Monday, August 31, 2009
I have no illusions. I love movies, but I'm a novelist, not a screenwriter. I have no idea whether or not what I'm conjuring is anything close to filmable. However, several years ago, when I read aloud a scene from a manuscript in progress, one of the writers in the group sneered and said, "Are you writing that for a movie?"
Anger was my first reaction, but then I considered the remark. Backhanded as it may have been, it revealed something useful: If the writing was vivid and active enough to inspire the notion of a movie scene, it must have been a success.
Last week, listening to a radio preacher -- yep! -- I heard something that immediately brought the above incident to mind: If a vehicle is going to move forward, it must have traction. In order for there to be traction, there must be resistance.
Some might call me stubborn, some might call me proud, but tell me I can't write a story a particular way, or include a certain character, or do anything else in fiction simply because whatever I want to do "just isn't done" or "just won't sell", and I'll do it anyway.
When an editor for a big publishing house dissed my manuscript, I returned home and finished it anyway. When other writers tore apart my short stories, I entered them anyway. And many of them won awards.
So sneer all you like, Writer (or Editor) Who Shall Not Be Named. Your contempt spurs me onward.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
There are some folks who never seem to run out of interesting, funny, or just plain crazy things to say. Their posts are eloquent, insightful, even beautiful. Where do they find the words? And why do they share them with the world?
Below is the revised version of an essay I wrote several years ago after a particularly rancorous meeting of the writers group to which I belonged. I can't recall the core of the argument, but it inspired questions: Why are we here? Why do we meet? Must we always agree?
I do remember being strangely quiet, all the things I wanted to say coiled inside like a tight spring. By the time I was finally ready to speak them, this essay emerged instead.
A Fine and Literate Madness
Some of us write to see the dance and skip of words across a page. We write for the simple pleasure of it.
Some of us write to understand our anger, fear, hurt, depression. We write for catharsis, to release the dark fire shut up in our bones.
Some of us write for the music of well-placed words. They are our voice when we cannot sing.
Some of us write to be heard, to silence the tumult, to end the debate. Who can argue with ink on a page?
Some of us speak better with a pen than with our tongue, and thoughts seem to flow through its conduit like blood through a vein.
We all write because we must.
But what do we do with our words? Close them in a journal or fold them into letters? Print them on sturdy paper for posterity? Do we crumple them into balls and play wastebasket games? Like children, are they corrected and instructed and made to go in proper ways? Where do words go once they have been written? Dare we send them out into the world for others to read?
A great piece of spiritual literature speaks timeless wisdom: How can we snatch back words once they have been spoken? Yet books are constant, and one need only turn a page to recapture what was lost. To record one’s thoughts is to open oneself to the world’s gaze for eternity, and few there be who endure such scrutiny. Even the best of us have something to hide. What wizards of words we are to use exposure as concealment.
Yet we write.
Still we write.
Despite lack of time or peace, we write.
What better way to express turmoil and serenity, despair and hope, anger and forgiveness, than to write? Writing is an internal dialogue spoken on a page, for we can begin by proving one point and end by making another argument altogether.
The need that compels any of us toward the blank page is only a catalyst. We may find ourselves staying for an entirely new reason. The true reason, perhaps.
And that, my friends, requires a fresh page.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Yeah, I belong to one already, and have long wondered if I might not be okay just going it alone (I am hermit-like when I'm not at work). However, I have a feeling there are other science fiction and fantasy authors who are just as outside as I am, not quite fitting in with any groups they've joined.
I'll make a poster, I think, and put it up at the library, and just see what happens.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
A friend sent me an e-mail, one of those infamous messages that have probably been floating around the 'net for years, veracity questionable. In it are the following "real" headlines that could have used a skilled and sufficiently caffeinated proofer:
Man Kills Self Before Shooting Wife and Daughter
This one I caught in the SGV Tribune the other day and called the Editorial Room and asked who wrote this. It took two or three readings before the editor realized that what he was reading was impossible. They put in a correction the next day.
Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says
No crap, really? Ya think?
Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
Now that's taking things a bit far!
Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
What a guy!
Miners Refuse to Work after Death
No-good-for-nothing' lazy so-and-so's!
Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
See if that works any better than a fair trial!
War Dims Hope for Peace
I can see where it might have that effect!
If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile
Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures
Who would have thought!
Enfield (London) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide
They may be on to something!
Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges
You mean there's something stronger than duct tape?
Man Struck By Lightning: Faces Battery Charge
He probably IS the battery charge!
New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
Weren't they fat enough?!
Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft
That's what he gets for eating those beans!
Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
Do they taste like chicken?
Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half
Chainsaw Massacre all over again!
Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors
Boy, are they tall!
Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead
Did I read that right?
(Hey, if the original author of the message is out there somewhere, got any more of these goofs on file?)
Saturday, August 22, 2009
About a month ago, before taking a brief hiatus from the blogosphere, I posted on preference versus weakness, or what the audience expects but doesn't get from a story. Is the omission a weakness in the story, or just a misapplied expectation?
By expectation, I don't mean what any reader can reasonably expect of any story: an intriguing premise, good writing, interesting characters, a solid plot. Big splashy action pieces or the minute dramas of everyday life, stories must draw readers into their worlds.
That's why I read stories -- to be taken somewhere else -- but where I am taken depends on the story itself, and some journeys I've enjoyed more than others. Some writers are excellent guides. Even if I don't enjoy the journey because the subject matter is difficult or the ending is hard or less than uplifting, a skilled writer can lure me down an unpleasant path, and I willingly follow, not because I want to be depressed but because I must know where the path leads. I can mentally prepare myself for the worst, because I'm being led by a writer who knows the way.
On the other hand, some writers need guides themselves, having tangled their tales in plot threads or lost their stories through gaping plot holes. I've been there myself. Unfortunately, it's not a typical tourist trap, though the cost can still be high, and, no, it doesn't come with a t-shirt.
So, what happens when a book doesn't meet my expectations?
There might be a variety of reasons it doesn't do so, from poor marketing -- the jacket copy or the cover picture has little or nothing to do with the content -- to a build-up that fizzles out by the end of the book, from weak motivations for character actions to improbable situations (improbable for the world the author has created), from promises made early in the book that aren't fulfilled later to overwriting (florid detail and emotion, or action scenes that stretch into the ridiculous) or underwriting (so bare-bones that setting and characters are not established), and so on. Those are weaknesses.
Preferences might include a happy ending instead of a depressing one, a character who lives when he should have died (or vice versa), a certain pair of characters ending up together romantically instead of with other people or with no one, the good guys winning, characters making wise decisions instead of bonehead ones. Personally, I like crisp and clear action/fight scenes; most fights end a lot sooner than most Hollywood flicks would have us believe.
If I my preferences aren't met but the story is solid, preferences go out the window. As long as the internal logic of the story holds, and as long as the writer has done his/her job, then I can still be satisfied with the book, even if I'd rather certain elements of it had been different.
The same concept holds for movies. Stories are stories. Whether or not their core is solid and dramatic, they depend on their tellers, and it's up to us to make sure we tell the stories well.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
I intended to post a lengthier, more in-depth post about Offworld, the lightning-paced science fiction thriller by Robin Parrish, but life has intervened, and I have more projects and less time than expected.
So, here's today's post: Read the book! It's a great read, it'll keep you guessing, and it might even make you think about its themes long after the book is ended.
If you don't have a copy, send me your name and e-mail address, and I'll drop it into the drawing for a free book. Cool, huh?
You can enter by leaving a comment on any of the three posts concerning Offworld, or by shooting an e-mail to KeananBrand at yahoo dot com.
Check out the other blogs on the CSFF Blog Tour (see list at postings for Day 1 or Day 2) for other opinions of the book.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
What's near future? It's only a few years distant from our own time, as opposed to being centuries down the road. The events of Offworld are set in 2033, with flashbacks to the previous year, and involve NASA and the first human footsteps on Mars, as well as an empty Earth with crazy weather, a strange black rift, and a handful of astronauts in a desperate search to find out what happened to all the humans and animals that once populated their home planet.
Oh, yeah, and there's a mysterious young woman named Mae who keeps telling the astronauts that she doesn't have a home -- she lives "between the cracks".
Let's meet the rest of the cast:
Christopher Burke, leader of the expedition to Mars -- "Blond, blue-eyed, handsome and strong, he'd always gotten more attention than he'd ever desired...He'd been preparing to be an astronaut his entire life, and so insecurity rarely troubled him. " I read that paragraph and was prepared to dislike this guy. Really. Perfection annoys me. However, turns out he has his imperfections, and I pretty much liked him by the end of the book.
Trisha Merriday, first officer -- Loyal and tough, with a secret or two, she's interesting in some respects, but dull in others. I sympathized with her personal plight, but never quite connected with her.
Owen Beechum, mission specialist -- He's an ambivalent character, set up to be either friend or antagonist, but with some interesting history and strong emotion. I won't tell which side of the story he ends up on, but he kept me guessing.
Terry Kessler, command module pilot -- The youngest and most erratic member of the crew, he pulls some crazy stunts, like halfway losing his mind and wandering around in boxer shorts, a scavenged collection of weapons tucked into his jacket. Actually, despite his defiance and bad calls, I thought this guy acted like anyone might when the mind is trying to assimilate all the horrific facts of an impossible situation.
And, once again, I won't spoil the story by telling whether or not he "straightens up and flies right" by the end of the book -- you'll just have to find that out for yourself.
In fact, you could win a FREE copy! (Free's good, right?) Comment here on any of the three posts for the August blog tour, or send me an e-mail (KeananBrand at yahoo dot com), and you're in. I'll draw the winner and announce the name by this coming weekend.
Meantime, check out other reviews of Offworld by visiting here:
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Todd Michael Greene
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen (posting later in the week)
John W. Otte
Rachel Starr Thomson
Monday, August 17, 2009
Science fiction thriller Offworld by Robin Parrish is this month's entry in the CSFF Blog Tour.
I confess. Though I've seen his name often in recent months, until Offworld, I hadn't read anything by Robin Parrish, so I went into the book unbiased and ready to be entertained.
So, was I entertained? Yes.
Are there things I didn't like? Yes.
Will I read more by this author? Absolutely.
The book opens with a tense sequence: Christopher Burke is lost on Mars, low on oxygen, cut off from communication with the rest of his crew.
He wakens aboard the Ares as the ship races back toward Earth. Turns out the events of his dream happened eight months prior, when he became the first man to walk on Mars, but he's safely back with the crew now, and all is well. Right?
Yeah, if he doesn't consider the fact that there are no transmissions from Earth, or from Tranquility Base on the moon, or that there are eighteen hours he can't remember from his time on Mars. Sure. Everything's good.
But then Ares starts breaking apart, the stars and Earth disappear, the atmosphere threatens to burn up the ship, and the crew--
Nope. Not gonna tell ya.
Want to know what happens next? Enter to win a free copy of the book! (If you're like me, the words "free" and "book" get your attention!) Shoot me an e-mail (KeananBrand at yahoo dot com), or leave a comment any of the three days of the tour, and you're entered in a drawing for a free copy of the novel!
I'm reserving more expanded discussion of the book for tomorrow and Wednesday, but visit these stops on the tour for more reviews of Offworld:
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Todd Michael Greene
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen (posting later in the week)
John W. Otte
Rachel Starr Thomson
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Eh. I'm no expert, but novels and scripts are different animals, and I tried to direct him toward some resources that I'd researched in my once-upon-a-time contemplation of scriptwriting.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, thanks for the info, but I've got a winner."
Our critique partnership ended for a variety of reasons not long after that, and I don't know if he ever finished the script.
As a reader, there are several books that I think would make great movies; on the other hand, after looking forward to movies made from my favorite books, I've been disappointed by how little they were honored in the end results. Michael Crichton's Timeline springs immediately to mind. I enjoyed the movie, but the missed opportunities to tell the whole story so annoyed me that I couldn't keep the DVD any longer. It was almost a personal insult.
Yes, I am a geek.
Yet, despite that, despite admiring the work of Tolkien and Lewis, I wasn't among those fans upset by the way The Lord of the Rings or both current Narnia flicks (Wardrobe, Caspian) were presented. The movie tales differ from the books, but they're complete. I can enjoy them as separate visions of the same story.
I've contemplated taking a shot at turning older, never-filmed books into screenplays, but until a couple weeks ago never considered writing a story just for the screen. There's a contest (invitation only) to which I'd like to submit something. There are several pages of notes ready -- no actual script yet -- the deadline is less than a month away, and I have prior writing obligations. Still, it's something I want to try, just for the sheer challenge of it.
There's no money on offer, but something even more interesting: the chance to collaborate with other writers on an actual it's-gonna-be-made-into-a-movie script.
So, armed with Screenwriting for Dummies -- yes, there really is a book with that title -- I am venturing into new waters. I have no expectations of winning the contest, but I will take this risk, do the best I can with the skills I have, and hopefully have a lot of fun in the process.
Note: previous "Taking Risks" posts can be read here: 1, 2, 3.
It's been a while since I wrote the other "Taking Risks" post, but I've been preparing for the "big risk", whatever that might be, by contemplating and preparing for other possible risks:
Risk #1: Sell the house. To that end, part of the interior has been repainted, but there are several more rooms to go, and the carpets might need replacing (only three rooms have carpet; other floors are wood, vinyl, or tile), then the outside needs some cosmetic work.
Risk #2: Find a new job or embark on a new career. This one may have to wait for a while.
Risk #3: Put the novels "out there". One has been submitted, another is partially complete, and the science fiction serial needs a new injection.
Risk #4: Move to a totally different part of the country (if the house doesn't sell, it can be rented out). Dad has suggested I take a couple months to wander the States and consider my next move while seeing a little more of the world. I like that idea, but I need money to make it happen.
Anybody else out there ruminating on the possibility of changing the course of your life?
Friday, August 14, 2009
Among movie versions of Shakespeare's Hamlet, I prefer the one starring Mel Gibson over that starring Kenneth Branagh. Both men are excellent actors -- that's not at all the problem, if there is one -- and they are surrounded by other excellent actors in an excellent play.
In the 1996 version (with KB as screenwriter, director, and lead actor) , the entire play is presented, which can be fascinating or boring, depending on how interested I am at the time in the baseness of human nature or in listening to a lot of speechifying. The first time I saw it, I watched every second. The next time? I wandered back into the living room whenever the VHS tape arrived at the good parts.
On the other hand, in the 1990 version with MG (directed by Franco Zeffirelli, screenplay by him and Christopher De Vore), the makers stuck to the core story. Forget any sideline matters, or that stuff about an army marching on Denmark: This film's about the murder. So what if the play has been rearranged a bit? The changes make for a smoother, tighter, more easily understood story, one that I've watched many times.
One wonders if Mr. Shakespeare added side stories because he had a certain number of actors to accommodate, or because he needed to provide activity onstage while the primary actors changed costumes, or while sets were being switched, et cetera. I love his work, but Shakespeare loved his ink, and sometimes I mentally edit out unnecessarily lines while reading. One of these days, I just might write an adaptation of my own.
Note: It may not have worked in all areas, but the version starring Ethan Hawke is interesting, since it moves the story from the Middle Ages to a modern city. The central story of Hamlet is so strong, it can survive just about whatever contortions are forced upon it.
I've submitted Dragon's Rook, the first manuscript of my fantasy cycle, and now the waiting begins.
If it's chosen, the title of the novel may change, as often happens when editors or publishers think the title's off, or bland, or somehow not as punchy and marketable as they prefer. That's okay. I never really wanted to have anything dragon-y in the title, anyway.
As for the author name, since I write under two names, I'm not sure which to apply. Perhaps I'll try to keep the other one more for fantasy material, and Keanan Brand more for science fiction. (shrug)
I had originally intended to submit the manuscript for the current War of the Words contest, but something kept nagging at me, one of those not-quite-definable itches at the back of the brain.
Then, as I was sorting through papers (an ongoing process which might not be finished for the next week or so), tossing out obsolete stuff and creating new stacks of story fodder and notes, I happened upon material from Spring 2007. Turns out that I'd submitted an earlier version of the manuscript to a fantasy/sf/horror contest judged by a Tor editor. He scored my work so low that I left the conference feeling like a failure.
Crazy thing is, at that same conference, I took first place in a different category, and other entries were marked up and notated, letting me know the judges took the time to really read the work. The novel manuscript? Pristine. Not a pencil mark in sight.
Now, as a slush reader for a magazine, I've been known not to get past the first paragraph -- sometimes, the first sentence -- because the quality of the writing is so abysmal that there's no point in proceeding. However, as I looked over that contest entry after not seeing the score sheet for more than two years, there was that itch again in the back of my brain: Tor UK is part of the contest I was considering, and it was a Tor editor who didn't like my work. Probably didn't even read it.
So I looked him up online. From the interests listed and the acquisitions he's made, I figured out pretty quick we are likely on opposite ends of things like politics and religion. No way he'd like what I wrote.
On the other hand, I've enjoyed the work of some of his writers -- my tastes are eclectic, and I know what I like when I read it -- but, because of my beliefs, I'd probably be the one others regard as closed to different ways of thinking.
Anyway, after considering the facts, and still feeling that nagging brain itch, I decided to submit the manuscript to Jeff Gerke at Marcher Lord Press. He's already put out some good fiction, and the printing itself is excellent; there are some covers that just beg for the books to be read.
I didn't scrap the synopsis I'd written for the contest, but pared it down from three pages to one in order to fit the criteria, and then did a lot more work for the MLP submission than the WOW contest required, but I was glad to do it. Without reservation. Brain itch banished.
And now I wait.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
c. Keanan BrandPaper Mountains
I believe many things, but what I am seeing clearer each year is this: life is too short to be blunted by the notion that what is difficult should not be done; that only what is easy should be attempted; that even noble ends, if they cannot be achieved instantly or with minimal discomfort, must be set aside and replaced by what requires little sweat, little patience, little sacrifice of any kind.
I am a writer. My publishing accomplishments are few: essays, articles, short stories, poems. However, I want to be a novelist, and to that end I put one word at a time on paper until I have a sentence, a paragraph, a page, a chapter, a manuscript. Some of my fellow writers tell me I am creating stories no one wants to read. I am doing what cannot be done.
But how does anyone know what the end will be? I am still climbing the mountain, and have not yet seen the view from the top. If others cannot see the mountain, is the mountain no longer there? Because others are weary, must I be content to sit beside them? If they seek another way, must I go with them? Must I convince myself—as some have—that half a journey is the entire trip?
Life so rarely happens as we would wish it. My teachers and friends were convinced that I would publish my first novel by age sixteen. That might have made me a novelty—no pun intended—but it might also have made a shallow book.
Now more than twice sixteen, I still have moments of doubt, of youthful uncertainty that anything I write is worth reading. Greater than my insecurity, however, is the knowledge that what makes me a writer is not measured by how I compare to others or how much money I make or how many people know my name, but by the fiery words that blister my brain and boil my dreams until the only way to cool my burning fingertips is to write. I am a writer because not writing is not an option.
Artists draw simulations of life. Photographers capture time. Sculptors push clay into action. Writers create movies for the mind.
The characters that people my thoughts are alive and very real, but they will remain in my imagination—unseen, unheard, unread—until I do the hard work and mold imagination into words on a page.
So the journey will pass—one word at a time, one page at a time—until the day I stand on top of the mountain and see that it is made of paper: reams and reams of it covered with words; wads of it tossed in to wastebaskets; some of it retrieved and smoothed out again and found to be not so bad after all.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
I'm out of state, and this is where I've been the past couple of days. Anybody guess where it is?
Saturday, August 8, 2009: Only one intrepid guess? Slackers!
The answer is the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Awesome place! In two visits totaling five hours, I still didn't see everything. I must return.