Wednesday, December 30, 2015

WHAT IT IS: (writing) Year In Review


  
With apologies to Dave the Thune (as well as Mike Baron & Steve Rude)

I planned on writing a three-part series of posts for this retrospective, actually got 2,000 words into it, at which point I realized it felt bloated and pretentious.  So, I did what I do with my stories, I took a hard look at what was written and decided to cut the chaff and get right to the damn point.  Here we go

I:  the raw numbers
Three years ago I began keeping track of my daily writing (1000 words a day was the goal).  It helped to have a quick, visual reminder of whether I was slacking or keeping pace.  I totaled 235,910 words that year (including first drafts, first revisions, and written critiques of other writers’ work).  Last year:  316,675 total words.  I planned to build on this, and the first four months of the year were great, as I averaged 30,000 words a month with only five days of no writing progress. 

Then, I hit the wall. 


But I continued writing, reaching 238,370 total words for the year.  Not what I aspired to, but still on pace with my first year of tracking.  Most of my “lost” writing days are clusters of one or two days, with a handful of three-day stretches, and only one four-day fallow period.  More importantly, or equally as important, I did send off more submissions this year—61 versus 53 in 2014.  Last year I had 53.  This year I sent off 61 submissions, and despite hitting that wall in May, still sent off submissions every month of the year.  With a handful of new stories to throw into the “submission rotation” in 2016, I should be able to build on this going forward. 

II:  the stories
This year I had one story published, “Ouroboros,” a science fiction tale part Neil Gaiman’s “Babycakes” and part Lois Lowry’s The Giver.  Available in the anthology, Broken Worlds, from A Murder of Storytellers, you can purchase it here or get the chapbook, which also includes a short comic story written by me, at the Warrior27 store


I was also recognized for one of my stories this year.  My short crime story, “Silence,” which was published in last year’s issue of Needle Magazine was recognized as one of the 50 best North American crime stories for 2014 in The Best American Mystery Stories 2015.  That was huge for me, and has given me more confidence in my writing.  Maybe I am doing something right. 

III:  what I’ve learned
It’s been amazing to realize how much I did not know when I began writing seriously five years ago.  But elaborating on the lessons is a bit of a challenge, since each is so distinct to the story at hand, at that time.  But I am conscious of thinking about story differently than I used to.  My initial stories were like maps, moving from point A to point B to point C until I reached the end.  Now, I find myself not only thinking more about how to incorporate theme and metaphor into my narratives, but I am also unafraid of moving scenes around to evoke some feeling or reaction in the reader.  These are things I never considered just a few years back, or even last year.  Certainly, some of these insights have come from reading interviews with writers I appreciate, but, for the most part, they have come from sitting down and doing the writing.  It may be clich√© to invoke the traditional author’s advice of “the only way to become a writer is to write,” but it is one hundred percent true.


IV:  looking ahead
The latter part of this year has been used to revise a lot of first drafts I’ve had sitting on my hard drive.  Come January, I plan on giving them all a strong polish and throwing them into the submission rotation, in order to try and capitalize on my “Best Mystery Stories” honorable mention.  I’ve also found myself working on my third novel (the first doesn’t work and needs to be adapted to a more visual medium, while the second will be revised later in 2016 for submission to publishers soon after), an idea that sprang from my subconscious and demanded to be written.  I’m not sure where it’s going, but I’m enjoying the process thus far. 

I will also continue to track my writing in 2016, but I’m eschewing the word-total for merely noting whether I wrote or not.  I know I can hit my daily goal, but I’m dubious if that is the best way for me to proceed, at this point.  This is born of two things.  First, I found that many of my scenes would come in at 1,000 words, or multiples thereof, when I used that as a daily word goal.  Second, Joe Hill shared that he does not work toward a daily word goal, but instead works to complete a scene each day—if that scene is forty words long, then he is done after those forty words are typed, but if it is 5,000 words long, he is not done until those 5K are down.  Considering I still work full-time and have a family I enjoy spending time with, this seems the best way to go for me.  We’ll see how it works out. 


2015 has been a good year.  Writing continues apace, to the point where it is not just a habit but something I truly look forward to.  If I keep at this, maybe I’ll make something of it.  If not, I’ve also reached the point where I am fine with that too.  I have to write, there’s no way around that.  So, I’ll keep at it and see where it takes me. 

Here’s to 2016!


-chris

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A FISTFUL OF FAVORITE CHRISTMAS STORIES



Conceived and used with the permission of Matthew Constantine and Brad Gullickson, the original dorks.

Everyone has a “Top 5.”  But Brad and Matt, choosing to walk a different path, amended that to “A Fistful…” over at their blog, In the Mouth of Dorkness.  A film-centric blog where they also discuss comics and books and TV, these two regularly share their top 5, ranging from “Heroic Kids” to “Spies” to “Summer Movies” to “Punches” to all things in between.  Always fun, often insightful, and something I hope to regularly pilfer for Warrior27.  As they say:  If you’re going to steal, steal from those you know relatively well, who will not sue you.

Christmas is my favorite time of the year.  I love the decorations, the packages, the treats, the general good cheer, but most of all I love the fantasy that surrounds the whole endeavor.  I love the idea of Santa Claus, of one person traversing the Earth in order to bring joy to little girls and boys.  It’s magical, and that hits me right where it counts.  And a big part of the joy comes from all the stories that have been crafted around this time of year—whether those are television specials, films, books, or theatrical dramas.  Here are five of my favorites:

5. The Father Christmas Letters by J.R.R. Tolkien



Tolkien was the first author I actively collected, and I collected everything.  I have three different editions of these letters to his children, written by Tolkien with accompanying drawings, which recount adventures in the North Pole with Santa, his elves, and the North Polar Bear, among other characters.  They’re lively and fanciful and a whole lot of fun to read.  They made such an impression on me that I’ve taken it upon myself to do something similar, writing letters to my own boys, from Santa, for quite a long time now.  It’s one of my favorite things to do at Christmas time.

4. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, by L. Frank Baum, adapted by Michael Ploog


This is one of my favorite comics, all time.  A tale recounting the early life of Santa, how he came to be the “man in the red suit,” and the adventures and challenges he faced in becoming the immortal and benevolent saint that he is.  Based on L. Frank Baum’s novel—yes, the man behind The Wizard of Oz—with breathtaking art from Mike Ploog, who had been working in film for a number of years before returning to comics with this and a few other projects, at the time, it is a masterful lesson in adaptation and the craft of comics.  For the art alone, this book is worth it, but the narrative holds its own, as well, and provides an exciting tale for sharing during this holiday season.

3. Miracle on 34th Street (the original, black-and-white version, please)


My favorite Christmas movie, by far.  The story of the real Santa Claus, living among us without our knowledge, who returns the holiday to its joyous and charitable roots through taking a position as the Santa Claus at Macy’s Department Store.  Put on trial, through the machinations of a relentlessly horrific “psychologist” at Macy's, a lawyer Kris Kringle has befriended must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that this man is, indeed, the one, true Santa Claus. And he does that, while Kringle’s generous nature also helps to instill in the young woman who hired him, as well as her daughter, a faith in humanity and life they had both set aside.  It's smart and funny and fantastic.  I Love it!

2. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens


There’s a reason (or many reasons) why this is considered a classic.  Dickens crafts a wonderfully imaginative and magical narrative that deftly gets across the aspirational core of the holiday season without shoving it down readers’ throats.  If you’ve only ever seen the television or film adaptations, do yourself a favor and read the original.  The writing is beautiful, and any questions of internal logic you might have from those adaptations, as I did, will be answered through this definitive text. 

1. Christmas Eve on Sesame Street


Nothing even comes close to this Christmas special, for me.  I love every single thing about this special—Oscar teasing Big Bird with questions of how Santa gets presents to everyone, the kids surprising Bob with their use of sign language when singing the holiday song he taught them, the tomfoolery (yeah, I used “tomfoolery”) at the ice skate rink to open the show, and the final revelation of the magic of Santa, as Big Bird awakes, icicle dangling from his beak, to find himself alone on the roof of the apartment building—and I never miss a chance to watch it every year.  On Christmas Eve, natch.


Happy Holidays! 


-chris

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A FISTFUL OF STAR WARS MOMENTS




Conceived and used with the permission of Matthew Constantine and Brad Gullickson, the original dorks.

Everyone has a “Top 5.”  But Brad and Matt, choosing to walk a different path, amended that to “A Fistful…” over at their blog, In the Mouth of Dorkness.  A film-centric blog where they also discuss comics and books and TV, these two regularly share their top 5, ranging from “Heroic Kids” to “Spies” to “Summer Movies” to “Punches” to all things in between.  Always fun, often insightful, and something I hope to regularly pilfer for Warrior27.  As they say:  If you’re going to steal, steal from those you know relatively well, who will not sue you.

I was five when Star Wars was released.  Saw it in the theater, and I was hooked.  I had the toys, the books, the comics, posters, the soundtracks, the collector glasses, the pajamas, the bedsheets, coloring books, the official fan club magazines (plus membership card), the movies (and behind-the-scenes specials) on Laser Disc then on VHS then on special edition, letterboxed VHS, and finally DVD.  Star Wars is the alpha and omega of my collecting.  As I stated in this Thanksgiving reminiscence:  It was always about Star Wars.  So, spurred by the arrival of “The Force Awakens” and the IMTODcast’s impending episode featuring their own Fistful of Star Wars moments, here are my top 5 moments from this seminal film series. 


5. 
“It’s a trap!” 

 

It took ILM, Lucafilm’s special effects division, three movies to ramp up to a fully-pitched space battle, and it was so worth it.  Hundreds of ships, all different shapes and sizes, racing in myriad directions, firing, swerving, arcing out of (or into) harm’s way.  The complexity of this shot is astounding, and it not only works but manages to suck you in, emotionally, as the Rebels discover it’s a trap and have to decide whether to break it off, or just go for it, because when will they get another chance like this?

4.
“I, am your father.” 



  
Sure, we had Obi-Wan battle Vader, with their lightsabers, on the Death Star in the first movie, but this one took it up a notch.  Luke, inexperienced and brash, takes on the Dark Lord of the Sith in the bowels of Cloud City.  The setting, the disadvantage we realize Luke has (overcome by his youthful energy and naivete), and the stakes involved all coalesce to craft a poignant lightsaber battle that is engaging and electrifying.  Then, after relieving young Skywalker of one of his hands, Vader drops the bomb:  “I am your father.”  Star Wars went next-level with that declaration. 

3.
“ . . . “


This scene perfectly encapsulates Luke’s despondency at being stranded on Tattooine.  From the beautiful scene of the two suns setting to the musical cue from John Williams, it is a scene I look forward to and one that never fails to give me chills. 

2.
“Never tell me the odds.” 


Star Wars has a collection of great space ships, but the Millennium Falcon is, by far, the best.  And the asteroid belt perfectly exhibits why.  From Han Solo’s brash decision to dive into the asteroids to the way the Falcon deftly twists and turns around all the flying rocks in an almost balletic manner, this is the scene that cemented the Falcon and its two-man (two-being?) crew as the coolest ship in that galaxy far, far away.

1.
“There’ll be no escape for the princess this time.”



This is it.  The opening shot of Star Wars.  The blockade runner coming across the movie screen in close-up, a space ship that feels big, and then . . .
That Star Destroyer in hot pursuit.  It went on forever, then we came to the docking area and you thought it was the rear of the ship…and it wasn’t, and it kept going on, pushing the Tantive IV ahead of it until that first ship was just a speck on the edge of the screen…and the damn Star Destroyer continued to roll across your vision, until finally, it’s propulsion system revealed itself.  That was the point where I was all-in.  It was spectacle like I hadn’t seen up to that point in my life (I was only five).  It’s the scene that made the biggest impression on me the first dozen or so times (dozens?) I watched Star Wars.  And it’s stayed with me ever since. 

-chris


Friday, December 11, 2015

ANTICIPATING NEW STAR WARS: Starlog Anniversary Issue



Born in 1972, I was five when Star Wars [no, not “A New Hope”] hit theaters, where I saw it like most everyone else on the planet, at that time.  Stating I was blown away is a bit of an understatement.  From the “Holiday Special” to the action figures to the trading cards and the storybook adaptations, I was all in.  That trilogy – the only Star Wars trilogy, to my mind – was the be-all and end-all for many, many years.   


It’s now December, 2015, and we are barely weeks away from the new Star Wars film, “The Force Awakens.”  All signs point to this will be good, and with all the excitement surrounding this new chapter, my mind has trailed back to some of my fondest Star Wars memories.  Here’s one . . .


In 1987, Star Wars was celebrating its 10th anniversary and Starlog magazine its 11th.  Which meant it was a perfect time for an over-sized issue of that seminal science fiction magazine—a 100-page Science Fiction Spectacular!


This magazine was one of the things that kept my fanaticism of Star Wars going strong during the quote-unquote Dark Years (from roughly 1985, the last year new action figures were produced, to the middle of 1991, when Star Wars returned in the form of the first of many new novels, followed closely in December of that year with new comics from Dark Horse).  The issue was full of reminiscences on the Star Wars universe, with thoughts on the films from myriad contributors, short comics from a number of creators, and pieces on all things Star Wars.  Some of the highlights:

·         A look at the original treatments for Star Wars and how things evolved by Randy & Jean-Marc Lofficier.

·         Roy Thomas’s reminiscences of taking on the scripting of the Star Wars comic, before the film was released, and then expanding on what George Lucas had created.

·         A wide-ranging examination of Marvel’s Star Wars comic series, touching on the entirety of the 114 issues published (107 regular issues, 3 annuals, and the 4-issue Jedi adaptation)



·         But the best, the absolute best piece in the whole thing, was a short article toward the back, wherein Michael Wolff makes note of the many unanswered questions from the films and extrapolates some possible theories that he, and all fans, hoped would be answered in future installments [we all know how that worked out, right?], including:
o   Luke’s comment that there was “something familiar” about Dagobah.  Did he spend a few of his early years on the swamp planet?
o   Leia claiming to remember her mother.  Did she keep Leia with her for a time, before giving her up the Bail Organa?
o   What were the Clone Wars?
o   What was C-3PO hiding in Star Wars claiming ignorance of Princess Leia when we first see her holographic message projected by R2-D2, despite stating in the opening scene, “there’ll be no escape for the Princess this time,” when the Tantive IV is under attack?




There’s a ton of great stuff in this issue for all Star Wars fans, and the memory of discovering it on the magazine racks at Mr. Paperback, buying it, and racing home to read it is one of many that I cherish from my childhood. 


And if you want to check this issue out, it’s completely free here.  

-chris


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

ANTICIPATING NEW STAR WARS: The Sears Wish Book!




Born in 1972, I was five when Star Wars [no, not “A New Hope”] hit theaters, where I saw it like most everyone else on the planet, at that time.  Stating I was blown away is a bit of an understatement.  From the “Holiday Special” to the action figures to the trading cards and the storybook adaptations, I was all in.  That trilogy – the only Star Wars trilogy, to my mind – was the be-all and end-all for many, many years.   

It’s now December, 2015, and we are barely weeks away from the new Star Wars film, “The Force Awakens.”  All signs point to this will be good, and with all the excitement surrounding this new chapter, my mind has trailed back to some of my fondest Star Wars memories.  Here’s one . . .


As a kid, when September rolled around, anticipation for the Sears Wish Book (as well as those from JCPenney & other large department stores) was a big thing.  These giant catalogs were full of products to order, and there was a great section of toys toward the end of the book.  For those prime years of my childhood, the main draw in that toy section were the Star Wars toys.  So many cool ships and figures and accessories that I coveted, as a kid, circling all these things I wanted with red pen. 

Ah, memories. 














Friday, December 4, 2015

ANTICIPATING NEW STAR WARS: A Fistful of action figures

(or, um…tiny dolls, with cool articulation)



Born in 1972, I was five when Star Wars [no, not “A New Hope”] hit theaters, where I saw it like most everyone else on the planet, at that time.  Stating I was blown away is a bit of an understatement.  From the “Holiday Special” to the action figures to the trading cards and the storybook adaptations, I was all in.  That trilogy – the only Star Wars trilogy, to my mind – was the be-all and end-all for many, many years.   

It’s now December, 2015, and we are barely weeks away from the new Star Wars film, “The Force Awakens.”  All signs point to this will be good, and with all the excitement surrounding this new chapter, my mind has trailed back to some of my fondest Star Wars memories.  Here’s one . . .



The most direct way for me, as a kid, to feed my Star Wars fandom (fanaticism?) was through the action figures.  These 3 ¾” figures were probably my first collection (comics, trading cards, patches, books—these all came later).  I loved playing out scenes from the movies, or brand new ones, with my favorite characters.  Or, my friends and I would play hide-and-seek with them—one of us taking a few dozen figures to hide around the house for the others to find.  (Usually we found them all, but one of Donnie Eagan’s did end up melted to a lightbulb when we forgot where that last figure was and the lamp was turned on, leading to a terrible burning smell that alerted us to its whereabouts.) 

And . . . there were the card backs that showcased all of the available figures, taunting me with images of the ones I had yet to procure.  That, above all else, helped push me to be a crazy collector of these little plastic dolls—uh, action figures.  So, without further ado, my Fistful of Favorite (classic) Star Wars action figures, in no particular order, other than #1:


5.  Darth Vader:  


Come on.  This guy was the baddest of the bad.  He took out Obi-Wan, choked Imperial officers from across the room, wielded a red lightsaber, and wore all black.  That first scene, as Vader marches through the smoke onto the Tantive IV surrounded by his Stormtroopers, their white uniforms (and the white walls of the ship) contrasting strongly with his black armor and cape, is epic.  Vader’s look—including the mask, the breathing, and the high boots—was, and still is, incredibly cool.  How could you not love Darth Vader?  Having his figure was a must. 

4.  R2-D2:

This little astromech droid can be annoying for some, but I love R2 (and 3PO), especially in the beginning of Star Wars.  R2 demonstrated a resourcefulness that is admirable, especially in a droid, and there’s something incredibly special in their escape from the blockade runner and the travails that follow on the desert planet of Tattooine.  For this, as well as his cool design and obvious smart-ass remarks to 3PO, R2 was always a favorite of mine. 

3.  Hoth Han Solo:

This was the coolest Han Solo figure, to my mind.  The color of his jacket (a favorite of mine, midnight blue), the design and detail of his boots, and the hood (which covered his hair, a problematic design element for these sculpted figures) all add up to a cool looking figure.  Probably didn’t help that the head on the original Han Solo was never properly proportioned with the lean body they gave that figure.  Whenever I had to pick a Han Solo figure, this would often be the one in my hand. 

2.  Walrus Man (or, Ponda Baba): 


The cantina scene from Star Wars is one of the best scenes in a film, ever—or, at least the best in any fantastic film.  The myriad creatures, the dark ambience of the place, the sense of danger epitomized by Han Solo’s altercation with Greedo, all enrich this scene and make it memorable.  Every creature from the Mos Eisley cantina was a favorite of mine, but I landed on Walrus Man because he is so crazy looking, as a figure—the color choices, the walrus like visage and flippers for hands, the simplistic design for his suit all add up to a figure that is distinct and engaging. 

1.  Chewbacca

Chewbacca is easily my favorite action figure.  I believe it was the summer after I turned 6, 1978, and I came down with the measles.  It was sunny out (deep, blue sky; puffy, white clouds; I remember that distinctly), and the doctor said I needed to stay inside, away from people, for at least three days.  Ugh.
My Dad went out and bought me the Chewbacca figure.  This was the first Star Wars action figure I owned.  I grabbed a chair (it was my Death Star), and for the next three days I played with that Chewbacca figure.  It was awesome.  Through the ensuing years, I lost this figure twice, both times dropping him somewhere in my family’s backyard (an all-brown, 4-inch figure, lost among the brown earth and green grass isn’t easy to find).  The second time I replaced him with a new iteration, only to rediscover the original in the backyard again.  To this day, I still have this Chewie, and the memories forged with this old Wookiee are some of my most-cherished from when I was a kid. 

-chris


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

ANTICIPATING NEW STAR WARS: the best Star Wars comic you’ve never read



Born in 1972, I was five when Star Wars [no, not “A New Hope”] hit theaters, where I saw it like most everyone else on the planet at that time.  Stating I was blown away is an understatement.  From the “Holiday Special” to the action figures to the trading cards and the storybook adaptations, I was all in.  That trilogy – the only Star Wars trilogy, to my mind – was the be-all and end-all for many, many years.    

It’s now December, 2015, and we are just weeks away from the new Star Wars film, “The Force Awakens.”  All signs point to this will be good, and with all the excitement surrounding this new chapter, my mind has trailed back to some of my fondest Star Wars memories.  Here’s one . . .


The Marvel iteration of the Star Wars comics was fun, if a bit hamstrung by the need to tread lightly around film continuity, and the subsequent Dark Horse books expanded greatly on the bedrock laid by those films.  But one of the best Star Wars comics ever was published in 1987—the 10th anniversary of the original film—by Blackthorne Publishing, and I imagine there are many Star Wars fans who’ve never read this story.


Written by Len Wein, with art from Glen Johnson & Jim Nelson, this story takes place almost directly after the end of Star Wars.  The story follows Luke, Han, Chewbacca, and C-3PO as they travel in the Millennium Falcon back to Tattooine.  With the unplanned flight from his home planet, as Imperials hotly pursued them, Luke did not have the opportunity to see to his deceased aunt and uncle’s affairs, most importantly the question of who would take over their moisture farm.  Following the Force, the quarter end up at the Mos Eisley cantina where Luke offers the farm to the large alien, Throgg, who looks like he would be more comfortable ripping the arms off a Gundark than working moisture vaporators.  He refuses.  Then things go from bad to worse, as Han is recognized by one of the patrons. 

A healthy brawl ensues, followed by the Rebels escaping through the crowded streets of Mos Eisley, pursued once again by Imperial Stormtroopers, which they easily dispatch.  Back in the dunes, Jawas have found the Falcon, but Han has a few surprises and manages to scatter the desert scavengers as the four board the ship and blast off from that arid dustball, even as we, the readers, discover that Throgg has decided to take over the Lars’ homestead and return to his life as a moisture farmer. 


Published in Blackthorne’s 3-D series, as a Tenth Anniversary Special, this Star Wars tale has a lot going for it.  Len Wein gives us [some] of our favorite characters from the movies in a moving, action-packed story that evokes the tone and feel of Star Wars, perfectly.  It suffers, in places, from over-explanation and exposition.  But this aspect, still common for comic books at this time, does not detract overmuch from the narrative.  The art is competent enough, telling the story in a clean manner.  Certainly, reading this without the blue/red 3-D glasses is a bit of a pain, but if you’re a big Star Wars fan, it is well worth the effort.  And if you find it in the Dark Horse omnibus collection, “Wild Space,” you’ll be able to read it without the 3-D effects.  Seek it out; utilize your library, if need be; I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.


-chris

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Memory: it was always about STAR WARS



I have much to be thankful for:  A healthy, loving family.  A good job that pays the bills.  The time to spend with my family, to read a good book, or to write.  All clich√© and classic.  And all true. 


But, since this is a pop-cultural-type blog, and because a new movie is on the horizon, I found myself reminiscing about one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories from childhood.  And, of course, it revolves around Star Wars. 


This was post-Jedi.  Probably was Thanksgiving, 1983, the year Jedi hit theaters.  I don’t remember the details around the day (though I can say, for certain, it was a Thursday), but I do remember what I chose to do to pass the time before the big meal—always held at our house, with my mother doing the bulk of the cooking and preparation.  I grabbed my slipcased edition of the Scholastic Star Wars Treasury. 


These were the abridged storybooks, filled with images from the movies, including scenes that did not make it into the final films (though that may only be true of Star Wars, where they included stills of Biggs Darklighter, as well as one of Luke, with the hat we never see in the film, looking to the sky through binoculars to watch the Star Destroyer and Tantive IV battling above Tattooine).  This film trilogy was my all-time favorite for many, many years, and the idea of sitting down to read all these books sounded like a gift to myself. 


And it was.  I draped myself across the arms of the chair in our front room and began reading.  Didn’t stop ‘til I’d gotten through all three, which wasn’t a huge chore, these being abridged and all.  It was a great way for me to enjoy my favorite movies because I’m certain we didn’t yet own a VCR, and my uncle only had Star Wars and Empire for his laserdisc player. 



The memory of that day, sitting and reading those books, with all those images direct from the films, gives me a nice, warm feeling in my nostalgic gut.  I hope, after taking my youngest to “The Force Awakens,” that he will find similar memories to look back on someday, like I have with this. 

-chris