I stepped out onto the balcony a couple of nights ago to take a break from the work. The evening air is clean and crisp, and there's usually a nice breeze (I'm on the 7th floor, with no wind obstructions). I happened to look southwest and caught this stunning combination at sunset. The moon appears to be flying toward the horizon, with Venus caught in its contrail.
Simple moments like this, infused with stunning colors, is a reminder of the enormity of nature and the smallness of each of us. It is also a reminder to slow down and pay attention to the breathtaking moments that are easily overlooked amid a full work calendar weighted down with many responsibilities and deadlines.
That's it, folks. No more pontificating. Pause. Reflect. Now back to your life.
It would be easy for me to raise my hackles, but I'll try to restrain myself.
So, I'm reading about these high school athletes who are working out endorsement deals for their name, image, and likeness that will bring them hundreds of thousands of dollars before they graduate. I read of the 10-year-old who has a silly YouTube channel and is monetizing it for millions. In the meantime, I pound away at the keyboard, hoping the next book can help build my brand, a few hundred dollars at a time.
I take a breath, put away my petty jealousy (GET OFF MY LAWN, YOU CRAZY KIDS!) and resume my work, which gives me enormous daily pleasure. The world is changing, I'm not going to be a YouTube star :( , and I'll be eligible for Medicare in a few years. Eh.
This does, however, segue into my main topic: Writer jealousy. Or as the syndrome is also known: He's really successful, he's too big for his britches, so I'm going to tear him down.
I recently read a quote from Stephen King, who made a blanket comment about writers who overindulged in plot. I'm not going go into the specifics of it, although I thought it to be valuable insight. What interested me was the response to this quote, which was posted in a Facebook group for independent writers. (Please note the target audience. These are not random civilians.)
While there was considerable debate about King's advice, I found a rather staggering number of these folks went after King himself as a writer and bemoaned how, in the words of one uninteresting soul, "Anyone can stand to read this guy's books. They're awful." Many others expressed a loathing that I suspect was more a product of his tremendous, decades-long success that guarantees each of his works hits the bestseller list.
Now, I'm not here to praise King or bury him. Personally, The Stand was one of the great reads of my childhood. What I find fascinating is when people of limited success relatively speaking go after someone in the same field who has had enormous success, acting as if he either doesn't deserve it or achieved it under sketchy circumstance. It's open season to debate the merits of another's work - we pay people money to do just that - but it seems counterproductive at best to slough off advice of an extremely successful achiever, when in fact the advice might be worth your time.
For instance, I'll say straight up I'm no fan of Nicholas Sparks. I find his work schmaltzy and manipulative, and the plots repetitive. However, the dude is independently wealthy and he found an audience for his work. More than twenty years ago, early in his career, he spoke at a writer's conference I attended. He spoke of his editing process and how he condensed one scene in particular down to its essence. Using his techniques to great extent will produce a short novel - a mid-afternoon snack as opposed to a five-course meal. However, the key point he was making about giving greater value to each sentence rather than droning on without end is something I have not forgotten.
This advice could have come from many writers (although certainly not George R.R. Martin, who goes the opposite way), but I try to take the advice to heart, not the writer. So as I continue to pound the keyboard in relative anonymity, I'll think about the advice and not get wrapped up in trying to tear down the messenger.
Most people who know the science fiction genre well, when asked to rank the greatest (or perhaps, most important) works of all time, might be all over the place when it comes to many titles. However, I would think two would make everyone's top 10 list - and most in the top 5. I'm referring to Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" and Frank Herbert's "Dune." Simple, one-word titles that convey utterly nothing but represent monumental ideas and epic storytelling.
Later this year, new screen versions of each will arrive, and I'm excited to see how they pull off their interpretation of these works. Although "Dune" has been tried twice before - David Lynch's mixed-bag but elegant 1984 film starring Kyle MacLachan, and the mostly-empty bag 2000 miniseries on the Sci-Fi Channel - neither achieved universal acclaim or a massive fan following for a variety of reasons. For many, the book is simply too massive and its themes too deep to effectively capture on film. I don't buy that reasoning, as many critics used the same argument about "Lord of the Rings" before Peter Jackson turned it into a triumph.
"Foundation" is a remarkable work that spans many books, but also crosses generations - covering more than a thousand years, ultimately. Characters and plots, while building on the previous, change regularly. Perhaps that's why no one has tried to bring this story to film before now.
The trailers for both "Foundation" and "Dune" look spectacular, and I have a sense the producing teams are taking these works seriously, remaining as loyal to the text as practical. We'll see. Foundation debuts September 24 on AppleTV+, while Dune hits the theaters (I hope) on October 22. It's already been moved twice on the calendar.
In the meantime, I have begun reading the "Foundation" books and will re-read "Dune" later in the fall. I think it will be fascinating to analyze both works in these different contexts. I'll be reporting back here and also on my new YouTube channel, which I'm debuting next week. Until then, happy reading.
What a day! What a day! What a day!
I'm sitting here listening to the soundtrack from the film Gravity while laying out my business goals for the remainder of 2021 - and eating stunningly scrumptious Banana Pudding ice cream by Bluebell. I'm realizing a few things: 1/ I have to pretend that tub of ice cream isn't really in the freezer, or I'll eat this stuff until I'm sick. 2/ Gravity was a tense, taut, and efficiently made sci-fi flick that I really need to see again. 3/ I haven't written a blog in three months. Again. Ugh.
Don't know what it is about me and blogs. I mean, I'm a writer. It's all about the written word for me. Yet I find myself dropping onto this page about every quarter.
Well, that's going to change. Has to. Why? Simple. I'm retired from teaching - and THIS is my business now. No, not blogging. It's full-on, balls-to-the-wall, storytelling until I'm dead or insane. It's a heck of a feeling.
Among other things, it means I need to have more fun with this blog. Therefore, I intend to show up here at least once a month. (That would be a sizable improvement.) There's much I can say. But what would you like to see? Feel free to add a comment here or send me a message through my Contact form.
Until next time: Check out Bluebell ice cream, if it's in your neck of the woods.
Jeesh! I have been slacking off. Four months since my last blog. OK, so I'm embarrassed.
Look, it's not like I haven't been busy. Between starting up a new series, converting the old series into a box set, and working toward developing a brand for myself, this writing business can be quite a time-consuming gig. And then there's the matter of having my artist re-do all my Impossible Future covers because ... well ... book buyers are fickle. So am I.
I think 2021 has enormous possibilities (especially once we've crossed the biggest hurdles to ending this pandemic), and I want to position myself for new opportunities. Who wouldn't? Writing is insanely fun, but it's also one of the most difficult things a person can do - assuming you plan on doing it right.
The new series, Beyond the Impossible, should launch later in the spring. It's a nine-book series (well, I hope I can contain the whole story there). The cover for Book One is done, and I want a seamless look across multiple series. This "want" requires money. My artist is very happy with me. I've put about $1400 in her bank account the past couple of months. Fortunately, the federal government is handing me $1400 of stimulus, so I'll think of it as a refund. I also know I won't be so lucky again.
In the meantime, I have a new logo I'll be using as often as I can. I like it: Simple but dynamic. I hope you agree.
Until next time (I'm going to shoot for May at the latest), here's to everybody as we collectively rebrand for a post-pandemic world.
OK. So, yeah. It's been generally pretty crappy. I can run off a long list of reasons, and your list might be more generous. However, the world spins, the sun rises, and people laugh. Seems to me that's a recipe for hope.
Here then are a few reasons (personally and globally) why 2020 has been, on balance, a positive experience.
1/ We aren't complacent anymore. All those years of warnings from epidemiologists about the dangers of a lethal new virus? Mostly, they went unheard and unheeded. Most of us now know much more about viral contagions and public health issues. (Ignore the conspiracy theorists. All societies have a vocal contingent of village idiots.)
2/ Even in the darkest of times, money can be made. Lots of it, apparently. Just ask all the billionaires who have fattened their wallets.
3/ The written word is more powerful than ever (and I'm not referring to presidential tweets). I'm heartened that important, mainstream media sources (New York Times, Washington Post, and others where quality journalism matters) have seen huge growth in their subscription numbers. Moreover, people are reading books at a fantastic rate. I'm thrilled that I was able to finish The Impossible Series this year and see steady growth in readership. I'm excited about what's next.
4/ Amid all the challenges, this nation rose up and voted like never before (more than 20 million more voters than four years ago). Best yet, they voted for a hopeful future. (Again, ignore the conspiracy theorists. Some people stop growing up after they turn thirteen.)
And for the sake of argument, here are some other nifty developments: "The Mandalorian"; sports without fans (not as bad as I expected); the rise of Sarah Cooper (YouTube her, peeps!); toilet paper hoarding (pathetic but funny); "The Queen's Gambit"; Microsoft Teams and Zoom (how else to do remote school?); Baby Yoda toys (nothing says "awww" like a dose of the baby); and a new sink in Casa Kennedy (no, really - this is a big deal).
The last couple of years have been a haze at time, as I pushed through books two through four of The Impossible Future in between work hours of my day job. Writing the final pages of the final chapter, The Promised Few, in early August was strangely bittersweet. I spent so much time focusing on reaching the summit that by the time I planted the flag, I realized I might not have appreciated the journey to the extent I should have.
Nonetheless, launch month is here, and now it's time to turn to the world of marketing and advertising. The final week of the month will be a telling sign of the future, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the reading public responds. I'm cheering for a big boost, but that also puts the pressure on to get back to work building the next saga.
The next few months will bring new stories - large and small - and a slew of new characters, but all within the Collectorate universe of The Impossible Future. If things go well, I'm aiming to produce one short story per month. Maybe they will motivate me to write this blog more than once a season!
I'm not sure a quarterly blog is a particularly effective style of communication. I must (and will) do better. Sometimes, the journey (as a writer, a teacher, a gardener, and a bewildered observer of this utterly surreal world) can be taxing, to say the least. Every day I see countless topics worthy of commentary, but far too many seem like a poor fit for a site featuring a writer of fiction. Plus, I must bite my tongue every time I want to delve into a political rant. However, here are a couple of observations that seem relevant:
1/ I suspect the sub-genre for pandemic thrillers is probably going to go bust. I doubt the fear factor inherit in those books will seem quite as, oh, FEARFUL anymore. Those writers might as well do their research and switch over to non-fiction. Think of it like this: Folks who write tales of alien first contact had best hope that's not the next epic headline. Yikes. On the other hand, if the aliens are hostile, they'll blow us to silly little bits and none of it will matter a wit.
2/ I think we all know that as technological conveniences have ramped up our ability to do more work in less time, to get where we want to go in less time, and to deliver products we bought online to our doorstep within a day or two, we have a tendency to become impatient with aspects of life's journey that maybe we used to take in stride. There's an old saw that says life is about the journey, not the destination; but we have clearly become destination-centric. Gotta have it, gotta have it now. I think about this because, as I write Book 4 in The Impossible Future series, humanity (in another universe) stands on the brink of a huge technological leap that might allow instantaneous transportation between any two designated points in the galaxy. Gotta be there, gotta be there now! On the surface, the idea seems cool. Want to take a trip to the third planet of Proxima Centauri? Step inside the machine, my friend, and you'll be there in all of thirty seconds.
But would it be cool? Aside from all those dumb Earthers spreading their (name your virus) to the fine folks of Proxima III (and eventually wiping them out), imagine the military potential here. Anytime, anywhere. No warning whatsoever. Frightening, to say the least. But from a dramatic standpoint, very cool indeed.
In the interest of avoiding the current topic which is dominating global headlines and is something of a buzzkill, let's have a little fun. My last post (a whole three months ago) was Star Wars-related, so let's keep the joy going.
I have previously mentioned my affection for the series and my anticipation for the conclusion, The Rise of Skywalker. Seems like that happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Doesn't it, though? Disney rolled out the digital release sooner than expected, which has allowed me to revisit the film and put it into perspective vis a vis the previous eight. In short, I'm pleased with where we ended up 42 years after the saga began. NOTE: Huge spoilers ahead. But if you're reading this, and you care, you've already seen this flick multiple times.
ROS was not without its glaring flaws (anyone with a discerning eye or brain can pick apart all nine, truth be told), and J.J. Abrams packed a wallop of a story into less than 2.5 hours, which did make it feel a bit rushed at times. But three elements stay with me that call to the success of the final episode.
1/ We end where we began (i.e. with A New Hope), and the Skywalker name permeates to the final line. Rey can carry on the mantle if she desires, but even if this story means peace for the galaxy and an opportunity for the last Jedi to take early retirement, the great spiritual and political challenges of the saga have been resolved.
2/ I love how J.J. managed to bring us Luke, Leia, and Han in meaningful roles (even if cameos) in a way that felt right. Seriously, did anyone truly believe the big three were going to survive this latest trilogy (with or without Carrie Fisher's passing)? Each made a sacrifice for the greater good to move the galaxy forward. Purpose served.
3/ Rey as the granddaughter of Palpatine and as a Force Dyad with Ben Solo works for me. It explains her mysterious origin story from The Force Awakens and her staggering (and stunning) ability to use the Force. Like with Luke, she was pushed to her limits in order to avoid the dark side of her nature.
Only wee little complaint that I wish were answered (and I'm not alone here): How did Palpatine and his creepy Siths-in-shadow build that massive fleet with planet-killing ability without anyone in the New Republic finding out? This is where space opera requires a wink and a nod and shouldn't be taken so damn seriously. Also, revealing that Palpatine was actually a clone (the movie novelization tells us this) would have helped answer the question of how he "survived" the destruction of the second Death Star.
Quibbles. No more. I'm satisfied.
My last blog focused on my long history with Star Wars, and how the original film sparked my imagination. I talked of my anticipation for Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. While I did enjoy the conclusion of the saga (it had pacing issues but packed many great emotional beats), something else happened since that last blog. Specifically, a little project on Disney+ called The Mandalorian.
I must admit I went into this with trepidation, not even sure it would be worth my time. Now, several weeks later, with the eight-episode first season concluded, I can say that I have watched every episode at least three times. (Nerd alert!) The finale received a fourth viewing this morning. Very simply, I haven't been this excited about the franchise in a long, long time. Judging from the reaction across the internet, apparently many people agree.
I could go on and on about Baby Yoda, a character so adorable he'll melt even the most hardened hearts. Instead, I think what excites me about this series (returning in fall 2020) is that it brings the Star Wars universe back to the basics. A compelling story with a few characters who we are given time to know and love (or hate), vivid worlds that take us beyond the familiar sites of the Skywalker saga, and a sharp-witted sense of humor that reminds us we are supposed to be having A GOOD TIME watching these stories. And the production values are top-notch cinema quality.
The Star Wars universe is populated by thousands of worlds with infinite story possibilities. We'll soon be seeing other live-action series featuring Obi-Wan Kenobi and a prequel series to Rogue One featuring Cassian Andor. Is it possible that it's time for the movies to end? I'm thinking ... maybe.