Baby’s First Audio Book

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Today I finished listening to my first audio book.

It was the unabridged Fellowship of the Ring, read by Rob Inglis, and I enjoyed it. A lot.

I didn’t expect to. When the audio book for Child of Fire came out, I found it impossible to listen to it. The narrator’s voice was fine–excellent, even–but it was completely different from the voice I heard in my head when I was writing it, and the dissonance was unbearable.

And the format itself seemed utterly wrong for me. I love to drive but I don’t have a car so I never do. I don’t have a phone to carry with me when I walk. My apartment is tiny, so when would I be able to listen at home? Besides, no skimming? No reading quickly through the exciting stuff?

Hmf, I said.

Then I heard a piece on NPR where a woman said she listened to Rob Inglis’s reading of LOTR every year, and I found it at the library. The first book was 19.25 hours long on 16 CDs! [1] And I just happened to get my copy of Obduction from Kickstarter.

A quiet, Myst-style game and an audio book through the headphones seemed like a perfect combination.

And I loved it.

The game was done before the audio book and I’ve been having trouble squeezing time to listen, but all the things I thought would be bugs turned out to be features. As annoyed as I was when I read Tolkien’s description of hiking through rough terrain (was this really the sort of challenge you want to devote page space to?) being forced to listen to it had the opposite effect. I could visualize the scene. I didn’t feel impatient because I couldn’t skim ahead to the next plot point. Taking away that small measure of control was surprisingly relaxing.

Anyway, I have never enjoyed Fellowship of the Ring quite so much before (although I still say Fuck Tom Bombadil) and I’m wondering how I can find 17-odd hours for the next book. I can’t. It just won’t fit into my life, but I wish it did.

Until I get a car, maybe.

[Update] I forgot to mention that the third book in my Great Way series comes out today in audio book. If you subscribe to Audible, you can listen free. If you bought the Kindle version from Amazon, the audio version is startlingly affordable. The series begins here.

[1] Don’t laugh. I’ve just had to order a new CD player online, because our old one is going wonky and my wife doesn’t want to have to fuck with a computer to play her music while she paints.

Invasive by Chuck Wendig

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I keep telling people that writing reviews helps authors, then I forget to write them myself. I’m going to have to be more conscientious about that when I read living authors.

InvasiveInvasive by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Terrific. Wendig has a way with words, which is not to say that his writing is delicate and lovely, but that it’s very inventive, specific and filled with vitality.

As high-tech thrillers go, this one centers on bio-tech: someone had genetically engineered an ant that swarms people and kills them. The book never cheats on the science and isn’t afraid to go large-scale with the implications. It’s fun. I suspect I would have enjoyed it more if I thought ants are creepy or whatever but I haven’t grown up around fire ants or crazy ants.

I haven’t read the first book in the series, but that wasn’t a problem.

Buy this book.

Strolling a Familiar Garden Path: Kubo, King Doug, and the Power of Predictable Plotting

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A few years ago, I picked up a copy of The Return of King Doug from my library, read it, loved it, returned it, and promptly forgot the title. No amount of Googling could call up the book again. “Satirical portal fantasy child…”

Here’s the basic plot: the centaurs, sentient trees and elfin creatures of pseudo-Narnia are gathered for the final battle against the Dark Queen. And they have a hero with them, one the prophecy says will lead them to victory! It’s a human person, named Doug. They put a crown on him, hang their most potent magical bauble around his neck, and declare him king.

Doug is eight years old. He’s happy to be made king, but once talk turns to the bloody battle at 100-to-1 odds to take place in the morning, Doug does what any sensible kid does. He runs all the way away, returning through his magical well to his grandmother’s place in the Poconos. And he brought the bauble with him.

Cut to mumble-mumble years later, Doug is all grown up, divorced with a kid. Years of therapy have convinced him that his adventure was fantasy, but he can’t get his own life together. Then his parents talk him into returning to the old cabin, and his son finds the bauble and falls back into pseudo-Narnia, and…

And you know what will happen. The prophecy he was unable to fulfill as a child will be fulfilled now that he’s an adult, and we’re going to get a satirical tour of fantasy land while we’re at it.

It’s a fun book, and I enjoyed it, but not because the plot was unpredictable. The basic outline of the story was right there, and the only surprises came from the details.

That same weekend, my wife said she wanted to see KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS, largely based on the beautiful animation in the commercials. My wife has no interest in fantasy (the only fantasy novels she reads are mine, and the only fantasy movies she sees are the big popular ones or the artsy ones) but she has a long history with animation so, of course, we went.

You should go, too. See it in the theater, and stay for the mid-credits stop-motion clips. It’s gorgeous and affecting, and while Laika’s previous films have been interesting but significantly flawed, this one is a real achievement.

It’s also utterly predictable. Once the first act ends (and this is a spoiler that isn’t really a spoiler) the plot turns into a Quest for the Plot Coupons, with the caveat that the Plot Coupons can’t solve the Plot, only the protagonist’s pre-existing self can do that.

And telling you that doesn’t spoil a thing, because the real joy comes from the details. It’s in the way the characters are portrayed, and in the specifics of the tasks they take on. Finally, when the expected ending arrives, all those little details have fleshed out the story so completely that the denouement carries weight. It satisfies.

This is a lesson that I just can’t seem to learn. No matter how many detective novels I read or action films I watch, I’m constantly trying to reinvent the wheel. I keep making things from scratch.

There’s joy in making stories from scratch, but so many missteps, too. Sometimes I think that what I really need to do is start with a Farmboy of Uncertain Parentage and spiff it up.

Not that I really will. It’s just interesting to think about.

State of the Book/State of the Self

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[I wrote this on Saturday night, before news struck of the deadliest mass shooting by a civilian in this country’s history. Rather than let it go live at the scheduled time, I’m just going to post it later in the week, along with my wish that sensible gun control be enacted in this country, starting with a lifting of the ban on CDC’s ability to study gun violence.]

You’ll be reading this tomorrow, but I just tweeted this:

If you’re not a long-time reader, let me explain: When I finish a draft of a novel I treat myself to a bottle of Arrogant Bastard Ale.

Which means that I’ve wrapped up the zero draft of ONE MAN, and what a fucking relief it is. I started this book in March of 2015, according to the creation date of my Scrivener file. That’s a long time for me, even if you count the amount of time I spent traveling on vacation and taking a digression to work on side projects, like The Way into Fate, the rpg game supplement that closed out my Kickstarter campaign, and short fiction, too.

So, that’s a long haul, and I’m still not done. I have a list of 90-some changes that need to be made, from small ones like adding a couple characters to a scene or changing someone’s name, to systemic ones like giving certain characters their own slang. Then, once those changes are done, I have to manage the numerous comments I’ve left myself recommending I check various details in the book. Then, once THAT’s done, I have to reread the whole book, smoothing out the text, searching for word echoes, and generally prettying things up. If I were sensible, I’d do that twice.

Only then will this draft be truly done and ready for my agent to read. If you’re waiting for THE TWISTED PATH, which is the next Twenty Palaces story, you’ll have to wait until then. Sorry. Gotta get this book on the market.

Personally, I’m relieved to have accomplished even this much. This has been a difficult book, and I’m not entirely sure why. It’s a fantasy with a made-up setting. It’s a crime story. It has a bunch of POV characters. It has stakes and magic and betrayals and secrets.

And if this book flops, too, I’m going to have to rethink my whole approach to writing.

Last announcement: I’ll at ECCC signing books today

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Today, I’ll be at ECCC (my first time there) signing books at the UW Bookstore booth (space 5100) at noon. The bookstore will be bringing the Del Rey novels but I’ll be packing in the books from my Kickstarter: copies of The Way into Chaos/Magic/Darkness, copies of A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark, and copies of Twenty Palaces, the prequel to the Del Rey books.

I’ll also have a few (rare) copies of King Khan, the game tie-in novel I wrote about the gorilla who’s an Oxford professor and his pitched battle against an intelligent fart from space.

(Spoiler)

Stop by! Visit! You don’t have to buy something and I promise not to make sad pathetic expressions if you don’t. Nor will I touch the covers of my book and sigh loudly. In fact, depending on the level of ambient noise, I’m more likely to squint at you and shout: “I’m sorry, did you say you wanted me to climb a hook?”

The more stuff I sell, the more space I’ll have in my back to pack stuff home, and I sorta promised my kid a t-shirt. But no pressure! Just drop by!

Not with a bang but a buy link: the rpg supplement from my just-finished Kickstarter is now ON SALE

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For writers, the huge projects that we put hours of toil and sweat and heartache into typically end when something goes on sale. That happened today.

The Fate Core supplement, titled The Way into Fate, that covers The Great Way and A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark has been sent to backers and is now available for sale on Drive Through RPG. It’s over 53K words (far more than intended) and is basically a world-building document expressed in Fate’s (deeply intuitive) game system.

Plus, there’s a 50-page adventure covering a historical incident briefly alluded to in the books. The Key/Egg section of the game covers Marley’s Farce Magic, and both sections include many story seeds for possible campaigns/adventures.

It also means my Kickstarter campaign is officially over.

The campaign that I launched in Oct, 2013 to fund books that were released one year ago, has now, with the publication of this game supplement, ended. To say this is a load off my shoulders is understating things significantly. If you’re a backer and I owe you books, check your Kickstarter messages. If you don’t have a working link, message me through Kickstarter.

And, to bury the lede, check out that final Kickstarter update for a big Twenty Palaces update.

In the meantime, if you like games and fun, pick up your copy of the game supplement here.

They say ideas aren’t worth much…

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and “they” are correct!

Long time readers know that I give away story ideas on my blog (the ones I’m never going to write, I mean) under the tag “seeds”. And you might remember last year when I mentioned that writer Stephen Kotowych took one of those ideas, wrote it up, and sold it to an anthology called Caped.

Well, now that story has made the short list for the Prix Aurora Awards under Best English Short Fiction.

First of all, congratulations to Stephen; the idea of superpowers that spread virally through punching is a fun one, if I say so myself, but it’s worthless on its own. Execution is everything.

Second, I have no idea how the Prix Aurora works, but if you (yes, you, the person reading this) have a vote, why not vote for Stephen’s story, “Super Frenemies”.

Third, it’s an interesting world, and getting more interesting all the time.

Batman v Superman is a bad movie, but it’s not incoherent

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I saw Batman v Superman on Friday, despite the reviews. as expected, it was full of (dark) spectacle, but as I said on Twitter, it played as if it had been made by people who didn’t understand how stories work.

Screenwriters talk about structure all the time, which is a concern that goes beyond the usual cause and effect of plot and character. How does each scene play out? What effect will this have on the audience? How does this scene play in relation to the scenes that came before and after it? For example, if you watch the scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier where Nick Fury is attacked in his super spy van, you see a standard (and effective) escalation of threats. First, Fury faces a squad of well-equipped gunmen and kicks their asses. That extended scene demonstrates that he’s a badass. The scene ends when the Winter Soldier takes Fury out in a second or two, sending Fury running.

First, you establish a character as super capable, then you present someone who outdoes them.

The similar scene in BvS, where Batman in his Batmobile dismantles Luthor’s security team on the road, only to be stopped by Superman, tries to hit the same note and fails. You don’t need to establish Superman’s power level. He’s Superman. And Batman isn’t being a hero in that scene, he’s being an anti-hero (because he’s stealing from a villain and murdering his henchmen), so we’re glad he’s been foiled.

And it just doesn’t work on multiple levels, and that’s just one scene.

But a number of reviewers are calling it incoherent or saying the plot’s baffling, and that’s a separate issue entirely. It’s extremely common for viewers (critics included) to see a movie, decide they’re not enjoying it, then mentally check out. They stop caring, stop paying attention, and quickly get left behind by the plot.

Why didn’t the protagonist just kill that guy? Why did they have that long scene in the courthouse? Why this why that? Why not fly the giant eagles straight into Mordor?

For viewers who are paying attention, the answers are right there in the film. For viewers who aren’t, their self-inflicted confusion is just another strike against the filmmakers. Although of course this happens with books, too.

There must be a name for this phenomenon, but I don’t know what it is. But whenever I hear someone say “I didn’t like this movie, and it made no sense” I always believe the first half and remain agnostic on the second.

State of the Self, 2016 (aka, the “We’ll see” post)

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On Tuesday, I hit 100K words on the work in progress, currently titled ONE MAN, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to assess where things stand in a general way. No encouragement or advice, please, especially about the medical stuff.

Me, personally

I turned 50 last year, which I guess is supposed to be a big thing but it didn’t feel like it. Mostly, it felt (and continues to feel) like a timer ticking down. As more and more of “my” pop culture figures pass away (and more and more of them are closer to my own age) I’ve become increasingly aware that my own time is growing short. Right now, somewhere inside me, I probably have a cancerous tumor that’s lying quiet, small for the moment, but ready to expand aggressively under the right circumstances. If I’m very very lucky, I’ll live long enough to see my son married and living a stable life, to have earned a sense of accomplishment with my work, and to feel as though I’ve lived enough.

I can’t really imagine that, but that’s my hope.

The petty medical issues that have plagued me since 2012 haven’t gone away, but I’ve decided to work through them to focus on my weight. I’m down 10lbs in the last two weeks and plan to continue. The first few are always the easiest, of course. We’ll see.

Finally, for a long time I’ve pretty much avoided social situations. I talk to my wife. I talk to my son. I order coffee at the cafe. Beyond that, it’s extremely rare for me to speak to anyone aloud; all my interactions have been online. I guess the only exceptions have been the two-hour SF2W meetups that Django Wexler arranges, and I’ve been to, I think, two in the past year. Once in a rare while a reader drops me a note and we’ll meet face to face. Very rare.

Aside from that, I’ve been actively avoiding social events. I don’t go to conventions. I haven’t contacted the roommates I had 20 years ago to suggest we grab lunch. It’s been a very quiet life, and I like it.

But a week ago I cashed in the Christmas gift that my niece gave me: a tour of some of her favorite brewpubs in Ballard. It was extremely mellow, and we got the chance to just hang out and talk, which I don’t do much.

The following Friday, I had the event at the UW Bookstore, where a number of authors in the anthology Unbound signed books for readers. I suspect most of them were there to see Terry Brooks, but people were nice and it was good to talk to them. It had no noticeable effect on my book sales, but I enjoyed myself, and I enjoyed hanging out with the other authors afterwards. (What I could hear of it, anyway. People in bars are noisy.)

So I’m thinking I should put more energy into that sort of thing. Talking to people. I dunno. Maybe.

Family

My wife is doing pretty well, especially now that she has an APAP machine to help her sleep through the night, which she can do now, sometimes. She’s also spending more of her time painting. Making art was hard for her after her father died. She and her siblings inherited his canvases, which no one outside the family wanted and no one inside could bear to dispose of.

She began to feel the same way about her own work. Our apartment is already crowded, and she didn’t see a point to creating more stuff that her kid will have to deal with when we die. Slowly, she’s moved past that and is doing the work for its own sake, which is fantastic and makes me very happy. She’s also gotten into a couple of shows. Did I say it makes me happy? It really really does. Now I just need to write a hit book so we can afford a place with a studio. North-facing, naturally.

My son turned 14 a few months ago and starts high school in the fall. Homeschool is coming to an end, and I’m hoping that a) he’ll make more real life friends and b) I’ll have more writing time. It’s going to be a rough transition, but he’s ready for it. His sleep schedule might not be, but he is.

Games

I’m still playing Sentinels of the Multiverse on Steam. In fact, I’m playing it too much. I should probably download a program that will block Steam for most of the day. I’d get more done, and do less obsessive clicking.

BUT! I should say that, when I’m playing SotM, I don’t feel hungry, or itchy, or sad. I’m almost completely absorbed, even moreso than when I’m writing. It’s worth keeping around just for that. I just wish it was less irresistible.

Reading

After several years of feeling burned out on reading inside the fantasy genre, I’m finally feeling burned out on crime and mystery. It doesn’t help that I tried to shift from old classics to books that are popular and current, and really really did not enjoy them.

Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names, which I picked up solely out of a sense of gratitude for the social events mentioned above, is a flintlock fantasy that I enjoyed way more than expected. Recommended. At the moment, I’m reading Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon because everyone on reddit loves those books passionately. I’m 80 pages in and mostly enjoying it, despite the fact that I’m not usually fond of high magic settings.

Watching

I took the family to DEADPOOL, which is an objectively bad movie, but hugely enjoyable anyway. It’s been a while since I saw a modern Hollywood film (that wasn’t SPY) that made me laugh really hard. Now I hear that the people behind Batman v Superman are planning an R-rated version, because… I don’t know, they think it was the rating that made DEADPOOL a hit and not the humor? Don’t know. Don’t care all that much.

I’ve also dropped a number of TV shows that I was watching through sheer momentum, not because I enjoyed them. Most of what I found compelling in season one of ARROW is long gone, and I just don’t have space for it anymore. After trying both LUCIFER and LEGENDS OF TOMORROW, I’ve decided that they aren’t going to do that Star Trek thing where it takes them a little while to find their rhythm and they become awesome. Both are dropped. At this point, I’m only watching ELEMENTARY, FLASH (which has been way less fun this season) and AGENTS OF SHIELD (which has been improbably improving).
I’m looking forward to season 2 of DAREDEVIL, even though it will probably be a disappointment. We’ll see.

No one in my family is remotely interested in the upcoming DC adaptations. We’ll see, redux.

Writing

As I mentioned above, last week I crossed the 100,000 word mark of ONE MAN. What I didn’t mention is that last August 26th, I was at 31,000 words.

I know this because of this horrible new record-keeping that other authors suggested I do. All it does is tell me things that make me unhappy.
For example, last fall I took a month-long trip to Portugal, and my plan to squeeze out a few pages during quiet moments never worked. I got zero new words done that month.

After Thanksgiving, I stopped writing the first draft and went back to revise what I had. Revise it extensively, which took a month and a half.

When that was finished, I realized the game supplement I promised my Kickstarter backers was way overdue, and I spent three weeks revising that.
When I returned to ONE MAN, I re-outlined the rest of the book (using the virtual whiteboard app Scapple, which I like) and now things are tearing right along.

It’ll take another long revision process, and it’s going to be a long-ass book: at 100K words, I’m still looking ahead to the beginning of the climax. Still, I feel like this is good work. I just hope the market agrees.

I haven’t decided what I’m going to work on after that. The next book in the series is TWO DRAGONS, but I have a short story due for an anthology (soon) and I might want to write something else in between. Plus there’s that game supplement.

I wish I could be more prolific.

And that’s where things stand.