Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Hunger Games Strike Back

I don’t care what everybody else is reading.

Well…let me clarify that. It’s not that I don’t appreciate some good suggestions and I really am interested in hearing other people’s opinions about good books and authors. But if I’m not reading the newest releases that everyone is talking about, I’m okay with that. So I don’t care a bit if I’m a few years behind in picking up The Hunger Games trilogy.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, the second book in the trilogy, is the latest Young Adult novel that I’ve chosen to pull out and give a try.  I don’t know if I’m really hooked on the genre yet, but I’m a reader and I can enjoy a good story.  And they don’t all have to take as long as War and Peace to be worth reading.

The second of three acts in anything is the ‘downer’ act.  It’s the confrontation following the setup of the first act and preceeds the resolution of the third.   Our brains seem hard wired for that format.  Heck, people even argue that Shakespeare’s five act plays actually match the three act format simply with a couple of extra breaks thrown in for wardrobe changes.   But let’s not get into that.  Instead, I think the perfect correlation here is to the Star Wars movies (only the original three – any with characters created only to entertain children and with alien races who speak in English but with goofy accents don’t count.  Sorry, but it’s true…).

I’ve only ever met one person who thought that The Empire Strikes Back was the best movie of the trilogy.  Sure, it gave us Boba Fett, and a tough old muppet telling us ‘there is no try, only do’, but it’s the one movie out of the three where everything is going wrong.  Whether it’s freezing in the middle of a white-out, getting body parts chopped off during an overdue family reunion, or being trapped in an awkward, uncomfortable position to be used as a wall decoration all the way until the next movie was released, it’s the stretch where everything is completely falling apart.  Of course it’s an integral part of the overall story, but it’s just the setup to the resolution that takes place in the final act.

Catching Fire fits this story arc perfectly.  Katniss is back in the hunger games arena, people want her even more dead than dying in the arena would provide, she’s seperated from Peeta, and she’s not sure if she wants to be with either guy who thinks he’s in love with her.  Sheesh, what have I been missing by not reading Young Adult all this time…?  Okay, so there are no cool bounty hunters as in Empire, but it’s the tear down before the hero (or heroine in this case) fights her way through it all to save the day/her family/her world/her universe. Granted, I haven’t read the third book yet but I assume I would have heard the wailing and gnashing of teeth from fans leaving the theatre after seeing the final installment if she didn’t accomplish all of that by the end.  So I think I can safely assume…

It’s an interesting story, something entertaining to read before bed, and a 7.75 out of 10 on my completely arbitrary scale.  And I’m not concerned about that influencing you to read it or not because I’m pretty sure that I’m the last person around to finally read it.

I guess I’ll have to make sure read a brand new release next.  That way I’m keeping up with the rest of the reading world.  Well…once I finish this trilogy anyway…

Hey, It’s Good ‘Ol Whatshisname!

I’m horrible with names.

Not bad, horrible.  I’m one of those people who dreads the moment of meeting someone new. Because my mind perfectly hears – “I’d like you to meet–“, and then immediately switches gear at that point to plan out my response instead of listening.  Right as their name is being said, I’m formulating which assortment of words I’m going to use in my first statement to this new person. “Nice to meet you”, “Good to meet you”, “Pleasure to meet you”… They’re not complicated phrases at all, so why am I spending so much mental energy to ensure I don’t make a disastrous first impression by accidentally saying “Meet to nice you”, or “Nice to pleasure you”?  And yet, my mind immediately clicks off into that direction on the exact word before their name is spoken.

Knowing that I do this doesn’t help me at all.  It’s a problem I’m completely aware of and still can’t stop.  So if I meet you and don’t actually use your name in conversation until I’ve heard someone else use it at least eighteen times, please don’t be offended.  It’s not you, it’s me.

I know I’m not the only person with this problem.   And fortunately some people are even worse.  I once visited my sister at college and she introduced me to the pastor of her church.

“This is my brother Drew,” she said to him.

“Wow,” he replied as he reached out to shake my hand. “My name is Craig too.”

Unfortunately I’m horrible with the names of characters in the books I write as well. They’re my creations, right?  So I should easily be able to decide “You’re Audra McKinney, you’re Richard Bucklew, and you’re Edgar Ott. Sorry, just deal with it.” But I’m hesitant. Like I’m going to offend them by accidentally using the wrong name and they might not correct me, causing me to always call Jason “Erik” and being laughed at behind my back. Wow, that sounds like quite an issue when I type it out… 🙂

So right now the main character in my current novel is “[Name]”. That’s it. I’m on chapter 31 and every time he’s mentioned, he’s [Name]. I don’t want to use a working name in case it’s not right and it sticks forever.  Awkward.

I know everything about this character – the way his relationship with his father has impacted his decisions throughout his life, his continuing fixation with one of his ex-girlfriends, the reasons why can’t bring himself to replace the toaster. Everything.  Yet I still call him [Name].

It’s not forever. He’ll be given his name by the end of the book I’m sure. Until then, at least [Name] knows me as well as I know him and can be understanding about it.  And if not, I’ll just edit him to be a bit more forgiving…

“Pay attention to me,” she says.

It’s been a grey, rainy day here today.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about that at all. Rain inspires me. There’s just something about having weather that’s a little bit ‘off’ to kick in the creative energy.  Especially during those times when you’re driving through it to go to work instead.  Then the ideas really start flowing.  Call it bad timing…

Today would have been a great day to be sitting at the desk cranking out a few chapters while watching the rain steadily run down the windows. Or maybe to be sitting in a coffee shop in a comfy, overstuffed chair listening to the people come in and go out, shaking off the water and placing their orders for hot drinks. Especially since one of my characters has been not so politely requesting my attention.

Right now, two of my main characters are trying to figure out just what they’re pursuing together. They may be starting a relationship but it’s still in that awkward stage that could go in any number of directions. And I haven’t had the time to get back to them in a while.  And Marla’s not happy about that at all…

[Editor’s Note:  ‘Marla’ is the current name being used in the working manuscript and may change – based on whatever this character tells the author her name is.  She’s strong-willed.  Also, this working name may or may not be based on the name of a girl the author used to know in high school. Creative liberties and all that you know…]

(I always wanted to do one of those notes…)

Part of what makes writing so exciting are those moments when the characters’ personalities come out and they really start telling their own stories.  And Marla isn’t the patient type so she’s done that to me numerous times through the process so far.  She’s the type to say what’s on her mind and to make decisions quickly.   So she hasn’t been very happy about me sitting around and taking a pause in picking up the next part of the story.  And she’s been popping up in my mind and making that extremely clear.

I don’t blame her though.  She’s right.  There’s a date that really needs to happen, and a late night conversation about the past needs to take place as well.  A misunderstanding or two have to be faced and conversations with friends to get outside opinions from people who don’t have the whole picture.  Fun stuff like that.  And much more.

Once I pick it back up, they’ll lead me through it and take a number of different turns that will surprise me and take me off guard.  Since it’s still the rough draft, it’s just writing, not editing, and there’s the enjoyment of being led along the story, finding out how far off I was with my original expectations and plans.

I don’t take it personally that she’s demanding my attention.  Her story’s time is now, before the next one starts pushing its way forward in my mind and the next novel starts taking over my thoughts.  And before that, she’s got a lot of living yet to do…

Sci-Fi That’s Not Sci-Fi, But It’s Sci-Fi

Back when I was young, I devoured all of the books I could get my hands on.  My mother taught me to read before I turned 3, figuring that since she was already teaching my four-year-old sister, she might as well take me along for the ride.  I’m not sure if it was the whole ‘2 birds, 1 stone’ approach or simply a way to keep me occupied and out of trouble, but it worked. Worked as in ‘I learned to read’, not worked as in ‘kept me out of trouble’. Reading opened my mind and fueled my imagination, guaranteeing that I’d actually get in more trouble in life.  But you know what…?  I’m okay with that.

As I grew up, I’d try reading almost anything – animal stories, Encyclopedia Brown investigations, old west tales, the entire Hardy Boys series…  And fantasy and sci-fi as well. Books had nothing to do with genres back then. It was all about the stories.

I’m usually an optimist about books, expecting the best, and planning to enjoy a good story with interesting characters when I pick one up.  And I shouldn’t be ashamed of reading ‘those types of books’, whatever they might be. Especially as good writing is good writing (and bad is bad) no matter the subject matter.

All of this leads to me reading The Martian by Andy Weir.  This is an example of realistic science fiction (in that it’s fiction and it deals with issues of science). It just doesn’t have aliens and space battles and the types of things that are expected from people who don’t really read sci-fi. The “Martian” in this book is astronaut Mark Watney, who is left for dead after an accident and finds himself stranded alone on Mars.  Plenty of science is involved in this fiction (see what I did there…?) as the main character attempts to survive for month upon month until rescue can arrive.  

The technical issues and descriptions actually work throughout the story, and work well.  What’s strange is how the book suffers when other characters are involved.  Dialogue is strained, people are two-dimensional, and yes…it seems like the author doesn’t really know any women.  That’s where I can see the issues women may have with the book.  And in that regard, it kind of reminds me of some of those sci-fi books I read as a kid, where characters – especially female characters – weren’t completely fleshed out (so to speak).

I’d actually give this book 8.25 out of 10 (I just can’t use a five-star guide because there’s just not enough range to play with), despite these issues.  It’s gripping to read from beginning to end and the main character is entertaining when he’s talking to himself on a planet he doesn’t share with another person.  As long as the story is a soliloquy, and every other character stays out of the way, it’s fun to read.  And that’s not a description I ever thought I’d use for a book is actually recommend.

So I can’t say that I’m embarrassed to have read this one compared to those sci-fi books of my youth where the men (or male aliens) fought through the universe meeting females described only by their physical attributes rather than their strengths, weaknesses, background and flaws.  But then I can’t remember the male characters being that much better.

So does that mean that I don’t have to apologize on behalf of my gender for reading those?  Because I swear I’ve forgotten all about them them and they’ve yet to leave the moldy boxes stored away in my dad’s garage.  I’ve moved on to bigger and better things…

 

The Wonderful Whoopses In Life

We’ve all made decisions we regret in life. It’s part of the human condition. All of us have at some point turned left when we should have turned right, or said ‘yes’ when we should have said ‘no’. Or, what’s even worse is to look back and remember one of those crucial moments when we said ‘no’ and really should have said ‘yes’… Ouch.

I won’t go all Robert Frost on you. I think we’ve all heard plenty of times ‘and that has made all the difference’. Enough to know that decisions are important and how they take us down our paths in life, blah, blah,blah. It’s just that most of them aren’t as blatantly obvious as Mr. Frost’s lovely, slightly overgrown path. So we do the best with the limited knowledge we have to work with.

Some decisions we’re completely stuck with, while others we can change – or fix. Some decisions didn’t make the slightest difference in the long run and some simply had to be made. Some seem foolish in retrospect, and some we’d never undo, even if they caused us pain and heartache, simply because they contributed to creating the person we are today. They led us here.

In life, there has to be conflict. There has to be pain. There have to be mistakes and regrets and foolishness. Occasionally I’ll find myself wishing that life was like one of those old “choose you own ending” books. I used to get these from the library, or find one in my stocking on Christmas morning. I always kept a finger in place whenever I made a choice that wasn’t 100% certain about (and of course that was all of them). Then, by the end of the book, I’d have most all of my fingers trapped on different pages, in different places in the story, and could barely even turn the page. I don’t know how many times I went back and re-tried a decision, but it always seemed to be necessary because I always managed to find all of the endings that led to horrible, agonizing death.

But perfection, a clean conscience and a history of excellent decision making doesn’t make for a person you’d want to be friends with, let alone be. And so it is with the fictional characters. You need their wrong turns, the huge mistakes that can’t be recovered from completely. It’s drama. No matter how much you love the characters, you need their struggles and pain to make the story. This is what gives them the opportunity to grow and find new paths if they’re strong, or crushes them if they’re weak.

So no apologies to any of them as I put them through it all. Their reward for the tough times is that they’re more memorable, more flawed, more entertaining and more human, just like the rest of us. Even if they have to screw up over and over, every time someone reads their story through, it’s worth it in the end. Where’s the fun in us learning our lessons the first time anyway?

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words – So Here’s a Thousand Words

I need to take a moment to figure out how to attach pictures to posts here on the site. I’m sure it’s not at all complicated but, when I’m usually writing my posts by clicking away on my cell phone, I simply feel fortunate that my spelling and typing errors aren’t completely overwhelming.

You know, it’s interesting to think about all of the hours that high school students wasted in typing classes. And now the only actual typing on keyboards we seem to do is when we send out quick replies to emails at work – usually consisting of jargon and abbreviations that are incomprehensible to anyone from outside of the company – and to at least half of those from within as well. Then we’re ‘typing’ on tablets and phones both throughout the work day and again after we’ve escaped from work and are back to real life. And, on those devices, you can’t rest your fingertips in the ‘Q’ and ‘W’ keys with your left hand, and ‘P’ and ‘O’ with the right. Or whatever it was that you were supposed to do. I wouldn’t know the rules because I never took typing in high school. That’s because it was scheduled at the same time as jazz band. I was a dork of another color.

The things you experience in another area can definitely be described, but sometimes it’s good to get a little visual peak into that world as well. And that’s where a picture or two can come in very handy. Just to show a little piece of the area and some of the things that jump out. After all, the change of living here and trying to adapt can be like the difference between walking down a familiar street in any town you know in the world, and stepping inside of a Wal-Mart. Whether it’s the people walking around it what would appear to be costumes rather than actual wardrobe choices, or the marauding gangs of 4-9 year olds roving through the store unattended, it’s just a view that’s a little off from the expected. And from the usual.

I know… I need to stop picking on that place, don’t i? After all, we all have to go there sometime… And, if nothing else, it manages to be entertaining and good for a laugh too. Just like good ‘ol Fayette County.

But I’ll have to start showing you some of the things that jump out or that set this place apart from any other area that I’ve lived in before. And that way I’ll also have some visual reminders myself for when I want to add some of those things into my future novels…

So for now I’m short of the thousand words. And we’ll have to settle for 488.  But you can put it on my tab. Because I’ll be back to spend plenty more words soon. And maybe they’ll even come with a visual or two…

Rough Draft People Are The Best Kind Of People

Anyone who’s ever even thought about writing has heard the phrase “Write about what you know”.  And, as a general rule I’d agree with that. But, the issue that scares me more is what is so easy to do – write about who you know.

I imagine someday in the future sitting at a book signing for my latest novel (a boy can dream, right?) and seeing a face that looks familiar. And then having that person lean forward and say – “Hi.  It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?  The character Audra in this book was based on me, wasn’t she?”

I’ve moved around many times and met more than my share of interesting people.  And of course there are many memories attached to these people that are complete stories in themselves. Whether it’s the woman I went out with for a 2nd(!) date who proceeded to take me to a dive bar after dinner, have far too much to drink and start introducing me to all of her many bar friends as her husband.  And then, as I’m driving her home, to have her start punching me in the face as I’m driving 70 down the highway, and all the while she’s screaming and calling me Steve.

Or how about the friend from years back who bought and old AMC Gremlin for $50, painted over all of the rust with black and yellow paint to make it look like a yellow-jacket, and never bothered to replace the missing seat belts or floor boards.  And then he always insisted on driving wherever we went.

Or maybe the ex-girlfriend who…  Or the college roommate that…  Or the mentally unstable football coach, the distant cousin, the co-worker, the French tutor…

There are so many people who have been a part of my life in one way or another.  Many who were incredibly ‘unique’ and many who were parts of crazy/unforgettable/life-altering moments in my life.  All of these people (and there are plenty of others that I’ve temporarily forgotten who pop up in my mind occasionally) have had major impacts on my life in one way or another, making me the way I am today.  And I’m not even going to take the time to figure out which ones should receive credit for that and which ones deserve blame…

These are the best people and experiences to draw from when creating the worlds within my novels.  Just not the exact, real them.  Versions of them, adaptations, compilations instead.  That way nobody surprises me at the signing table someday after finding themself within those pages.

But, just to protect me from such embarrassments, this will be printed in the front of the book:

“This is a work of fiction.  Any similarities to anyone living or dead is purely a coincidence, and really should have been corrected from how they were written in the rough draft.  So get over yourself!”