Monday, August 26, 2013

Commitment to Reading LOTR

Every once in a while I have few to no books in my reading pile.  During these times I sometimes take a dive into my library and re-read a particular book or series.  Recently this took me back to the land of Fianovar and Guy Gavriel Kay’s masterpiece Arthurian triology, as well as the Warhammer 40k universe, in particular the Eisenhorn and Ravenor trilogies by Dan Abnett.  Looking through my current library, a series stood out as having been read the one time, but never re-read.

J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I only vaguely remember the details of my first time through the realms of Middle Earth.  The one thing that stood out was a sense of accomplishment.  That was a hard, slog of a read at times, more so because the language is so incredibly dense and complex compared the normal fare of fantasy literature at the time. 

 With that in mind, I’ve decided to revisit Middle Earth and the heroic deeds of the Fellowship, from reading on the history of Hobbits through to the final destruction of Sauron and the raising of the King of Gondor.  

After reading the first dozen or so pages, something stood out amongst all that fine print: the races are all capitalized.  What would today be an elf is Elf to Tolkein, hobbit is Hobbit, et cetera.  This made me wonder when and where the current conventions against capitalization occurred, if at all.  One simply doesn’t repeat another author’s style simply for convention.  I distinctly remember some initial critiques on my fantasy ms that pointed out the fact that Elves were elves, despite the reasoning behind it.  I’m still tempted to return and re-edit the capitals back into the Elf, and the surprise to find it in Tolkein’s work just may be the nudge required to do so.

In any case, let the Tom Bombadil tangents begin!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Reviewing Woes

Going through the ms for OF DESOLATION AND OMENS, I realized something of a glaring oversight regarding one of my two protagonists.  Tori’i Soki is the daughter of the Emperor, and from her introduction, the sole heir after a nasty assassination of her older brother, Tori’i Hakata.  I had never intended to be coy about her particular age, so I simply pegged her at 16 to 18 years old.  Trying to develop the voice of a girl of this age isn’t so much a problem as a kick to the teeth sometimes; one of the primary purposes of this revision. 

One of the elements of a young woman of this age and in her position would be the continuation of the dynasty.  A quick and simple solution would have been to concentrate on the Hakata elements of primogeniture and simply say this was where the Emperor was hedging his bets.  Unfortunately this still ignores Soki as a viable match to someone in the J’in Empire.  This courting process would likely include complex and motivated pieces of political manoeuvring, particularly from the families of the potential suitors as they vie to make their ‘candidate’ the most desired match.

As an added element to the social structure to the story, it also adds a layer of complexity to the character I realized is lacking.  This isn’t an over-arching problem that forces a re-write.  I have the solution which will limit the impact, but the fact that such a glaring issue could have gone unseen simply underscores the need for new eyes on an a project, be it a beta or looking at your own ms after a sufficient period of time.

Ho hum.  Time to review my research notes for Japanese and Chinese courting rituals.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Vacation Post

After a couple of weeks on vacation, I can honestly say it felt longer, and in a good way.  Not your normal complaint, to be sure.  A few select stories and events that summed up the bizarre, highs and lows from a great vacation.

Snake Kills Two Kids in Campbelton: A bizarre news story that first reported the incident occurred in Moncton, instead of Campbelton.  When they mentioned Moncton, I was almost certain I knew which store was involved; this store was rather infamous for high turnover of ownership and some shady puppy mill rumours.  These larger species snakes are by no means banned but they require a permit and registration with the province, largely to ensure animal control and the local authorities are aware the thing is there.  This also provides inspectors the authority to ensure the animal is properly stored, properly cared for and not a risk to owners or anyone else.  Despite all that, for such a bizarre event to occur would require a series of maladjusted decisions to occur.  We’ll let the police investigation to conclude whether charges are to be laid, et cetera.

Grandpa Visit:  Last remaining grandparent, the man is an aging 86.  He recently suffered from a bout of pneumonia and other complications led to a throat infection.  Nothing serious, except for a guy of 86.  He lost weight from a skeletal frame, was weak, prone to dizzy spells, the works.  When I called to ask about a visit, he was heading to the hospital to see a doctor and the only thing he was concerned about was making a recovery to let me come visit and order up some sandwiches from Jarry's Smoked Meat and have some beers.  About three days later I paid a visit and he was a new man; mind over matter with the aid of pharmaceuticals.  That said he hoofed down a quarter of a sandwich from my uncle’s order.  Not too shabby for an octogenarian. 

Smoke meat, the sandwich that cures all ails!
Ottawa:  Went for a quick visit to the nation’s capital to visit my wife’s cousin, her husband Yves and their two daughters.  The four girls together are absolute bedlam.  I don’t care what anyone says about boys versus girls for energy; these four were ready to put no less than three of the four parents into traction.  Yves took me to House of Gorgie Sorento's, a central core pizzeria where they served a pepperoni pizza slice with their own gravy.  My wife and her cousin thought it was nuts, disgusting, revolting, pick your adjective.  I’ll simply use the one word I thought of after my first bite – divine.  The owners were a pair of characters as well.

Shovelled 30-tons of Crushed Rock:  Yep, my physiotherapist is going to lose her shit wfxith me tomorrow when I explain what I did; my spinal surgeon would likely kill me; my wife is not amused with me; my mother-in-law is most definitely not amused with my father-in-law.  The entryway to my father-in-law’s cabin is approximately 400 meters long, with crushed gravel along the wheel wells; every five years or so we have to order a truckload of “crushers dust” to cover the wheel wells.  This year was particularly necessary at year five because of a few heavy rains.  Instead of the usual one truckload, we got twice the tonnage.  I made evenly spaced piles for him, so he could rake them into the paths properly.  Yeah, I shovelled and wheel-barrowed thirty tonnes of rock on my vacation.

Night of the Assassins:  Book 2 of the Ochra series, I reworked the first six chapters.  Introducing a character originally cut from the first book, it shows the peasants’ perspective from a Yubari survivor.  It was a nice change to throw work in what I believed a ‘lower caste’ would envision of the invasion and the political manoeuvring within the J’in Empire and how it impacted them, despite not having a voice in the matter.  The next step is to revisit Tagaretsu’s perspective and flesh out what the Elves are doing.  Soki’s bit requires a bit of fleshing out, so I’ll take my time storyboarding her chapters – she is going to have a rough go in this one.

World War Z:  I just finished reading the Max Brooks novel World War Z.  I’m not a huge fan of horror, but this is one book I would highly recommend to anyone into spec fiction.  Told in a non-narrative format, it recounts the Zombie Apocalypse after the fact.  The individual accounts are stirring and with the notable exception of two or three character scenes, entirely plausible; those two exceptions are likely a simple subject-matter ignorance (lack of knowledge) in military and naval capabilities.  Quite frankly it did little to detract me from the overall narrative.  Here’s how good this book is; at my father-in-law’s cabin, I had no less than six sleepless/fitfull nights as every noise and creak at night drove me to imagine my reactions to a zombie invasion – what weapons would I use?  Where would we run?  Is the off-shore island safe?  Where would we get/steal food and gasoline?  How effective would that sickle in the shed be?.  My frikkin’ overactive imagination played tricks on me.

Def Leppard’s Hysteria Album:  Every once in a while I like to pull out an old CD and throw it into the player.  I’ve rediscovered the total awesomesauce that is the Def Leppard Hysteria Album.  This thing is golden, from track 1 through to the end.  There simply is no mediocre song in there; one of the quintessential rock albums from the 80’s.

Monday:  Back to work.  Yeah....

Friday, August 2, 2013

Star Wars Screen Crawl as a Query Letter?

Opinion of original series is undaunted as one of the best sci-fi trilogies made to date.  It was such a significant contributor the genre and film making in general that it was one of the first movies the United States Congress decided to preserve in their Congressional National Film Registry.  This trilogy is particularly important when realizing the technology of the day compared to how well they (Lucas, et al) pulled it off; even today the special effects largely hold up to modern day expectations.  The only exception I could think to include would be all those additional, extra scenes that Lucas added, as well as most of the ‘enhancements’ add years later.  Many current sci-fi movies suffer from an over-reliance on CGI, to the point where it seems the story revolves around what a computer programmer could accomplish, the script written thereafter to include said scene.  I personally believe that Lucas drank a little too much of the Kool-Aid and became a victim of his own success.  The prequel trilogy (shudders) would be an ideal example of this problem, my opinion on those films clearly demonstrated here.
The key thing I noted was how the opening paragraphs (screen crawl) seemed to equate the elements of a great query letter:
It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.
Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy….
Originally a six paragraph text, Brian de Palma helped edit it down to the current, concise introduction.  As a query letter, it would fall extremely short on length (only 83 words), yet it answers the three basic elements:  What does the protagonist want?  What must they do to accomplish it?  What happens should they fail?
It serves as a great introduction to the film.  In this case, viewers already paid their tickets, so there was no purchase-wall to break through.  Query letters must gain the attention of the agent or publisher to continue into the opening scene, or request that partial.  Without knowing much about the plot, the screen crawl sets up one of the best opening scenes in cinematic history, patrons immediately drawn into the conflict.
Albeit a different craft altogether, that of writing and movie making, the concept of targeting emotional investment is identical. As the screen crawl skims down to a shot of the orbit around the planet of Tatooine, we suddenly have a space craft fly over, followed by a sudden flurry of laser bolts and an even bigger ship chasing them.  We are thereafter just launched into the story that the screen crawl developed.  Princess Leia is fleeing, in a much smaller ship, while the weighty bulk of the Empire chases her down.  We know that Princess Leia has the stolen plans and is fleeing the Empire’s agents, her goal nothing short of the galaxy’s freedom (I’m sure some would call this overly ambitious). She must return with the plans, the fate of worlds (literally) at stake should she fail.
In what is ultimately an ensemble cast, it struck me that the opening teaser and what I am essentially equating to a query letter should center on Leia.  Knowing the way the film works out, from a query letter perspective it would almost seem to make more sense targeting Luke’s point-of-view.  From what I’ve been gathering from various sources and websites, that may not be the case, particularly given the way the film starts; the opening chapter is of Leia’s flight from the Empire.  We don’t even see Luke until perhaps 30 minutes into the film!
When I compare my epic fantasy manuscript to the Star Wars screen crawl and the opening scene (Chapter 1, so to speak), I’m left with likely the same problem Lucas had before Brian de Palma came in and tightened the text.  My query letter currently centers on the two primary characters, each with an equal weight in space and impact on the overall plot; there are several reasons for this, centered on future events I hope I’m able to get to.  I’m still curious whether this is an obstacle with agents and/or publishers.  The temptation is to reduce the query letter to one central character, be it Soki and her issues at the Imperial Courts through to her escape of a coup and the aftermath, or Tagaretsu who must escape from the goblin invasion and grasp at even the possibility of an item that may save the empire from complete collapse.
At this point, the efforts are centered on the second book.  Is my query letter polished enough to go out?  Maybe.  It’s had a go through the AbsoluteWrite forums before, with varying degrees of response (and success depending on who you listen to).