Saturday, February 27, 2016

Politics Of Writing

Some of the advice given to authors is to never talk about politics, but it is a fact of life. It is unavoidable unless we all develop an apathy toward the future. Whenever there are different factions, districts, states, or countries, you will find people who disagree. So let's argue about politics! Specifically I want to talk about how it relates to writing. No matter how the political structure of the world is set up there are a few universal tenants that help define the politics of the situation. Like running from Godzilla is pretty universal.

Politics are an important building block of world building for a writer. It can be as small as a difference of opinion or philosophy of 2 characters. It can be the reason behind large Star Wars sized conflicts. Luke, I thought about being your step-father, but I decided 'Nah.' You ate too much Storm Trooper at the feast on Endor! Politics don't always come into play within the pages of a book, but it would be hard to imagine a dystopian science fiction novel that doesn't mention it. A large fantasy epic that depicts large scale wars of magic and creatures of legend would feel flat without it.

Conflict

Political conflict isn't like most. It's a conflict of ideas. Sometimes it is an argument over the method of how to solve a problem. Two factions may agree on the problem and agree on the desired outcome, but argue over how to best achieve that solution. It could be an old feud based on an ancient perceived wronging that never actually happened. The conflict could be an alien armada attacking Earth intent on eradicating all life so they can harvest the planet's resources. This is the reasoning behind wars. TV shows like Game of Thrones profit off of political conflict. It is the nectar that pulls people in to watch. Trust me, a show about Ren & Stimpy invading the Smurf village would be golden.

This type of conflict can be framed so many ways that it makes my writerly senses tingle, or maybe that's just a rash. I should get that checked shouldn't I? There are civil rights conflicts. Should the government intrude on my civil liberties in order to protect me from physical harm? Fighting over resources. Should food grown here be shipped elsewhere for other people's benefit when there are citizens starving right here? Border disputes. Mary keeps on touching me, tell her to stay on her side! Fighting over Care Bears. It's so fluffy, I must have it!

The way this conflict is fought has just as many angles. A blockade or trade embargo on a country could cripple them if they rely on basic necessities from foreign lands. Economic sanctions or fines can be imposed. Anything you can think of up to an including war could be a result. I wonder how a trade embargo of PEZ on China would effect the price of tea? Hmmm...

Alliances

The larger the scale of conflict the more you see alliances form. People of like minds, but separate followings, could join forces to combat the threat as they see it. They may not agree on everything, but they need the help to win. They may even despise each other. The enemy of my enemy is my friend? Perhaps they are, but perhaps they are a larger evil who plans to betray their allies once they have served their purpose.

There are many forms of alliances that can be formed as well. Political alliances could work together to promote the same idea. Trade alliances could strain a relationship if meddled with. Hornath trades grain to Limintas exclusively. Hornath's economy would collapse without gold from Limintas and the people of Limintas would starve without Hornath's grain. All too often we think of military alliances, but other alliances could also strain relationships. Limintas might loathe the people of Hornath for eating the slornith which is a beloved family pet and even worshiped by some in Limintas. They may choose to invade rather than continue to fund what they think of as sacrilegious.

Conclusion

Politics play a major role in much of the fiction that I enjoy. It is a major theme in many of my favorite series of books. Dystopian worlds set in the future have dominated my reading list whether it is The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner series, or the Silo series. I also enjoy large scale fantasy works with The Wheel Of Time being one of my favorites. I'm currently reading Bats of the Republic which is a mash up of historical and dystopian future fiction which I have been enjoying thus far. The politics of the land have a major impact on all of these. My own novel is influenced heavily by the politics of a seemingly utopian world government that has eliminated war by moving it to a virtual reality. See? The politics are everywhere! Run!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Gods Of Egypt

Rated PG-13 / 2 hr 7 min / Action - Adventure - Fantasy

What is it about?

Osiris wants to retire as the king of Egypt, so he holds a going away Twister party. Things get a little freaky when Horus is asked to put his right hand on Red, which is the color Hathor's face turns when he does so. Set decides to crash the party because he wants it to be all about him. Osiris tries to tell him that the game goes 'Game, Set, Match', but Set doesn't like games and thinks matches are stupid. He wants it to be 'Set, Set, Set', so he kills Osiris. He then makes everyone bow to him and swear fealty to all things My Little Pony. Horus doesn't like that and as Gods they can fight like Mighty Morphing Power Rangers. Set pulls out Horus' eyes to play ping pong later. A master thief named Bek decides to steal back the eyes of Horus because Set got rid of Taco Tuesday or love or something. Cue the revenge plot music...

You will like it if...

You like Michael Bay style explosions for plot movies. For a film boasting a 140 million dollar budget you should expect more. First off the casting is absolutely awful. I usually like Gerard Butler, but he is terribly miscast as Set. The list of miscast actors goes almost from top to bottom. Chadwick Boseman as Thoth is the only casting decision that makes sense. It's like they didn't bother trying and threw actors with recognizable names at each role in hopes their acting skills would make this turd bucket smell less like poo. The obvious whitewashing of the cast has decidedly made it worse. Gerard realizes this is just a pay day and doesn't bother doing anything other than his normal accent. The special effects were OK in most respects, but in some spots it looked like retro Ray Harryhausen stop motion effects. They were innovative and cool in their day when Clash Of The Titans (the original) was new, but in today's world of CGI it looks horrifically bad. The special effects end up bringing a lot of the high points and some of the low points as well. Finally the script doesn't provide anything special. It is predictable and dull while relying on CGI-laden action sequences to push the story along. This is the type of storytelling you would expect in a Michael Bay style film. The cheap thrills in Gods Of Egypt are ruined by the everything else. Don't bother with this one. If it is successful they will make more crap like it.

Next Week

London Has Fallen, Zootopia, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, or whichever film you vote for. Vote early, vote often, vote in the comments or Godzilla will pick the movie! As always the movie selection is subject to change based on what is showing here in theaters.

Upcoming to DVD on March 1

  • Creed
  • The Night Before - OK comedy. Worth Redboxing if you haven't seen it!
  • Legend - I wanted to see this, but it never came out in theaters here :(
  • The Danish Girl - Kind of interested in this one, but haven't seen it yet.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The 800 Pound Gorilla

No I'm not here to talk about Beast from the X-Men or King Kong. This week I wanted to discuss the largest publisher of ebooks in the world, Amazon. To many self published indie writers Amazon has been a godsend. Some of them would not have a career without the distribution giant. On the other side purists and large traditional publishers tend to look at Amazon as being the evil empire looking to swallow everything whole. So what is the truth? Is Amazon the evil mastermind behind the destruction of publishers? Is it the hero allowing authors to circumvent the oppressive system of old white men who only want to push the red button? Is it OK to lick Nutella off your friend's face?

Closing The Loop

As I had written previously about many websites who want to take advantage of writers, Amazon is trying very hard to close the loop. They have been very successful at this so far. More products, product previews, reviews, suggested next purchases, also bought, and so on. It is all designed to get the customer to stay there and spend more at Amazon. This has helped make Amazon the largest seller of ebooks in the world. Other companies are scrambling to catch up while the gorilla gets bigger.

This has forced traditional publishers to negotiate from a position of weakness with Amazon. I suggest using a Shake Weight before going into negotiations. Amazon will go on with or without these publishers. The large publishers make up a small percentage of the new products that are made available on Amazon within the ebook market and a much smaller percentage overall. People who shop for ebooks at Amazon will find them elsewhere if needed. With this power Amazon is trying to negotiate a better deal for their benefit. They are a business first and foremost.

What Amazon's data tells them will benefit them the most doesn't exactly line up with what large publishers see as being the most beneficial. Amazon sees traditional publisher's ebooks selling at higher numbers at lower prices and profits overall being higher as a result for the ebook. Traditional publishers see ebook margins as being much higher than paperback novels, so they want to milk it for all it is worth by pricing it like a premium product. Which makes sense for their self-perceived image of being the curators of quality books. Obviously quality is their main concern when they give a large advance to someone like Paris Hilton for her memoirs.

Many publishers are pricing their ebooks higher than the paperback version of the same book. I see this happening in bookstores as well with traditional publishers releasing what I would call the "premium paperback". They are basically paperback novels, but printed in a larger format. The pages are bigger, the cover is bigger, the cost to produce them is I'm guessing only slightly more or the same as your standard paperback. The difference is that they are priced 2 to 3 times as much as the standard paperback. Now they have a paperback with vastly improved margins. The traditional publishers are behind the curve on technology and aren't looking at optimizing and streamlining, while Amazon is, and that is where they clash. They both want to make more money, but they are at odds with each other over the method. This sounds like every political debate ever.

Propaganda

Ebooks being sold on Amazon represent a nice chunk of change to the traditional publishers. So why are there so many articles on blogs, newspapers, magazines, etc. that are all bashing Amazon and their ebook empire? Also nearly every article bashing Amazon is written by an author that is under contract with a traditional publisher. Why bite the hand that helps feed them? Are they afraid Amazon is going to morph into a mechanized velociraptor and bite their face off?

This is a ploy by publishers to maintain their status and gain negotiating power. Amazon wants more products on the shelves. That is one of the reasons they have done so well. They can't sell a product if it isn't on the shelf which might cause people to go elsewhere to shop for it. Gotta maintain that closed loop. Amazon treats customers like Pokemon, gotta catch em' all!

Traditional publishers try devaluing the competition's product (author/publishers or self published authors) by exclaiming their lack of quality. Whether this is true or not doesn't really matter to them. They have a propaganda machine in place of loyal readers and authors who are ready to push this narrative. All of this is just so they can negotiate better terms and subject us all to their agency pricing model. The model they believe will maximize their margins. Of course there is a lot of push back from Amazon, author/publishers, and loyal customers who point out the antiquated methods of traditional publishers. All of the war machines are brought out. Pew pew pew.

Conclusion

Amazon is not good nor is it evil. It is a business just like traditional publishers are businesses. Amazon sees itself as a business that relies on customers, so they do their best to make it all about the customer. Amazon is great at making things easier for the customer in almost every way. They want to see the manufacturers of the products succeed or at least sell more product at Amazon. This is why so many author/publishers love Amazon. Amazon treats them like customers. We need to be wary of programs like KDP Select though. This is Amazon trying to close the loop by giving away benefits in exchange for exclusivity. For some it will make sense to do so, and for others it will do more harm than good. Don't hit yourself, it's not healthy. Also putting all your eggs in the Amazon basket is risky. Especially if Amazon changes their philosophy on how they treat authors which they constantly experiment with and tweak. If it ain't broke, they're still trying to fix it.

My main point is that as an author whether you are traditionally published or an author/publisher you have to look out for yourself. Your publisher is not your friend. Amazon is not your friend. You can be sure they are looking out for their best interests. It's up to you to look out for yourself. It's a big scary world, and Godzilla is out there.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Race

Rated PG-13 / 2 hr 14 min / Biography - Drama

What is it about?

Jesse Owens is fast, really fast, really really fast. Not as fast as The Flash though. I mean the guy is only human. He is going to college at Ohio State University, so his mom wants him to look nice. She made him a rubber Batman suit. The football team hasn't been integrated yet, so Jesse can either go into Track and Field or Competitive Basket Weaving. Of course he chooses Basket Weaving. That is until Godzilla comes to town. That is when he rediscovers his love for running... from Godzilla. He becomes so good at it that he goes to compete in the Olympics. There he bears witness to a cop from the future unleashing the Kung Fury on Adolf Hitler.

You will like it if...

You like interesting biographical movies. Jesse Owens doesn't seem like the most interesting person in history, but that doesn't mean that his story isn't a compelling one. With the rise of Nazi Germany serving as a backdrop for the Olympics in which Owens won 4 gold medals. The film raises a very important question that is still valid today. Should we protest what we see as being inherently corrupt and wrong, or do we work within the system trying to fix it? Jeremy Irons and William Hurt provide the best performances, but they are much smaller side characters. The rest of the cast give decent performances, but none are really noteworthy. If you are interested in Jesse Owens, the impact of his performance at the 1936 Olympics, or underdog sports stories then Race is worth a look. Unless you are super excited to see this film, I would wait until it is out at Redbox or on Netflix.

Next Week

Gods Of Egypt, Triple 9, Eddie The Eagle, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon 2, or whichever film you vote for. Vote early, vote often, vote in the comments or Godzilla will pick the movie! As always the movie selection is subject to change based on what is showing here in theaters.

Upcoming to DVD on February 23

  • The Good Dinosaur - Pixar almost always gives yummy goodness
  • Spotlight - One of my favorite films of 2015 although I didn't review it here
  • Secret In Their Eyes - What did they do to Julia Roberts? Awesome twists in this one if you can get past the comatose beginning.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Flaws In Our Characters

Hello everyone! The carousel of donkeys and piña coladas is spinning. Try not to fall off! This week I want to discuss character flaws. Not mine... that would take a few hundred novels. No, I want to talk about the flaws of characters in stories. Fictional stories and are in no way factual and in no way about me personally. Although every character I write is a bit like me *sobs*.  Show me a character with no flaws and I'll show you a blank page with gravy stains on it. Don't lick the page. The stains aren't recent.

In order to write a realistic character they have to have some kind of flaw. Something that will cause them trouble at some point. Conflict pushes the story, so this is an important part of building a character. When I am building a character I usually use the GURPS Role Playing System as a guide to help with construction. Remember to wear your hard hat and always follow the instructions! The character flaws are listed as disadvantages and quirks in that system. These are the things that make your character fun to write and give them depth. Your character's abilities and skills help them advance the story and level up, but these flaws pop up and give your characters some color. So let's get our crayons and give someone purple skin with a lime green hat.

Building A Flaw

Let's pull out our construction paper, Legos, popsicle sticks, and anything else we can use to build the house that will contain all our flaws. The anatomy of a flaw seems simple enough, but it requires a mean streak toward your characters. Pick a big stick because we're going to poke at the characters insecurities, fears, and influences. So how do we insert a flaw into a fictional character?
  • Use A Construct - This is a template that has been used before many times and has an expected set of rules associated with them. The vampire, the jock, the golem, the cheerleader, the Godzilla, the shy girl, and so on. The same tropes follow these kinds of characters around like a lost puppy. The opportunity to poke fun at or break these conventions is almost impossible to resist when using these. Look at the many vampire novels that all have their own set of rules. Twilight for example and their rave going glitter vamps. Look at Harry Potter and the depiction of wizards in that series. To me it almost feels like cheating to use these constructs, but sometimes we use them without thinking about it.
  • Insecurities And Fears - We all have our own. What does this fictional character fear more than anything? Their loved ones dying? Not getting a participation ribbon in the pie eating contest? Being left behind holding the purse? Question yourself over what makes your character squirm. Our fears push us into action. A young boy insecure over his looks, so he wears a mask imbued with magic. A woman fearing that anyone else in charge will screw it up, so she tries to conquer the world.
  • Compulsion - What compels the character? The power of Christ? Are they unable to resist coffee and donuts? Perhaps they have a problem with drugs, alcohol, gambling, stripping naked to dance the Macarena.... There are many things that can compel us to do things even if it is against our will. Perhaps the character owes money to the mob and the only way to settle the score is to take out a pesky witness. Maybe the character has to go to every carnival they see because the prizes are so fluffy.
  • Physical - Every scar has a back story. They can cause hesitation or doubt to creep into the mind. Perhaps the character's thumb was broken and never healed properly, so now they can only slip one hand out of the handcuffs using the thief guild's special technique. They could have torn an ACL and now they can't jump as high as Princess Uni-Kitty. Now they can only think of how they used to win the Lego high jump event with regret. This could be something as small as they can't wink, or something as big as they are a sentient and disembodied brain floating around in a world of zombies.

Conclusion

If it is too good to be true then it probably isn't. Show me the flawfax! Flaws give the character a contradictory component to their personality that makes it feel more realistic. Flaws enhance the personality and give us all a reason to root for the character to overcome them. People fall down sometimes, but we get back up. Characters need to do the same.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Deadpool

Rated R / 1 hr 48 min / Action - Adventure - SciFi

What is it about?

Hello everyone! This is Deadpool. I've taken over this blog to draw a text kitty and tell you all about how awesome my movie is. Brian is here, perfectly safe with my gun pressed up against his head (Don't worry it's not loaded, but he doesn't know this so shhhhh...). I want to invite you all to see how my ass looks in red spandex. It is life changing I assure you. So Brian is telling me that this section is for typing what this movie is about, so where do I begin?

I find the love of my life. She likes all the things I like (including fuzzy unicorns), her sarcasm is a force of nature (tsunami strength), and she tweaks my wing wong just right. Everything is just peachy and then cancer comes in and smashes it like Gallagher (he Hulk smashes fruit with a hammer like Thor and calls it comedy, yea I don't get it either). So some creepy guy in a suit tells me that he can make it so my rapier wit actually cuts people and it will also cure my cancer. So what can I do? I have to make the hard decision (teehee "hard"). I find out that he works for the bad guys! It's too late and now my face looks like mashed potatoes that someone barfed on (I know... it's not pleasant for me either).

You will like it if...

You will like it. Period. End of story. Why are you still here? Go now! Buy tickets or camp out at the theater until they are open again or buy tickets online. Don't make me hunt you down. I'm going to let Brian write some stuff now. He promises to be nice (I will break his fingers if he isn't ;). Now time to chow down on these chimichangas!

Wow. Nothing like having a gun held to your head to make you not want to die right now. Deadpool the movie is almost everything I could want in a movie based off my favorite comic book anti-hero. I have a few very minor gripes about the film that could have made it even better. The first is that this film needed a bigger budget to help with the special effects. As a result a lot of the fight scenes are sped up to gloss over the lack of detail in the CGI. The other has to do with the story. The Deadpool I love is a mastermind in the comics who comes up with elaborate plans that don't make any sense, but always seem to work out in the end. Perhaps that comes later as his mind becomes more insane, but it's something missing from the film. This is as close to flawless as I think you can get for a Deadpool movie. You should go see it then go see it again then invite me to go see it with you.

Those chimichangas were pretty good, but I can hear them calling to be freed. BTW it's me Deadpool again. Did you think I forgot my promise earlier? I didn't.

>>>>>  m(=ↀωↀ=)m  <<<<<<

Isn't it cute? Just a little kitty to brighten your day.

Next Week

Race, Risen, The Witch, or whichever film you vote for. Vote early, vote often, vote in the comments or Godzilla will pick the movie! As always the movie selection is subject to change based on what is showing here in theaters. None of these will be as good as Deadpool!

Upcoming to DVD on February 16

  • Steve Jobs - Go see Deadpool!
  • The 33 - My movie is better! Go see Deadpool!
  • Trumbo - This one isn't bad, but my movie is better! Go see Deadpool!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Promotional Ideas

There are many things that I have collected over the years. Baseball cards, comics, Legos, and Godzilla teeth are some of those things. Since I began writing, promotional ideas has been added to that list. I have been thinking of different ways to help promote things over the years. Every time I post something new here I get an opportunity to practice posting things to social media.

Social media is great for connecting with people who are fans, making friends, and letting people know when you have something new out.  It is not the greatest of promotional tools though. People tend to ignore or scroll past promotions on social media. Sometimes when you have that special shiny thing that catches their eye then you might get someone to click on your link. If you are here then I was able to tap into the type of sorcery that made you want to click that link. Whatever reason you are reading this right now <3

This week I want to talk about promotional ideas that I have had or observed others doing. I'm going to break them down by types and give a list of the ones I can think of using my twisted mind. I'm not going to break down each idea. If I did we might be here all day. I have a cat to vacuum.

In Person Events

Traditional publishing has championed this going back decades. Today it is unlikely that most of us will get a full promotional tour to back our books, but that doesn't mean that we can't organize our own events or attend other people's events. There are writing conferences happening all the time, and they provide opportunities to set up or participate in panels there. Reading sessions can be set up with your local bookstores and libraries. Same thing with signings. You might want to check with city ordinances to see if your "Run From The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man Marathon" is permitted. I wouldn't want you to get fined. Also not sure how that will sell books for you.

Examples of In Person Events:
  • Radio interviews
  • TV appearances 
  • Book release parties
  • Readings
  • Signings
  • Public Speaking Events
  • Convention Panels
  • Charity Events

New Static Content

This is what I like to call "The New Shiny". Nothing helps promote a book like the new shiny. Every bit of new content that draws eyeballs out of sockets to march on Washington for eyeball rights.. what was I saying? New books written by an author fall in this category as well. A lot of authors don't break through and get recognition from readers until they have 5 or 6 or 15 books available... I need to get busy. The more content you can shoot out like some buckshot the more chances you have to grab someone's attention. Not everything is going to work, but you keep shooting until you find something that works. Then you whack the crap out of what works until you hit a Whammy. Press Your Luck!

Examples of Static Content:
  • Static Advertisements
  • Book Reviews
  • Blog Posts/Guest Blog Posts/Blog Tours
  • Podcasts
  • Youtube Videos
  • New Books/Stories
  • Interviews
  • Contests
  • Multi-blog chain story (I would so <3 to do one of these)
  • Multi-blog Choose Your Own Adventure story (Same)
  • Cover reveals

Live Online Events

This is the one that has made my nipples poke through my shirt lately... Oops! TMI I know. Technology is a great thing and it has made it possible to do many of the same things online that are done at some live events. Social Media also helps expand the flavor of things. The possibilities are endless. Below are a few of my ideas along with things I have seen others do.

Examples of Live Online Events:
  • Book club meetings with the author invited to discuss
  • Scheduled social media chats
  • Live posting reactions to an event/TV show to social media
  • Live interviews
  • Writer sprints and other writing games
  • Sharing lines while writing/editing

Conclusion

There are so many methods a writer can use to promote their work, but the best ways are the ones that are the most fun and engaging. I've said this before in other blog posts, but having fun with your promotions is the best way to get people to engage. They want to have fun too! Let's rent a bounce house! I want to hear your ideas too. I collect them like hair from ex-girlfriends. Don't ask how they became ex... *plays creepy music* But seriously... I'm going to have an announcement coming up in the next couple of weeks about something that I plan to do which will include the words weekly and probably Godzilla. It's also going to be a great promotional opportunity for authors who are interested. Stay tuned. Same Bat-website, same Bat-time-of-the-week.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Hail, Caesar!

Rated PG-13 / 1 hr 46 min / Comedy - Drama

What is it about?

George Clooney is the biggest movie star in Hollywood in the 50's. He is the star of a film "Hail, Caesar!" that the studio has invested a lot of cotton candy into. The entire set is made of it, the wardrobe is made of it, and the props are all made of cotton candy. A couple of extras on the movie set have decided they want all the cotton candy for themselves because Communism. Scarlett Johansson is hunting for a man that can be a temporary father to her child. Josh Brolin is the one in charge of fixing things to ensure the cotton candy continues to flow. At the same time he is dodging wrenches thrown by writers for gossip magazines. He can dodge balls, so he is mostly OK.

You will like it if...

You like mild comedies with larger than life characters. The sheer star power in this film makes it easy to watch. Clooney, Brolin, Tatum, Johansson, and the list goes on. They are all fantastic. The script cobbles together several stories that are tied together by Brolin who runs between them all while trying to solve every problem that arises. While there are plenty of ridiculous situations, the punchline misses the mark more often than not. When the punchline does hit it gives you a nice belly laugh. Everything within the film is well done with excellent cinematography to fantastic acting to the set pieces and period costumes. The script is the only thing holding it back. It provides plenty of silly situations, but the jokes fall flat too often. It isn't funny enough for a comedy and not serious enough for a drama. The stories within are still interesting, but I was left expecting more. If you aren't a huge fan and must see it in theaters then it is at least worth picking up at Redbox.

Next Week

Deadpool! Yes I know Zoolander 2 is coming out too, but DEADPOOL!

Upcoming to DVD on February 9