Monday, February 25, 2013

Dark Skies Review

I bet aliens in a galaxy far, far away are looking at our movies going these humans think we're douche-bags. Had to get that out. Anyway, if you've read my reviews before you know I don't go into movies with high expectations. As long as I'm entertained and forget about the world outside the theater, the movie's a winner.

The trailer for Dark Skies told me nothing so I wasn't expecting much. It looked horror-y so, I decided to give it a chance. Still, I didn't know if it was an alien abduction movie or a horror flick.

Turns out, it is freaking fantastic! I haven't been this excited about a movie since Sinister. It's both sci-fi and horror. It has the feel of a haunted house story but with aliens instead of ghosts or demons.

The acting was amazing, the plot was brilliant even the scares were on point. It had me jumping out of my skin. It wasn't like a Paranormal Activity type jump. I mean I felt like I lost half my life. It almost pulled a little yelp from me. I had to give the movie a "well played".

It's a shame they didn't do more promotion for this one. I wasn't even worried about the tickets being sold out or being a little late. I knew the theater wasn't going to be packed. I try to stay on top horror news and from what I noticed, there wasn't any buzz around Dark Skies.

The only reason I knew about this one was because, out of boredom, I started browsing upcoming movies through the IMDb app and watching the trailers of ones I was curious about.

Pity. The theater should not have been empty. Dark Skies was that good. From the reviews I read, I wasn't the only one surprised at how amazing it was.

They don't make horror like they used to. They definitely don't make them like Dark Skies anymore. I'm not a fan of slasher flicks or creature features but even still, they used to release more of those types of movies then atmospheric ones. Are people watching less horror movies?

For me, I don't read horror anymore because I was tired of picking up books that were supposed to be so terrifying and have them turn out to be so not scary. They were well written but they didn't even give me a little chill. If the horror story didn't scare me then, it didn't do its job. But, I'm always game for a good horror movie. So, what do you think? Why are there less good horror movies being released?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Stretch Your Imagination

The beautiful thing about fantasy wiring is nothing is impossible. I said something along those lines in Fantasy Worlds and Modern Technology. But, old habits die hard.

In my current work-in-progress, one of my characters wields a scythe. Before researching, I imagined it looked like this:

Nothing wrong with that. Right? I thought so until I did a Google image search for "Anime Scythes."

Then I'm like, why am I limiting myself to the first design? It's the same with a sword. Why does it have to look like this:



Why not this:


The way my characters create and use their weapons makes the alternatives totally doable. For them, the weapon it not simply a way to cut down their enemies, it's a tool to channel their power through.

Similarly, when I first designed the landscape, I relied on plants I'd seen but why can't I go full on Avatar and create a completely new species of plants.

When it comes to writing fantasy, question everything. Why does the sky have to blue, the grass green? What if everything in your world grew from the sky down instead of the ground up? It is called fantasy for a reason ;) Have fun with it.
"A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral." (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)


Friday, February 15, 2013

What Lines Inspire You?

You know those passages that make you excited to be a writer. Those descriptions you have to read twice maybe even three times because they are just that good. As a lover of all things horror and dark, I get excited about chilling line and passages.
"A kind of nervous restless which haunted me as a fiend." (Poe M.S Found in a Bottle)
"In the tortured ears there sounds unceasingly a nightmare whirring and flapping, and a faint distant baying as of some gigantic hound. It is not dream - it is not, I fear even madness - for too much already happened to give me these merciful doubts. (Lovecraft The Hound)
 "...seeing already in the dark air the picture of the thing beyond." (Crawford The Dead Smile)
"More grotesque than any drag artist, the thing pirouetted in grim, constricting agony, its strange eyes glazing as I stared in a paralysis of horror. Then it was all over and the frail scarecrow of flesh, purple tongue still protruding from frothing lips, fell in a crumpled heap to the floor" (Lumley Aunt Hester)

Making note of brilliant lines is not just for studying. They're inspirational. Things don't have to be all rainbows and pink unicorns to lift your spirits. I read these and instantly I want to work on my own story to craft passages as brilliant as these.

I'm gonna be honest with you, though, they can be a blow to your self-confidence. I've wondered, and still do, if I can write anything half as good.

These lines may sit 1,000 feet above my current writing. What am I gonna do? Sit at my lowly spot brooding, gazing up at them with a mixture of longing and hatred, wishing I could write that good. Or, work hard as hell to write a glowing story.

What lines inspire you?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Fantasy Worlds and Modern Technology

Why is it, in the 21st Century where we eat, sleep and breathe technology, we, fantasy writers, still build tech free worlds? Urban Fantasy doesn't count. From the books I've read in this subgenre, the setting is familiar. It's like an alternate version of a places we already know.

I'm not looking for anything advanced like something you'd find in Sci-fi. I mean having a non-human character in a made up world watching television. It's not impossible. This is fantasy, nothing is impossible. I could create a rainbow breathing dragon with two massive feathered arms as wings. That's why I love this genre.

Why am I looking for this type of book? The world in my series is closer to ours. The reason it's not set in ours is because I don't want to be restricted with being geographically correct.

For my series to fit the mold, I'd have to change it drastically which, I have no intention of doing. Hence, my dilemma. This had me right on the edge of panic mode. I mean, I've been working on this world for over 7 years now. My story and my characters are kinda set in their ways. Had to step away from writing for a while.

I consulted Googled but didn't find a lot of discussions on this topic. Maybe the genre has some time period requirement I wasn't aware of. According to Wikipedia, fantasy is:
"a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element, theme, or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic is common. Fantasy is generally distinguished from the genre of science fiction by the expectation that it steers clear of scientific themes, though there is a great deal of overlap between the two, both of which are subgenres of speculative fiction.
In popular culture, the fantasy genre is predominantly of the medievalist form, especially since the worldwide success of The Lord of the Rings and related books by J. R. R. Tolkien. Fantasy has also included wizards, sorcerers, witchcraft, etc., in events which avoid horror." 
No requirement here. I read a few more definitions and they said something along the lines of "often set in medieval times." As far as I can tell, there's no rule saying it has to be medieval times.

I'm aware of Steampunk but that's:
"defined as 'a genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advance technology.' Most of the time, you can see this definition of steampunk represented in a story set in a historical time period that features anachronistic and impossible machines." (Impact Books)
Close, but not what I'm thinking of.

Here's an interesting discussion on this topic:
Absolute Writer Water Cooler: Modern technology in fantasy world?

I did some more digging. One issue that came up often was how can you have magic and technology existing together. Valid question. In my world, the population of beings with power is small and they've all managed to use said power to stay hidden. They don't have an organized or developed society.

What do you think? Why are fantasy worlds still set mostly in medieval times? If you know any fantasy novels with tech, that's not Urban Fantasy, I'd love to hear about them.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Writing Apocalyptic Stories

You know what's harder than building a world from scratch. Destroying it and then rebuilding it. I know, kind of a depressing topic but, I'm a dark fantasy writer. We gotta go there.  

With New York in the path of yet another "once in a life time" storm, it's really hard not to think about the end of the world. On top of that, Brooklyn has a coastal flood warning. I mean come on Mother Nature what did we do to piss you off so royally?! Don't answer that. 

Sorry about that little tangent, I'm back now. I didn't decide to write my series this way, the story did. And, as you know, an argument with our story is one we can never win. 

Here's what I've learned about writing apocalyptic stories while working on this series.

Read Books and Watch Movies and TV Series
Doing this will give you elements to remember when writing your own story and let you know what's been done to death. Elements of the Apocalypse is a collection of totally disturbing end-of-life-as-we-know-it novellas. Love them all but won't read them again. Something about those stories got under my skin. Books like this one are great research materials. A new TV series Revolution and an older one Jericho are also amazing resources.  

Anthony Horowitz's top 10 apocalypse books
B&N Community: The Best Apocalyptic Fiction Releases in 2011
The How is Important
We can have the world taken over by an army of mutant bunnies. We're writers. We can make anything realistic if we put enough thought and effort behind it. Also, does the event happen suddenly or is it a slow build-up until one day, the bottom drops from your characters' lives? For instance, in Jericho, the major cities were blown up. That's sudden. In, Day After Tomorrow, half the world didn't completely freeze over until days after the unusual and severe weather started. 

Know Your World
You need to know the ins-and outs of the world so you can properly portray what happens when life is disrupted on a grand scale. What happens with communication? How will the governing body react? If your world has a public water system, waste management and electricity, how long will they be functional?

Have Realistic Reactions
It would be nice if, at the end of the world, everybody helped each other but books and movies have shown us that more than likely people will act like they've trashed their minds and all sense of decency. It's every man for themselves. You can make the world a total cesspool but you could end up thoroughly depressing & disturbing your readers. On the other hand, if your characters become all bunnies and pink unicorns, you'll run the risk of no one believing your story.


Have Strong Characters
This one didn't occur to me until I started researching this topic. But, it does make sense. How annoying would it be to ride the end of the world with someone who cringes and cries at every moment; who can't do anything by themselves. You know, those people who, while running for their lives, cries "I can't go on!" and refuses to move. These types of characters usually don't last long unless they're being carried by a stronger person. Your characters might start out that way but if they're going to survive, they need some steel implanted in their spines. 

Plan How Your Characters Survive
Your survivors will need food, water, supplies, shelter and maybe even weapons. Let's say one person gets sick or breaks their leg while the group is fleeing the city. How are they going to get better with no hospitals? How your characters survive is a good way of showing who they are and what they really value. Does the person with the broken leg get left behind and your protagonist spends the rest of the book being tortured by that decisions or do they haul the injured one across their shoulders, refusing to leave anyone behind? 

io9: 8 Rules For Surviving the Apocalypse 
Apocalypse Tuesday: How to Survive 

Rebuild
You may want your band of survivors to roam the world for the rest of their lives but they aren't the only people in your story. Someone will want to establish a new community, to return to some semblance of stability. This is where the second world building comes in.

More Resources:

Monday, February 4, 2013

What is Cthulhu Mythos Anyway?

“In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”
For years now, I've come across this phrase, Cthulhu Mythos, but never the definition. It must be one of those things everybody knows. Authors have been using it in articles and blog posts, often, but they've never taken the time to define it and, me being too lazy, I never bothered to research it.

From what I gathered, it's a creature and it has something to do with Lovecraft.

Let's get the important stuff out of the way. I've never heard anyone say Cthulhu so I have no idea how to pronounce it.... How fun. Dictionary.com has a definition but no pronunciation.

Well, here's how they define it:
a fictional high priest of elderly gods, sleeping in his city of R'lyeh (Dictionary.com)
I love dictionary.com but this has to be the least helpful definition ever.

The term originated from "The Call of the Cthulhu" by H.P. Lovecraft. I read the story long before I knew about Cthulhu Mythos. So, looked at it again with the mythos in mind.

First of all, I've read only two authors who could pack a story full of adjectives and make it work- Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. This story was so much fun to read. I had to break out my journal and take notes. The way he uses words is brilliant.

So what is a Cthulhu?
"It represented a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind. This thing, which seemed instinct with a fearsome and unnatural malignancy, was of a somewhat bloated corpulence, and squatted evilly on a rectangular block or pedestal covered with undecipherable characters.
The tips of the wings touched the back edge of the block, the seat occupied the centre, whilst the long, curved claws of the doubled-up, crouching hind legs gripped the front edge and extended a quarter of the way down toward the bottom of the pedestal. The cephalopod head was bent forward, so that the ends of the facial feelers brushed the backs of huge fore paws which clasped the croucher’s elevated knees." (The Call of the Cthulhu)
In layman terms, it's a creature with an octopus face and bat-like wings.
As for pronunciation:
"The Thing cannot be described—there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order."(The Call of the Cthulhu)
In other words, there is no one way to pronounce it. By the way, Cthulhu has to be the hardest word to type.

Cthulhu Mythos is a:
"term coined by the writer August Derleth to describe the shared themes, characters, and elements in the works of H.P. Lovecraft, his proteg├ęs, and writers influenced by him. Together, they form the mythos that authors, writing in the Lovecraftian milieu, have used—and continue to use—to craft their stories." (Wikipedia)
Understanding this turned out to be a bigger undertaking than I thought. Cthulhu Mythos is not something you can explain in a couple of words. In order to really understand it, you need to do some significant research.

I had more fun researching this than I expected. It's still amazing how a work of fiction, something that isn't real, can have such an impact on real life.

It reminds me of a study I read last year.
"When you 'lose yourself' inside the world of a fictional character while reading a story, you may actually end up changing your own behavior and thoughts to match that of the character..." (Ohio State University)
Makes you proud to be a writer. ;)

Further Reading:
Wikipedia: Cthulhu Mythos
The H.P. Lovecraft Archive-Popular Culture: The Cthulhu Mythos
Goodreads: Popular Cthulhu Mythos Books
Know your Meme: Cthulhu

Friday, February 1, 2013

Judging Resources

We writers research...a lot. It's unavoidable. No matter what you write, you need to look something up. We know you can't automatically trust anything you read or see on the Internet but you need to vet books as well. How do you determine if a resource is reliable?

Date
This is more for printed materials but it can be applied to digital. When I was in high school, our textbooks said Christopher Columbus discovered America and Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. We now know both statements aren't entirety true. Also, books back then called Pluto a planet which is no longer the case. You see where I'm going?

This was one of the reasons they stopped publishing print encyclopedias. This is the bane of every college student's existence...well one of them. We can't update the content in print material. Publishers simply release a new edition.

Before I invest in any print resources, I look at the copyright date. I'm a little wary of any book published pre-2000's. For me, using a book that old is only acceptable if I'm looking for older info or if that's the only book written on the subject.

There are exceptions. I almost had a heart attack when I saw Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing copyright date was 1994. But, it's an amazing book on wiring  His advice is timeless.

I also look at the copyright date on a website. (Can be found at the bottom of the page) If it doesn't say 2013, I want nothing to do with it. Some information is timeless, some are not.

As a personal rule, I generally don't use books on the publishing industry, getting published, or being a full-time writer published before 2010. I prefer 2011 but I'll go 2010. The publishing industry changes too often to trust content that old.

Update Frequency  
This is similar to date. Most websites have content that's updated frequently. Whether it's a blog post, event notice or industry news. For this, I give the site about a week. If the content is a week old, then it may not be the best place to get information. This is on a case by case basis. If they hadn't posted any updates in a week but before then had been posting regularly then, I give them the benefit of the doubt.

Author
There's a reason websites have "About Me" pages and guest articles/posts have bios at the beginning or end. This is the writer's way of telling you why you should listen to what they have to say.

URL
 No matter your opinion of the government, information found on .gov sites are already vetted. Don't blindly assume everything said is fact but in the world of research, siting .gov is acceptable.

Reviews
I generally don't buy a book without looking at reader reviews on either Goodreads or Amazon, sometimes both. If you've ever checked out a reader/user review, you know they're as good or better then the critics and there are usually a lot of them. And, they're extensive.

I look at them to determine why people like or don't like this book. 20 people could dislike a book but their reason could be something I like in a book. Or, it could be the opposite. 20 people love the book for something I dislike.

I'm wary of books on Amazon written pre-2010 without a review. One thing this Social Media age has taught us is people like to voice their opinions. If the resource is that old and no one has said anything about it then, it may not be worth your investment. This type of book warrants a library visit.

Appearance
I use this more for videos and websites. Every so often you may come across a website that looks like this:
It doesn't matter to me if the site is dated 2013, this 90's design does not scream "I know what I'm talking about".

Same with videos. The below video has the potential to be a brilliant resource because of how the content is presented. 
The saying "Don't judge a book by its cover" only applies to people. Resources wrapped in unimpressive packaging don't scream trust me.

What About Wikipedia
You've heard how untrustworthy Wikipedia is. How people have created false content. However, in grad school I read a convincing article about why Wikipedia isn't so terrible. I've come across several instances where someone put content on it that wasn't true and another person, or people, came behind them and fixed it.

This was the argument the article made to why Wikipedia wasn't the bane of every researcher's existence. You have dozens of people working on one entry. Wikipedia shouldn't be your only resource but if you know nothing about a topic, it's a good place to start.

An Aside
I'm generally wary of any article, blog post or book titled "8 ways to succeed as a writer" or "How to write a bestseller" or "The keys to a brilliant plot." There is no one way to do anything, especially writing. There is no secret to writing; no 12 step plan that'll ensure you write an amazing book. Titles like these are misleading.

You could follow their steps and still produce a bad book. In terms of any writing advice, remember it is their opinion. Even if the content was written by a professional in the field with an impressive resume, it still doesn't mean what worked for them will work for you. No matter the author, I approach all writing advice as suggestions.