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Friday Flix: Breaking Up

I’ve gone on record on this blog as saying that I hate this trend of movies being broken into two parts like “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” and “The Hobbit.”  To me it just reeks of exploitation to get stupid people to pay for two movies instead of one.  Yet this summer when I watched “Captain America” I thought it really needed to be two parts.

The first part would have pretty much been the movie as it was.  That is that Steve Rogers becomes Captain America and takes down the Red Skull.  In the process he crashes a plane into some arctic ice.  But what I thought was that they needed a second part where he gets unfrozen in the modern era.  (Or it could have even been years ago, like the ’90s or something.)  Then he would have to deal with all the issues like his girl being either really old or dead and how the culture has changed and whatnot.  Sure this stuff will probably get some lip service in the Avengers movie, but probably not a lot with all the other stuff that has to be sandwiched into it.

And really it would make sense because the comics took place in two different eras, the ’40s and then the ’60s.  They didn’t do everything in a couple of issues, right?  Really since the story has two different eras, you’re covering a lot of ground, more than one movie could do justice to.  Instead we cover one era pretty well in the movie and then the other gets a real half-baked treatment.  That doesn’t seem fair for an iconic character, does it?

Well sure there probably will be a sequel eventually (I think it performed well enough for that) but it’ll be after the Avengers movie, which is a bit too little, too late to me.

In writing sometimes the question comes up whether a book should be one story or two.  If you’re in that situation, you really have to examine what you have going on.  Is there enough going on to support a second story?  Or would it be easier to scale a little back and just make it one story?  In the “Captain America” example I think there were enough issues to support a second story.  Some would argue there are in Harry Potter, Twilight, and the Hobbit.  I have no idea about the first two.  The latter I’m pretty sure the answer is no if you go by just the novel and not additional stuff added in later.

The closest I’ve had to this situation was when I was writing the fifth Scarlet Knight story.  I had all these flashbacks to a love triangle between our two witches Agnes and Sylvia and Agnes’s husband Alejandro.  Eventually I decided that there was enough of a story in these flashbacks to warrant a prequel.  Which led to numerous bad or stalled attempts at such a prequel.  Eventually I might get that right.  The point remains though that sometimes when you’re working on a story you realize it leads to other stories.

Monday is the thrilling adventures of Indie Publishing and the Lexicon of Doom!

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Writing Wednesday: Slow Starters

Last month I finally finished Life of Pi by Yann Martel.  That was one of those books where when I heard about it back in 2002 or 2003 or so I thought I should read it at some point, but only after everyone had stopped caring about it, much as I did with The Da Vinci Code, A Million Little Pieces, and The Lovely Bones and might do again with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.  So basically Life of Pi was in the back of my mind for about eight years.  Finally I saw it at Bargain Books for $3.50 and figured that was cheap enough to finally read it.

I started to regret that after plodding through the first 150 pages.  Gawd, is it so boring!  The book is supposed to be about a boy on a lifeboat with a tiger, but the opening 150 pages are about Pi and his family, who own a small zoo in India.  Pi tries different religions (Christian, Hindu, and Islam) like an Indian version of “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret.”  That part reads like a poor man’s Salman Rushdie.

I began to wonder, “Where the hell is the fucking tiger?”  That’s what we were promised damn it!  I mean it’s right there on the cover:  a boy in a lifeboat with a tiger!  So get to it already, Martel!

Finally his dad decides they should go to Canada and they get on a boat with a bunch of animals.  Then the boat sinks.  Except the tiger isn’t even there at first!  There’s a hyena, zebra, and orangutan in the boat with Pi.  So then I began worrying that it was all a trick and really there was no tiger.  But after another 75 pages or so the tiger shows up.  He’s been hiding beneath a tarp.  In a lifeboat with 100 square feet.  With three other animals and a human.  I’m suspending disbelief big time!

The hyena kills the orangutan and zebra and then the tiger kills the hyena, which finally leaves us with the boy and the tiger.  Finally!  I mean the book is like half over and we’re finally getting to the point of the thing.

Now the thing is, the same thing just about happens with Martel’s previous novel, “Self.”  That was an update of Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando” where a man spontaneously becomes a woman.  In “Self” too you wait and wait for it to happen and then about halfway through the book–after a lot of pointless crap about him going to boarding school and carrots in people’s eyes and whatnot–he becomes a she, though we still have no idea what his/her name is.

You know what makes me furious and jealous?  This is exactly what agents tell you NOT to do.  Start with an exciting hook!  I won’t read on if the first page doesn’t hook me!  Blah, blah, blah.  I mean Noah Lukeman has fleeced the unsuspecting public with his “The First Five Pages” about all the stuff you have to do in five pages to hook an agent.  Does Yann Martel do any of that?  NO!  So again agents are full of shit.

I mean if we did this the way agents SAY you’re supposed to do it then we’d start with the ship sinking.  We’d start with Self turning into a woman.  Those are the exciting things and we should start with excitement to pull the reader in, right?  Well, apparently not.  We wouldn’t blather on for 150-200 pages about other crap first before getting to that.

That was the whole reason why I started “Where You Belong” with the car accident.  That was really one of the more exciting parts in terms of action and everyone says you’re supposed to start with exciting parts to hook the reader!  If I’d done it Martel’s way I could have gone on for 200 pages without ever getting to the point of the story.  Maybe I did to some extent.

Anyway, me being me I don’t always mind a slow start.  Well, I do mind it but I’ll put up with it if it leads to something better.  Which it does with “Life of Pi.”  (But not “Self.”  That book was really boring until the rape scene near the end.  Start with the rape scene next time!)  Also Ian McEwan’s “Atonement” was the same way where the first third to half of the book is all this boring Jane Austen manners crap and then it starts to get to the point of a “rape” and someone being falsely accused and WWII and so forth.

But the thing is, a lot of people won’t.  When I read other Amazon reviews for “Atonement” those who gave it 1 star are those who quit in that first 150 pages or so when it was boring Jane Austen manners crap.  Those who gave it five stars are people like me who held out until the end.

So even though they don’t practice what they preach, the agents are probably right on this one.  You should try to start with something to “hook” the reader, especially if you’re writing genre fiction where the reader might not be as patient as someone who reads literary fiction.  (Not to say I’m patient.  I’m stubborn.  And cheap.  Especially if I pay money for a book I want to finish it to try and get my money’s worth.)  If it’s someone like my sisters who buy ten books at a time, then they might toss yours aside and go on to the next one if it doesn’t interest them right away.

Did this entry start too slow?  Well maybe it at least had a good finish.

Friday:  When one part isn’t enough…

Terrible Tips Tuesday: Subliminal Editing

Last weekend I was reading the rough draft of this story so I could make some edits and then send it out to guinea pigs beta readers.  I’d already read through it a couple times before to fix a lot of the continuity problems and so forth, so this was mostly just to catch typos or other glitches.  You want to know the biggest problem though:  THAT.

I mean the actual word, that.  I have this annoying habit of putting extra “that”‘s in places where they aren’t really necessary.  For instance I’ll have a sentence like:

He shoved the papers off the chair so that he could sit down.

There isn’t anything really wrong with that sentence, is there?  But if you think about it, you could also say:

He shoved the papers off the chair so he could sit down.

See what I mean?  You don’t really need “that” in the sentence for it to read fine.  Maybe some grammar snob can tell me which (if any) is more correct, but the second reads all right and it has one less word.

Does that matter?  Not all the time.  Still, when I notice the extra “that”‘s then I start to see them all over the place.  I have no idea how many I wound up deleting over the weekend.  A hundred?  Maybe a bit less.

Another word I unconsciously use a lot:  JUST.  And not like “it’s a just system.”  More like:

Just put that on that table.

OR

There’s just one more thing we need to do.

In either case, I don’t really need the “just” in it.  Both sentences read fine without the word in there.  I just can’t stop myself so that I wind up doing it all the time.  Maybe you’ve got your own bugaboos you find when editing.  The point is there’s a lot worse things than adverbs out there.

Challenge Completed

I “challenged” myself to read 25 books this year on Goodreads.  I just finished #25 last night.  So, go me.  I might have done it sooner, but the Raymond Chandler book of short stories was 1300+ pages.  Needless to say that took a little while.

Here’s the graphic with covers for all 25 books  (the eyeball one is Mr. Pagel’s The Scariest Things You Can’t Imagine):

Monday Musing: Here We Go Again

Last Wednesday I talked about how readers don’t really care about adverbs, head-hopping, and fresh stories like agents/editors like to claim.  We’re going to talk about the latter today.

For over a year I’ve been getting the Vine newsletter from Amazon.  That lets me pick out books and also things like Ring Pops, mouse pads, lawn darts, and Tide detergent to try and review.  The two or so books I could get a month sustained a lot of reading for the last year or so.

Lately I haven’t been getting so many books from there.  Why?  Because most of them seem the same.  It’s kind of a game anymore to run through the newsletter and cross things off.  Here are a few of the most common storylines under the general fiction or literary fiction categories:

  1. Mother-daughter bonding
  2. Family tragedy
  3. Immigrants adapting

So as I said, it’s become a bit of a game to look at the descriptions and see which one the book falls into.  Some it’s easy because they say it right off the bat.  Others it might take looking until the end of the description.  No matter the case, I see it and then I move on.

Unlike agents/editors/the general public I don’t want the same thing rehashed endlessly.  One of the books I got was “The Widower’s Tale” which was an OK book, but the problem I noted was so much of it I’d seen before.  The main character is an academic from Massachusetts?  His girlfriend gets breast cancer and loses her hair?  Shocking!

Nothing against Massachusetts academics or breast cancer sufferers/survivors, but these things have been in a number of books/movies already.  As I joke in my review, there are probably 2,000 Lifetime movies already on breast cancer.  Do we need another?

It’s not like I’m asking you to reinvent the wheel, but at least give her a different kind of cancer.  How about ovarian cancer?  Throat cancer?  How about give HIM cancer instead.  I mean, why is it usually the women who get it?  And instead of being a stuffy Massachusetts librarian, why can’t he be an auto mechanic in Montana?  Come on, stretch yourself a little!

It’s probably because writers, like everyone else, want to stick close to familiar ground.  A lot of writers are Massachusetts academics, so that’s why they write about that.  It’s also why so many people (including me!) use writers or English professors as their main characters.

And you know what, publishers keep publishing them and readers keep reading them.  Why?  Because we don’t really want anything radically new.  It’s like with TV we just want all those old plots from “I Love Lucy” updated with new names and settings.

As I said in my Will Smith, Only Living Movie Star entry, there are certain themes that people go for time and again.  The ones I listed above are obviously in the mix.  In romance it’s usually some uptight chick mixing with some rogue/rake/scoundrel.  Even Star Wars used that one!

So again, when you’re writing, don’t worry about reinventing the wheel; just slap some new campaign bumper stickers on it and call it a day.

Wednesday:  Yann Martel proves (yet again) that agents are full of shit…

Friday Flix: Bigger Bangs for the Buck

A couple months ago (and I think we’re almost to the end of ideas I came up with while on summer hiatus) I bought the four “Alien” movies because I thought:  I really like the second one and the first one a little less, so why don’t I own them?  So I bought the four-pack off Amazon since it was about as cheap as getting the two separately, plus it had the extended editions for all of them!

To finally get to the point, I watched the first two and then came to “Alien3” which I hadn’t watched since about 1992 and then most of it in fast forward.  It occurred to me that the problem with “Alien3” (other than crappy special effects) is that they thought too small.

In a previous entry I argued that sequels shouldn’t just be MORE explosions and whatnot, that they should deepen the story and characters.  The obvious problem is that “Alien3” begins by killing all the survivors of the last movie except for Ripley because I guess they couldn’t afford to bring back Michael Biehn and the kid who played Newt would have been like 18 or something.  (Yeah, I’m sure Michael Biehn’s schedule was really full of…something.  I mean a superstar like him doesn’t come cheap—sarcasm intended.  As for the girl, it’s really hard to find a blond/blue-eyed kid in Hollywood—more sarcasm.)  Poor Bishop was already half-dead anyway, so I guess that was a moot point.

The next mistake then is marooning Ripley on a prison planet with no weapons and few people and just one alien.  This is where the thinking too small comes in.  Now maybe they wanted to get back more to the slasher movie feel of the first one.  Or maybe they were too cheap to do another Cameron-style action extravaganza.  The problem for me (and I assume most other people) is that after you’ve done the huge James Camera action extravaganza with sweet machineguns mowing down scores of aliens and robot suits fighting the big queen alien, it’s really disappointing to go back to using homemade flamethrowers against one piddly alien.  I mean come on, what is that?

It occurred to me was that what they should have done is take the next logical step and introduce the aliens to Earth.  Instead of a slasher movie, make more of a “Dawn of the Dead” type movie where hordes of aliens are running loose on Earth and our heroes are the survivors who have to try and find somewhere safe.  You could have brought Ripley back or you could have gone with other actors—cheaper ones—if you wanted to save money that way.

Maybe that wouldn’t have made the story or characters deeper like I’d prefer, but it would have at least followed logically.  When you’re adding sequels you generally want to keep making them bigger and deeper, not shrink them down.  Because with each successive book you build expectations in the audience’s minds and they’re going to demand a bigger payoff with each book.

Or to paraphrase from “Last Action Hero” when the Ahh-nold character Jack Slater laments, “I started out wanting just to be a good cop but I kept getting sucked into all these crazy adventures” his kid sidekick says, “These are the sequels, everything has to get harder!”

The thing with sequels is that you can’t go back; you have to keep moving ahead.

Monday:  Does Your Story Feel Fresh?

Rogue Mutt Seeks Female Readers

So last Friday I Tweeted to my 175-ish followers (and Mr. Pagel reTweeted to his 575-ish followers) this Help Wanted ad:

Hey ladies, who wants to beta read an X-rated, probably misogynistic thriller?

Sadly no one responded.  Maybe I couldn’t sell it well enough in 144 characters.  Or maybe calling it X-rated and misogynistic isn’t a great sales pitch.  Either way, I’m still looking for females to beta read my story.  If that Tweet wasn’t enticing enough, here’s some more details:

The Story:  The tentative title is “Back to Life.”  It’s about Detective Steve Fister, a grizzled 50-year-old police detective who’s divorced from his wife and estranged from his 22-year-old daughter Maddy.  Then one night he gets wind of a robbery at a pharmaceuticals company by crime boss Artie “Lex” Luther.  Steve goes to the plant, where he fights Luther’s goons, knocking them all out.  When he goes after Luther, they get to struggling and Luther stabs Steve with a needle full of some weird pink substance that causes Steve to go numb.

He’s shot in the head and then dumped into the harbor.  Miraculously he wakes up the next morning, but there’s something different:  Steve has been transformed into an 18-year-old girl!  She makes contact with Steve’s partner Jake and they find out that Steve was injected with a revolutionary anti-aging serum called FY-1978; the drug in the needle was specifically designed for women, which is why he ended up a she.  (The vague science will make a little more sense in the novel.)

Now going by the name Stephanie, she tries to find a cure.  There’s just a slight problem:  the scientist who was instrumental to making the drug was murdered by Luther’s goons and all of her notes stolen.  To have any hope of being changed back, Stephanie needs to find Luther and the formula/notes.

Whilst in the process of this, Stephanie finds Maddy working at a coffeehouse and sees an opportunity to reconnect with her.  There’s a slight hitch though when Stephanie falls in love with Maddy’s lover.

You can read the entire rough draft on its blog here.

Content Advisory:  I’m not with the MPAA so I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure this would get a NC-17 rating.  There’s cursing, there’s sex, there’s violence, there’s a very unsettling gynecological exam.  So if you think that kind of stuff is “yucky” then this isn’t for you.  And don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Objective:  You might wonder why I’m asking for female readers.  Mostly because I want to get a feminine perspective on the Stephanie parts.  Stuff like menstruation and lovemaking (from a female point of view) I’m a little hazy on, as you might imagine.  So I figure it’d be good for a woman to tell me how wrong I am and what a misogynistic jerk I am.  If you see any typos it would be good to point them out, but I’m not expecting anyone to go through and cross out every adverb I use or rewrite huge chunks of the manuscript.

Timetable:  I don’t like to rush people because I know everyone except me is very busy, but I would like to get this done by the end of the year.  The complete story, double-spaced in Word (TNR 12-point font) is about 315 pages, though some of those are largely blank.  I can’t say exactly how long it would take to read the whole thing.  12 hours?  16 hours?  Probably depends on your speed and how many horrid errors you find.  Anyway, like I say I would hope anyone who responds could fit in into their schedule within the next 2-3 months.  Just pretty please don’t be someone who responds and then I never hear from again.

Delivery:  I use MS Word 2000.  I can save it as a PDF or other formats too.  Just let me know which would be best and I’ll email the file to you.

Payment:  Of course you might be thinking, “What’s in it for me?”  I’m not offering money, but I am willing to exchange favors.  So if you want me to critique something of yours, I’ll be happy to do it.  And unlike a lot of people I’ll probably do it right away too because I have no life.

If you’re still interested, just Email me at roguemutt[at]yahoo[dot]com or leave a comment on this post and I’ll get back to you.  I’ll be rereading it myself this weekend, so I wouldn’t send anything until next week.

Thank you.  Have a nice day!