About This Writing Stuff…

As 2016 approaches, one of my resolutions is to resurrect a popular, semi-regular feature here on my blog that went dark in April 2015 as my life just became too hectic to maintain it.

“About This Writing Stuff” is a collection of interesting articles from the writing and publishing world. Most are instructional, meant to provide helpful tools for writers. Some are merely news or updates, but all are meant to inform with no bias on my part. In other words, I don’t always agree with every article, but I welcome your feedback and opinions.

I thought I’d start on New Year’s Eve, especially since I recently discovered a fantastic website for fantasy and SF writers called Mythcreants, from which came three of the articles below touching on creating memorable character moments and riveting fight scenes as well as unrealistic tropes to avoid.

From Writer Unboxed, Lisa Cron delves into backstory, while SF author Veronica Sicoe is completely out of order. Jami Gold breaks down the characteristics of a strong story. We also talk Facebook for writers and the renaissance of used book stores. The latter sparked quite a debate recently on social media over the fact that writers receive no payment for the sale of used books.  How do you feel about this?

Enjoy the articles and have a wonderful, healthy, and productive New Year!

What We’ve Been Taught About Backstory…and Why It’s Wrong by Lisa  Cron

Writing Out of Sequence – The Best Way to Write by Veronica Sicoe

How to Best Use Facebook as an Author by Teymour Shahabi

The Critical Importance of Crafting a Strong Opening and 8 Tips for Picking Meaningful Character Names by Jody Hedlund

Does Our Story Have Everything it Needs? by Jami Gold

Six Unrealistic Tropes and How to Avoid Them by Oren Ashkenazi

Six Tricks for Memorable Character Moments and How to Narrate a Riveting Fight Scene by Chris Winkle

In the Age of Amazon, Used Bookstores Are Making an Unlikely Comeback by Michael S. Rosenwald

Shore Leave – The Best SF Con of the Summer!

I’m ecstatic to report that I shall be returning to Shore Leave in July 2016 as an author guest.  In what will be its 38th year, Shore Leave has become one the longest running SF conventions in the country. I began attending in 1994 with Shore Leave 16 and have missed only two since then. I’ve been attending as an author guest since Shore Leave 33.

In 2016, the dates are July 15-17. Location: Hunt Valley Wyndham in Hunt Valley, MD.

Other author guests so far include Steven H. Wilson, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Peter David, Lorraine Anderson, Robert Greenberger, Howard Weinstein, David Galanter, David Mack, Joseph Berenato, Paula M. Block, Terry J. Erdmann, Michael Jan Friedman, Aaron Rosenberg, Russ Colchamiro, and more!

More updates to follow!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Two quick observations: J.J. Abrams’s talents are far better suited to Star Wars than to Star Trek, and I believe that Max Von Sydow stopped aging somewhere around 1993 (or has had some amazing work done).

And one quick opinion: I am SICK of the number of commercials and movie previews audience members are forced to endure before the feature film these days. I pulled down the bill of my baseball cap and took a nap through most of them.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been out for 10 days and yet at 1:30PM today, the only empty seats in the theatre were in the first two rows. Such is the enduring allure these films maintain going on three generations. George Lucas’s brainchild has long secured a foothold in our culture and I say this as a thirty-eight year fan and collector.

Overall, I enjoyed The Force Awakens. I have no complaints. All of the main characters were strong, the plot was well constructed (and, yes, partially derivative), the pacing and editing reminiscent of the original trilogy—much like the story itself with its unabashed resemblances to A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. I won’t hold that against it, however.

To see the heroes from my childhood back on screen in their iconic roles was a joy. Nothing new there. By now, expressing that sentiment has become a staple in almost every review written by a veteran fan. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) had the most screen time and it was equally satisfying to see the Millennium Falcon back in action.

Our new heroes do not disappoint, and each one contains an amalgam of different traits from Luke, Han, and Leia. The true protagonist, Rey (Daisy Ridley) possesses formidable piloting skills and a redoubtable ability to control the Force with no training whatsoever. I regret that the story did not allow for a more organic process for Rey, and the audience, to discover the latter. It seemed to just, well, happen. Perhaps I need to see the film again.

It was obvious from the trailers that Finn (John Boyega) was a deserter from the First Order (read: Empire wannabes) who eventually throws in with the Resistance led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Sounds similar to the life story of a certain Corellian smuggler (who is back to his old tricks at the beginning of The Force Awakens).

The first of the heroes to appear on screen, crack pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), was also the least developed, but instantly brought to mind former rebel pilots Wedge Antilles and Biggs Darklighter from the original trilogy.

A friend of mine remarked in her review that Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) was little more than a volatile, immature juvenile with the demeanor of a spoiled prick whenever something went awry—and she was correct in her assessment. In that way, he channeled young Anakin in Episode II more so than the Darth Vader that was introduced to fans in 1977.

Kylo Ren is a child, not even fully trained in the Force, with just enough ability to inflate his ego and allow it to dominate him. He is not leadership material—at least not yet—and definitely not worthy of the title Sith Lord. His destructive outbursts clearly display a severe lack of discipline and self-control, all of which become quite apparent during his final confrontation with Rey.

Of course, it would not be a mainstream Star Wars flick without our beloved droids C-3PO and R2-D2, the latter having the least amount of screen time (for personal reasons), which allowed newcomer BB-8 to assume the role of the adorable chirping sidekick. Even C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) was minimized. To be honest, both classic droids were gratuitous to this chapter of the saga. Perhaps they, like Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), will return to more integral roles in the sequels.

I look forward to seeing The Force Awakens at least once more before it leaves the theatres.

Finn with Lightsaber - The Force Awakens Han and Chewbacca- The Force Awakens General Leia - The Force Awakens Rey - The Force AwakensDarth Vader Helmet - The Force Awakens X-Wing & TIE Fighter - The Force Awakens

Topps Cards - The Force Awakens

 

Book Review: Classic Philip Jose Farmer 1964-1973

Unlike the first volume of Classic Philip Jose Farmer, this second collection is dominated by short stories, containing only one novella called “Riders of the Purple Wage”.  I was interested in reading this particular piece as it had been originally printed in Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions anthology. It’s a bizarre tale, typical of Farmer’s vivid and beautiful imagination.

A few centuries from now, the Earth’s population has expanded upward, living on numerous levels above the planet’s surface. Many citizens subsist on government handouts known as the purple wage. Artist Chib Winnegan has discovered a new medium combining painting and sculpture, much to the delight, and consternation, of two government certified art critics.

Guided and encouraged by the wisdom of his grandfather, an ornery old coot long thought dead by the government he ripped off for billions but who is hiding in Chib’s house, Chib is soon to unveil his latest masterpiece to a world dominated by catchphrases and sound bytes, to a society that has lost its humanity because humanity has lost its heart.

It was a fascinating and entertaining read that had me smiling and even laughing out loud at times.

Other favorites in this anthology included:

“The Shadow of Space”: After its engines are sabotaged by an insane passenger, a starship is hurled through space far beyond the speed of light until it bursts through a tear in the fabric of the known universe and finds itself in a strange and inexplicable dimension where the laws of physics do not apply.

“The Sliced-Crosswise Only-on-Tuesday World”: The Earth’s population has exploded such that people are placed into stasis to awaken and live only one day per week. Tom Pym lived only on Tuesdays…until he fell in love with a Wednesday woman. Tom decides to apply for a transfer to Wednesday, but be careful what you wish for!

“Sketches Among The Ruins of My Mind”: An alien vessel appears in Earth orbit, causing the human race to travel backward in time by four days for every day calendar day forward, all the while retaining their memories. Each day, Mark Franham watches the events of his life in reverse—until his children and wife are gone. Will Earth’s greatest minds be able to stop this horrific process? If so, will it give Mark—and the rest of humanity—a chance to live their lives again and avoid the mistakes they made the first time?

“After King Kong Fell”: An elderly man regales his granddaughter with a whimsical tale of what truly happened after King Kong fell from the Empire State Building and how it affected his family.

 

Classic Philip Jose Farmer 1964-1973

Interstellar

Finally watched Interstellar last night. Quite an all-star cast with Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Matt Damon, etc. Overall, I enjoyed it. Strong acting and story. Solid pacing, although one observation Evon and I made was the abrupt cut from Cooper agreeing to pilot the ship to the ship leaving Earth. No simulator training time? Yes, Cooper had been a pilot, but it seemed he was a farmer for quite some time afterward.

The concept of a fifth dimension, where gravity and time can be manipulated, was presented with captivating visuals. The exterior shots in space were reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Certainly the most unusual characters in the film were the cuboid robots TARS, CASE, and KIPP, and the various shapes into which they could transform for rapid movement or manual dexterity. They appeared clumsy at first glance, but continually amazed me throughout the film.

 

Gargantua Matthew McConaugheyInterstellar film posterAnne Hathaway

TARS

CASE

’72 Chevy Nova…My Final Goal for 2015

My final goal for 2015 has been completed. This 1972 Chevy Nova model kit was given to me by my buddy Kevin in March 2014. He had reunited with his HS sweetheart shortly before that. He explained that he’d taken her to their senior prom in a burgundy metallic ’72 Nova. As such, he asked me to build this model for him.

Due to writing projects, Microsoft exams, chairing a writing conference, job, home renovations, and general life issues, it took me nearly two years to complete, but complete it is as of today!

Although it isn’t a science fiction model kit, it was nice to return to a hobby that I was deeply dedicated to for so many years. Hopefully, I’ll have time in 2016 to build a few more SF kits…in between the writing projects, Microsoft exams, job, home improvements, etc., etc…

 

72 Chevy Nova - Drivers side 72 Chevy Nova - Passenger side  72 Chevy Nova Hood 72 Chevy Nova Open Hood