Saturday, June 29, 2013

Book Series Titles

In this indie book publishing era, I've noticed an irksome trend that all writers add long-winded series names to their books. They seem just tacked on there, hanging like a mouthful of junk. I know it's important to have your readers know that the book they're looking at is number three of whichever cycle you're writing, but, can't you just differentiate between sequels with numbers? Why take up cover real estate with a paragraph stating A Single Mother's Lonely Ranchers of the Prairie Book.

What? That wordy title means nothing to me as a browser! You could just stick with the plain old title. In a real book store, I would flip to the first few pages and read the list of books in the series. It's just so overdone. Everyone is trying to build readerships through long series. But, do they really need these titles? 

I am thinking I will keep my own titles short and simple once my first book is done. If there is a sequel, it will be simply Book Two. It will just state that it's a sequel to the first book, like Harry Potter did. Now to think of a really simple title...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Mom - Turtle Rescuer!

This one isn't really an update on my previous turtle crossing signs post, (haven't heard anything about that, so I'm assuming it's not a possibility) but, I did hear from my mother that, after reading my post about the turtle incident and its effect on the environment, she got the chance to rescue one of the little guys!

The other day she was driving by the lake when she spotted a turtle in the middle of the road, crossing from the lake to the mainland. Immediately she pulled over and helped him - or her - get to the safety of the wooded area on the other side. I was so proud! Hopefully more people will be cautious and look out for all types of nature when they are on their morning and nightly commutes.

That is the one thing that really makes me excited: preserving the environment doesn't start with a huge corporation, or even the government - it starts with us, as individuals, being conscientious and doing what we can. If enough people start with themselves, pretty soon we will be a large force when combined! That is encouraging.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Practicing Dialogue

Here is a personal tip from my own efforts at writing fiction, but I found an interesting and fun way to practice writing realistic dialogue. This partially came about because of a job I started, but I was tasked with transcribing an interview. How is this realistic dialogue, you ask? Well, there were parts of the interview that diverged into natural conversation between the two people speaking. It was really interesting to see how each talked. When you type out what each person says verbatim, you really start to see the patterns in their speech and how they each express their personality through their wording. I encourage anyone to do this for practice if they can find an interview online of good length. You just might develop a few good voices for characters that you have brewing in your imagination.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

World War Z (2013)

World War Z is a frantic and adrenaline-filled movie about a retired United Nations worker who is living his daily life as a family man when a zombie outbreak takes place. This film was designed as a vehicle for Brad Pitt who plays the reluctant hero as only he can, with a look of awe in his eyes and hair that wouldn’t be out of place on Sawyer from Lost.

This film has been a long time coming, and for a while I didn’t believe it would actually get made. This is one of those properties based on a best-selling book that struck the right chord when the zombie craze was just hitting its stride. I haven’t read the book, but it’s marketed as a chronicle of humanity’s fight against the zombie plague. The film relies heavily on setup. The opening title sequence serves as a montage-heavy explanation of the movement and evolution of various diseases across the globe - any one of which could be the source of the outbreak we witness after no less than what I believe was about twelve minutes. Pitt, who plays Gerry Lane, is thrown at the audience along with his two young daughters (Abigail Hargrove and Sterling Jerins) and his always half-smiling half-sad wife, Karin (Mireille Enos). The family is established so briskly that it is obvious to the audience which tropes are being used on which character. His eldest daughter suffers from asthma and his youngest is scared easily. They want a puppy for their birthday. Needless to say, that idea is thrown out the window in ten minutes. His wife also acts as if she is keeping secrets about her husband’s past employment at the U.N. because she seems generally nervous whenever her daughters bring up his previous work. What exactly did he do that is so tear-producing?

I will admit that this film was exciting. I was on the edge of my seat almost the entire time, excepting the middle portion that took a detour away from where I was expecting it to go, and it lagged for a bit. But, my main gripe with the film was that it offered nothing new to the zombie genre that other films and even television’s The Walking Dead haven’t already contributed. I could say the writers were clever with their solution to the zombie problem, but that's about it for creativity. This is still just a movie where the main characters are trying not to be infected by zombies. Potential spoiler alert: the source of the outbreak, indeed, the global origin of the outbreak is never fully revealed. The entire film hangs on this premise that a viral epidemic has swept humanity and causes all those infected to become deranged animals. It’s not clear what the infected are after. They are fast and they don’t exactly feast on the uninfected. They simply go crazy and attack long enough until those who are bitten become the same as everyone else. They are good zombie friends after that since entire cities of the infected become dormant. They simply wait for noise. They are attracted to any audible stimuli. They are also very noisy themselves.

As far as characters are concerned, many of them drop like flies after half the film is complete. Earlier on I couldn’t help but be reminded of Spielberg’s War of the Worlds as Pitt tries to coax his daughter, suffering from an asthma attack, into breathing in and out. I wanted more from the family. I wanted to see their lives, other than in the kitchen or piled in the car. They are our sense of normalcy, the kind that Pitt struggles to return to for the entire movie. Sadly, they are split up for the majority of the film. There are also eccentric characters to take our attention: a doctor who is the last hope for humanity (played by Elyes Gabel) and also a group of W.H.O. employees barricading themselves in their infected laboratory that holds the key to a possible antidote. When the film is running briskly, it is at its best. However, it is obvious that the pacing of the film went through a series of test audiences to arrive where it is now. The downtime is very quiet, as it always is in a horror movie. The film wants to get you with your guard down so that it can jolt you out of your seat. Trust me, it will.

I’m sure that audiences will jump at all the right places as I did, and curse the characters for stepping willfully into a dangerous and disastrous situation like I did - multiple times. The film was a lot of fun. However, as far as intelligence is concerned, don’t be fooled by the critics who say that this film is the smartest one of the summer. It was well plotted, but the questions that were left unanswered and the re-filmed final forty minutes felt like they were merely a lead-in to a new franchise. Studios just can't resist, after missing the boat on Walking Dead. More films could be good fun, but I don’t know how long my disbelief can go unrewarded in the form of credible reasons for the outbreak. I'm always wondering if we brought the plague upon ourselves, or if it's something else at work. I wanted to say to this film, “Throw me a bone!” Or maybe an entire severed arm.

Reviews Update

Just a quick update! Life has thrown a ton of things at me today that needed to get done, (mow the yard, job, nerd talk with my brothers) but, I wanted to let you know that I've seen World War Z and I will be posting my review of it either tonight or early tomorrow morning. If you're debating on whether to see it in theaters or wait for it to come to Redbox, hopefully my thoughts will help you make a decision! I'll also discuss my thoughts and theories on what they reshot for those last forty minutes and hope to hear from anyone who has theories of their own. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Word Count Madness

I have reached another milestone with my novel in progress. Yesterday I sat down and typed out all the handwritten pages I've penned during stolen moments waiting in lines, closing up at my job, and also sitting at the kitchen table. I now have approximately 45,000 words in my manuscript!

True, this I only a first draft. I can already tell that the book will need to have a lot of attention when it comes to tightening the sentences and deleting unnecessary words. I'm guilty of rambling in some places and not describing enough in others. Yet, this word count is a way to judge how far along I am. A typical 200 page book is around 50,000 words. I'm drafting the finale and other crucial chapters now, and I still have a while to go. I can't rush, but I don't want to drag my feet. It does feel more encouraging as I can now see the missing gaps and just have to fill them in. The characters tell me what they need, and it gets typed into the manuscript.

I admire those writers able to create 5,000 words a day. I've tried, but I'm not quite there yet. Perhaps with more mental stretching I will get there soon. Now that I've taken a break from writing the book, I suppose it's time to get back to work!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Thoughts On Man Of Steel

This isn't an official review of Man of Steel, but I loved this film so much that I couldn't wait until I actually get down to business and write up a critique.

When I think of a summer blockbuster, this is what comes to mind now. Zack Snyder has given a new cinematic life to Clark Kent/Superman, and I am so grateful! Just to give this opinion some background - I started my official journey with Clark back in 2001 when, as fate would have it, the WB network was still in existence, and the first season of Smallville aired on Wednesday nights. I actually caught the very first episode by accident, not realizing what I was watching, until Jonathan and Martha Kent picked up the infant Kal-El from the rubble of his ship and brought him to their farm in Smallville, Kansas.

It was a journey that saw me through many life changes and stages. When the characters graduated from high school, I also graduated and went to my senior prom. I also started college at the same time as them, and journeyed out into the world with Chloe, Lana, and eventually Lois (who took some time to become my favorite). Needless to say, the man in the cape has been as dear to me as a close friend ever since. So, I was nervous for a new big screen version to come out. Coupled with that anxiety, I was also excited as hell.

Everything paid off. The mythology was revised and expanded in a way that felt so organic and futuristic without turning to the harsh, unlivable crystal fortresses that dominated the films of Richard Donner. Snyder and co. managed to give Russell Crowe one of his best roles in a good many years, and I was on the edge of my seat with glee every time he showed up. Bravo to Jor-El for turning into a heartwarming and intelligent force for good, one that Clark (Henry Cavill) can look up to, as opposed to his previous stern iterations. Also, hands down to Amy Adams. I already loved everything this woman has been in because her acting chops are bar none, but she brought such a depth to Lois that I truly believed that she could hold her own (and boy, is she ever resourceful) and also still need the assistance from Superman that kindles their own relationship. They needed each other, and they were perfect for each other. I am so thrilled to see where it goes.

After gushing about the leads, I must say that all the side characters were so well acted that I truly believed the special effects. One scene - which would have been just another computerized effect - involved a gravity-reversing machine on a massive scale. Cars and pieces of buildings are hurled to the sky and then slammed down to be crushed, further and further outwards as the radius builds. Trapped in its path is a stellar and touching performance that could have been just another forgettable ensemble group, but no - the woman trapped is a tearful and totally convincing Rebecca Buller as Jenny, an intern, watching on as her death moves forward. You can see it in her eyes that she knows that there is no way that she will make it out alive, along with a stoic Perry White, played with gusto by Laurence Fishburne (welcome back, Morpheus!) who struggles to free her in time with the help of another colleague. Of course, this wouldn't be Superman without some truly nail-biting saves, and of course, he lives up to his name in this case - though I won't spoil how. How many times have I been touched by an action movie in the past ten years? I can count them all on two hands, and one of those was last year's The Hunger Games, if that gives you any timeline to follow.

I can go on for pages, but I'll try to save something for the official review (which is very behind, sorry!). Lastly before I head out into the world for the evening, if you were worried that replacing John Williams's iconic score was blasphemy (I know, I had my trepidations too) fear not. Hans Zimmer has done it again, and I have his deluxe edition score in my iPad, played on repeat. It is wonderful and captures the urgency of the film along with the more subtle, emotional character beats. This movie was high-stakes in the plot sense, and it was also high-stakes in the Warner Bros. sense. I believe that the audience showed that it is ready for some competition to go against Marvel's non-stop cranking of hero flicks, and if this is how they're going to be, you have already sold me on the entire thing.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Manga Mania

It has been a few months since I have read a good manga. For those not familiar, manga is Japanese comic books. The art is distinctive, with large eyes and awesome hair, and the stories are generally more fantastical than American comics. I love both flavors, but manga always takes me back to my Freshman year of high school when my friend Tashi lent me the first volume of Ranma 1/2. I will never forget that moment when I devoured these books, enthralled that stories could be told visually in such a long form.

Now, years later, I am still discovering manga stories. The latest is a volume I bought just the other day called Loveless. This brings me to an interesting challenge. When it comes to digital and print manga, only the child-friendly volumes are offered digitally on tablets, so I was forced to find this particular series at a brick and mortar store. The price was a little high, but I am once again getting immersed in a story. I wish that more titles were available digitally. I am very impatient and don't like to wait for books via Amazon. Is that bad that I am such an impulsive reader? I want it now, otherwise, a week later, perhaps my tastes have changed.

Happily for now I have found a hopeful new manga series to enjoy. I'm still debating signing up for a Shonen Jump manga magazine subscription though. Perhaps down the road I'll break down and give it a shot...

Monday, June 10, 2013

Writer's Library

I haven't seriously collected any writing reference books since I was in the Honors Writing Program at USM, and even then, some of the books were basically essential non-surprises, like Strunk and White's Elements of Style. However, I recently started building my writing reference library with various books about genre conventions and dialogue - even character creation. Books like these are awesome to have because I can use them whenever I like and gain an understanding of a genre I'm unfamiliar with, and also get new ideas. There are many things that a mystery novel can do that a paranormal romance cannot, and vice versa. At the same time, I can combine elements from these two genres and create a more diverse story. If you're interested in broadening your scope when it comes to genre writing, I highly suggest checking a used book store for some of these reference books. For a few dollars you can gain a ton of wisdom. Now back to learning about mysteries!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Writing Tip: Notecards

This is a brief entry today, but one that I've found to be really useful in my writing so far. When working on a long piece, or maybe even a moderately sized story, try using notecards to write down your story beats and chapter happenings.

I use plain, non-lined notecards and generally use one per chapter. This allows me to mix them up if I feel that a section of the book should come earlier or later, or, more often than not, remove one or more of the notecards when they do not fit at all. This way I can save the cards that I am not going to keep in my current narrative and store them in case they become useful in the future. There isn't enough space in the brain to store all the ideas we have at once, so why try? Paper is easier to go back to when I'm in a hurry.

Of course, when I'm in a pinch, I have used other pieces of paper besides notecards. I even once used torn apart popcorn bags for writing down story beats when I had a down moment on my dinner break at work! Give this process a try if you are a slow plot developer. It might just provide the fluidity you need to see the story through to the end.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Iceman (2012)

The Iceman is a film that I never thought I would have the privilege of seeing in theaters, mainly because it is a limited run film. Those generally don't make it north of Boston, and in that case, if they aren't available on demand, I have to wait until they hit DVD or a streaming service. I heard the film mentioned in a magazine because it is one of Winona Ryder's biggest - and greatest - dramatic roles since Black Swan. The film also shows off Michael Shannon's already undeniable acting talent before his big-screen bow as General Zod later this month in Zack Snyder's Man of Steel. The man can play brooding, emotionally conflicted characters unlike any other I've seen on screen, and it's for that reason that The Iceman is a great success, and also a modern era tragedy, based on the real life events surrounding Richard Kuklinski and the estimated 100 or more people he was hired to murder.

Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) opens the film with his aged, bearded face filling the dark screen. He is imprisoned, but for what, we don't know yet. He's fumbling for words to say, unable to put into words what he is feeling. It is this theme of being unable to express himself that ties the film's many threads together into one overall arc.

Shortly after being told the fate of Kuklinski, we meet his future wife, Deborah (Ryder), and get a glimpse at what their life will be like. She wants someone to take care of her, and she doesn't normally go on blind dates. They eat at a restaurant and share some talk about themselves. Richard admits that he's not much of a talker, but Deborah doesn't mind. Soon we see that they've married and had their first daughter. But things are not completely rosy, since it is revealed that Richard is leading a double life.

Unbeknownst to Deborah, Richard works for a mob family that dabbles in illegal goods and loan sharking. (She thinks he works as a currency exchanger) Kuklinski works as an underground porn bootlegger, prepping the prints and selling them to customers. It is Kuklinski's bad fortune, or good luck - depending on how you look at it, that he is confronted by the leader of the family, Roy Demeo (Ray Liotta), and told that his position is being eliminated. However, he does have a second chance at a different kind of job. After having his loyalty to the Demeo's tested, and confirming his ability to follow orders without second-guessing, Richard is enlisted as a murder-for-hire hitman. The money rolls in quickly and we see what a cold-blooded killer the family man can be when nobody's looking. Still, his family is clueless about where Richard goes during the day, content that he doesn't talk about his job and is generally a silent figure.

At one point in the film he recites a small speech during his daughter's sixteenth birthday party, written on a piece of stationery. The room claps enthusiastically, with tears in their eyes, and his daughter comes over and embraces him, saying, "I didn't know you had it in you." Therein lies the great emotional turmoil of the film. None of the characters realize that Richard is capable of expressing emotion because he hides behind a mask of ice-cold placidity. Even with a gun held to his face, his employer, Demeo, remarks, "Don't you have anything you love? Why do you act as if you don't give a shit what happens to you?" The audience wonders as well, but it's an answer that we won't get beneath all the layers of masculine brawniness Richard's built up over the years. Like so many other criminals behind bars, the reasoning behind Kuklinski's actions may never completely be understood or revealed. The motivation, however, is always the money.

Despite the heartless killings that Kuklinski committed, he did feel emotions. He feared being unable to provide the life of luxury that his wife so admired. He feared that his daughters would be targets of the men he was working against. He also, I believe, felt love for his family, but the great tragedy is that he was ignorant of how to express that love. It's as if in the whirl of trying to provide all the material possessions that his wife and daughters enjoyed, Kuklinski overlooked the one thing that was irreplaceable to his family, and that was the time spent with them as a part of the family unit. As Ryder exclaims during a moment alone at the pivotal birthday party, "You're so full of shit, Ritchie. I'm going down to the party, and you should come with me." Of course she's right. He is filled with emotional childhood memories that he can't escape, involving a Catholic upbringing, and constant beatings by his mother. His family deserves better than what he grew up with, so he provides every comfort he can for them. However, the curtain over his murderous job can only be draped for so long before it is pulled back and his family's eyes opened.

Filling out the secondary roles is a stellar cast that includes a spot-on performance by Chris Evans as Mr. Freezy, a hitman masquerading as an ice cream truck driver; James Franco as Marty Freeman, in a scene that showcases Kuklinski's thoughts about his Catholic upbringing; and surprisingly, David Schwimmer, almost unrecognizable as Josh Rosenthal, the "adopted" son of Roy Demeo. There is always something going on between all of these characters that keeps the tension in check. I could barely look away, and wouldn't even leave my seat to go grab concessions for fear of missing out on a character's demise.

In the end, the real victims are Kuklinski's family. They escape neither physically nor emotionally. I was left wondering what life would have been like if Kuklinski had turned away from the hitman job. Would he still be living with his family, enjoying old age with his wife and seeing his grandchildren as they started their lives? We'll never know. As he sits in his cell for two life sentences he struggles to apologize. Tears well in his eyes, and he reveals something that we knew the entire time: he's afraid of letting others see his emotions. This was a film about a broken man that resonated with me long after I left the cinema.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Turtle Crossing Signs

I am still deeply concerned about the turtle incident I wrote about earlier, and this concern, I learned, is not singular to me. A colleague posted a link to a Portland Press Herald article that talked about various locations around Maine that have erected Turtle Crossing signs in high traffic areas. Most of the ones mentioned were near state parks and wildlife conservation areas, but still, they are a reality in some locations. I have not seen any in my own town, or even in York County at large, but have sent out an email to the town inquiring about these signs and if they can be put up at the area where I saw the turtle struck by a vehicle. I have no idea if anything will come of this, or if I will get a response, but I will keep everyone posted as things develop!

When Giant Moths Attack!

I have been labeled a tree-hugger because of this recent event, and I'm not ashamed of it!

The other night I arrived home around 1:30 in the morning after a late night at work. My family had kindly left the side steps light on so that I wouldn't have to stumble up the way to the side door. Unfortunately, when my father built our house, he didn't have the best design sense in the world, and placed the light just above the right corner of the door.

I am terrified of moths. They scare me with their constant sporadic flapping and bumping into things. There was a giant cloud of moths and other assorted insects of the night clinging to the wall around this light. They were also all over the door to the house. No matter, I thought. I'll just try my best to get inside quickly.

But then I saw it. The biggest moth I've seen in years - with a wingspan as big as both my hands laid out on a table! It was just sitting above the doorknob, enjoying the light.

What could I do? I had to get inside to sleep for another day at work, but the moth was in my way. If I knocked it off, would it just flutter up and land on my head or on my back? I was struck dumb!

After trying to get the attention of anyone who might be awake in the house to help me turn off the light, I had to do the only thing left - and that was to hurry into the house and hope that the moth didn't follow me. Of course, it did follow me, and I had to catch it in a bucket and then enlist the help of my brother to release it back outside on the front porch this time. I bet I looked so ridiculous, trying to coax the frantic moth into the bucket, trapping it inside with a piece of paper. I couldn't kill it! It's a part of nature, and it wasn't really doing anything on purpose to bother me.

Thankfully, it is back in the wild, living its life of whatever moths do - most likely sleeping in the daytime. Needless to say, the side light will not be on in the future if the moths are going to swarm at me like some plague out of The Mummy!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Gotta Catch 'Em All!

I was at the store the other day and spotted a huge display of Pokemon Cards. There were the famous booster packs, and also some enormous boxes, very deluxe looking, that must have cost a fortune. I remarked to my youngest brother, the one who still keeps me informed on all the newest, coolest things in anime, video games, and Youtube, that the box sets must be for rich kids. We both shared a laugh, but we both longed to crack open the box (at least I know for sure that I did!) and see what was inside.

This led me to wonder: is Pokemon to Japan and the United States what Doctor Who is to the UK?

I remember watching the show when it first aired on US televisions in seventh grade. It aired conveniently right before I had to get on the bus, so I never missed an episode. Pokemon is indelibly etched into my memory because of this, and I collected as many cards as I possibly could - and even resurrected a small collection recently for nostalgia's sake.

But, the show aired in Japan long before it was dubbed for Americans, so it was already prepared for a long rollout of content week after week without stop, and the toys and games were things my siblings and I couldn't get enough of. I thought when I left the little pocket monsters behind after a few years that their time was limited. I was wrong. They are still here, and there are still new series being made yearly, as well as two new games every few years, with at least four spin-off games for the next-gen handheld gaming systems. The franchise just keeps going, even as the cast of characters mixes itself up, leaves others behind, and recruits new talent and faces. This is not unlike James Bond, where the actors can be different, but the lead character is always the same.

Ash Ketchum has been absent before from the series (as far as I know), but there are other characters that keep us anchored in the world of Pokemon, and that is the pocket monsters themselves. Pikachu is instantly recognizable no matter where I go. The entire story of Pokemon is a cross-media extravaganza that I can't help but be sucked into. It's those kind of stories that I enjoy where they don't have to end because the show is done for the day. I can pick up a manga volume and read on my iPad, or I can play some of the Nintendo games, new or old. It's an amazing thing.

One thing's for sure: the creator of Pokemon used one of the greatest taglines ever, because every child wants to catch 'em all, and that is certainly good news for all the outlets that sell Pokemon merchandise! Good inspiration for future storytellers? You never know when your story will take on a life of its own.

Monday, June 3, 2013

More Reviews Forthcoming...

Just a tiny update that I have a few more movie reviews I'm drafting, so those should appear soon. I also have a list of movies I need to see and then also review. Hoping to get a schedule going by next week so that I can put out my verdict on a more regular basis. We'll see if I can keep up with that. Thanks for the enthusiasm for the reviews I've posted so far!

Com-links Up and Running, Captain!

Some days I wish I could just rip all the phones out of the wall at my house and throw them in the rain! Everyone is working against you, even though they’re not even in the same room, house, or maybe even town. The phone rings at all the most inopportune times, right when I’m getting to the meat of a scene, or the part where the character I’m writing at the moment is telling me something about themselves I didn’t know before.

I try all the tricks. I look at the caller ID, my mind being taken away from the place in my head, the walls of that effervescent space melting away quickly like bath soap, and I am now focused on figuring out what to do. Should I answer? Half the time I don’t recognize who’s calling, and when that’s the case, I end up just letting it ring. And that’s the most painful part of the entire process - letting the phone ring for those 8 or nine agonizing sequences - until finally the answering machine picks up.

Then comes the brilliant part where you can hear the sounds of the person breathing, their chatter to themselves just barely audible over the sound of the recorded answering message. Half the time they don’t even leave a message! When they don’t, I curse them! How dare they try to steal away my peace of mind, bothering me with something that isn’t even important enough to leave a twenty second message?

It's infuriating!

It isn’t, however, something that a strong cup of coffee can’t fix.

For some reason, the taste of the coffee clears my mind, cleanses my palette so to speak, and allows me to sit back down at the table and get back into the thick of it.

 So, if you suffer from a phone phobia/annoyance like me, try the coffee. At the least it will give you a boost of energy that hopefully gives you the strength and determination to continue writing whatever you were before the ringing began.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Skipping Ahead

I ran into a dilemma the other day.

I found myself at Bullmoose, the answer to Borders Books and Music, and was browsing through the many different sections of hardcovers and used items when I stumbled across a wall devoted to George R.R. Martin. Anyone who has had the chance to hear me gush knows that I am a huge fan of HBO's adaptation, Game of Thrones, and I wait eagerly to enjoy - or not enjoy, depending on what happens to my favorite characters - the latest episodes. When the first season was out on blu ray a few years back, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to stand the long wait once I finished watching the episodes, so I purchased the first book in the series and read alongside the episodes. It provided a lot more information into the characters histories and their motivations, and I really enjoyed it.

However, when the first season was finished, and the first book was read completely (in record time for me), I hurried out and bought the second book and started reading. But, something was different this time around. The second book introduced a plethora of new characters and I found myself feeling cheated. True, friends had warned me that the second book was difficult to get through - but if I could just finish it, the third book was the best one. The truth was simply that the second book was much more of a slog than I was willing to commit to. So, I waited for the second season to air, and I ignored all the fans and their wailings that the season was leaving out so much information that it was blasphemy.

Fast forward to now, with the third season of the show nearly finished. I once again tried to pick up the second book so that I could get my fill of all things Westeros when the long haul started again in June, but I simply could not finish the second book; and there I was, in Bullmoose, staring at the third book. Against my better judgement, I decided to do what I never do, and that was to skip the rest of the second book and start the third one anyway.

Let me say, I'm glad I did. I could already tell from the first few chapters that the third book is indeed the best written so far. I stumbled across a few characters that had been left out of the show, but there was a handy app from Martin himself that lent me the information and backstory I needed. Am I sad that I skipped half of the second book - even when I know that the climax involves a large battle? Maybe a little. But not enough to trudge through 300 more pages of characters moving across a map! There is not enough time for me to struggle through a sequel that doesn't live up to its promise. Still, I am glad to say that the third book is very good so far. Perhaps I will go back later on and finish book two, when I am very desperate!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Embrace The Blank Page

Here's a writing story for you.

When I was younger, I used to ask for packages of printer paper for Christmas and birthdays. It sounds like an easy gift now, and something that I should have had kicking around my home anyway, but alas - we did not have a computer in my home until 1998, and we certainly didn't have a printer until after that. However, I was fortunate one Christmas to unwrap a Smith Corona electric typewriter, and it still sits in my bedroom to this day. It has never failed me.

I used to take the packages of blank printer paper and draw on them. When I got a little older, I used them to type pages upon pages of prose, personal stories, choose your own adventures, and anything else I could think of. The only thing that stopped me was the occasional power outage from snow or heavy lightning storms. It was easy, or at least it felt easy at the time, to tap into my creativity. I would flip through the stack of paper and imagine the possibilities.

It wasn't until I graduated to notebooks that the fear of writing crept into my psyche. You know what I'm talking about, right? I would flip through the lined pages of the notebook the same as I did the printer paper, but something had changed. I was afraid of writing something that wasn't perfect. I was afraid of having to tear out a page from the notebook and discard it because my words had failed the promise of the blank page. In the back of my mind I blame this emergence of fear on my love of finely bound journals, but in reality, this is a fear that all writers face at one point or another in their lives. (If they haven't ever faced this, I admire them for their fearlessness!)

It took me a long time to get over the fear of writing unabashedly in a bound journal (or notebook) - only last year, in fact. I have been filling paperback Moleskine notebooks since last summer, and whenever a new idea comes to mind, I turn the page and start fresh. It's this blank page, this whole concept of not knowing what is going to flow from your pen, that is the key to unlocking creative potential. You must not let the blank page intimidate you. I often wonder what was so different when I was in high school compared to now that I feel such trepidation when I think about sitting down to write. The only thing I can do to counter this anxiety is to start fresh, embrace the unknown, and keep moving forward. There may be more at stake now than when I was younger, but that must mean that writing is more important now than it ever was.