Because the only thing more terrifying than velociraptors are velociraptors that can fly.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Video Game Novelizations

I've said it before and I'll say it again: "Video Games are art." Like all forms of art, not every single game (or book or movie) is a great example of it, but as a medium, video games deserve respect as an art form.

In no other way can someone experience a story the way one can in a game. They are interactive experiences, and nothing else can hold a candle to how involved in a story a well-made game can make you feel, or force you to ask yourself questions because you're the one making the decision.

That being said, sometimes works are transferred from one medium to another with varying degrees of success. The Lord of the Rings were books that got made into movies. There are only six Star Wars movies (right now, anyway) but the Expanded Universe fleshes out that world with hundreds of books.

Obviously, a story owes much of its power to the medium in which it's told. Movies utilize lighting, music, and images to make the audience feel like they're there in the action. Books allow the audience access to the innermost lives and feelings of main characters. Video games give the player the ability to control how the story is told. So what happens when a video game story is adapted into a book?

Really, I can only think of one example I've read personally, and that's Halo:Combat Evolved. Essentially a strict novelization of the events of the video game, reading it was like watching someone play the game in my head. That's neither a criticism nor a selling point, just a fact. 

This whole blog post comes from the fact that I am a novelist that plays video games. When I got to the end of Bioshock 2, I was disappointed the story was over. "How neat would it be," I wondered, "to wander the halls of Rapture, to see it through the eyes of one of its inhabitants, to make an attempt to see it as a real place, rather than just a set piece which my character moved through?"

The same goes with Portal 2. How thrilled would I be to get a call from Valve asking me to create a novelization of their game? The answer: Super thrilled. I love these games because I love the worlds they allow me to inhabit for a little while. Writing a novel about them would grant me the chance to live in that world for much longer.

And true, I could write fanfiction. But I get antsy about writing things I know I cannot sell. Writing is writing, sure, but I want to be a professional writer, I want to make a living off the words I put to paper (or more realistically--to screen).

So I wait, and hope, and dream. Maybe one day I'll be a big enough name that somebody will want me to create the novel tie-in for their property. Meanwhile, I'm waiting for that email, Valve. Any day now...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Mayans and the Apocalypse

Just to get this out of the way: THE MAYANS DID NOT PREDICT THE WORLD WOULD END ON DEC. 21, 2012.

Sorry for the all caps, but I've been seeing this misinformation a lot lately and felt like I really had to say something about it. The 13th baktun (a unit of the Mayan calendar) does end on December 21st, 2012, but then the 14th baktun starts. How the notion that the Mayans predicted that day would be the end of the world, I don't know.

They did have a predictive calender, one that talks about events that are "supposed" to happen a hundred thousand years from now. So even if we say that Mayan predictions are (for some reason) accurate, we still have a few millenia at least.

Let's say, though, that the Mayans did predict the world was going to end in ten days. Who cares? Why is this something people are worried about? Because people are worried about it. NASA had an hour-long thing the other day to answer any questions people might have about end of the world scenarios, and recently members of Russian parliament wrote to their country's three biggest television networks asking them to stop airing things about the 2012 apocalypse because people were getting so nervous.

Why?

People have been predicting the end of the world almost as long as we've been people. Comets have come and gone. Y2K, not a thing. The Rapture didn't happen. The world's still spinning people. A part of me just doesn't get why people are saying, "OK, I know that every other time the end of the world has been predicted, it didn't happen, but I have a good/bad feeling about this one."

Then again, I feel like some people get this end of the world mindset because articles, TV shows, etc. keep talking about it, especially when their titles are something like, "What did the Mayans know about the End of the World?" The answer is, of course, nothing, but someone who only sees the title of the article or watches the first few minutes of the show doesn't get that. All they take away is that people are concerned about this, and so they should be too.

It's one of those weird things about human psychology. Sometimes, if a bunch of people are concerned about something, you should be too. If you were parked in traffic on the highway, and then suddenly a wave of people came towards you from the cars ahead, running as fast as they could, you'd probably get out of your car and start running too. You'd go along with what everybody else is doing because they probably know something you don't.

In this case, though, don't worry. There are no planets or asteroids getting ready to hit the Earth (if there were, they'd be the brightest objects in the sky behind the sun and moon). Solar storms are actually predicted to be relatively calm for a while. The Earth's magnetic pole, while due for a shift, isn't going to flip overnight. 

In short, I'll see you all on December 22nd.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Colin O'Boyle: Creative Director

Hello, hello, oh friends o'mine! And how are you all upon this fine day? I'm quite excited because my pal, Chris "Grizzly" Dorn," and I are going to be working on creating a video game over the course of the next seven months (and probably longer).

Essentially, it will be a digital version of my card game "Gloves and Goggles." Players will play as mad scientists and do their best to smash all opponents into little pieces by way of digital cards. The cards represent armor, weapons, robots, mutated squirrels, and other mad sciencey creations. The game is pretty fun so far, but I feel like converting it into digital format will be helpful for a number of reasons.

1). Chris and I don't exactly have a lot of money. Therefore, it's not like we can print, package, and ship physical cards.

2). The game is (slightly) complicated and by having a computer do some of the heavy lifting for the player, things will go more smoothly. It's like if you were hazy on the rules of chess and so played a digital version. If you try to make a wrong move with a piece, the computer corrects you.

So...yeah. Pretty excited. They'll be some challenges (Chris is going to have to figure out how to program an AI so that players can go up against a computer opponent), but I'm confident about our abilities. In the meantime, I've got my hands full in creating all sorts of cool cards to input into the game.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Treat Yo Self (With Words!)

Recently, a work friend of mine offered to lend me a book of his that he thought I might enjoy. It's called, The City of Dreaming Books. He described it to me and since it sounded pretty cool, I took him up on his offer. As it turned out, the world of TCDB is one I'd been in before, although I'd not read that particular novel. The story takes place in a place called Zamonia, a fantastic isle where strange and sundry creatures live, and is the creation of a German man and illustrator, Walter Moers. 

I've read two other books by Moers, The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear, and Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures. Both of these novels, like TCDB, are what is knows as "picaresque" novels, a word whose meaning I had to look up. A picaresque novel is one that is characterized by an adventurous main character, usually of low social status (but not always) who journeys through a corrupt society having all sorts of adventures. Moers's books are also known as "random event plots" in which much of the story just sort of happens.

But don't get me wrong and think that last sentence is a criticism of the plots of Herr Moers's stories. Far from it. By focusing in intense detail on his richly-embroidered world, Moers makes Zamonia come alive, in some cases, the world seems more real than our own.

On almost every other page, a reader of Moers's works is treated to descriptions of wondrous things, whether its Bee Bread--warm bread spread with honey and roasted bees (not always de-stinged), or Trombonphone music--a scientific form of music created by blowing through the discarded shell of a specific crustacean that can interact with the brain and cause listeners to experience intense hallucinations.

In short, Moers has firmly established himself in my Hall of Literary Heroes. I often hear that one (an author) should ask oneself with every section of a story, "Is this relevant?" "Does the story make sense if I remove this?" (Whatever this may be.) Essentially, editing as pruning--removal of extraneous literary branches so that the whole might thrive. And I see the value in this idea. Getting too bogged down in perfectly describing something completely irrelevant to the plot essentially wastes the reader's time. If they are forced to expend serious mental energy only to realize what they've been pondering is basically fluff, the author has irritated his reader.

However, "fluff" is almost the point of a picaresque novel. Focusing on vast numbers of strange things in the course of a normal story is not a good strategy, I admit this. If the core of the story is the plot, then anything that supports the plot must stay. Everything else (to a degree) must go. Just look at Hemingway.  That man made a career, almost a complete literary school, out of cutting his stories to the bone. They remind me of those Zen paintings where the artist is able to capture the essence of a forest in only a handful of strokes from his brush.

I am not a Zen painter, though. Stories like Hemingway's are not what I aspire to create. I aspire to be like Walter Moers or Jack Vance, writers whose work is full of richly embroidered details that aren't necessary to the plot, because some of the best things in life aren't necessary. Cushions on couches aren't necessary. Fine wines aren't necessary. Pampering yourself, with physical objects, delicious food, or magnificent words, isn't necessary. But it's delightful. And I think we could all use a little a bit more delight in our lives, don't you?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Stressed Out (but Feeling Better)

Well, I had a bit of a stressful day yesterday. I feel much better about it now, but at the time I was pretty freaked out.

As you may or may not know, I'm getting my master's in creative writing. I just finished my last regular semester (passing with distinction, no less) which leaves me with one semester to go before I get my degree. Unlike a normal semester in which I'd go to the residency and then spend the practicum exchanging work with my mentor, all one does in the manuscript semester is (you guessed it) work on a manuscript.

When I got into my program, the guidelines for a fiction manuscript specified that it had to be longer than 150 pages, which is nothing, really. I'd say most kids books are around 200-250 pages. 150 is a pretty low bar to get over. 

Also, I was even more prepared in that I came into my program knowing what book I wanted to use as my manuscript, For My First Trick..., a novel I wrote a few years back. It's (currently) 308 pages, and needs a fair amount of editing to get it to publishable quality, but I had a plan.

You see, if, at the end of the manuscript semester, the mentor you're working with doesn't feel like the work is ready, then you come back for another semester. This also means you pay for another semester. Knowing this, I've been doing a lot of work to get my book ready so that I could get it done in one semester: I chose a work I'd already written and felt confident about, I'm taking a leave of absence from school next semester to polish said book and to save up enough money to actually pay for that semester.

But a friend of mine warned me earlier this week that something was brewing, something that might affect me and my plans. This friend is also in my program and is working on a fantasy novel of about 500 pages. She explained that her mentor was concerned they weren't going to be able to get it finished one semester, which is understandable. Our mentors are mostly professors who have jobs besides their duties to our program, among other obligations. They can only read (and intelligently comment on) so many pages in a given period of time. 

Then I received an email from my program saying that from now on, all fiction manuscripts have to be between 150-250 pages in order to be done in one semester. Anything over 250 pages will also have to be pre-approved by the mentor before beginning the semester. 

Now, I understand why this happened. As I said before, our mentors are doing their darndest to make sure the works that we give them get polished to a glossy, publishable sheen. They want to help our work become as good as it can be.

It still irks me, though, to find out that the novel I've been planning on using as my thesis for the last two years will no longer work. It is a solid 308 pages. If the limit was 275, I might, might be able to cut it down a bit, but that's 308 pages with scenes that still need to be added to give the book emotional depth. I cannot add those and cut out 58 pages and still have this book make sense.

So that leaves me with a few options. I could stick with this novel, knowing that it will take a minimum of two semesters to work on (thus doubling the amount of tuition I was planning on paying), I could polish the book during my upcoming LOA, do a manuscript semester, then take another LOA, polish and save money, then go back for another manuscript semester, (doubling the amount of time before I get my degree), or I could choose a different manuscript altogether, one that's under the 250 pages limit.

I've decided to go with the last option, knowing full well that I might get to the end of that semester with my mentor only to find out that he/she thinks I need to work on the story more, but I see this as the most palatable option. I've just finished (for a given value of "finished") a manuscript I enjoyed working on for NaNoWriMo about smugglers on a magical flying pirate ship. It stands at 39,000 words now and the minimum for the manuscript is 45K, but I don't see a big problem about expanding sections of it. I skipped parts this month that will definitely need to go in there.

True, this novella is probably the least polished of all my work, seeing as how I wrote it in nineteen days, but fixing it will certainly be an adventure. As was pointed out to me yesterday, my manuscript semester is still a ways away, and I have time to edit until then.

I'm planning on finishing out NaNoWriMO by writing another story I've been pondering lately, and then it looks like I'll have quite a bit of work to do.

Time to get to it, I guess.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Can't Blog, Must Write.

Sorry for the brevity today, folks, but self-imposed NaNoWriMo goals are swift approaching and my story is progressing more slowly than I would like. Luckily, I have today and Thursday off (thinking about going to a write-in) so I'm working on it.

Colin away!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The NaNoWriMo Ship has Set Sail!

Hello, hello, oh readers of mine! And how are you all today? Good, I hope. I'm getting ready to put in my day's worth of words for NaNoWriMo. 

For those of you who don't know, November is National Novel Writing Month (thus the abbreviation) in which people are challenged to write a 50,000 words novel (about 220 pages) in the month of November. That's thirty days at about 1,667 words a day. A challenge, certainly, but not impossible.

I started NNWM a few years back, when I was still in school at the University of Georgia. I knew I wanted to be a writer by that point, and I'd even heard about NNWM in one of my creative writing classes the year before I started, but wasn't sure it was for me. I mean, 50,000 words in only 30 days? It seemed impossible.

I'd written but a few stories up to that point, and my only novel took a good fifteen months to get down on the page. Doing all that work in one month seemed the height of madness. But, as some feats are apt to happen, my girlfriend of the time broke up with me in early October of that year, leaving me with much more time on my hands than I'd had lately. Suddenly, NNWM seemed possible. 

So I found a friend who was interested in doing it too, found a kickoff party that doubled as a Halloween gathering, brought a two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola, and got to writing. I don't remember how many words I got down before we all started asking each other about our stories, but I remember it was more than almost everyone at the party combined.

Before that, I didn't think of myself as a very fast writer. After all, fifteen months. But at that moment, when people were saying they'd gotten a few hundred words down, and I'd already passed 2K, I felt good.

I know that quantity isn't the same as quality, and I bet at least one person's hundred words was better than my thousands, but it's a first draft. There will be time for "a hundred visions and revisions" later. First, the words have to get out on the page. And I am good at that. Why not be proud of what you're good at?

I ended up writing five thousand words by the time we called it quits for the night, and since I had that day off of work, I went home, slept, and went to Starbucks that afternoon, where I wrote another 5K. And that day is still my all-time record. Ten thousand words in twenty-four hours, a bit more than 30 pages.

I didn't break my record this year, getting in a little bit more than 3K, but I've been keeping up a fairly steady level of output, which makes me happy. I do so enjoy this time of year, when I don't have to care about what my final product will look like, if what I'm writing makes sense, if whatever my characters are doing fits with what I just had them talking about.

NaNoWriMo is my chance to just write for fun. Writers put so much effort into making our stories look effortless (and believe me, they are not), as though they just flowed out of our head and onto the page. And that work can be tiresome, even dreadfully boring. I don't particularly like editing, personally. But during NaNoWriMo, I lock up my Internal Editor and hide the key until December. Right now, all I need to worry about is filling up my word-count meter.

And I'm off!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Star Wars Lesson

A question, dear readers: If I asked you, "Would you consider the world of Star Wars to be futuristic, what would you say?" I'm confident that most would answer, "Yes." Star Wars contains, after all, space ships, lasers, and robots, hallmarks of classic science fiction. And yet...If one pays close attention to the beginning of Episode IV: A New Hope, one sees the words, "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..."

Star Wars is set explicitly in the past. This seems strange, doesn't it? Science fiction stories, by virtue of having advanced technology (compared to our own, in any case) feel as though they should be set in the future. Technology advances over time, doesn't it? If everybody in a work of fiction drives flying cars, then the audience seems justified in saying, "Ah, OK. Future."

But the Star Wars lesson says this is a dangerous assumption. If a piece of fiction (a book, movie, or video game) does not explicitly state that it takes place in our universe, do not assume that it does so. This is one of my pet peeves.

The same holds true for fantasy. While classic high fantasy (think Tolkien) takes place in an era of sword-wielding men riding on horseback, people using siege engines against castles, and other tropes of long-ago eras, this does not necessarily mean that a work is set long ago.

The flipside of the Star Wars example is Anne McCaffery's The Dragonriders of Pern books. I mean, right off the bat we have people riding around on dragons. Classic fantasy trope. There are people living in villages and holds (essentially fortresses). There are bards, even. And yet... The Dragonriders of Pern take place thousands of years in the future, after people colonized the planet Pern. Using genetic engineering, they modify a species of semi-intelligent lizard and turn them into the eponymous fire-breathing dragons. Every so often, a micro-organism called the "Thread" falls from the sky, dissolving all organic matter (including people). The dragonriders use the dragons' fire to burn the thread before it has a chance to eat people. 

While the science in the novel is shaky, it is science fiction, and it's set in the future. Conversely, Star Wars features space-wizards with laser-swords whose story happened "a long time ago."

The moral of today's blog? Dig deeper, pay attention, and make no assumptions.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Word Counts? Boon (Mostly)

My dear friend, Maeve Murray, recently blogged about the importance (or lack thereof) of word counts to a writer. You can check out her post here: http://maevemcmurray.com/2012/10/19/word-counts-boon-or-bane/

I agree with Maeve, to a degree. Just because a writer works more quickly or has more words in a story, does not make that writer/story better than others. Quantity, after all, is not quality. But when I'm working on a first draft, all I care about is getting words on the page. They probably aren't going to be the same words that will be there in my final draft, but I have to get the first draft done before I can worry about any other draft.

I like word counts because they give me a concrete and easily measurable goal. I can say to myself, "By the end of the month (or three months, or whatever) I will have written X number of words." Now, as Maeve points out, there's no guarantee that those words will be any good. In fact, they probably won't be. But it's a first draft. I'm not concerned with that yet. Hemingway said, "The first draft of anything is shit," and I believe that. Short of Mozart, nobody comes writes something perfect the first time. Stories go through countless drafts and rewrites and revisions. But if I don't get that first draft down on paper, I can't fix it. Word counts give me a way to motivate myself to get that first draft done.

Without them, I flounder. If I don't have a deadline, if I don't know approximately how long my story is going to be, it doesn't get done. Even if the deadline is a self-imposed one, even if the story ends up needing to be longer or shorter, by giving myself a structure, I give myself a way to plan. "That's 2000 words a day," I say. "But I have plans this weekend, so I need to spread those words around ahead of time, etc. etc."

True, needing to fill up words and not finding inspiration, I have a tendency to go on long tangents and talk about nothing in particular. My first drafts feature long (often longer than I'd like) sections of filler that I end up having to pare down or even cut entirely.

And I'm fine with that.

While it's true that a NaNoWriMo novel (50,000 words in the month of November), or any other novel written in that mode, probably isn't going to be any good (I know mine aren't), that's OK. I hate to harp on this, but it's only a first draft. No one ever has to see it. But it still needs to get written. As Nora Roberts once said, "I can fix a bad page. I can't fix a blank page."

So those are my thoughts. Even if the NNWM structure doesn't work for anybody else, it works for me. I need a concrete, quantifiable goal in order to get my first draft onto the page.

If only they had something like that for for the second draft...(and the ones after that...)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

After the End (with a small digression in the middle)

Arthur C. Clarke once said that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. So if I whisper to a small crystal ring on my finger, then disappear, it could be magic (an enchanted ring, for example) or it could be really advanced technology (some sort of light-bending force field). It's difficult--if not impossible--for an outside observer to know for sure.

This also applies to the real world, even without magic. Bring a Medieval French peasant to the modern world, and see if he doesn't think half the things you show him are of the Devil. Clearly planes are roaring demons. Clearly televisions have captured people's souls inside little boxes. And so on. Our tech, to him, is so advanced as to be incomprehensible.

Ah, so what happens if everyone forgets how technology works? A post-apocalyptic scenario, for example. In Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome, Max encounters a group of feral children. They tell him their story, about flying on a giant metal bird that died, several of the children telling him this through a wooden frame they made out of sticks, complete with bunny ear antennae. They were remembering TV, but didn't have a way to talk about it beside "magic box." And that was something they'd directly experienced. Imagine if Mad Max was set a thousand years after the end of the world. What would the world look like then? How would people talk about the things they'd found, the remains of cities, nuclear dumping grounds?

I've been thinking about these things because I'm working on an after-the-end type story, but I'm not interested in setting it on Earth. I don't intend to have a giant green statue of a crowned woman with a torch mentioned in passing and the reader goes, "Oh, Statue of Liberty. I got it." I'm not going to do that because that's not what the story is about. It doesn't need to be anchored in the real world, or our current age. I don't know what planet it's set on but it's irrelevant.

Digression: I find a lot of times that people who read one of my fantasy stories, but who don't normally read that genre, tend to ask certain questions that irk me. I understand why they ask those questions, but they're usually a non-issue. For example, one I heard back in college was essentially, "This thing [word, school, social structure, etc.] wouldn't make sense back then." I italicize back then because that makes it clear to me that the reader hasn't understood my story. Sure, there are knights attacking a castle. Similar things happened during our Medieval period. That's true. It's also true that I haven't had anything explicitly magical take place, so one can't see a wizard and go, "Oh, clearly this isn't taking place on Earth." But I never said it was taking place on Earth. I constructed a world with knights and castles in it because I wanted to have knights attack as castle. I didn't set it in the real world or in our history because I didn't want to step on anybody's toes. The issue my reader had was the mention of an "Academy" that a knight had attended. It seemed that such an idea was too modern a construct to fit into my story (not even the world that I'd constructed, but the "real world"). Of course, the word "academy" comes from Plato's school of philosophy in about 300 BC, so it's been around for a while.

What irked me was that they thought I'd made an error. Rather than thinking, "Hmm, here's a medieval-type world and someone is talking about a [modern] Academy. I want to learn more about this world," they thought, "Medieval world, okay. What's that? Academy? Oh, this is wrong."

With fiction, especially fantasy and scifi, one isn't constrained to the real world, to actual historical events. If one wants to create a world with more advanced technology than Earth and have governments settle their dispute by sending platemail-wearing, horse-riding, battle-axe-wielding soldiers into combat against each other, that's fine. (In fact, there are a number of stories that use that idea.)

Back to my original topic: My current story is set far in the ruined future of a once technologically-advanced people. Their city still stands, as it was mostly self-maintaining, and many of their artifacts still function, although no one knows how they work. Imagine a room-sized microwave with an eternal power supply. I'm not sure why one would use something like that--to cook man-sized hotdogs, perhaps--but say such a thing exists. But then the people who built it and know what it is vanish. Other people stumble upon it. Maybe somebody dies in it. Imagine what those people would think about such a thing: Their fellow stumbles into it, somebody pushes some buttons or says something the computer interprets as the "On" command. Maybe it had a safety-circuit, but a thousand years have corroded it. The thing starts beeping, lights come on, and then their friend starts screaming, dying horribly, but not from anything they can see. Clearly the machine is a demon, or a god, or something incomprehensible. Can't you picture the Cult of the Microwave?

So I see the story having three main characters. The first is a guy from outside the city. He's heard stories about it, but the inhabitants--mutated remnants of the original city-dwellers' servants--are cannibalistic  homicidal maniacs, so he doesn't know much. The second character is one of the mutated creatures, something part-rat, part-cockroach, and part-human. Originally designed by the city-dwellers to work in the sewers, the mutants have had thousands of years to themselves in the city, and through garbled oral histories, they know how to use a lot of the technology that's there (what isn't too complex or corrupted, anyway). Finally, we have one of the city-dwellers, just out of a thousand years of hibernation. He knows how things in the city should work, but a lot of its broken and mutated. He's not quite as lost as the villager, the outsider, but it's close.

So...yeah, that's what I'm working on/thinking about currently. Hopefully it goes well.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Liebster Award


Recently I received an award (YAY!) from my friend Maeve Murray (http://maevemcmurray.com) called the Liebster Award, which is given to blogs with less than 200 subscribers. She posed eleven questions to me, which I shall now answer. Enjoy! (Also, I'm not sure what's up with the formatting of this thing. It got really screwy after number two. Sorry about that.)

1.  What is the biggest recurring problem you have when writing?

My biggest problem while writing is keeping myself excited about whatever piece I'm working on. If I'm excited, (and disciplined), I can write thousands of words a day. If I'm not excited, if I view getting in my daily word count as just that-- getting in my word count--rather than getting to work on my story, then it can be hard to write more than a sentence or two. I think of it as riding a bicycle up and down hills. If I'm excited, that's like having someone give me a boost up the hill. I still have to pedal, but it's fun. If I'm not excited, it's like having to work against gravity and my own aching muscles, struggling for every inch until I pick up enough momentum to keep going, or fall over.

2. What is your method of editing?

Heh. I'm almost never excited about editing, so I end up relying on other people probably more than I should. one of the things that makes a good writer an excellent one is the number of times they're willing to redraft their work. For me it's not so much a matter of being willing to do that, is that I'm so close to my work, I can't see why certain parts strike me as not working. I can tell they're not working--I don't thing everything I write is awesome from the very first draft--but I have trouble seeing, "Oh, this part doesn't work because he resolves the tension too easily," or "this part is very interesting, but doesn't actually do anything for the story," etc. If I can have someone who's not read the story read it, they're mote likely to see these big picture issues than I am. So, short version, I write, edit once or twice or spelling/awkward sentences, etc. then send it to someone I trust. Getting back those comments, I work on big picture things, then rinse and repeat.

3. If you could write one novel, and ONLY one, what would it be about?
Oh dear, that is a tough one. As much as I force myself to work on short stories, I consider myself to be a novelist at heart, so I'm not sure I could limit myself to just one. I guess if I had to choose, I'd pick my perfect prison idea, a science fiction story that would require a lot of research into America's prisons, and (at least I think) have a lot of literary merit. That'd be pretty cool.
4. What passions did you have before you knew you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always been a story-teller. It’s only in the past few years that I’ve actually written them down. Plus I’ve always had an active imagination. I can remember staging elaborate battles between my toys, and I’d always bring one of them with me wherever I went, interacting with the world, somehow tying it into the narrative I’d already created.
5. Have you ever read something that took your breath away?  What was it?
The Songs of the Dying Earth. It’s a collection of short stories in Jack Vance’s world “The Dying Earth,” but they’re all written in Vance’s style, which is extremely elaborate and intricate. The whole book is incredibly beautiful and the idea of so many people (including writers like George RR Martin and Neil Gaiman) liking your style so much that they want to write like you too, in your world, it just inspires me. That could be me one day. People might want to write in one of my worlds. And that would be awesome. Also, Jack Vance's short story, "Moon Moth," which includes a line that describes him perfectly, "Intricacy in all things."

6. If you could design the cover to your debut novel, what would it look like?
I’m thinking my debut novel will be my thesis novel, For My First Trick… but I’m not a visually inclined person, so I’d have to say playing cards would need to be involved somewhere. It is about a stage magician after all. Probably a top hat as well.

7. Have you ever written something you immediately erased or otherwise destroyed?
I don’t think I have, truth be told. I have plenty of things I’ve never shown anybody, but nothing I’ve put work into and then demolished.

8. What is your favorite thing about being a writer – that doesn’t have to do with the actual writing itself?
World-building. It’s probably one of my favorite things to do. Coming up with cultures, geography, international relationships, magic systems (where relevant)…It’s like a giant puzzle, and when all the pieces fall into place, it’s very satisfying.

9. Your book is going to be published!  But the day before it’s due to come out, the stock market crashes and your publisher goes out of business.  Your reaction?
That…would…not be good. Honestly, I’m not sure what I’d do. Cry, probably.

10.  Is there anything you would NEVER write for money?
I’m sure there is, probably something really depraved.
11. Are you working on or do you ever plan to write a memoir?
I’m not planning on it. Nonfiction isn’t really my thing. But I might one day. (I should probably journal a lot more than I do, though.)


Thanks again to Ms Murray for sending me these questions, and for the award.



Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Diamond Age: A Book Review

I'm not sure if you've ever read anything by Neal Stephenson, and that's fine. I'd certainly recommend him, but his brand of science fiction isn't everyone's cup of tea. That being said, his books, The Diamond Age or a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer, is fantastic.

It's primarily about nanotechnology, technology that deals with the manipulation of atoms to create tiny machines, smaller than the width of a human hair, to do all sorts of neat things. With nanotechnology (and Mr. Stephenson's imagination) the world gains access to the Feed. Like our houses of today have gas hookups and water pipes and electrical wiring connecting our home to the sources of those utilities, houses in this story have access to the Feed. What is the Feed, though?

The Feed is nanotechnology, like the replicators from Star Trek. Depending on how big of an aperture you have and the size of your Matter Converter, you can create almost anything you can think of. The Feed provides you with the elements necessary to create whatever it is that you are trying to make, and the MC provides the nanobots (tiny machines) that manipulate those atoms into the proper shape.

So people can make food, clothing, medicine, etc. from their own little magic box. Now, the Feed is controlled so that people can't just start making big piles of plutonium or arsenic or what have you, but it's still pretty freeing.

I haven't read a lot of Stephenson's other works (although I intend to, since I enjoy his style so much), but an idea of his that occurs both in The Diamond Age and Snow Crash (which is to virtual reality what the former is to nanotechnology) is that nation-states no longer exist. Instead, people organize themselves into tribes or phyles. Sometimes they are constructed along religious lines, like Mormons. Sometimes ethnic ones, like the Ashanti of Ghana. There is CrypNet, essentially a phyle of hackers and crackers, and New Atlantis who consider themselves "neo-Victorians." We'd call them Steampunks.

In a world where nanotechnology is readily available, it's easy to mass-produce goods, or any specific good in question. If I want the Mona Lisa, I can just punch up the code for it in my MC and boom. I have my own Renaissance masterpiece to hang on my wall. Or I can print out a bunch of them and go skeet shooting.

The thing is, if one places value on an object's originality or uniqueness, then my copies of the Mona Lisa aren't as good as the real thing. They're just copies. Neo-Victorians are people who place value on unique things and hand-made crafts.Take for example, Merkle Hall, one of the main buildings used by a nanotechnology company of neo-Victorians. Stephenson describes it like this:

It was Gothic and very large, like most of the Design Works. Its vaulted ceiling was decorated with a hard fresco consisting of paint on plaster. Since this entire building, except for the fresco, had been grown straight from the Feed, it would have been easier to build a mediatron [a type of screen] into the ceiling and set it to display a soft fresco, which could have been changed from time to time. But neo-Victorians almost never used mediatrons. Hard art demanded commitment from the artist. It could only be done once, and if you screwed it up, you had to live with the consequences.

That sentiment appeals to me, even as I type this on my laptop, frequently going back and changing sections, copy-pasting the word "nanotechnology" because I don't like typing it over and over again. But hand-made things feel a little bit more "real" than copied things, don't they?

Funnily enough, the neo-Victorians tend to make most of their money on creating things with the Feed, that is, things created with nanotechnology. And it is their vast amounts of money that allows them to afford the services of craftsmen and women who make things like paper by hand.

Anywho, there are a number of other things I enjoy about Mr. Stephenson's work, like the fact that he goes off on long educational tangents that read like really interesting textbooks, and I actually like that. I enjoy learning. There are also sword fights, which I feel like many literary works are lacking. Throw in a good knife-fight into The Scarlet Letter and I might pick it up again.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

I'm an Author (and I'm Not Dead)

Recently, I read T. H. White's book, "The Once and Future King" about King Arthur (which I enjoyed). In its first book, Merlyn changes young Arthur into a bird of prey and puts him in the mews (the section of a castle where one houses birds of prey) to learn from the birds as they talk at night. The birds are described as being like military men and women, and one of them, a goshawk, is said to be half-mad. When Arthur encounters him, he spouts off random racial slurs and vague aspersions about "the government." In reading this, I thought Cully the goshawk was supposed to represent a Vietnam war vet with PTSD, someone who's seen terrible things and no longer quite "all there." But then I thought, no, that doesn't work. White wrote the first part of this book in the '30s, long before even WWII. He couldn't have been alluding to after the Vietnam War. And that brings me to New Criticism and the Death of the Author.

Now, I get (or at least, think that I get) what these schools of criticism are trying to say. If an author is dead or unable to be contacted, how is an audience supposed to understand the "true" meaning of a work? And isn't the interpretation of every reader just as valid as that of the author? If I read Fahrenheit 451 and see it as a critique of censorship, shouldn't I be allowed to do that?

I say, "Sure." Every reader's interpretation of a work is as valid as everyone else's, even the authors, but that's only because of how one defines the word "validity." When I say "validity" or that an interpretation is "valid," I mean that the opinion has been formed with a clear understanding of events. I read a work of literature. I understand what has happened in the story. I form an opinion of what it means. That opinion would be as valid as anyone else's, even if our opinions are different from each other.

So if we go back to White's work and do what the Death of the Author would have us do: view the work as a self-contained piece of art, paying no attention to the person who wrote it, when it was written, etc. All we have is the text. Then my interpretation of Cully the Goshawk as representing a Vietnam war vet would be valid. Based on the evidence of the text (and only the text), my view makes sense.

But surely we can't say that we must view all texts as whole in-and-of-themselves, can we? How then can satire function? Every work of satire, after all, works on two levels: the story being told, and that which the story is satirizing. Without understanding the time in which Jonathon Swift lived, for example, how can one gain the fullest interpretation of Gulliver's Travels? If one didn't know or refused to be aware of the animosity with which Protestants and Catholics of his time viewed the Eucharist, how could one understand that the war fought between Lilliput and Blefusuc wasn't fought merely over which end of an egg should be cracked first? How can one find the deeper meaning in satire without looking beyond the work?

Let us set satire aside for a moment, though, and return to "regular" fiction. No symbolism here, at least not explicitly. Things merely represent themselves. Still New Criticism would have us ignore the author, to look merely at the text, and as an author, that upsets me. I put countless hours into the construction of my worlds, but to write everything in an individual story would result in the creation of encyclopedias or textbooks, not stories. So I restrain myself, I pare down my work, I keep (or try to keep) only what is necessary to make the story function. Thus, by necessity, details get left out. Now I know that the reader has only my words, not access to my vast stores of knowledge about the inner and outer worlds of my characters, but anyone who tells me that they know better than I about what is going on in my stories will be upset me greatly.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Slight Delay in Our Publishing Schedule

Alrighty, as you may or may not know already, I'm not going to be publishing any more episodes of Professor Jack's adventures besides the one at the end of the month. I've been running into too much trouble with getting these things edited in such a short time period, but I feel like I've been pretty successful in what I set out to do.

I wanted to learn how to publish on Amazon, and I've done that. I wanted to get myself somewhat inured to editing things on a regular basis as training for my thesis manuscript, and I've done that too.

I will write the rest of Professor Jack's book by the end of the year, but the next thing I'm going to publish will be the whole book, after I've edited the whole thing.

I sincerely appreciate everyone who's been on this adventure with me, and your support has been really encouraging.

Meanwhile, I'm working on some short stories (mostly forcing myself to stick to a word limit of 5k, which is hard), both to send to my mentor at Carlow, as well as to try and get something I like and can send to magazines.

I'm also going to be working on my thesis manuscript to send to HarperCollins open submission period in a few weeks. And if you have a manuscript, I encourage you to get it ready too.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Economy is Complicated (This Isn't About Politics)

I thought I should point that out.

No, I'm as sick and tired of watching political ads as you are, dear readers, but we can all agree that the economy is often the subject of those ads. Unlike the regular economy, however, fictional ones can actually be a bit interesting, if still difficult to understand.

For example, I'm working on a short story for school and in the process of brainstorming the world in which the story is based, I came across a concept I'd heard of before, but didn't know a lot about: a post-scarcity economy.

A post-scarcity economy is one in which everyone has everything they want. In other words, no scarcity. Now, despite even the best efforts of science fiction (not to mention reality), I'm not familiar with any  economy that's truly post-scarcity due to the simple fact that human beings are capable of wanting a lot.

A classic example would be Star Trek. I really haven't watched very many of any season of that show, but I know that it's in the future, and replicators and (essentially) free energy mean humanity is capable of creating anything they have the energy for. You want a diamond the size of your house? No problem. You want more food than you could eat in a hundred lifetimes? You got it. But material goods aren't the only sorts of thing that human beings want.

Take the Enterprise, for example. There are only so many seats aboard that space ship. If there are more people that want a space on it than there are spaces, then there is a scarcity of them.

Now, one way of getting to a post-scarcity economy is by a change in human beings. If we no longer care about originality or physical presence, then a molecular copy of the Mona Lisa is just as satisfying as the real one, or a teleprescene/virtual reality simulation of the Enterprise is just as good as being there in the flesh. How we value things will change whether or not those things are capable of being scarce.

Getting back to my story, I'd created a fantasy world with a nation that was, if not a post-scarcity economy, then sort of close to one. My problem lay in the fact that my nation had two neighbors, and if you have everything that you want, how can you trade with somebody?

I realized that economic sanctions (it is illegal to copy this product) would help a little, but eventually decided on culture. One nation is essentially able to mass-produce recordings of dreams (like full-sensory movies), which becomes their biggest export to my P-S economy. The other one has lots of tea (or tobacco, or coffee, I haven't decided). 

So, yeah, I figured out how to base an economy on dreams. Go me.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Daniel Abraham is Amazing

Since I don't have my new library card, (yet), I don't have a stack of books in my room just waiting for me to read them. Therefore, when I ran out of new books to read, I turned to my bookshelf and tried desperately to find some I haven't read a dozen times before.

I ended up selecting my 2008 Anthology of Fantasy and Horror short stories, the first story of which is my third favorite, "The Cambist and the Lord Iron." A cambist is a money-changer, and that story is the only one to have ever made economics seem interesting to me.

Something I noticed, though, in reading the story, was the name of the author, Daniel Abraham. I've read the story twice before, but not for a while, so I decided to read the author's bio about Mr. Abraham to see if there was a reason his name rang familiar to me. It turned out there was.

A few months back I heard about a quartet of books called, "The Long Price Quartet," a fantasy world in which certain people called "poets" are able to describe a concept, like rain or sterility, with such power that they can cause the concept to manifest in a form that includes volition. The khaiem, (essentially a kingdom ruled over by a khai), used these manifest concepts (andats) to become the most powerful nation in the land. For when your enemy can cause endless floods in an instant, or force every woman of your people to miscarry, how can you hope to overcome them?

The andats are also useful for trade. Water-Falling-Down made sure the crops of her khaiem always had enough rain to feed the plants, and no rain when they didn't. Seedless, another andat, can take a warehouse full of cotton and rid it of seeds with a gesture. This brings weavers and dyers to the city, which bring with them trade, which brings wealth and prosperity. There is a problem with the andats, though.

They do not like being forced into human form. They are slaves, held against their will, and when a poet dies, so dies his control of the andat. A new poet must be trained to control the concept, and no andat can be bound the same way twice. Each time it becomes more difficult to bind the andat, to describe them well enough that the binding works, but unique enough that it doesn't copy what has come before. And if a poet tries to bind and andat and fails...?

The results aren't pretty.

I've just finished the first book, A Summer In Shadow, and heartily recommend it anyone. It's about $8 on Kindle, and I fully intend to purchase the second book today.

Monday, August 27, 2012

An O'Boyle Original

Hello, and welcome to my blog!

Today's post will be of a flash fiction story I wrote last year entitled, "The Crown of Eyes." If you'd like to hear me read it, you should look me up on YouTube where I have a channel called, "Colin Reads." I upload new videos Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. If you like what I do, please like, share, and subscribe! (I'd really appreciate it.) Here's a link: http://www.youtube.com/user/babaloo55555/videos

And here's my story. Hope you like it.


            The Crown of Eyes—symbol of the Nordkings’ might. A heavy circlet made of gold, topped by seven silver rays. Beneath each ray lies a semiprecious stone in the likeness of a human eye, all except the one at the back of the head. There, an eye is simply cut into the metal of the crown with a bit of mirror as its pupil.
According to the stories, the Crown of Eyes is a potent artifact, one that gives its wielder unimaginable power. Many say that the Crown’s magic is what allowed the Nordkings to bring together the northern lands in the days of old, the crown allowing them to pierce the veils of space and time.  In any rate, the crown passes down from father to son, in this case, from the hands of the late William the Wise to his son, Olaf.
Many in the kingdom feel it should have passed to his younger brother, Fredrick, as Fredrick served his time in the realm’s military with distinction. Olaf never bothered to show up for his duties. Fredrick was married with a young son. Olaf led a string of strumpets through the castle at all hours of the night. Fredrick was dashing, brave and confident, where Olaf was weak, pudgy and indecisive.
But the law is clear: The eldest son inherits the throne.
The first night of Olaf’s kingship, he drunk himself into a stupor, still wearing his crown. In his dreams, he met a man who claimed to be the crown’s maker. He told Olaf that the stories of the crown’s powers were true, and showed him how to use them. When Olaf awoke, he found himself able to see through walls, to move small things with his mind. But rather than use his powers to help the kingdom, he simply played cruel tricks on his servants and engaged his friends in further debaucheries.
Each night he dreamt of the crown-maker, and each night the man taught him how to use the gems set into the crown’s brim. One night, they reached the empty eye, the one with the mirrored pupil. The crown-maker advised Olaf against activating its power, saying that he wouldn’t be able to handle what it showed him. “Even your father,” droned the crown-maker, “struggled with its visions.”
“Piss tosh,” said Olaf, who resented yet another comparison of himself to his late father. “Am I not the king?” he said imperiously. “Are you not my subject? I order you to activate its power. I command it!”
The crown-maker said nothing, but bowed deeply. When Olaf awoke and wore the crown, he felt no different than he had the day before. He could not suddenly melt steel with his gaze or raise the dead with a thought. What then could be so dangerous about the empty eye’s power?
It wasn’t until he sat down with his generals that it started to become clear. On talking with the grizzled old greybeards, he suddenly realized how little they respected him, how much they wished they were dealing with his brother. Interrupting the meeting, he left, and sought comfort in the arms of his favorite mistress. But there he found no pleasure, for while they were together, she imagined that she held his brother, Fredrick, rather than him.
Olaf saw what every person he met really thought of him that day, and on looking in a mirror, he saw himself for what he really was. In despair, he threw himself from the castle’s tallest tower, having finally discovered what the empty eye allowed its wielder to see: The truth.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Procrastination Gremlins

Every once in a while, (although distressingly often lately, it seems), I suffer from what I call "an attack of the procrastination gremlins." This typically results in my having a less-than-stellar day. Not a bad day, mind you, not like if somebody chewed me out at work or I got stuck in really bad traffic or something along those lines, nothing so drastic. More like a thin layer of mental sludge has been poured over the top of my brain, sinking into the folds of gray matter and gunking up the works.

My motivation will start high enough. I'll wake up, work out, have some breakfast,and I'll say to myself, "OK, now I've checked my email and Facebook status on my phone, there's nothing that needs my urgent attention, I'll pop onto the laptop and get some work done." It's not like I have to go to work or run errands in the afternoon. I understand why I have trouble writing then. I get stressed out about the time. I worry about getting into a scene because I'll have to leave it half-finished, and I'm afraid I won't be able to recapture the mood I've created. That I get.

What irritates me is when I have time to write, but can't seem to get those words down. Like today, for example. I'm glad I have this blog, as writing of any kind, even if it isn't going into my story, tends to get the creative juices flowing, as I hope will happen now.

However, as I sit next to my gaming computer, I hear it beckoning. "Just play for an hour," it says. "Take a short break, and you'll come back refreshed." It sounds reasonable, it really does. But I don't know that I'll be able to come back to my writing.

But even when I force myself to sit at the computer, the word document open before me, the cursor blinking, nothing comes out. Maybe a line or two, but that's it. I'm not sure if I'm not inspired or just unsure where this part of the story is going, or what.

It's frustrating.

On a happier note, I have posted some videos to YouTube under my channel, "Colin Reads," which you should check out here: http://www.youtube.com/user/babaloo55555/videos

The first video, of me reading Rudyard Kipling's "If," is less than three minutes long, and if you like it, you can check out the others. Also, if you do like it, please subscribe to my channel. I'd really appreciate it.

Monday, August 13, 2012

What's Happening on Friday (on YouTube)

Once upon a time, I read a story. (Shocking, I know. Me? Read? But bear with me.) In the story, the last man on Earth bemoans the arrogance that led the world to that situation. Apparently, (and this was a real fear at the time), before the detonation of the first H-bomb, it was believed that the bomb's ignition might ignite the Earth's atmosphere, immolating the planet in a fireball of unimaginable proportions. This obviously did not happen in reality, but in the story, it did. The protagonist knows that he alone (for a reason I've forgotten) survived the blast, and even if there was one woman who also survived, they would not be able to repopulate the Earth themselves. So humanity ends with him. But when the man dies, he sinks into the sea, where the many bacteria within his body spread, and thus, life goes on.

When I first read that story, it was in a collection of short scifi pieces, and I didn't remember the author or the title of the piece. Then, years later, I picked up a book at a relative's house. The name of the author, "Alfred Bester," didn't ring a bell, but in reading through the book, I encountered a story called, "Adam and No Eve," in which a man is the sole survivor of an atomic blast...

I know this story, I thought, and I read through the rest of the book that evening. It was wonderful. And among those stories, I encountered, "Fondly Farenheit," which featured an android, a synthetic human more closely fitting the original idea of a "robot" meant by Karel ńĆapek, The thing that stood out most to me when I first read "Fondly Fahrenheit," though, was Bester's use of pronouns. By playing around with something as simple as who's speaking when, Bester created a really neat effect, especially when one considers that the protagonist of the story is (going) insane.

So that brings us to this week, and YouTube. "How enigmatic a title you've created, Colin," you might be saying. (Although probably not.) The reason this entry is so titled is because I've recently begun a weekly series on YouTube entitled, "Colin Reads." The premise is simple: Each week, I will read a piece of prose or poetry. That's it. I also include a fun fact, usually about the author or work in question and then a quote, because who doesn't like quotes?

This week, I'll be reading, "Fondly Farenheit," so make sure to tune in and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

I Hate "The Wings of the Dove"

'tis true, dear readers. I, Colin O'Boyle, hate a novel (that isn't Twilight). And this brings me to an interesting point. (At least, I think it's interesting): It is possible to concede that a work of fiction (or movie, or sandwich, etc.) is well-crafted but still not like it. Conversely, it's possible to like a thing and agree that isn't well-made.

For example, McDonald's. I love McDonald's, don't get me wrong. I enjoy their hamburgers, and their chicken nuggets are delightful. However, I don't think there is anyone out there who, when thinking of their food, associates it with "fine dining." Along those same lines, anyone who would dispute the fact that the "Twilight" series has enjoyed wild success is simply wrong. Ms. Meyer's work has spawned a well-known movie series, and products featuring her characters extend as far as lunch boxes and action figures. However, "Twilight" and the other books in the series are not written well. The description is repetitive, the dialogue is tiresome, the plot is unbelievable (and I'm not talking about the vampires and werewolves). The main character doesn't grow as a person over the course of the story, and everyone inexplicable moves heaven and earth for the protagonist, even though she has a personality roughly equivalent to a damp paper towel. It is wish-fulfillment, plain and simple.

It is not a good book. (I realize that some might dispute me over the definition of "good" in this context, claiming that a "good" book is simply one that sells well, but I disagree. Again, I refer you to fast food. While Mickey D's hamburgers are wildly popular, they are not fine dining.) Also, I have nothing against popular books. The idea that just because something is popular necessarily means it cannot be good is about as irksome to me as the idea that something popular it must be by definition good.

But how does this apply to Henry James's novel, "The Wings of the Dove?" I'll tell you. In college, I was an English major, and one of my courses was on Victorian literature. The Victorians, along with the Puritans, a two groups of people whose written work irritates me greatly, so I was aware that I probably wouldn't like most of the books we read in the course, and I was proven right in that assumption. "The Scarlet Letter," "Jude the Obscure," "The Mill on the Pond," "Tess of the D'Ubervilles," all of these books I read, and all of them I disliked. But I finished them.

Then came "The Wings of the Dove." I won't go into plot summary here, as even thinking about the book too hard sets me to ranting, but I'll attach a link to the Wikipedia page for the curious: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wings_of_the_Dove

What irritates me most about the book is that nothing happens for sure. Rather than being told through an omniscient narrator, the story is told through a series of third-person limited narrators, allowing the reader to hover over the shoulder of a number of different characters as the narrative progresses. The problem is that each character interprets events differently, and since the reader only has that character's "word" for what happens, one never really knows what does. Is Milly sick, or isn't she? She thinks she is. What did the doctor say? Because we don't have his actual words, etc. Nothing happens for certain.

Linking to my earlier point, I did not like "The Wings of the Dove."  Not knowing what actually happened in the novel confused and irritated me, to the point where I simply stopped reading it, something I had never done in school up to that point, and never did again. It was that bad. But, I am not saying that the book was poorly-written. One theme the novel seems to exemplify is that reality is filtered through perception, so one can never truly "know" what "really" happens anywhere. Why, then, should that be different in one's fiction?

And I say, "That's true, but really annoying." James, I assume, set out to accomplish a specific goal with his book, and he succeeded in that goal. The novel was very carefully crafted. However, I loathe it with an unbridled passion.

In short: just because one likes something, that doesn't mean that it is well-crafted, and just because something is well-crafted, that doesn't mean that it's likable.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Colin O'Boyle of Earth

In 1912, Edgar Rice Burroughs--of Tarzan fame--published the first in a serialized story that would eventually be come to known as A Princess of Mars. One hundred years later, in 2012, Disney released a movie version of this story, calling it John Carter. Recently, I saw that film and after watching it I decided to read the books. They are in the public domain, after all.

As far as the movie is concerned, I went into it with low expectations. I knew that it was one of the biggest financial flops in history, losing Disney hundreds of millions of dollars (I'm not sure on the exact figure), so I didn't expect it to be great. From what I'd read, it had a lot of neat special effects, but that was about it. And yet, the only disappointment I had after watching the movie is that there won't be any other ones.

The special effects were gorgeous, as expected, but there were little things that drew me in as well. in One scene, for example, John Carter's captor, Tars Tarkas--a four-armed green martian, or Thark--asks him to jump. (Since he's from Earth, Carter is able to jump much higher than the martians.) Tars holds his lower arms out, palms up, and mimes with his upper hand the word "jump," since he and Carter don't share the same language yet. The simple fluidity of that motion, of using his four arms in a natural way to demonstrate his point made me accept that there are four-armed creatures on this planet, and that's normal for them.

Then there are the little humorous moments, like when Carter leads the Thark army all the way to one city to rescue his lady love, only to find out that their foes are at another city. There's a moment of silence as Carter digests this fact, trying to think of what to do next, and then Tars Tarkas takes one of his four arms and smacks him right on the back of the head. Hilarious.

It's even quotable, like the line, "Leave a Thark his head and one hand, and he may yet conquer." I had to write that down when I heard it, it sounded so cool.

So, I liked the movie, but what about the source material? It's definitely pulpy, with unrealistic stretches of dialogue, racist depictions of Native Americans and martian races that fit that role, and the female characters in the novel are anything but role models, but these things are not out of the ordinary for this type of work and the time period in which it was written. I'll have more to say once I've finished it, but it's interesting so far, both in itself and in comparison to the movie.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

On Books

Recently, I received the Booker Award from my friend and fellow blogger, Maeve Murray. (Check her page out here: http://maevemcmurray.com/)

Now, the Booker Award is given to blogs that update fairly regularly and whose content is at last 50% about books. On receiving this award, the recipient is supposed to talk about their five favorite books as well as pass it to five other blogs, but it seems that the blogs that I read already have it.

As far as my favorite books go, I love far too many to narrow it down to five, so I have decided to talk about my five favorite series.

1) The Dark Tower by Steven King: These are epic books written by a master of fiction. I don't read a lot of King's other work, (because it scares the pants off me), but The Dark Tower books are masterpieces. They span all ranges of human emotion, and the ending (I won't spoil it for you) is one of the few in which a book has moved me to tears. Simply wonderful.

2) Discworld by Terry Pratchett: While King is a master of fiction, Pratchett is my very favorite author. Hilarious, inventive and insightful, Pratchett has created a flat world (literally, a disc that rests on the backs of four elephants standing on an enormous sea turtle that spins through space) and peopled it with all the classic fantasy races (elves, dwarves, trolls, etc.) There are more than three dozen Discworld books, and I'm certain I've read all of them a number of times, finding something new every time, whether it's an allusion I'd not noticed before, or a joke I just got.

3) The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde: The only word to describe the work of the Welsh author, Jasper Fforde is "biblio-wit." No other author I have ever encountered has such a playful attitude with language, and the Thursday Next books (a mixture of alternate history, fantasy, science fiction, meta-fiction, procedural cop drama, etc.) have more allusions to other works of literature than any other I can think of. His Nursery Crime novels, not set in quite the same universe, but close, are also wonderful.

4) The Dresden Files by Jeff Butcher: A wonderful example of urban fantasy, Butcher's series follows the adventures (and misadventures) of a private detective/wizard named Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Harry lives in Chicago, as do a number of vampires, fey creatures, monsters and mobsters. These books are funny with tight plots, great descriptions, and a well-thought out magic system.

5) The City of Jackals books by Stephen Hunt: A must for any Steampunk enthusiast, Hunt's books take place in a grunge fantasy/steampunk world in which airships rule the skies, revolutions rise and fail, and magic works side by side with punchcard engines, pneumatic towers, and Steammen (essentially sentient, steam-powered robots with their own nation). A great example of the trope "Fantasy Counterpart Culture," (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FantasyCounterpartCulture), the Kingdom of Jackals is essentially Industrial Age England. Its neighbor, Quatershift, is basically Revolutionary era France (including the Terror) with a heavy dose of Soviet Russia. To the south lies Cassarabia, an amalgamation of the Arabian nations with some genetic engineering thrown in, and other nations, like the Catosian City-states (Ancient Greece with super-clockwork machinery and steroids), and the Holy Kikkociso Empire (the Incas), among others, round out the world. Hunt has done everything from invasion stories, to war, to spy thrillers, adventure tales, and murder mysteries in these books, and they are awesome.

So, those are five of my favorite series, and I hope my telling you about them will encourage you to check them out. They've given me countless hours of reading pleasure (and more than a few ideas to use in my own writing). Perhaps they'll do the same for you.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Pittsburgh Bound!

Hello hello, everyone!

Sorry about the belated and succinct nature of this blog post, but I just started my new job so I'm working quite a lot of hours this week. (Rather tired.)

My latest episode of the Chronicles of Professor Jack Baling is officially out and available for purchase. Check it out here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008LMIFFG 

Also, some exciting news: I'm headed to Pittsburgh for the last weekend in August to see Jillian (my girlfriend)! I'm very excited.

That's all for now.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I'm back (although not better than ever)

Hello hello, my friends!

I didn't update last week as I was out of town for the 4th of July, where I had a very lovely time with my family up in Michigan. There was much swimming and riding on boats and watching of fireworks. Lots of fun all the way around.

Unfortunately, the cold/flu I picked up in Ireland--the one I thought I'd kicked--has returned with a vengeance. I have been to see the doctor, who says I don't have pneumonia and who's given me some antibiotics, so I hope to be up and kicking again soon.

My illness has not prevented me from working on getting Episode 4 published, though, so don't you worry. I am still trying to figure out the title, which is weird for me. Normally I'm pretty good at divining a title fairly quickly, but there's no phrase or line that's really jumped out to me for this one, nor an allusion that I can make. Then again, I have until Sunday, so there's still time to come up with one.

In other news, I have a girlfriend, which is very exciting. Her name is Jillian and she lives in Pittsburgh. She's also a writer, although what she writes isn't quite as out there as what I do, and she's pretty awesome. (She's also pretty.) We're in the same grad school program at Carlow University, so when we first started dating, it was in Ireland, which is awesome.

Speaking of Carlow, the due date for our integrative essays is quickly approaching. Essentially, we're supposed to pick a theme or topic that arose during the residency and then craft a coherent essay on it using disparate elements from the different lectures and workshops we had. It sounds complicated, and it kinda is, but this is the last one I have to do for the program, so I don't really care anymore. I've written mine, edited it, and I don't think I'm going to do another draft.

I have an episode of Professor Jack's chronicle to get published, after all.

Until next time, friends.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

JFK is a Terrible Airport (and other news from my trip)


Hello hello, my internet chums!

I realize it's been a while since last I updated, but I do have a good excuse: I was out of the country, specifically, Ireland. And it was a grand ole time, let me tell you.

Actually, let me first tell you of the hellish time I had getting back before we move on to a description of my trip and news of Professor Jack Baling's next adventure.

So my flight back to the US of A from Dublin was no biggie. Flight was on time, we arrived a little earlier than I expected, cool beans. My final destination was Raleigh, North Carolina because that's where my folks live now. Originally, when I booked my ticket, I got one to Atlanta (by way of JFK) because I wasn't sure where we'd be living by the time I got back. When I found out it was Raleigh, I inquired  about changing the second leg of my return trip (JFK to Raleigh rather than JFK to Atlanta) but discovered it'd cost like $250, when I could just buy another plane ticket from Atlanta to Raleigh for a hundred dollars less, which I did. (That ended up being a mistake.)

Back to JFK: I arrive, get to my gate, no worries. Then I see that my plane has been delayed by two hours. I was a bit worried originally that I'd miss this connection as I had to take a shuttle over from the international terminal to this one, but this delay meant I had time to kill. Unfortunately, if I got into Atlanta at 8:15 and my flight to Raleigh was leaving at 8:30, that was a problem. But I had a solution!

I called the Delta helpline and the friendly gent there got me hooked up on a flight straight to Raleigh from JFK. Wonderful! The day before I left I'd been worried that I might have to get to Atlanta, get my bag from the carousel, check it again, go back through security and get to my gate, because of my separate reservations, but when I went to Dublin the lady there said she could send it straight through to Raleigh. Why go to Atlanta if I didn't need to? (I found out later that doing so would have allowed me to miss the oncoming stormfront, but then I found out there was a fire in one of their terminals, so that could have been bad too.)

Filled with good cheer, I headed to my new gate, got my new boarding pass, and waited for my plane. It was four something at that point and my flight was scheduled to leave at 6:35. I saw that we'd been delayed by a half hour, but I wasn't worried. I had my kindle and my iPod, so no problem. Then I saw Emily, a friend from Carlow and another resident of North Carolina, and found out she was on my flight as well. By that time, out flight had been delayed to 8 o'clock, but the clouds outside were getting awfully dark, and getting closer...

Then Emily informed me that our flight had been canceled, which has never happened to me before, so I had to figure out what I was going to do. Calling the helpline I discovered that all flights to Raleigh from JFK, La Guardia or Newark were already booked up for that day and the next, so I’d have to leave on Sunday (this was on a Friday). Finding that unacceptable, I turned to Emily who’d been able to book a flight to Charlotte for the next evening. Since that was at least the right state, I checked with my folks to see if they could pick me up form my new destination, but by the time I called to get myself on that flight, it too was all booked up.

Faced with being stuck in New York for two nights, my dad (a veteran traveler) gave me a plan: book my flight for Sunday morning, then go to a hotel for the night, return to the airport with Emily the following day and do my best to get on any stand-by list available. Then, if I struck out completely, I still had that flight on Sunday.

So I did, splitting a car with Emily to a nice Sheraton in Brooklyn. The next morning I checked my phone to see that I could check in for my flight the following day, but it wouldn’t let me, saying there was some kind of error. When I checked on a hotel computer I saw that one of the eight Delta people I’d spoken to on the phone the day before hadn’t been able to figure out that despite what my ticket said, Atlanta was NOT my final destination. Thus, I was scheduled to leave JFK at 6:15 for Atlanta on Sunday, as well as leave JFK for Raleigh at 8:30. The computer, knowing that the previously-described situation was just silly, refused to let me do that.

So I called the helpline. Again. They fixed me up, and not only that, I was able to get myself on a flight leaving direct to Raleigh that evening (after sitting on hold for like fifteen minutes).

My day at the airport was spent ensconced in a comfy chair within sight of my gate, right next to the bathrooms, water fountains and a bank of power outlets for my various gadgets, so it was fairly comfortable, all things considered, but I was tired and just wanted to be home.

When I finally boarded my little plane (we had to gate check our bigger carry on and the German flight attendant lady moved us around for weight distribution) and we got into the air, I let out a sigh of relief. My double plus ungood trip home was finally over.

In comparison, my time in Ireland was friggin’ sweet. I saw about every touristy thing in Dublin before school started, and then we went to a bunch of stuff as a group, including several plays, a literary pub crawl, and a book festival. Good times.

As far as Jack Baling is concerned, I am working on getting his next episode edited, but I’m not sure it’ll be ready by the end of the month. (Leaving the country upset my writing schedule a bit more than I anticipated.) Thus, I’m thinking the new publication date for the Chronicles will be on the 15th of each month. I’ll keep you informed if anything changes, though.

As always, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

One week left

Welp, I've come to this, my final week in Georgia.

I've spent a lot of time in this state, on a number of occasions, and it's a place I consider my home. I hope to move back here one day, maybe to the Athens area, I'm not sure, but that won't be for a while. No, I'll have to drink in my time here while I'm still here to do so.

In one week, I will be boarding a plane with my boon companion, Rylan Wade, and set off for a journey to the Emerald Isle of Ireland. I'm quite looking forward to the trip. Rylan and I, while best of friends for the past decade, have never been on a trip together, so I think that'll be fun (as long as Rylan doesn't get us involved in some sort of shenanigans where we wake up the next morning with a sheep in the room and no memory of how it got there...so yeah, pretty fun overall).

I just did the majority of my packing for the trip, and sort of for North Carolina as well, because if my folks don't find us a house while I'm in Eire, I'll be coming back to our temporary living quarters with whatever clothes I bring with me, plus some I'll set aside before I go.

Also coming up this week: the third episode of the Chronicles of Professor Jack Baling! (Very exciting.) There's some neat mad science in this one, although that really gets ramped up in episodes four and five. (So stay tuned!) And, before we head to Ireland, Rylan and I are going to continue our annual tradition of going to the Georgia Renaissance Festival, always a delightful experience. There's steak on a steak, magicians, jugglers, comedians, axe throwing, my getting freaked out by chickens, the pirate auction, all sorts of good stuff. Plus, this year, since we're going on the final weekend, we'll be going during Free Student weekend. (I.e. student ID = 1 free admission.)

Well, I've done my story editing today but I'm still crafting my pair of prototype decks to take to Ireland so that I can continue play-testing my card game.

Hope your day has been as good as mine (if not better,)

Colin