(I Also Write Children's Books!)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Random Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Three quarters of my brain is on finishing up At Least I Didn't Blow Up OUR Moon (my publisher wants a different title, alas), but here's an excuse to post something.

Although what should I say about Guardians of the Galaxy?  It was enough fun that I didn't analyze the writing while watching, which is rare.  So that's a strong recommendation, I guess.

There is something I can talk about.  I didn't think about this until after the fact, but I'm impressed by the characterization of the heroes.  They followed the writer's trick of giving someone a strong trait, and then fleshing them out underneath to try to create someone who is really like that.  It worked.


The hero, Star Lord, was one of the weaker examples, and they still did pretty well.  His overt trait was trying too hard to be cool, which made him a bit of a stereotypical schlub.  They fleshed him out by not taking that too hard.  Oh, they gave him interesting background story, but those are facts.  What counts is the display of character.  He might stumble a lot because he pretends to be even greater than he is, but he was a good fighter, brave, good with tricks and traps and treasure hunting, and when he wanted to he could charm the pants off someone - which made it believable that he mostly used that skill to charm the pants off someone.  The best thing for him was that he learned.  When he failed to seduce Gamora, he dropped it.  His interest remained, but he'd figured out not to push.  When Rocket proved his competence, Star Lord trusted that from then on.  In general, he was not an idiot - you could just easily mistake him for one because he tried too hard.

Rocket Raccoon was my favorite example.  He's supposed to be a gun crazed criminal, and he is, so they made him one.  He is competent.  Relentlessly competent.  Not superhumanly competent, but very good at what he does.  When they get sent to prison, he blows it off saying he's escaped from 22.  It quickly becomes clear that he probably has escaped from 22.  He knows how to fit in, what the weaknesses of the system are, and he plans, deals with obstacles, and takes advantage of opportunities.  He makes guns as a hobby, and they are downright scary.  He hides his pain completely.  It comes out when he's drunk once, and before and after he blows it off with vague mentions, like stoic people tend to.

You can't talk about Rocket without talking about Groot.  It's easy to focus on the 'I am Groot' joke, but the movie goes much lighter on it than I expected.  They focus more on Rocket and Groot being joined at the hip, or at least at Rocket's hip and Groot's ankle.  They are partners, and you can see why.  There is infinite, automatic respect between the two.  Rocket pretends Groot is his conscience, and Rocket is good at dealing with a universe of animals that Groot clearly finds confusing.  I was not expecting the portrayal of Groot as childlike, and it was a great touch.  He's not stupid, and he's not pure - he clearly enjoys violence - but he's simple and looks for opportunities to be kind in simple ways.  By the end of the movie, you have no doubt that Groot would die for Rocket and Rocket would die for Groot.

Drax the Destroyer started out two dimensional, and they made him three dimensional by portraying someone who had made himself two dimensional with his desire for revenge, then ran face first into a universe where that doesn't work.  He was constantly caught up short in situations not covered by 'kill my enemy', and having to learn from them without losing his central purpose.  His confusion when finding out he could not hope to defeat Ronin in hand to hand combat was particularly poignant.

Gamora I admit they dropped the ball on.  Not that she didn't have a personality, but they presented a bunch of facets of her person that they didn't explore at all.  The whole 'Daughter of Thanos' thing was mentioned repeatedly, even a plot point, but they only dealt with the rivalry aspect of her relationship with her sister, and she didn't seem as tough as she should be.  Similarly, they mentioned but didn't much explore her hate for Thanos and Ronin and desire to betray them.  On the other hand, she was not a shoehorned love interest.  If anything they subvert that.  Star Lord hits on her, she rejects him harshly, and topic over time to move on to her relationship with her sister.

Okay, writing nerd time over.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

More Behind Than I Thought

I never even posted two of the other pictures Nikki drew.  She REEEEEEally likes Remmy.

Bonus content: Some fan art sketches of Ampexia, who should be showing up in the third book.  Note to my fellow authors: Get an alpha reader and fangirl who can draw.  It makes life pretty awesome.

And the censored version of one more because 'suitable for children' is not something Nikki understands:

Those are just loose idea sketches, of course, but I owe you people a lot 'cause I haven't updated this thing in a dog's age.

Yay, It's Fixed!

My computer exploded!  Thank you for your patience.  As a reward, here is some fan art.  This is my alpha reader's interpretation of Juliet from the second Inscrutable Machine book, or as Nikki put it 'The sweetest little abomination you'll ever meet in interplanetary space.'

I was also interrupted by a sudden editing job for Quite Contrary, which needed it but very much disrupted my writing.  And then another for the short story that will be in Curiosity Quills' anthology.

Despite these interruptions the sequel is plugging away and I might even be three fourths done.  I'm just not allowed to share it with you! 

You should all thank Nikki for the art, since I'M not allowed to give you anything creative!  Damn you, being a professional!

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Brief Trip To The Art Fair

I was asked to help a relative disassemble their display at the Arts On The Green art fair in LeGrange, KY this weekend.  It's not a big fair and I'm a hard sell on crafts, but I used my free time to look around for anything interesting to bring back to my fans.

It's weird to think I actually have fans now.

Man, is it weird to think that.  I'm not sure I can grasp it.

Anyway, I only found three exhibits I really thought were worth photographing.  I made sure to get a card from each exhibit, because as a crafts fair, these people are there to sell and it wouldn't be fair to flaunt their hard work without at least providing their contact information.

First up, these neat lawn ornaments made out of junk and bits of metal.  I'm keeping my photos near full size so that you can see the detail, and this guy tightly packs his creations.  You need the extra size to tell them apart.  I admit it, I liked the bugs.

Next, I loved these little necklaces and keys with gears embedded in them.  If I didn't have a fondness for steampunk, I wouldn't be here.

Finally, this guy makes fabric.  Now, I know not a thing about whether he makes good fabric or not, but seeing a guy operate a loom in public was well worth a photo.  He was cool just to watch.

I told you it was a very brief trip!  Enjoy the photos.  I'mma get back to writing the second Inscrutable Machine book.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Fan Art And A Hint Of The Sequel

Got a treat for you!

I have been hard at work on Book #2 in the Inscrutable Machine series.  My publisher, naturally enough, feels that I can't post chapters in a serial format as I write it.  Very reasonable, but it takes away what I mostly did with this blog!  Still, the good news is I'm nearly (I think) halfway done with the manuscript.  I jumped the gun starting it, but after taking a couple of weeks off to redo the plot with lots of new ideas, I now am enthused and inspired.

Along the way, I picked up a new alpha reader.  My friend Nikki is a frothing fangirl for the first book, and now the second.  She has provided me with fan art, so I'm sharing it with you.

Meet Remington 'Remmy' 'The Kludge' Fawkes, a native of the secret Jovian lunar colonies and a major, major character in the sequel.  She's probably the most important character after Penny!

By the way, Nikki gets the same deal Lucy did.  In exchange for the reading that keeps me motivated to write, I will make her immortal in print.  I have so many plans for Ampexia...

Friday, May 30, 2014

Random Movie Review - Maleficent

I saw Maleficent last night.  I have really been looking forward to it, and made a point of seeing it as soon as possible.  That should surprise no one.  I love stories about villains, and I love cartoons.  Maleficent is live action, but inspired by a cartoon.  Plus, the story I guessed from the trailers sounded clever.  I was intrigued.

I liked the movie and would recommend it.


Because, see, the movie is interesting to me as a writer, and I'd like to discuss that.

First, the fairies.  Disney has traditionally represented fairies in Tinkerbell fashion, as sweet and friendly little bug-winged girls, or beautiful elfin women.  That has always bugged me.  They successfully hid from large portions of our population what actual folk tale fairies are like.

This movie was way closer.  Sometimes hideous, sometimes beautiful, sometimes mischievous, sometimes generous, sometimes paranoid and hostile, almost none of the fairies in Maleficent look very human.  Strong animal and plant themes match Victorian art.  The fairy designs were gorgeous and weird, and I kept looking for the 'stolen shamelessly from Patrick Woodroffe' credit after the movie.  In all seriousness, I'd give it 50/50 he was an inspiration for the artists.  The dragons and the water spirits in particular had that look.  Fairy behavior was still pretty bawdlerized, but at least they hinted at the chaotic fae nature.

Now to the story.

What really interested me professionally was how the writers kept the forms of a fairy tale, but did not let those drag them down.  Fairy tales are simple stories with dramatic plot elements, symbolism, and rely on an omniscient narrator to label characters as archtypes instead of developing them as people.  Needless to say, all of that is a problem with modern storytelling standards.  Disney's Sleeping Beauty, which inspires this movie, stuck to those standards closely.  The characters were two dimensionally shallow.  You were told what the characters were like, and then they performed plot points with no reference to if that suited their character.  I will avoid the complete rant, but Disney Princess movies have had a big problem with following that pattern without keeping the simple, powerful symbolism of fairy tales.

Maleficent completely reverses this trend, beautifully synthesizing modern storytelling needs and the fairy tale structure.  It does so by using tiny amounts of establishment to create a feel of character development instead of dwelling on that development.  The crow only has to bring baby Aurora a flower to nurse from and be petted once, and you understand that he loves the child and are prepared for everything he does later.  The narrator tells you the king goes mad, then gives you one brief scene where the king is so obsessed with talking to the voices of his own guilt.  Boom, he's not just some guy who goes crazy - you understand why, and the nature of his madness.  You don't see it build, but you feel like you did.  Miraculously, this technique makes Aurora interesting.  She's blessed with beauty, happiness, grace, and being loved.  They show her smiling and laughing happily at even things she should be afraid of as a small child, and when she grows older she doesn't feel like a cardboard cutout with 'GOOD' stamped on it.

Consistency is a big part of this.  When you're told what someone's like, they act like that instead of making a vague show of it and then performing plot points.

This technique allows the movie to cover up the truly tiny amounts of character development and exploration it contains.  It proves to you that these characters are who they're supposed to be, and gets back to the grand battles of good vs. evil, acts of magic, prophecies, and dramatic, even exaggerated plot points.  Only Maleficent gets serious character development time.

...and that works.  That's why I'm fascinated.  They trick the viewer into feeling like the characters are deep and explored.  They pull off a modern story and a fairy tale both.  It's excellent writing.

As an author myself, I had to talk about that.

Also, good movie.  Go see it.

PS - And I would be remiss not to mention that this movie kicks the Disney 'True Love' stereotype in the teeth.  Again.  Two in a row, with Frozen.  As far as I'm concerned, they can keep doing that.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Author At BABScon, A Pictorial

BABScon is a MLP convention.  Now, I love cartoons, and I love the current MLP cartoon, but I really went there to spend time with Dana, a friend who lives waaaaay across the country and I don't get to see much.  We spent most of the time sitting at a dealer's table.  Still, I took home photos of whatever I found neat!

We begin at the airport as I was leaving town!  Not a place I normally expect to photograph things, but then I saw these peculiar signs.  Was there a dress code someone forgot to tell me about?

You see all kinds of neat things on the plane.  I hardly ever see actual classic factory type buildings from the ground, with smokestacks and everything.

And then this place.  I photographed it because it looks freakishly exactly like a Sim City block.

My attempts to capture how cool cities look from the air completely failed.  This is as close as I got

Chicago, on the other hand, turned out pretty great.  The clustered together skyscrapers are really dramatic next to the lake.

I don't know what I was trying to photograph here, but the blue sky and the sea of clouds justify themselves.

These mountains were hardcore.

I don't think of mountains as happening in layers, which proves that it's a good thing I'm getting to see what they're really like from the air.

I still don't know what these are.  Salt pits?  Deserts?  Quarries?

And finally, the convention!  I wish I could convey in pictures how badly designed the hotel was for human habitation.  All pretense of navigability was given up to allow for this huge, beautiful atrium.  BUT, the atrium is not the point of this photo!  Witness instead how we were greeted by random people we don't know!  Folks arriving on the first day of any convention tend to be friendly, and they waved to us up on the balcony.

Here is Dana waving back.  She will probably kill me when she sees how unflattering this photo is.  I'm posting it anyway!  You can't see me wave back because, obviously, I had to take the photos.

An old man wearing a Pinkie Pie shirt directs traffic.  I knew we had arrived at a My Little Pony convention.  The attendees covered absolutely every age, gender, ethnicity, and social group.

A slightly more flattering photo of Dana, taken because I thought the froth of her strawberry milkshake looked cool.

The view outside my hotel room window.  I can only conclude that there's a villain's underground bunker beneath the hotel.

Setting up the vendor table was tiring, and I headed out to enjoy the California sunshine - something I have dearly missed.  Poolside, I met this fine fellow, and followed him through his many attempts to escape the paparazzi.

Alas, eventually he succeeded.

COSTUME TIME.  Little Girl Pinkie Pie, go!

The griffon chef from the train episode!  Bonus coolness:  This guy sold eclairs, and in many cases gave them away for free.

Not sure who she is cosplaying specifically.  Didn't really care.  Neat Wonderbolts costume.

Little girls, grown men, old men, young women, mothers, we had 'em all, in every level of costumery!  Note the hooves.  Much easier than three fingered toon glove costumes.

Not a costume.  I just really liked this lady's dress.  At the edge of the shot, notice the Artist Cage that Dana carefully built around herself.

The other side of the Artist Cage, and a guy with a horse on his shoulder buying art from Dana.  Dana obviously cannot be seen in these pictures, because Artist Cage.

I didn't photograph many of the dealer displays, but these plush toys were incredible - and cost $400 minimum.

Princess Luna fondles her horn.  I never claimed to be tasteful.

Just some really freaking dapper people.

One of Dana's customers.  When I saw the braces, I had to get a photo.  It turns out little girls like unicorns.  Who knew?  Oh, and check out the necklace!

All I had to do was yell 'Hey, Applejack!' and she turned around.  True story.

So... many... little girls... in costume!  CUTENESS OVERLOAD.

And finally, MY people arrive.  I love cute and dark, and this Pinkamina/Cupcakes costume had me squeeing.  This photo is presented in its original size, because there's so much detail in the dress.

Pinkamina poses, just for me!

Our next-table-neighbor was Ratgirl Productions.  She didn't show up on Friday, but when she arrived on Saturday, she was SO friendly, and the costume head was cute beyond belief!

On the edge of this photo, note Dana's giant Heavenly Nostrils banner, which kept us cramped up against our table.

Dana, being Horse Famous, gets invited to all kinds of stuff.  Just about everybody in this photo is a voice actor for MLP.

Babs Seed's voice actress is quiet, but friendly.  The other CMC actresses gave her that hoodie.  Yes, that is a copy of Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm A Supervillain that I shamelessly gave to her as a gift.  Schmoozing!  (Okay, I confess, I really liked her.)

Dana and Princess Celestia's voice actress talk about stuff.

Dana and Princess Celestia's voice actress, both drunk off their gourds and babbling about making a Heavenly Nostrils cartoon, pose for a picture.

The plushie folks switched up their lineup with this amazing Trixie on a rotating stand.

Flim and Flam costumes:  Simple and classy.

They said they'd drop by our table.  Brian and Brynna Drummond, posing with Dana, who gets to do all the posing.  Also she's more huggable than I am.  BAH.

The sourfaced Angel totally made this costume.

I thought Future Twilight was a pretty clever costume idea.  This is Sunday, and as you can see everyone's packing up.

Monday!  We tried to tool around San Francisco.  Didn't really work.  We couldn't get to the beach, but I love the ocean, love it dearly and fiercely, and we at least got to stop at some overlooks.

Here I photographed things on a cliff we never identified.

 The sea, photographed as best I could over a fence.  Still beautiful.

City lights at night, on the plane ride home.

Weary of mind and body and especially feet, in the Chicago airport I ran into someone even more worn out than me.

I had a wonderful trip.  My deepest regret is that I never thought to photograph any of my customers, especially the ten year old girl who came back twice because she loved all my books and couldn't decide which to spend her precious $12 on.