Monday, May 28, 2012

Chernobyl Diaries

Horror movie 101- when walking down a dark corridor thinking the distant noise is your lost friend, you're allowed to call out their name once maybe twice. If they don't answer, you stop calling! You don't get louder! The people in Chernobyl Diaries kept following noises and shouting even after they knew something was trying to kill them. Seriously?

For a second, I thought this was gonna be one of those horror movies where "John" leaves the house to check out the strange noise. When he doesn't return, "Bob" leaves to checks on him. When he doesn't return, "Mary" leaves to check on them both. It wasn't. Thank goodness.

Anyway, Chernobyl Diaries was entertaining. I couldn't pass on this one. The previews didn't show the monsters- just people screaming and running. I figured it was more atmospheric then blood and gore. My kind of movie. It wasn't the best horror movies I'd ever seen. It wasn't remotely scary. I had moments when I jumped but it was nothing like Paranormal Activity.

It had the feel of a "found footage" movie without actually being one. The idea is interesting. The setting was awesome. But, a horror movie where people are simply running and screaming from some creature just doesn't do it for me. They really didn't do anything but run, scream and cry. I'll give them points for picking up weapons before they went into the super creepy and dark room but they barely used them. I loved The Descent because those women kicked some serious butt. They weren't a bunch of screaming ninnies (women usually are in horror movies). They went down fighting. It was awesome.

This one didn't have the typical horror movie women either. The female wasn't frozen and crying I can't go on while dozen of things were chasing them- it was the male. She kept the man moving, kept him focused. The women didn't turn into warriors but they weren't complete wimps either- at least not all of them.

The creatures were always obscured. We didn't see their faces clearly until the end. I liked this. What was also great was the writers never forgot about the setting. On top of things hunting you down, why not add the threat of radiation poisoning. Well played writers. Chernobyl Diaries did try really hard to be a subtle horror movie but it failed to add the creep factor.

I'm reluctant to say this was a completely terrible move because it really wasn't. Though I don't plan on watching this again, I didn't leave the theater going why did I waste my money. The acting was good. It wasn't the most original story-line but I liked the idea of it and more importantly, it wasn't a remake and it had like no gore.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Libraries Aren't Just About Books

Geisel Library, UC San Diego
If print sales are down and people are screaming its end, how are libraries affected? The same as everyone else. They're losing so much money it's ridiculous. People assume, because of Google, you no longer need the library to do research- which so is wrong. I love that search engine as much as the next person but there are hundreds of databases, with brilliant information, you can access through libraries and not through Google.

I've talked about SIBL (Science, Industry and Business Library in New York) before. I love this library. Generally, I don't use it for the books. They offer free, free, classes with speakers who are professionals on the subject. Yesterday, I attended Content Marketing 101- a class on how to use content to set yourself up as an expert on a certain topic. One of the things the speaker stressed was to join online groups on a subject you're knowledgeable about and be active in those groups.

I knew this but, definitely, needed to be reminded. I'm a part of many online groups but I don't do much in them. If I want to develop a greater following to help my book once published, I need to be more active.

Anyway, got off topic. I took another free class on Search Engine Optimization, awesomeness. I tried to teach myself SEO but ended up getting confused. The speaker presented the information so even I can apply it. Awhile ago, I attended classes on how to conduct market research and how to write a market research report. They definitely came in handy as we, as writers, need to conduct research to develop a marketing campaign for our books and our brand.
The Central Public Library in Vancouver, Canada

On top of that, SIBL offers free job search counseling and business counseling both of which I need since I'm still looking for a job and starting my own business. I'm tired just thinking about it.

Because the book world is changing, libraries, too, are trying to survive through this shift. They're not focusing on the books, as much, but on the space- how to get patrons to use the building effectively. They're thinking what does the community need and how can we provide it- for free.

I encourage you to check out your local library to see what services they offer. If anything, they'll point you to some great databases.

Weeks ago, when I conducted market research for my book and business, I found many extensive up-to-date Publishing Industry Survey's. They gave me everything I needed to know about how the industry works. Then, I found a great paper detailing my demographics as well as some pretty awesome reports about people's spending habits.

I know, I'm in New York. It's a unique city but what the libraries are doing here is not unique. Remember, I studied Library Science. Libraries all over the world are redeveloping themselves to best serve the changing needs of their community.
The library of the Faculty of Philology, The Free University of Berlin

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Saw This Movie Before and Didn't Like It

 Yesterday, my Google Alerts feed for "publisher" and "publishing" was saturated  with content about Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Filing for Bankruptcy. An article in The Huffington Post: Books goes into a bit more detail.

They make it all sound so harmless.
"Houghton Mifflin said its restructuring has support from the vast majority of its stakeholders, and that it expects to emerge from Chapter 11 by June 30. Fitch said 90 percent of the company's senior lenders support the plan." (The Huffington Post)
"Houghton Mifflin said Monday that its plan is supported by the vast majority of its stakeholders and will help strengthen its financial position so it is better positioned for the future." (The Washington Post)
This sounds nice and all but am I the only one having Borders flashbacks? They can't exactly say the ship is sinking and everyone's going to die but, from the comments I've read, that's how a lot of people are interpreting it. HMH may not be a part of the Big Six but they're still a pretty major publishing company. I grew up with their books. This is more than a little unnerving.

But, the post Are the Big 6 Really Dying: The Return of the Big Six lifted my spirits. The author said:
  Big ships take time to turn around.
I like that. Though the post was written about two months before this news, it still puts a positive spin of the future of the publishing industry. The Big Six are not going to die and Amazon is not the devil. If you go the traditional publishing route, fine. You go the self-publishing route, that's fine too. One is not easier or better than the other. Both require an egregious amount of work.

I'm thinking Houghton Mifflin filing for bankruptcy is simply more evidence the printed book is losing popularity. I know someone who bought a Kindle and now greatly prefers it over reading printed material. I plan on getting a Kindle one day and will probably go down that path. These can't possibly be isolated incidents.

But, there's no way we're going all digital any time soon. Yes, print sales are down and digital is up but, as a Library and Information Science graduate, I know the amount of work and money it takes for a library to digitize their entire collection. Most don't plan on doing this unless it becomes absolutely necessary. Even if they were given truckloads of funds, which is unlikely since libraries are losing money, it would still require a lot of time and manpower.

Though many businesses are going digital, they still have a massive back-log of print materials. They simply don't have the resources to digitize them all. I mean we have hundreds of years worth of printed books. They aren't going anywhere- unless someone invents a machine that can digitize books without people as well as automatically provide the content with the correct metadata so, you know, we can find them.

People can make all sorts of predictions about the future of the publishing industry and the printed book but they're still just very educated guesses. The only hard-fact is the industry is being reshaped inside and out. For me, as writer, it's kind of exciting!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Dark Fantasy World Building: Powers

from Fantasy Girl World
For the moment, I've stopped working on my second novel, as often, to focus on filling the holes in my world. I'm finding Powers to be the hardest part of World Building. It's so complicated. I've been trying to find some way of organizing information to help me visualize it. Outside of putting it on the wall, I haven't thought of anything, not yet anyway. I'm thinking some sort of graph or map but I don't know how that'll work out.

It's so hard because the Magic is a world in of itself with history, rules, societies, races. I read Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America's World Building Questions regarding Magic and Magicians to help my mind wrap around what I need to be thinking about.

Where did the Power come from? Who were the first people to harness it? How did they do this? Did it go well or did they suffer some unfortunate side effect before getting it right? Did it evolve and cause some physical abnormalities in the person? These questions I know the answers to but it took a long time and a lot of writing to get here. I had to write out the history of each person who first used the power.

This is what I'm having trouble with because the Power works differently for every person. I know why but not how. What do they need to do to harness their power? Do they have to give up anything? Again, what are the side effects? Can they use it the way they want or do they have a limit? If so, do they replenish? How do they replenish? There are more questions I need to answer, I'm sure, but this is a good start. I'm thinking I'll write a number list of the rules-Constitution style. 

Can the Power be used for everyday living like electricity, farming, cleaning? How? Since it is expelled, what effects does it have on living things in the surrounding area- people, nature, animals. Are there any animals with powers? How do people use it in battle? Can they imbue their power into an object to make a weapon, for example? Since my characters live in hidden towns, I ask myself how they use their abilities to keep "humans" from discovering their existence. Is there an educational system to teach people how to discover and develop their abilities? Is this system divided into specific abilities such as an educational track that leads to a person becoming an expert at creating shields? What career will this track lead to?

In the history part of my World Building, I got an idea of what the different races are. Now, it's time to figure out how they function in the present. This could go with Society but dividing them helps my mind better process the information. Is there one race that naturally develops  a certain ability? Do they all live together creating a society known for one thing or are the towns a mix of different races? Does being a part of a certain race mean they use their power differently or is it something physical- or both? Did they evolve from something else? Can someone be born to a certain race and be unable to perform the ability the race is known for? 

The whole point of all this is to not only figure out your world but find ways to help you think critically about it. The world is important to the plot the after all. We are creating this by ourselves. Most of us don't have anyone over our shoulder going that doesn't sound right.  If you're like me, no one sees the story until after the umpteenth edit. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dark Fantasy World Building: History

According to Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, when mapping out the history of your Fantasy world you should think about:
  1. "How far back are there records or tales of historical events? How widely known are these stories?
  2. Do average people believe old tales, or do they dismiss some that have a basis in fact (e.g., Troy)?
  3. How long have there been people on this world? Did they evolve, were they created by the gods, or did they migrate from somewhere else? If there are non-humans, how long have they been around and where did they come from?
  4. How similar is the history and culture of an alternate earth to real history and culture? Why is it similar/different?
  5. Where did civilization begin? What directions did it spread? How was its development affected by the presence of magic? The presence of non-human races, if any? The actions or direct interventions of the gods?
  6. Which peoples/countries/races have traditionally fought, allied, traded, or been rivals? Where are there still hard feelings about old events?
  7. Which peoples/countries/races have been in conflict in the recentpast? Why? When and why was the most recent war? Who won?
  8. Which peoples/etc. are considered the most civilized? Which are most technologically advanced? Which are most magically advanced? Least advanced? Why?
  9. Is there a single, generally accepted calendar (including time measurements), or do different countries or peoples or races have different ones?
  10. How many languages are there? Which ones are related (e.g., the Romance languages) and why? Which languages borrow words or phrases from other languages? Which is likely to be most widely spoken?
  11. Is there a “trade language” that facilitates commerce between countries that don’t speak the same tongue? Is there a “universal language” spoken by educated or noble persons, as Latin was in the Middle Ages?"
You gotta know where the world and your characters came from. So simple but I didn't start thinking intensely about this until I got stuck in my second novel. So, in a small journal, I'm writing out the basic backstory of all my characters.  

I'm not halfway through and I'm tired but doing this is useful in seeing your characters' personalities and how and why they relate to each other. For one character, writing out his backstory meant completely changing how I thought of his personality. I'm not doing extensive history, like year by year mapping out, what schools they attended, what their neighborhood was like growing up- not unless it's super important to how the characters are in the story. 

Then, there's the history of the race as a whole. I know basically where they came from. Now, I need to flesh it out more because several difference types of creatures developed from just a couple. So, I'm mapping out how that happened in order to visualize what makes them different. Some species stemmed from an experiment. The history of those would include why the person or people experimented on them, what their purpose was intended to be and how they felt about that purpose. Maybe, who they were before they were experimented on, if that's relevant. 

Another aspect I need to write out is how the different species know about their history- they don't write books that travel and they don't pass the stories orally to the next generation. Most of them don't know where they came from-it's not something the original creatures talk about often. Also, how did different societies interact. If they kept to themselves and why but that's more society and culture then history. straddles the line. 

Since this novel centers on a secret world slowly taking over the world as we know it, I'm figuring out how they kept themselves a secret until now and how they survived off the grid. I didn't need to do this as extensively for my first novel because it was set in pretty much one location. For this one, I'm including many more villages which means, I need to name them all. As if creating character names wasn't hard enough. I can't just throw any word out there and stamp it on a place. It has to fit the story and the genre. 

To do all I've mentioned, I have a World Building Journal, a character journal and pin board on my wall dividing different aspects of my world into categories like occupation, how the race related to humans when they needed to, the first society. I've also included pictures to give me an idea of what their power looks when expelled, the types of buildings in each village, and how each village is arranged. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Dark Side of Popularity

How many times have you said or heard someone say they didn't go near a book because of all the hype? You'd think a lot of hype was a good thing but if it turns away potential readers or turns off people then- what's the point? It's kind of an interesting situation. A lot of hype means people are raving about your book but it also means a lot of people will stay away from it or assume it's terrible simply because it's too popular.

Logically, this makes no sense but I can understand. For instance, with me, I love horror but I've always bypassed Stephen King's books. I love his movies but, in the store, I ignore the many shelves dedicated to his book. Instead, I zoom in on Bentley Little who's popular but not nearly as mainstream as Stephen King. I own three books by King and only picked up one, a short story collection. The stories were well written. I enjoyed them all but I haven't picked up that book in years and probably never will.

Then there's GRRM's Song of Fire and Ice series. I own A Game of Thrones but after one half-hearted attempt to read it, I put it down and haven't picked it up since. I've been meaning to watch the series on HBO but haven't. Interestingly enough, I'd probably really enjoy both. This avoidance has nothing to do with the assumption that if it's popular it must be bad. I don't doubt King and Martin are brilliant writers. I don't doubt they've created stories that defined their genre.

Then, there's the Twilight series. When I read the first three, I found them to be entertaining- a little unrealistic and sometimes creepy (and not in a good way) but still a descent read. But, as it rose in popularity, I went from not caring either way to passionately disliking the series. Finding out someone liked the Twilight series became a deal breaker.

Now, I'm trying to figure out why the change. I knew the books were flawed while I was reading them but I didn't care until they grew in popularity. But, on the other side, I've loved Harry Potter since the beginning and it becoming mega-popular hasn't changed that. It's still my favorite series.

As usual, I turned to Google thinking there must be tons of studies done on this subject. I mean, it isn't exactly new. Turns out, there isn't or they're harder to find. I only found forums none of which talked specifically about books. Check them out.

Why do people hate popular things?
The Escapist Forums 

Both forums provide some interesting explanations but "hate" is not what I'm going for. It's more like popularity is a wall between us and a book we might really like.

So, where do we want to fall as writes? Funny enough, it would be nice if one day my books were read and loved by many. It's not like my all-time goal but if I had a choice between a writing career like Bentley Little or Stephen King, I'd lean towards the latter. It would be nice to be able to make a good living off my books, to write the type of book college students are required to read.

Most of us don't choose this path because we desire fame and fortune but, if our books exploded into popularity like Harry Potter and Twilight we wouldn't turn away the benefits, at least I wouldn't. It's an interesting paradox and one I don't have an explanation for. We want our books to be regarded favorably but we're turned off by books that become too popular.

Logically, shouldn't we be doing back-flips every time a book gets to be so well known the author's name becomes its own brand. We may not want the fame but it should give us hope knowing, despite what people keep saying, it's not completely impossible to make a pretty decent living off our books. Instead, I see the horror section overrun by King's books and get a little annoyed.

I'd love to know why we, of all people, are turned off by authors whose books make them famous, authors who are kind of living our dream. Is there this thinking that since they became so mainstream, they must've sold their souls to write something completely market driven instead of from the heart? Does it have to do with the feeling that the book should be famous not the author? What are your thoughts?

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Avengers 3D: Start of Summer Movie Epicness

First of all, why are aliens always blowing up New York? I mean, the city is awesome but still... Anyway, Avengers was amazing! I really enjoyed myself. Though I love comic books, I hadn't read any involving The Avengers so I have no idea if the movie was faithful to the comic. Marvel must've learned from the X-Men: Last Stand disaster so I doubt they'd deviated from the original, at least not by much.

The Avengers is like a sequel but different. More like Iron Man 1 and 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America were prologues. I love this idea. The characters were all played by the same actors from their personal movies, for the most part. The guy who played Hulk in this one isn't the man who played him in The Incredible Hulk. Since I didn't see The Incredible Hulk, I can't compare to the two actors but I do wonder why they didn't bring back Edward Norton.

Speaking of which, it helps to have seen the characters' personal movies or, at the very least, be familiar with the stories. As I said, I didn't see The Incredible Hulk nor did I see Thor but I didn't have a problem following The Avengers because I was familiar enough with the Hulk and Thor. Also, I've never been a huge Hulk fan but I so enjoyed him in this movie. He was awesome! Didn't expect that.

I left the theater smiling. I'm still smiling just thinking about it. It was so action-packed with a good story and witty dialogue. The movie had some laugh out loud moments. I didn't expect that either but loved it. The characters were all so fun. I even liked the villain. Excellent character development. Though they were all like mega super-heroes, the story never focused on one more than the other.  Nothing was overdone.

I can't think of anything about The Avengers I didn't like. The special effects were amazing. It had some good 3D moments. I'm not saying you should shell out the extra bucks but I don't regret doing it. If anything, the 3D previews more than made up for the extra money I spent on this ticket.

Looks like another Marvel vs. DC summer with The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises. Marvel won last summer but this year, I don't know. The Dark Knight Rises looks like it could crush Marvel's movies. This will be another interesting summer, movie-wise. Looking forward to it!
The last one, Prometheus, is not Marvel or DC related but I had to share it. *Sigh* comic book heroes, Sci-fi and epicness. BTW, they're making another Expendables. Looks like fun.

Friday, May 4, 2012

My Fight Scenes Reek

I've discovered I'm not good at writing fight scenes. The last two books I read made my scenes look so unfortunate.
"He sheathed Retribution and grabbed the hand holding a blade aimed at his belly and yanked a skinny highlander across the circle to stab his fellow. Reaching around his own back with a knife, he diverted a sword thrust while his other knife found an eye socket. Two spears came for him and he dropped to the floor, yanking both forward." The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks. 
How can I write with this much detail?! Then there's The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski.
"Geralt jumped to the side, spun a swift pirouette. The striga rubbed against him, also spun around, slicing through the air with her talons. She didn't lose her balance and attacked anew, mid-spin, gnashing her teeth fractions of an inch from Geralt's chest. The Rivian jumped away, changing the direction of his spin with a fluttering pirouette to confuse the striga." 
The fight scenes in R.A. Salvatore's The Dark Elf Trilogy are pure awesomeness. They made me realize mine could use more than a little work. I guess I could simply not put my characters into any fights but what would be the fun in that?

So, I turn to Google. Turns out, writing fight scenes is harder than I expected. Good thing I enjoy doing research.

If your fight scenes need some help as well, check these articles out. They gave me a lot to think about.

Fight Scenes 101
How to Write Fight Scenes with Alan Baxter
Let's Fight 
Writing Fight Scenes

I'm on the hunt for a good book as well. Any suggestions? If you write fight scenes, I'd love to know how you learned to write them.

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