TV

Going Postal on TV

I made the dangerous discovery that if there’s something I’d like to watch, I can run a search on the Roku and see if it’s streaming anywhere. I’d found last week that some of the TV adaptations of Terry Pratchett books were available with Amazon Prime, but not the one I hadn’t already seen, Going Postal. It’s not even available to buy/rent on Amazon. Just out of curiosity, I ran the Roku search and found that it’s on one of the free TV apps. So, now I’ve had a chance to watch it.

I heard a lot of complaints when it was on British TV, but it really wasn’t bad at all. The book was still better, but that’s a big “Duh!” I thought the casting was excellent (Charles Dance was born to play Vetinari), and it was interesting seeing some of these things come to life, like the way they depicted the Clacks. There’s a bit of a steampunk aesthetic in the setting, technology, and costumes. The special effects are a bit on the cheap side, and the low budget is occasionally obvious, but I don’t think that ruins the overall effect. I would love to see some of these adaptations done with a decent budget, and since I’m sure there’s a big audience for them, I’m not sure why they’ve all been so cheap.

That’s one of my favorite Pratchett books, in part because it was my first, but in part because it’s such a satisfying redemption story, about a con artist who gets caught but gets another chance. At first, he’s scheming for himself, but then he starts to see the impact his crimes had on people and he actually starts thinking about a greater good. He finds ways to use his talents to the benefit of others, not just himself, and that ends up benefiting himself. And that’s all done without getting sappy or sanctimonious.

I don’t know if I’d want to watch this again, so I don’t know about looking for the DVD, but I was so glad I found it to stream. I liked the adaptation of Hogfather, though it, too, suffered from being a bit cheap. The Colour of Magic was kind of a mess, though. It’s pretty much impossible to do that story on a low budget, and that meant a lot of the good stuff was cut out.

Books

My Problem with Epic Fantasy Series

As I come to the end of a trilogy I’ve been reading, I started thinking about what to read next, and that got me started thinking about my reading patterns, and I realized that I have a weird problem with a lot of epic fantasy: I tend not to finish series. There are very few of those big, fat fantasy series that I’ve actually finished.

I know the Anne McCaffrey Pern books are technically science fiction, but they read a lot like fantasy and at various times have been published as fantasy. When I was a teenager, I got an omnibus edition of the first few books from the library, plowed through the first book, read the second, and bogged down somewhere during the third book, never finishing it and never reading any other books in the series.

I read the first two Shannara books when I was a teen, but they were self-contained, with the second book picking up a generation after the first. Not long after I was out of college, I discovered that the series has been continued, picking up some time after the second book. I read the third book, which had a cliffhanger-ish ending, read the fourth book, which picked up the story. And I think that was where I stopped. Part of it was because the party was split in the fourth book, with one group going off and the story sticking with the other group, ending with a cliffhanger involving them. But then the next book picked up the story of the group that split off. There was a time gap between books, as I’d caught up with those that had been published, and I couldn’t remember what had been happening with the group that was split off, so I seem to have lost interest entirely and stopped reading.

I got started on the Wheel of Time series when I was on a trip, finished the book I’d brought, and went to a bookstore to buy something to read on my flight home (in the days before e-books). They threw a freebie book into my bag, and that was what I started reading on the plane. It turned out to be just the first third or so of the first Wheel of Time book (so it was about the size of an average mass market paperback). Since it was a freebie sampler, of course it ended on a cliffhanger, and when I got home, I got the whole book from the library and plowed through it. I then immediately went to the library for the next book, and plowed through it. I grabbed the next one, and fizzled out midway through it when I realized I didn’t care what happened. Part of it was that the main character was changing, which is to be expected, but I didn’t like the person he’d changed into. Part of it was that they split the party, and all the characters I liked were with one group, but that wasn’t the group the book focused on. And I think part of it was burnout. I never did go back and read the rest of the series.

On the recommendation of a friend, I bought all the books in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series by Tad Williams. It’s a trilogy, but in mass market the final book is split into two volumes. There’s still a bookmark stuck midway through the last volume. If I were to try to finish the series, I’d have to start over again because I don’t remember anything at all about those books.

Of course, there are series I’ve finished, or at least have managed to read all of the books the author has written. So, what’s the difference?

I’ve learned that I do have a problem with burnout. While there is that urge to read all the books, right now, I’ve found that I do better to space them out, even if they’re all available. If I read something else in between volumes of a series, I’m more likely to finish the series.

To some extent, for me shorter is better. I can generally finish a trilogy, but when I see an unending series of doorstopper books, I feel overwhelmed. I find it helps if a longer series of connected books is broken up in smaller trilogies. That allows some sense of completion rather than feeling strung along forever without a resolution. Somewhat self-contained books are also good, with each book having a beginning, middle, and end rather than just being the amount of pages out of one long story that could fit into the binding.

Don’t split the party! That seems to be the kiss of death for me. I’ll be happy with the first book and the group of characters, and then they always seem to split up in book 2 (Tolkien did this, too). Even if I like characters in both groups, it changes the group chemistry when they’re split. If I don’t like characters in both groups, this is when I tend to skip ahead to find out what’s going on with the characters I like, and then I lose the thread of the overall story. I’m more likely to finish a series that sticks with one main character or group of characters.

Obviously, I’m not the norm for this because all of these series were very successful. Thinking about this has mostly been a way for me to recognize my own reading patterns. As a result, although I want to read the next book in the series I’ve been reading, I think I’m going to take a break and read something else, even though the next book starts a new trilogy in that universe. I like these books and would like to get to the end of the series, so I’m not going to let myself bog down and burn out.

Life

Garden Distractions

I didn’t last very long working on the patio yesterday before I was seized by the urge to get out the hedge clippers and trim the jasmine that invades the patio from the other side of the fence. And then the bare flowerpots started bothering me, so I found that I still had some seeds from last year. I don’t know if they’ll germinate, but I suppose I’ll find out in about a week. If they don’t, I can get more seeds or buy some plants.

I decided to move the morning glory trellis to a larger pot that I can put my plant waterer in, and I think I’m going to put zinnias around the edge, since the morning glories grow up and something needs to be around the base. That way, if nothing else survives any trips out of town, it’ll be the plant that matters most. The waterer is a slim terra cotta jar that you bury with just its top above ground and fill with water. The water seeps through the clay into the soil. Depending on weather conditions, it can keep plants alive more than a week. You start with a good watering, and the water only seeps through when the soil dries out, so the jar can stay full for a while until that last watering wears off, and then any rain will hold off on water coming out of the jar.

I did eventually get to work and got more than my word count quota done (though I was doing a lot of copying and pasting from the previous draft). Today, my arms and shoulders are complaining about those hedge clippers.

It seems to be a bit cooler and windier today, so I may have to work indoors. That may be good because who knows what gardening would distract me today.

Life

Garden Time

I’m still making forward progress on the book and have reached a point where I can incorporate stuff I’ve already written, so I should really make my word count today. It may be a patio office day, since it’s warm but not too warm and it’s not too windy. I always seem to get a lot done when I work outside.

It’s also getting to the time of year when I can start playing with flowers again. We’ve had some freakishly cold snaps the last few weeks, so I’ve hesitated. I’m also going to be out of town for nearly a week next month, and I don’t want to have to deal with figuring out watering while I’m gone, but I’m getting itchy for having my “garden.” I had zinnias and morning glories last year, and the morning glories brought me a great deal of joy, so I want to plant them again.

I never thought of myself as a garden-type person, but I’m discovering that there’s something about a garden that sings to my soul. I’m happy surrounded by plants and flowers. I also never thought of myself as an “outdoors” person, but as long as the weather’s nice, I could pretty much live outside. My patio becomes another living room. A good outdoor living area is on my wish list for my dream house.

So, it may be time to head to the garden shop and see what I can plant because the patio is looking awfully bare right now and I have a lot of empty flowerpots.

writing

Dreaming the Book

I made both my writing time quota and my word count quota yesterday, so I felt really accomplished. And I must have become deeply engaged in what I was doing because all last night I dreamed the scenes I wrote yesterday. It would have been nice if I could have come up with something new, like maybe the next scene, or even some revisions to the scenes I wrote yesterday, but I guess if it was vivid enough to dream, that’s still a good sign. I know when I’m dreaming a book that it’s going well.

I’m maybe a week and a half away from finishing, if I keep up this pace. But I’ve said that several times before so I’m not going to make any predictions.

In other news, this weekend is the North Texas Teen Book Festival. I’m not one of the featured authors and my books aren’t being sold there, but I am volunteering in the afternoon. I pretty much look like my book cover photo, though I suspect I’ll have my hair up and I’ll be wearing glasses, and I’ll have something on that will be a hint about who I am. If you’re there, look for me, and there may be a little prize to anyone who spots me and comes to say hi.

And for those in the Pittsburgh area, mark your calendars for a big booksigning that will be held on the afternoon of May 20. It’s part of the Nebula Awards weekend and will involve a lot of authors, including me. It’s free and open to the public. You can bring books from home, and there will be some books on sale there (supposedly, they’ll have copies of Rebel Mechanics. I’ll have a few other things). I’ll share more specific details as I have them.

I have a few events in the fall, but this is probably going to be the extent of my getting out and about until September (unless someone invites me to something else).

writing life

Taxes and Writers

My taxes are done and mailed. I had a pretty good year, which is a mixed blessing. It’s good to make more money than I expected, but then that means I had to pay more in taxes. Instead of getting a refund, I had to pay a bit more, and that means my estimated taxes for this year went up. That means doing your taxes is an emotional roller coaster. On the Schedule C you do for your business, it’s like “Wow, that’s more than I made in my best year at the day job, even when you factor in expenses!” Then you get to the Schedule SE for self-employment taxes, and then that means you net less than you made in the day job because self-employed people have to pay double the amount for Social Security, etc. Think about the amount that’s deducted from your paycheck, and double it. And then there’s income taxes, but at least you get to offset that with some deductions. I suspect I came out around the same as I did in my best year at my day job this year, but that was more than 17 years ago, and I would hope I’d have had a raise since then if I’d stayed in that career field.

Still, I feel like I’m better off because I’m doing what I love and answering to no one but myself, and it’s hard to put a dollar value on that.

But this sort of thing is why writers explode when readers complain about book prices or pirate books, or even have the gall to ask for free books. Most of us aren’t rich, and the fact that we’re doing what we love doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be paid for it.

movies

Origins and Influences: Star Wars

I finally had a chance to watch my DVD of The Last Jedi this weekend. I saw it at the theater, but it’s been a while, so it was still relatively fresh, aside from already knowing the various twists and outcomes.

It reminded me that I have yet another chapter to share of my origins and influences: Star Wars. Although I’d always been a big reader and had always indulged in the kind of play that involved making up stories, Star Wars seems to have been the trigger that made me really want to be a writer, someone who told stories.

And to think, it almost didn’t happen. As my parents never tire of telling me, I didn’t want to see the movie. I was in elementary school when the original film came out (yes, I’m old), and I was so not into that sort of thing. It was Labor Day, and my dad had the day off but I had school, so my parents had celebrated by renting a steam cleaner and cleaning the carpets. They were still damp in the evening, so they thought it would be a good idea to go out to a movie, which would give the carpets time to dry. My dad had heard people at work talking about Star Wars and decided that’s what we should see. I was rather adamantly opposed because I’d read articles about it in Newsweek and didn’t like what I’d seen. The Slipper and the Rose, a telling of Cinderella, was on the other screen at that theater, and that’s what I wanted to see. I even proposed me going to see that while everyone else went to see Star Wars, but my parents said we would all go to the same movie, and I was outvoted.

Even though Star Wars had been out for a few months at that time, every show still sold out and there was still a long line at the theater. This was back before the days of multiplexes and the same movie showing in multiple theaters. There was one screen in town showing Star Wars. We barely made it into the theater. And then about 30 seconds into the movie I was totally enraptured.

Looking back, I find it a bit ironic that I wanted to see a fairy tale movie instead because this movie was basically a fantasy story that happened to have science fiction trappings. I think that was a lot of the appeal for me. It took all the stuff I liked about fairy tales and added a lot more action. Yeah, there were robots and spaceships, but the story was basically about a farmboy (who wasn’t all that different from all those third sons of woodcutters in fairy tales) rescuing a princess with the help of a wizard and carrying out a quest by trusting in the secret magical knowledge given to him by the wizard. While this was also the entry level to me getting into science fiction, I think it still had a lot to do with me becoming a fantasy novelist. I remember thinking as I rode home from the movie, looking up at the stars and imagining them being TIE fighters I was shooting down using the controls on the window crank knob, that I wanted to tell stories like this.

I also wanted to be Princess Leia. I absolutely loved the way she was introduced. We saw the ethereal figure in a white robe, looking beautiful and vulnerable as she sent R2-D2 on his mission. And then when the stormtroopers arrived, she whipped out a blaster and started shooting at them. After she was taken captive, when Darth Vader loomed over her, looking menacing, she sassed him. This was so much better than any fairytale princess. I think most of the characters I created in my earliest stabs at writing were more or less versions of Princess Leia.

The only problem was that she was pretty much the only girl in the movie. There might have been three female characters, at most, who even had lines. That meant things got complicated when the neighborhood kids got together to play Star Wars as we ran around the neighborhood. There was a big fight over who got to be Leia. For everyone else, we had to make up characters to play. That was some of my earliest writing activity, not just acting out existing characters, but creating new ones.

That’s also one of the areas where this new age of Star Wars is a distinct improvement. There’s more than one woman with lines. After this latest movie, there’s Rey and Rose for the younger generation. There’s Maz if you want to be an alien. If you want to be in charge, there’s Leia and Admiral Holdo. And then there are the various female pilots and support staff who could easily be fleshed out if you’re looking for roles to play. Though, in spite of what a lot of the manbaby Internet whiners claim, there are still a lot more choices for the boys. Still, it’s a much bigger universe than we had to work with in my childhood.

After I discovered Star Wars, I started reading science fiction, starting with the works of Alan Dean Foster, since they seemed most like the Star Wars novelization I devoured, and since he wrote the (now non-canon )“sequel.” I didn’t realize until later that he also ghost wrote the novelization. I also started reading fantasy around that time, with The Hobbit being one of the first real fantasy novels I read. It didn’t occur to me until much later that Star Wars was essentially a fantasy story and that there may be more connection between that and stuff like The Lord of the Rings than there is between Star Wars and things like Star Trek. Now it makes perfect sense for me as a fantasy writer to cite Star Wars as an influence.

Ideas Run Amok

Yesterday was pretty productive: I did my taxes and I finally got through that tricky scene and am ready to move forward. Progress!

Plus, I’ve already done my errands for today, so I can spend the afternoon writing. I need to finish this book because there are so many other things I want to write, and the ideas are escalating daily.

For instance, I now have some major incidents for the next Rebels book planned, and one of them seems such an obvious thing to put Verity through that I can’t believe I hadn’t already thought of it. Oh, that’s going to be fun.

Then there’s this other idea that’s been lurking in the background, and a documentary I’ve been watching on Amazon brought it back to the surface.

Meanwhile, I’ve left Katie hanging in mid-crisis for a long time and need to get back to her.

And then there’s this entirely new fictional universe I just created that I may need to play in soon.

Plus a very old story idea that refuses to go away. I have this vague idea that it might make a fun serial, but that would require finding time to write it.

So, off to work I go!

writing

Revision Woes

Sometimes I love revising. While there’s a sense of discovery to the first draft, it’s also sometimes hard to think of what happens next. With revising, I’ve figured out what the book is really about, and I can mold and shape it.

But sometimes that can be a real challenge because what’s already there has a powerful hold on the mind, especially if it’s something I like. It’s tempting to tinker with the words that are there rather than question the scene that’s there. Even if I let myself question the scene, it can be hard to break away from the circumstances surrounding it.

That’s where I found myself yesterday. There’s a scene that doesn’t need to be there. It came about in the first place because I was nearing the end of a chapter and needed a good end of chapter cliffhanger. Sometimes, I get good stuff out of throwing in a cliffhanger like that. It sends the story off in a fun new direction by adding additional conflict. But when I really looked at the story, there was no reason for the antagonist to show up at that time. He had other things he needed to be doing. On the other hand, I really liked the other directions that incident spurred, and I liked how I set it up. The problem is, I can’t really have the setup and the aftermath without the incident, and I’m having a hard time mentally getting away from what I already did to create something entirely new. This may be one of those situations that requires starting a new blank document and writing an entirely new scene without referring to the previous draft, then pasting that in.

It’s like I have to completely unwrite what was there, then think of something entirely new, and then smooth over the seams. It’s not even an important scene, but that always seems to make it harder. It’s easier to change important scenes, in a way.

So, that’s going to be my fun for the day.

Back to Writing

I’m on the verge of finally having all my books back up where they need to be. It may take a little time to fully propagate through all the systems and be obviously available. The one slight delay is in the hardcovers of the Rebels books, but that’s in process. I have most of the purchase links on the web site fixed, but I still have a bit of work to do on those.

Which meant I finally got to go back to writing yesterday. Since it had been a while, I went back to a part I knew needed fixing and did some rereading/revising. I caught a few continuity errors and typos, so I guess it was worthwhile. Next up is a scene I decided didn’t need to be there because I realized there was no reason for the character to do the thing he was doing, but I need to figure out what goes in its place. I need a transition. And then I should be able to move forward toward the ending. I have a good chunk of the rest of the book mapped out.

I really want to finish by the end of the month (yeah, I said that last month, but business intervened) because May is going to be rather busy. I’ll be going to the Nebula Awards conference in mid-May, and I’m doing a workshop there, so I need to write that. I also have a story I need to work on, and then there’s some other stuff.

So it’s head down and focusing on writing for the next couple of weeks.