bathroom breaks depending on beer) their reply was “Better you than me.”

And I get it. They’re kids films–at least at the start. They have good choices mixed with the not so good, and an inconsistent tone in some places. They take a while to hit their stride. It’s the BLOODLINE effect: how many hours do you have to watch before it “gets good”?

But I thought that binge-watch was valuable. The first movie is adorable, like a 130 million dollar school play. The last is as intense as any big-budget thriller. Making that journey is no easy feat.

I wouldn’t consider myself a Potterhead, or whatever Rowling’s Potter fans call themselves. I don’t visit Pottermore, write fanfic, or play quidditch IRL. I haven’t memorized the biographies of the supporting cast, so I couldn’t tell you where Minerva McGonagall took her gap year or whether Professor Sprout makes her own hats. I’m not that sort of fan about anything.

But I have read the books more than once (unusual for me) and I think there’s a lot to learn from the way the movies stumble and then correct themselves as they go on (which is a weird way to describe that process, I know, because movies don’t create themselves, but you guys know what I mean). I’m always interested in the creative choices behind a work that affects me deeply, which is why I’ve watched Beyond Stranger Things a half-dozen times, and I’ve already watched this three-part documentary twice.

In these videos, Mikey covers the onscreen character choices, the studio-level hiring decisions, and everything in between, showing how they came together to become this weirdly compelling long-form story. And I say “weirdly” because this sort of thing shouldn’t be my jam (except for all the death) but it is, and Mikey touches on that, too.

If you’re interested in how creative work gets made (esp in a group/corporate environment) give these a watch. They’re funny, insightful, and breezy. Neumann is also one of the few Patreon accounts that I feel I can afford to support, if you want to know how strongly I feel about his work.

Anyway, this is where I confess: I just binged these movies last July for my birthday, and watching this documentary makes me want to do it again, just to pick up on more elements that change in each installment: costuming, camera movement, sound design, and so on. And it just so happens that I got a box set for Giftmas. Maybe it should be a reward for finishing this round of edits on my new book.

Fantastic Beasts 2 and the Basic Appeal of a Thing

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In a now-deleted tweet, another author wrote that the Fantastic Beasts movies sounded like the Star Wars prequels, because they focused on worldbuilding at the expense of characterization. That got me thinking about the basic appeal of fantasy stories, and what role worldbuilding and characterization plays in making that appeal long-lasting.

If someone as savvy as the one mentioned above thinks the Fantastic Beast films have Star Wars Prequel-level characterization, that’s a major failure of the WB marketing department. Whatever the flaws of the Fantastic Beast movies, boring lead characters are not one of them. Newt Scamander might be the most peculiar hero of big budget studio adventure films in my lifetime. Even something as simple as the way he stands when he talks to other people subverts the idea of a male hero, the guys who wipe a trickle of blood from the corner of their mouth with their fist.

Honestly, I found Newt’s body language off-putting at first. His body language suggests that he believes other humans are dangerous predators, even the friendly ones. Imagine a Harry Potter who can barely make eye contact with Draco. It’s a bold choice, and it’s about a thousand miles from sulky, petulant Annakin and whatever Liam Neeson was doing.

One the problems with the second film is that the newer additions to the story aren’t as distinctive as the characters from the first film. Grindelwald’s hench-people in particular are a bunch of stoic blank-faces and a big disappointment from the writer who created the faculty at Hogwarts.

But I have to ask, if you want to talk about interesting characters, what about Harry Potter as a character? He comes from an abusive background (without the harmful damage kids in that environment get in the real world). He’s good at sports. He’s earnest and brave and snubs Flashman… er, I mean Draco from the start of the story.

We like him because, in part (and I’ll get to the second part in a bit), he’s a good guy in difficult circumstances, but it’s the specifics of those circumstances that make his story compelling. That’s on the worldbuilding.

Really, it’s Hogwarts. Hogwarts is the centerpiece of the appeal of the Harry Potter stories. Yeah, the characters. Yeah, the names of the characters (which I love). Yeah, the mix of plot threat, magic, interpersonal character bonding and conflict–Rowling has a sense for mixing those things in just the right order. But the Harry Potter books work so well because of a fairly ordinary Brave Young Hero in an extraordinarily appealing setting.

There’s a moment in FB2 where the story briefly returns to Hogwarts and it’s announced by that musical motif. You know the one I mean. It made me wonder why the other characters didn’t have their own music. Shouldn’t Credence’s scenes have their own little jingle? Shouldn’t Grindelwald’s? (Or maybe they did, but if so I didn’t notice) It would have helped establish the various factions in the plot, and helped us connect them.But Hogwarts deserves its own jingle because Hogwarts is the place we want to be.

Personally, I think the worldbuilding is an obsession with fantasy readers and fans. I have seen people complain about The Lies of Locke Lamora because it didn’t give them a sense of the world as a whole. It’s been said that a crime novel is, at its core, about a city, while a spy novel is like a tourist’s travel guide. Well, I think fantasy readers want their novels to be expeditions into fictional places, and I suspect Rowling has plenty more travel guide in her.

This isn’t to say that characterization isn’t important–obviously it is–but I think what really matters (this is the second part I mentioned above) is the relationships between the main characters. How they’re connected, how that relationship is tested, how it survives (or doesn’t).

I think this is the biggest flaw in the FB2: not enough emphasis is put on the connections between the characters. Jacob and Queenie spend most of the movie apart. Credence and Nagini need a scene to demonstrate the powerful connection between them to make his climactic choice meaningful. Leta’s connection to Newt is demonstrated powerfully, but not her connection to Theseus. And Grindlewald’s connections to his henchfolk is simply assumed.

Yeah, the movie has problems, but I think it’s better than people think. As I said on Twitter, in a few years’ time I expect people to reappraise it, especially in light of the FB series as a whole, however long many movies turns out to be.

But I’ll sum up by saying the worldbuilding has to have lasting appeal to sustain a long series, which I think the HCU (Hogwarts Cinematic Universe, ‘natch) does. Also, it helps to have interesting supporting characters and standard heroic leads with strong relationships to the other characters, because it’s the connections the readers will invest in, not the characters themselves. IMO.

Randomness for 6/30

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1. No more snitch tagging on Twitter.

2. Body positivity became a marketing scheme, and it became a scam.

3. The Japanese engineers improve the binder clip.

4. What Makes People the Most Happy: An analysis of the way people answer the question “What made you happy in the last 24 hours?”

5. This Rolling Stone profile of Johnny Depp is beyond fucked up.

6. Lionel Messi walks better than most players run.

7. Amsterdam drained a canal and posted a picture of everything they found in it.