At 11:36pm on Monday…

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At 11:36pm on Monday, September 2 2013, I completed the rough draft of my second full-length novel. It is, preliminarily, 211,722 words and numbers 388 pages on 8.5 by 11 inch pages set to a single-space lining. It’s hard to say exactly what I’m feeling, though relief and satisfaction (joy, maybe?) would be the obvious contenders. There’s so much work ahead but the difficult part, and the most enjoyable for that matter, are behind me. Editing is upon me, and I know I don’t fully comprehend what I’ve accomplished, but I am definitely…pleased.

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Book Review: The Long Earth

The Long Earth
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Prior to reading THE LONG EARTH, I had never read a book written (in part or in whole) by Terry Pratchett. His joint effort with Stephen Baxter, the first novel in a three-part series, proved to be my first exodus with these authors. I’m always entertained by non-natives writing foreign characters and in this case knowing that Pratchett and Baxter are British made me particularly interested to see the results of their labor.

The Long Earth

As a novel that blends comedy, pseudo-science, and pioneer adventurism The Long Earth is, perhaps, the strangest book that I’ve read in a long time. It is a mixture of at least four genres that produces, maybe not too surprisingly, an equally strange novel. Almost two weeks after I finished The Long Earth I’m still grappling with my final impression of the book but, before we get to that, I want to outline the novel itself.

In the very near future, the instructions for a device called a stepper are uploaded to the internet. It is easy to assemble and the lone button on a stepper can be switched to east, off, or west. As thousands of children discover on what is later named Step Day, switching the button east or west moves you one parallel world in that direction.

Stepper-Diagram

Overnight, a new era of exploration is born. Only certain people and certain objects can step and what follows Step Day is a second age of pioneering. Thirteen years later, a man called Joshua is asked by a soda machine to go exploring these alternate Earths in search of answers.

And that all happens within the first fifty pages. Going back to my impressions, I’m pretty sure I liked the book. It’s fun and humorous at times, and Joshua Valiente is an extremely well-developed protagonist that I mostly approve of. The book’s breakout character, of course, is Lobsang the AI who moves from machine to machine as needed. He’s clever and witty and the inclusion of a non-human character allows the novel to inquire on the human condition but it never quite escapes the gimmicky feeling that stitches the book together.

Boy, does it wander. Not that wandering is a bad thing since this is, at its heart, a novel about a journey with no destination. Books, however, have an end and so when The Long Earth begins the rushed approach to its own ending the experience is rushed and disconnected; surreal but relevant in a strange way. The Long Earth owns a cool premise that it loses sight of on its way to the next sequel. Not quite a disappointment, but not quite spectacular either.

The best way I can phrase it is that I’m glad I picked up the book and I did enjoy it, but not enough to run out and buy book two. Baxter, who I’m led to believe did a majority of the writing, did it well, though British mannerism and expressions sneak into the dialogue and most of the police jargon is lifted from an episode of Law & Order.  Ultimately, what concerns me about The Long Earth is a theme it revisits numerous times: emptiness.

The Long Earth, the expression for the infinite number of parallel Earths that are “east” and “west” of our own, is vast but empty. Unfortunately, so is THE LONG EARTH itself.

Comic Con 2013: It’s Like A Bad Relationship

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luck

(noun)

1 San Diego, CA. ANTONYMS Oakland, Dallas, Tallahassee, Oakland.

2 To currently live in San Diego, CA. ANTONYMS currently living anywhere BUT San Diego, CA.

When I think of the annual popular arts phenomenon that sweeps into the heart of Downtown San Diego, CA every year in late July I often experience an absolute bevy of emotions. That’s right, you heard me—a bevy. Going to Comic Con (for us ritualists who defy the odds and manage get in every freaking year) is a breathtaking, nerve-wracking, oft infuriating event that, despite the abuse it heaps upon us, leaves us wanting for more. After discussing it with a friend, we concluded that being a regular Comic Con attendee is like being a bad relationship of hopeless, and utter, dependence. Conversations about the lines (and the infamous Hall H ‘eyeball + pencil = tragedy’ event that was 2011) and subpar programming are rife and oppressive, but I’ll try to be level-headed in my reflection.

Which, incidentally, is remarkably positive this year. Looking back, I went into this year very excited but also reserved; the sheer hassle of the event had stripped it of its appeal in recent years. I should also note that going into Comic Con 2013 I was one very sick boy and, incidentally, that forced me to really conserve strength and to leave when I started to feel exhausted and not three or four hours after the fatigue set in. That prevented burn-out in the first two days which, in the long run, helped me enjoy the event that much more. So let’s talk Con!

Wednesday July 17

Preview night was straightforward but, oh Dear Sweet God, was traffic a nightmare. Ultimately, I only spent about an hour and a half at Preview Night because the 8 and the 5 freeways were such awful messes. Still, it was nice to think that I was cruising the floor on the emptiest possible night but it felt like there were WAY more people at Preview Night 2013 than in previous years. I honestly think they’re selling more 4 Day + Preview night badges now than they ever have in the past because that’s what it looked like on the ground. But, as is the case with most things, I can’t know for sure.

Thursday July 18

I didn’t do anything on Thursday. None of the programming struck me as particularly fascinating so I got there around 1pm and left around 3pm or so because, again, I was not feeling well. I credit Thursday with really forcing me to rest and recover because on Friday…

Friday July 19

…I totally overslept. I mean, I only overslept by like a half hour but that meant leaving at 7:30 which put me at the convention center by 9:00 and at that point the line for the panel that I wanted to get into with a passion—THE LEGEND OF KORRA—was crazy long. I gave up hope of getting in and walked the line, just to see how long it was when a friend from work flagged me down and singlehandedly salvaged my day. KORRA is Nickelodeon’s sequel to it’s animated smash hit AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER, but KORRA wrapped up season one before last year’s Comic Con—which meant that I, as a fan, had been deprived of Korra for more than a year! During the cast and crew Q&A panel the show-runners  Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino showed us an awesome trailer for Book Two: Spirits.

…and then they aired the whole premier.

At which point I promptly pooped my pants.

So the actual panel was relatively brief, having ceded nearly all their time to the premier, which was indescribably awesome.

Skipping past the BONES panel (which didn’t interest me at all) we came to the next big event Marvel’s AGENTS OF SHIELD. Now, I’ve been broadly following the development of this show and, as a big fan of Marvel’s THE AVENGERS I was excited to see Joss Whedon promote the new television show, since his TV chops are well-establish by now after BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL, FIREFLY, and DOLLHOUSE.

Whedon trots the whole cast out, everyone (me, too) freaks the eff out for Clark Gregg (#coulsonlives) and then they start taking questions. Second question is a lady who asks about seeing a clip or a trailer. Whedon sagely blames Disney, saying that the lawyers won’t let them show a clip or even a trailer. Everyone boos because, if there’s one thing we nerds understand, it is the indomitable evil that is the Walt Disney Company. Backpedaling, Whedon clarifies, “We can’t show you a clip. So we’re gonna show the whole premier.”

Cue the explosive applause, which sounded much more like a bomb going off, and then they showed the whole 40 minute first episode of AGENTS OF SHIELD. I thought it was brilliant—I recommend that you check it out when it hits Sept 24 on ABC. Of course, we went bananas for it and subsequently showered our adoration upon Whedon and the cast but that, for me at least, wrapped up Friday.

Saturday July 21

Oh, boy. By Saturday I was feeling great and I chose to celebrate my renewed health in the most sane way possible: by leaving home at 4am with the foolish notion of getting into the Hall H line for the Marvel panel at the end of the day. I was at the Convention Center by 5:20am but the line, if you’re familiar with the area, wrapped behind the convention center and went as far as the marina. That, in the vernacular, meant that I was not getting in. Knowing that, I jumped ship to the Ballroom 20 line where I perched myself expectantly.

The morning’s first panel was ONCE UPON A TIME IN WONDERLAND, a spin-off of the wildly popular ONCE UPON A TIME that debuted in 2011. Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, the creators and runners of both shows, mentioned that what they eventually showed to us of WONDERLAND was a rough cut but—and I preface this with an acknowledgment of slackened expectations—it wasn’t really all that good. None of the characters were particularly well-acted and the CG seemed over the top and this is tough for me to say, since I’m a fan of the original ONCE UPON A TIME.

Afterwards was the panel for the original ONCE UPON A TIME, a tactic intended to market the new show to us veteran fans of the first one. ONCE UPON A TIME had an incredibly strong debut in its first season but has really floundered in season 2, eventually straggling along for a stronger ending. With season 3 less than two months away, they had an uphill battle to prove to us that the excursion to Wonderland to save Henry will be worth our time. Kitsis and Horowtiz made mention that filming started this week, and that when the show debuts it will air 10 episodes without interruption in the fall with the remaining episodes airing uninterrupted in the spring. LOST, a show that Kitsis and Horowitz both worked on and that continues to exert massive influence over their newest creations, experimented with a similar concept by airing seasons 4, 5, and 6 uninterrupted in their respective Spring time-slots.

Afterwards, we transitioned to the FUTURAMA panel. Futurama was cancelled by Comedy Central—something that I’m incredibly sore about. THE SIMPSONS is 25 seasons old, not super funny, and yet still on the air. Futurama is ending its 9th and final season, still funny and relevant, but getting canned. Still, the show’s runners David X. Cohen and Matt Groening poked good fun and made it a panel to remember with drawing contests and airing part of the series finale: Fry is falling to his death, and has a time-reverse button that takes him exactly 10 seconds into the past—right after he made the fateful jump. Brilliant, poignant, and hilarious; exactly how FUTURAMA should end.

Then there was THE SIMPSONS panel immediately after; none of the voice actors showed because, let’s face it, the show is 25 years old and they don’t have to try anymore. Groening was up there with Al Jean and confirmed a Simpsons/Family Guy crossover among other things.

Skipping ahead to the FAMILY GUY panel, which is always good fun—Seth MacFarlane was off filming his new movie but most of the cast (sans Mila Kunis) was there. What’s always hilarious about this panel is that Alex Borstein and Seth Green, who are fully aware each year that there’s a sign-language translator in the Accessibility area of the crowd, persisted to spew out the most disgusting terms in an effort to fluster the translators. It’s hilarious but not something I can really repeat here, but, you know, YouTube it.

Succeeding the FAMILY GUY panel was the AMERICAN DAD panel which was less of an affair than its big brother panel given what I assume is the state of tumult the show is in. AMERICAN DAD was quietly cancelled by FOX and will finish the already completed tenth season on FOX but, and this struck me as bizarre, it has been picked up by TBS. Movements of this kind usually indicate that a show is in its death throes, and I hope this isn’t the case because I LOVE American Dad and find it superior to FAMILY GUY in every way, but I’m worried for the show’s future. THE CLEVELAND SHOW was also quietly cancelled but its lukewarm  performance and reception has kept it dead.

The end of the FAMILY GUY panel also meant a big break in my day. From there on out I was free to wander the floor of the convention hall, and below are an assortment of photos.

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The floor was packed; simply pulsing with humanity.

IMG_2293They reduced the number of independent artists this year, and decreased the amount of novelty booths. The wooden mustache booth was gone!

Also present were neat products and models.

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A large model of the USS VENGEANCE from STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS.

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The POWER RANGERS franchise is celebrating 20 years of childhood amazingness.

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A model of DEATHWING from WORLD OF WARCRAFT.

At 7:30, as something of a Comic Con tradition, I closed out my Con weekend by attending Kevin Smith‘s panel in Hall H. Smith is a strikingly genuine filmmaker who has devoted a better part of the last few years to advocating and supporting new and upcoming filmmakers. Always uproarious and often pensive, Kevin does a great job of balancing humor with real-world experiences. Beyond that, I can’t remember much because I was…so…very…tired… Nevertheless, he’s a brilliant guy and the crowd for his panel seemed noticeably healthier this year than in years passed.

Afterwards, I made the victorious journey home. Comic Con 2013 was an success! Great shows, great panels, great sneak peeks at the upcoming television season! This event really shines when it honors the nerds, the geeks, and the hopeless many who congregate and preach their favorite popular arts phenomenons—and that is exactly what happened this year.

I’m ready to start planning for the Con 2014—if I can get tickets, that is.

— Brendan

The Next Big Thing

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Shortly after the release of “Someone to Remember Me” I went through the writer’s equivalent of postpartum depression. My baby was out in the world, warmly received by friends and family—though not monstrously successful in that “Harry Potter” or “Twilight” kind of way. In retrospect, I could’ve been a little more generous with the vampires. I pushed out an update back in April that addressed the most glaring editorial shortcomings and I have more planned…eventually. For all intents and purposes, I continued forward in my writing and considered where to go from there. “Someone” marked the first time I’d ever actually finished a project from draft to publication and I was enormously proud of it. I was lost in the immediacy of it’s release and subsequent update. What next? Did I go back to former, existing projects and force them through to completion? I took stock of what was on the drawing board for a few days and nearly went back to work on my space-opera that’s been sitting at the 50 page mark for two years. If any of you are reading this and we’ve had this discussion before, I apologize for the repetition but 50 pages is my personal kiss of death. It’s where the writing typically gets real; where the sheen on the original idea wears off and I have to figure out how to fully, fairly, and enjoyably realize the entire project without losing interest. I don’t know if any other writers have this problem with their manuscripts but I do.

I can’t tell you exactly how I settled on what I’m working on now, which is a wholly new project, but if I had to take a guess I would say that it came as a result of Eight, the lead female character from “Someone to Remember Me.” Eight’s most telling line in the whole book is when she shouts “I’m nobody’s slave!” at the top of her lungs near the book’s end. (Kudos to my stepdad for slogging it through the end. Good on you, champ.) And in the days after letting her into the wild an image of a woman with a gun and a sword popped into my head and I knew she was going to make a ton of trouble for someone. That was the genesis of Sarah al Villete, the main character of my newest book. Unlike so many of the other characters I’ve written, Sarah is an anti-hero in the extreme. She is what we would classify as a terrorist, a person committing hit-and-run attacks against the standing government. In a nutshell, she gets stranded with a bunch of innocent people who are wrongly accused of being her accomplices. So it’s her choice to let them be captured and killed or to take responsibility for them. The best “book blurb” I’ve written is the following:

For two thousand years the Union of Man’s rule has gone uncontested, but now the unthinkable has happened. Sarah al Villete is leading a crusade of revenge against humanity’s last government, and the authorities are desperate to capture her.

When her latest act of terrorism goes awry, Sarah becomes the reluctant steward of innocent fugitives. Fleeing the Union’s overwhelming might, Sarah and her companions are confronted with the mysteries of the Union—secrets that could help Sarah topple an already frail civilization.

I outlined this story with a level of detail that I’ve never attempted before. I created a rough outline of “essential” events in a chronological order. Then I beefed it up with cool and interesting scenes and ideas that occurred to at the time. In the first week alone back in March I wrote 30 pages. About a month later (after the surgery to remove the golf-ball sized cyst from my right wrist) I slammed through the 50 page mark. By May I was at the 80 page mark. That was where I hit my writer’s block that usually occurs around page 50. For whatever reason my creative impulses ground to a halt, none of it seemed interesting anymore, and I wondered what I was doing and if I could make this work. I blame vacation and reading for getting me out of that funk, because here we are at the start of July and I just crossed the 150 page threshold. By comparison, my first novel Someone to Remember Me is close to 110 pages with lots of extra dead/empty space in single space, 12 point Times New Roman font in my manuscript file. (In the ebook format it comes in around 240 pages.)

For this novel I’m experimenting with new formatting. Read as: I don’t use chapter numbers or names, and there is no break in the narrative except for the name of the character in bold that the narrative switches to. I’m describing this book as a crossover between the Game of Throne multi-POV narrative structure and the revenge-centric plot from V for Vendetta in a book that is ultimately a tragedy scifi/fantasy novel. Though, atmospherically it is a much more modern novel than anything else I’ve written, since there are cars and cities and cellphones.

That about does it for this particular update. My blog has been upsettingly empty as of late, so I hope this post kindles some renewed interest on the part of any readers lingering in the shadows. That’s all for now, I’m off to Comic-Con 2012 tomorrow. Pictures, maybe? Definitely.

5 Tips to Get Your Writing Started

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Writing, believe it or not, is easy. Are the first words that hit the paper automatic gold? Nope. Far from it. But like any other talent or skill, writing is something you get better at the more you try and fail at it. Today’s post is about the planning stage—the things you can do before you sit down to write your next book that will help it hit the top of the New York Times Bestseller List twice as fast. (Editor’s Note: This is hyperbole. I’ve never been to the top of that particular list, so results will vary.) These are a few tips and tricks that I’ve picked up over the past year that I think make a big difference in my writing that add to my overall feelings of accomplishment when I finish a project.

1. Pick Your Poison

In my experience there are two ways to begin the process and these are to either a) plan nothing or b) plan everything. This is a gross oversimplification but it gets the general point across extremely well. Chances are that you, as a writer, will bounce between these two as you grow and experiment with your own style. Speaking personally, I used to hate planning my books. Or I would plan only a fraction of the work as a whole, as I tried to allow the spirit of the story to guide my process. As I undertook more ambitious projects, which were namely books in a series, planning became increasingly crucial to the long-term viability of the books. What I’ve discovered is that, like building a house with many rooms, you need detailed blueprints for a book. Without them, the whole undertaking falls apart leaving behind an absolute mess.

What I found as I undertook more and more ambitious projects (specifically books in a series) is that I would lose track of the many things I wanted to explore. Character interactions, particular scenes, powerful events…all those little details that kindled my original interest in that project. Since then I’ve moved closer to the planning side of things, though I try to leave room for a lot of spontaneity.

2. Outline. Brainstorm. Outline Again. (Repeat as Necessary)

Planning has some serious benefits. It allows you to document what you want to explore. Character interactions, major events, minor details…all the elements that kindled your initial interest in that project. Going back to our analogy, outlining your story is equivalent to creating a blueprint of your book. I accomplish this by listing major plot points, punctuating them with character development and world building. When you read the term ‘world building’ you might say, ‘well I’m not writing the next Game of Thrones–or fantasy for that matter–so I can assume people know all about my world.’

Tell them anyways. When you take for granted that people know what grass looks like, or what the beach smells like, or how the mist feels, you’re only hurting yourself. Take the opportunity of outlining to include the details that interest you, the scenes that you want to write. Forget plot for five minutes and write something you don’t think is exactly necessary but would be fun to include. I recently wrote a scene where two characters sit outside a barn and gaze at the stars. Does it bring them any closer to the climax of the novel? No. Does it advance the plot? Not really. Was it something that screamed at me to write it for a week? Heck yes. You, as the writer, are the first and most importance member of your audience. Write to yourself first and to others second.

Dare to stray from your outline. While a major advantage of planning is that I get all of my thoughts into one document, keep in mind that this reference document is a living, breathing entity. In life, few things go strictly according to plan. Let your literature reflect that. Allow your outline to reflect that. Add the unexpected, the dangerous, and the frightening as it occurs to you. Keep what works, remove what doesn’t. I often dare myself to stray from my outline. To push the boundaries of my story in creative and exciting ways. I invite you to do the same.

3. Create Characters Who Don’t Always Get Along.

Coming back to the realities of the world, you won’t always get along with everyone you meet. It’s an unfortunate but wonderful truth that you can apply to your writing. If you’re writing six books and a movie and your characters get along from day one, how the hell are you going to fill all those empty pages with meaningful, witty, and emotional text? Remember how Hermione didn’t get along with Harry and Ron until they saved her from a mountain troll? I call this Mountain Troll Rule. Relationships take work, since the most important ones usually start off on the wrong foot.

Giving characters oppositional attitudes and dispositions means you’ve given them something to squabble over. Divisions to impede their ability to work together. Differences they’ll have to work past in order to win at the end of the book. Reflecting the complexities of interpersonal communications in the men and women you create makes for good reading, so pile on the dysfunction.

I often purposefully design oppositional characters. For instance, I wrote an ultra-religious character specifically to conflict with with another character who is, at best, a pessimistic agnostic. Or, another time, I wrote a very duty-bound character in opposition to a flippant opportunist. Life and literature are regularly filled with binaries since people rarely trust one another at first sight, and would sooner argue rather than consider the opposing viewpoint. I try to reflect this in my writing as often as possible. In my experience, I’ve found that it adds multiple layers to the ending my stories, whether they end in the highest triumph or the lowest defeat.

4. Take Breaks. Lots of Them.

Know when you need a break from writing. I believe that being exhausted is the kiss of death to your creativity, so learn to recognize when you need to take a step back and do other things for a while. During these breaks I highly recommend daydreaming. Seriously, I don’t know how I’d survive if I couldn’t daydream. I let my creative impulses go on safari for a few minutes, brainstorming all the stuff I’ve yet to try but long for the opportunity to do so. Oddly enough, this tip relates directly to the first, which was to plan. Keep in mind that planning is great and all, but remember that an idea that just pops into your head is worth as much as one that you’ve already written down.

5. Have Fun.

If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong. There will be times when you write something that you don’t like. It’ll feel clunky and awkward. Your general opinion of it will be that you don’t like it but it’s necessary to the plot, to the characters, or to some other broader excuse. It took me a long time to figure out a good answer to these conundrums, but I’m proud of my simple-yet-amazing solution: toss it out.

If you don’t like what you’ve written you need to rework it. Revise it. Redo it. Rewrite it. Do whatever it takes to make what you’re writing something to be proud of. Something you can’t wait to share. Readers can spot passages and chapters that the author obviously felt the need to grind through. Don’t let that happen to you. I’m not saying it doesn’t still happen to me, but the sooner you get comfortable with trashing something you don’t like, the sooner you’re writing something you love.

As always, I appreciate your attention and readership. Feel free to drop me a line or post in the comments with any questions!

Brendan