Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Creepy Similes and Metaphors: A Way To Build Atmosphere

Right now, I'm reading Writing Horror edited by Mort Castle (I think it's an older edition of a book I already own) and I've recently returned to the library the newest edition of F. Paul Wilson's Nightworld. That's gotten me thinking about ways to improve my own writing, particular the horror or more horror-oriented parts of it.

Two important pieces of figurative language are simile and metaphor. One of the essays in Writing Horror points out how useful creepy similes and metaphors can be in setting up an atmosphere of dread.

Here's a selection from Nightworld. Evil millennia-old sorcerer Rasalom has implanted himself in the ground beneath Central Park and is undergoing a physical transformation fueled by the fear, pain, etc. of the world he has caused to fall progressively into endless night (with swarms of nasty bugs and other creatures to make things more fun).

And as he feeds, Rasalom gains mass, grows larger, thicker. The granite walls of the pocket flake away to accommodate his increasing size. The chips slide to the bottom and collect there like shattered bones. (pg. 96, Nightworld, F. Paul Wilson, 2012)

As if things weren't unpleasant enough, "like shattered bones" provides more dark imagery.

I've put this to work in The Thing In The Woods. I've written some short horror stories and published them either independently ("Melon Heads" and "The Beast of the Bosporus") or sold them to others ("I am the Wendigo," "Nicor"). Thing will be my first horror novel and given my mixed success writing horror, I'll need to up my game.

Although only the prologue has been completed, I was sure to include some dark figurative language. For example, the wind blows over the bare skin of a sacrifice victim like a knife scraping over bare skin. I think I have some more of that--and if I don't, I'll need to add some. The prologue features a human sacrifice and the first appearance of the titular thing and then we don't see overt supernatural doings for three or so chapters, so it'll need to be awesome.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Good Uruk-Hai and a Female Robb Stark? Some Fan-Fics For You

The keen minds of my alternate-history forum are at it again, with two new alternate-universe stories taking place in the worlds of A Song of Ice and Fire and Lord of the Rings respectively.

The first one is entitled "The She-Wolf Reborn" and the gist of it is that Robb Stark is born a girl named Anna. Although she looks a great deal like her mother Catelyn Stark, she takes after her late aunt Lyanna in personality. Mayhem ensues.

"Butterflies" from this divergence include Theon Greyjoy at the Wall (for trying to rape Anna), Sansa Stark betrothed to Eddard Karstark and having the dreams of a three-eyed crow, actually meeting Willas Tyrell, and others I won't describe for reasons of spoilers. Author JBO has been so kind as to use some of my ideas, such as a different fate for Mycah the butcher's son. Although he said things are still going to go to hell, they'll go to hell rather differently from canon and I'd like to see it.

The second story is entitled "Saruman of Many Devices." The premise is that the palantir Saruman used in canon to communicate with (and be corrupted by) Sauron has some kind of defect. Instead of connecting Isengard to Mordor, it connects Isengard to Center, the artificial intelligence from David Drake and S.M. Stirling's "The General" series. Saruman in the books is an innovator already, with his Uruk-Hai using gunpowder at Helms Deep and Isengard being transformed into an industrialized war-production site. With the aid of Center, he brings rifles and artillery into Middle-Earth and hilarity (and awesomeness) ensue. Among other things, the Uruk-Hai (under the command of Lurtz) come to the aid of Arwen when she flees with Frodo from the Ringwraiths and earn grudging admission to the anti-Sauron alliance and Uruk armies battle Sauron's horse barbarians as they attack north of Gondor. But the secret of gunpowder weapons has begun to spread...

(As those more familiar with the LOTR books vs. the films can tell, the story draws a lot from the films, like the character Lurtz, Arwen being the one who takes Frodo to Rivendell, etc.)

You all have fun!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Soon I Shall Be On YouTube!

I am a member of a North Fulton meetup.com group and through this group, I met my friend Thomas Herman. He and his brother have a YouTube channel with lots of amusing videos. Earlier tonight, I guest-starred on his channel. This consisted of interacting with an alien puppet that asked me if I feared he would take my job and if I wanted to deport him to Space Mexico before we sat down to discuss my Kindle stories.

It should go online within a day or two and I will post it here when it does. In the meantime, here are some amusing videos from his channel.

This is a funny one he showed me just before the interview began.



On My 64 Parody

This one is one of if not the most popular video.



The Alien Song: A Brief Guide To Extraterrestrial Terminology

Enjoy everybody!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Research and the Changes It Can Bring

I first sent my novel Battle for the Wastelands to a publisher last September and when I didn't hear back within six months, I was told I could resubmit (since I'd made changes) and due to the delay, could submit to another publisher too. I sent out the then-current draft to the two publishers and to a few agents as well, one of whom wanted the first three chapters and a detailed synopsis. Back to waiting.

In the meantime, I'd found a couple library books that were interesting and could be useful to my writing. The first book is Empire of the Summer Moon, which is a history of the Comanche Indians, while the second is City of Fortune, a history of the city of Venice during its heyday as a maritime republic.

In the Wastelands world, the surviving armies of the Merrill dynasty and various civilian refugees eke out a precarious existence on the fringes of the Northlands, periodically raiding the villainous Flesh-Eaters for supplies and living in refugee camps. Their existence resembles the Comanche, except their reliance on agriculture reduces their mobility. This makes them more vulnerable to being run down and killed, plus their enemies possess squadrons of airships that make it easier to spot them.

However, Empire references how one of the defenses the Comanche enjoyed against Spanish/Mexican and American imperialism was the Llano Estacado. The vastness and hostility of this terrain made gave the Comanche a refuge that wasn't even penetrated by their (non-Indian) enemies until the later 19th Century.

This necessitated a revision of the world's geography--there's a new region called "the high plains" southwest of protagonist Andrew Sutter's hometown of Carroll Town where due to the hostile geography, the Merrill remnant is safe and even has a base for raiding. I'm going to need to sit down with a pencil and piece of copy paper to map out the geography again. I already had the river valley of Carroll Town transition to badlands to the Iron Desert itself realistically; now I need to make sure the badlands (north) and desert (south) transition into the high plains further west as well. I'll also need to explain why the high plains are located where they are. Right now, I'm thinking some kind of tectonic or volcanic action forced the land upward into slightly cooler altitudes and produced an occasional spring to allow for more vegetation than the badlands or the desert.

Meanwhile, City of Fortune provided an explanation for why even though centuries have passed since the end of the Old World, there has been so little contact between the Northlands and the peoples below the Iron Desert, to the point many people believe the Iron Desert goes on forever. There is a western ocean and that would allow for ships to bypass the desert. I handwaved that in the earlier drafts by saying that warfare before Grendel united the lands between the mountains and the deserts and the seas consumed resources that could be spent on trade and exploration. However, even during the Dark Ages, sea trade and travel in the former lands of the Western Roman Empire never stopped.

So I added a new polity south of the desert, the city of Everett. They're a mercantile republic like Venice and other Italian cities used to be and they have (and enforce) a monopoly on trade between north and south. The Northlands, so recently united, does not have a large fleet and breaking Everett's monopoly will take a long war in a field that Grendel and friends have little experience. However, the trickle of trade across the Iron Desert shows it can be crossed, so Grendel's plan to expand his empire south of the desert, in addition to providing his warlords something to do, also serves to break Everett's monopoly on large-scale trade. It can even force them into an alliance--having lost their monopoly, they'll need to join Grendel in expansion in the south to avoid falling into irrelevance.

That research didn't require many changes to the first novel, but required more changes to later books that cover Grendel's war in the south and the eventual return to the Northlands. There will be an entirely new military campaign that Andrew and Grendel will not be involved in that could be the domain of spinoff novellas and even additional novels. Think the Ender's Shadow series that follows the side-character Bean from Ender's Game. Had Tolkien been inclined, he could have written additional novels dealing with the other theaters of the War of the Ring--the books primarily cover the war between Sauron and Gondor in the south, but additional material references Sauron's armies sacking Dale and besieging the Dwarven kingdom of the Lonely Mountain and battling the Elves as well. The latter could have been a novel centering on Galadriel and her kin much like how the canonical novels centered on the Fellowship of the Ring.

These changes might be a surprise for the editors if they accept the book and send me a list of rewrites that ignore these issues. However, nothing is canon until it's printed. Better that I deal with these issues now rather than realize them after the first book is available. And the introduction of Everett has provided a massive opportunity for spinoffs and even licensed fiction.

Just got to sell the first one. Just got to sell the first one.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Blast from the Past Movie Review #2: Jurassic Park (1993) (SPOILERS)

Last Saturday, I saw Jurassic Park 3D with a friend and some of his friends. Given how I first saw the movie in 1993 in the theaters, it seemed an appropriate time for another "blast from the past" movie review.

(Before we begin, one caveat. I spent a substantial chunk of the movie outside of the theater when I first saw it at age 8. The scene at the beginning with the raptor killing the worker was frightening and I wasn't inclined to see more, so I didn't really see a lot of it the first time around. I did watch the whole thing on video many times later.)


The Good

The film moves along incredibly quickly and is almost never boring. The dinosaur attack sequences, especially the T-Rex chasing the Jeep, were really well-done. And there is so much foreshadowing, especially where the raptors are concerned. One of the biggies is that Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) tells the obnoxious kid at the beginning of the movie how raptors would hunt by ambush and later Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck) is killed that way.

There's a lot of subtext I never noticed before--namely how Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) has his hands all over Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) much of the time. He uses his explanation of chaos theory as an excuse to play with one of her hands and at another point, he's playing with her hair in the middle of the conversation. And although it's implied Ellie and Dr. Grant are an item, I didn't pick up on the massive "territory issues" going on between Grant and Malcolm before the T-Rex escapes. Also, Malcolm's foolhardy attempt to distract the T-Rex from the kids and Dr. Grant makes a lot more sense--not that long before, he'd told Grant he had three children. He's reacting a lot more emotionally than the superficially child-unfriendly Grant is.

And Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) does display some foresight. When he makes his bid to steal the dinosaur embryos, he is sure to leave the power on for the raptor pen. Ironically it was undoing his work by rebooting the system that allowed them to escape. This shows he'd at least considered the possibility that he wouldn't be able to turn everything back on in fifteen minutes after delivering the embryos and for reasons either selfless (not disliking Hammond and friends to the point he wanted them dead) or selfish (not wanting to get in trouble) he didn't want to risk their lives.

Also, when Donald Gennaro is attending the presentation on how the cloning actually works with the others, he uses the word "auto-erotic" instead of "animatronic" when he is wondering if the scientists were real or if this was a mock-up of the lab.

Finally, the park's veterinarian is named Gerry Harding. Sarah Harding, who becomes Malcolm's girlfriend later (in both the book and film), is also an animal scientist of some kind. Given how Harding becomes involved with Malcolm even though most people think he's a conspiracy-theory nutbag for trying to reveal what really happened in Isla Nublar, if it turns out she's related to that Harding (Crichton apparently said she's his daughter), that makes a lot of sense. The senior Harding might have followed his non-disclosure agreement in public but told his daughter what really happened in private.

I don't recall anything specific that was improved by the 3D--I don't even recall anything jumping out at me--but I do remember seeing a lot more detail on the T-Rex at the end when she roars in the middle of the visitor's center. There's blood on her teeth from killing the raptor and there are some wounds on her shoulder from when the raptor leaped on her and started clawing. That was cool.

The Bad

Malcolm's theory about how the park was destined to fail makes no sense. If he focused on Hammond's cutting corners to save money (i.e. no moats or other passive barriers to contain the dinosaurs if the fences failed, automating everything, etc), that would make a lot more sense. Instead he comes off as a borderline pantheist--nature will rebel against any attempt to control it, the project is destined to fail for that reason, and dinosaurs should not be cloned because nature "selected" them for extinction.

(Ahem. Absent God, the extinction of the dinosaurs was a cosmic accident. Had the space rock been knocked off course just a smidge, it would have missed the Earth entirely and it'd be an evolved Gallimimus or something typing this blog post about some other movie.)

Yes, the park did fail, but he had no way to really know that. It's like the young-earth people correctly pointing out the Piltdown Man was a fraud. Yes, they were right, but for the wrong reasons.

And then there's him calling discovery "the rape of the natural world." Yes, scientists have sometimes been careless and destructive (the "bone wars" that saw many fossils destroyed come to mind), but he was denouncing exploration of the natural world categorically.

Also, it seems like they abandoned the park for no reason. Relatively few people (Nedry, Muldoon, Arnold, Gennaro) actually died, the power was restored, the most dangerous animals (the raptors) were dead (with the possible exception of the one locked in the freezer, which would probably be a lizard-sicle within a few hours), and subduing the too-big-to-hide T-Rex wouldn't be that difficult. The San Francisco Zoo didn't get (permanently) shut down due to a couple tiger attacks, after all. In the second film InGen people reference spending over $120 million to destroy the park (including language implying they'd killed the dinosaurs)--surely it would have cost less to recapture any escaped dinosaurs and clean up the mess they'd made.

The Verdict

Overall, it's a very well-done and entertaining movie. 8.5 out of 10.

Another Note

The computers used in the movie are incredibly dated, with Lex (Ariana Richards) going gaga over a computer having a CD-ROM, which I remember being a new and awesome thing at the time. Obviously that's not something that can be helped given how the movie was made in 1993, but it's interesting to see how computers have evolved in a relatively short time period.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

"Warm Bodies" Movie Review (2013) (SPOILERS)

Last Saturday, I finally saw the film Warm Bodies, the teen zombie romance based on the book I reviewed awhile back. Here's my review.


The Good

The stuff that happens after R.'s zombie group attacks Julie's team and especially after R. infiltrates the walled-off portion of the city still controlled by humans is extremely entertaining. I was actually concerned for the characters, which isn't something that happens very often. That half of the movie is also where the funniest jokes were, including Julie and her friend Norah giving R. a makeover so he doesn't seem so pallid and, well, dead.

There's a good bit of social satire, which is more clear in the film than in the book. In the beginning, R. is reminiscing about the days before the zombie apocalypse and how people were able to have real conversations (unlike the zombies, who just grunt a lot). He then has a flashback to everybody walking around on their smart-phones, not actually talking to anybody. We also get the origin of the "boneys," the most corpse-like and inhuman of the zombies. The book hints that people turning into zombies was the result of a lack of human communication and connection and this scene gets it across.

The film also cuts some aspects of the book that I didn't particularly enjoy, like R. having a "zombie wife" and "zombie children" that needed to be trained to hunt humans or R.'s zombie wife "cheating" on him. That slowed down the book and I'm glad they got rid of it.

I like how the movie version spared Julie's father, the human general and apparent ruler of the human enclave. In the book he and one of the "boneys" kill each other just as the zombies start turning human again en masse. I think that's supposed to be symbolic about how he's gotten so overzealous that he, like the "boneys," has become unable to adapt. In the movie, he's a lot more reasonable and even has a really amusing line at the end.

The ending is also clever. The revived zombies are reintegrated into human society by simple expedient of them and the humans teaming up to obliterate the "boneys." The film ends with R. and Julie watching as the walls around the human enclave are dynamited. The symbolism of the walls between people coming down was really well-done.

The Bad

The early part of the movie before R.'s zombie group attacks Julie and her friends is rather dull and not particularly funny. That's not really a good thing for a comedy. That's my one major complaint and that's a pretty big one.

In the book, R. has conversations in his head with Perry, Julie's prior boyfriend who he killed and ate. We don't see any of that in the movie except for a single dream sequence. Although too much of that would have slowed the movie down, it could have been a good concept to explore.

The Verdict

Although it's good to encourage originality in movies, I'm glad I waited for the dollar theater. It was worth $2 to see, but not worth $12. 6.0 out of 10.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"Santa's Boot Camp": The Movie I PA'd For

Right now, I'm helping do social media for a film entitled Santa's Boot Camp. I got the position after doing some production-assistant work when the movie was being filmed last December/January. Here's the trailer for your entertainment.



If you like what you see, here's the Facebook fan page. Periodically, new interviews with cast and crew members will be posted.

UPDATE: The movie has an official website now and is raising funds to finish post-production.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

HR 452: A Gun Bill I Can Get Behind

As those of you who are my regular readers know, I am a strong defender of gun rights. I am extremely disinclined to compromise with the anti-gun people because some of them, by their own admission, would use any compromise (say, an assault weapons ban) as a step toward a total ban and because rights aren't up for debate.

That being said, rights have responsibilities and in the case of firearms, which make it far more easier to kill people than, say, an ax or a baseball bat, this is particularly important. Much of the gun crime in this country is the result of people not taking their responsibilities seriously. A major problem is "straw purchasing" in which someone who does not have a criminal record

So here's a bill that would drastically increase the penalties for straw purchasing at the federal level--up to 20 years. It's H.R. 452, sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), co-sponsored by 109 others, and endorsed by the NAACP, which recognizes straw buyers as the ones providing the guns to hooligans ravaging urban communities. No legitimate rights are being targeted--in fact, buying guns as gifts for people allowed to possess arms is explicitly permitted.

However, as one might expect with a sensible solution to a problem, it doesn't seem to be getting anywhere. It's been in committee since Feb. 4 and doesn't look like it's coming out anytime soon.

If those of us who believe in protecting the right of the individual to bear arms and at the same time want to keep those who abuse their rights from harming others want this measure to pass, it's time to do something about this. For a long time I've been a member of the site Congress.org, which allows people to write to their elected officials with just one click. I just went back there and I can't find the write-the-elected-officials feature (and the "help" function doesn't seem to work), but there are other ways to contact your Congressmen (or women).

Let's do something constructive.

Friday, April 5, 2013

My eBook Experiment: Successes And Failures

Here's my third post on the e-publishing experiment I first embarked on in September 2012. Here are some lessons I have learned...

For starters, my initial hypothesis that I could earn more money by posting short fiction I have been unable to sell on Amazon and/or Smashwords than by sending it to print or online markets offering nominal fees (like $5 per story or $10 per story) has borne out so far. As of April 2013, I have been paid by Amazon approximately $24 with the four short stories I've got posted there. That comes out to be an average of $6 per story. This already covers the markets that offer only exposure or the lowest of payment.

(That being said, I have spent a large sum on advertising on both Facebook and Google that has eclipsed the revenue from the project, so I might not see a real profit for some time. Although this advertising in all likelihood played a role in the sales I did make, no money on advertising and only one quarter or one third of the sales equals profit, albeit a tiny one.)

Secondly, spiffy cover art does not necessarily translate into sales. Three of my four stories had cover art done for credit or for help on future projects and they have sold decent numbers, while Illegal Alien had a beautiful cover that I paid $45 for--and it's been the worst seller. Obviously you want to avoid the sucky cover art that plagues so many self-published works, but there is such a thing as overdoing it.

Thirdly, one way to generate sales of other product is to give some product away free. My Amazon sales have thus far dwarfed my Smashwords sales ($24 vs. $2.07) in part because I had all of my stories on KDP Select at various points. This allowed me to give stories away for free for several days at a time. In one specific case, I remember making my short story I am the Wendigo available for free for a time and making a few sales during this same time. Although my friend Jeff Baker has given away some of his fiction for free on Smashwords via the use of coupon codes, I never pursued this.

So beginning today and running until May 5, you can get "Illegal Alien" for free off Smashwords using the coupon code ND72TLet's see if this generates any additional sales of my other Smashwords stories "The Beast of the Bosporus," "Melon Heads," and "I am the Wendigo."

Fourthly, self-publishing short fiction is something that will only make money in the long run. My story "Nicor" recently went online at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly and I will be paid $100. That's more gross income than my self-published stories will make for years at the current rates. No need to spend so much time marketing, playing with sales rates, etc.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ned Stark Lives: Another Cool ASOIAF Fan-Fic

Lately on my alternate-history message-board, what-ifs set in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire universe have been particularly interesting. One recent what-if was, "What if Ned Stark had taken the black?"

(That was the original plan, before King Joffrey "Baratheon" gave the impulsive order to cut off his head, throwing gasoline onto the Stark-Lannister feud that had already led to war in the Riverlands.)

The board member whose handle is Rhaegar I suggested a fan-fic entitled, well, "Ned Stark Lives!" The point of divergence from canon is that Varys overhears Littlefinger subtly suggesting Joffrey have Ned killed rather than exiled to the Wall and ensures that, thanks to his poisoning talents, Joffrey has a few days of severe diarrhea. This keeps him away from Ned's public "confession" and so Ned leaves King's Landing with, among others, Gendry and his own daughter Arya in disguise as a boy. However, crossing the war-torn Riverlands isn't easy, even with a warrior like Ned to help out.

Overall, it's a really, really interesting story. Things go (more realistically) happier for House Stark than in canon. And the story is so well-done that it even made me care for the vile Lannisters and Theon Greyjoy, who follows his canonical path to a certain point. Heck, even the sleazy Littlefinger gets a moment of glory. These are people whom I've criticized in very stringent terms to my fellow ASOIAF enthusiasts, so getting me to like them takes effort. And I rather like what the writer did with Roslin Frey, who seems rather less shallow than the other women of House Frey. Not only that, but more intelligent (she recognizes how dysfunctional their situation is). There's also a comic bit about how the Freys are seen by the other houses they're intermarried with--her Rosby relatives tease her by asking if her father (Walder Frey) is really her great-grandfather.

My main beef is that a lot of attention is devoted to Gendry/Arya. On top of the fact that he's in his teens and she's ten or eleven and the fact it takes up so much of the story, there's also the social/political problems with this relationship. Although Ned remembers his father being too controlling of his wild sister Lyanna (and her probable rebellion against his betrothal of her to Robert Baratheon by eloping with Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, which set the stage for Robert's Rebellion) and has shown a willingness to indulge Arya's tomboy ways by allowing her fencing lessons, Gendry is still a commoner even though his father is King Robert. Furthermore, as a daughter of the ruling Lord Stark, Arya is quite a useful piece in the political games that Ned, having been severely screwed by Littlefinger and other players, has gotten a bit more adept at playing. And on top of that, she's been promised to Elmar Frey as part of the deal that got Robb Stark's army a quick passage into the Riverlands to rescue Ned in the first place. Realistically Ned and Catelyn would find some gentle way to separate them or in the less likely event Ned is willing to let such a situation occur, he would probably find some way to raise Gendry's social position to make him a "worthy" match for a daughter of the Lord Paramount of the North.

(For example, Gendry does something really clever later in the first story to help the Stark armies return to the Ironborn-afflicted North without taking insane numbers of casualties. Why wasn't he knighted? Gendry gets knighted in canon by Beric Dondarrion anyway and the "upjumped smuggler" Davos Seaworth ended up Hand of the King, so it's not like this sort of thing doesn't happen.)

In any event, the sequel moves away (to a large degree) from the Seven Kingdoms proper to the Wall and the areas around it as the Others begin driving the wildings toward it like the Huns once drove the Germans against Rome. There's less room for teen/preteen drama and more room for Ned whupping up on the Others with his Valryrian steel sword. :)