Nebula Award-winning author Catherine Asaro is one of those writers who have made the transition from a career in hard science to writing hard science fiction. She blends strong female characters, romance, and hard SF into stories that have kept readers coming back for twenty novels to date. But even within the staunchly rational and quantifiable boundaries of her training and earlier profession as a theortical physicist and academician, there was a deep well of creativity that spans music and dance as well as a writing. That creativity quickly becomes evident in her books and in our conversation.
I’m putting together a list of authors for an idea I had the other day for developing some really useful juicy material for this blog, which covers, but heretofore hasn’t focused on, the topic of writing in general. Over the coming year, I’m going to be shifting its focus, and I thought a great place to start off with that would be to interview experienced authors with some published credits and awards.
My plan over the coming months is to interview a series of authors about the life and business of a writing as a career. My questions will focus less on the nuts-and-bolts of plot, character, etc, and more on the journey of the writing life.
Already lined up in the queue are:
- Mur Lafferty: Ubiquitous, Infamous, Geek-Fu, Podcaster Goddess and superhero podcast author
- Rich Wulf: Long-time Legend of the Five Rings Story Scribe, now writing novels and game content for Wizards of the Coast.
- Robert Reed: Hugo-award winning SF author.
- Scott Sigler: A podcast SF fiction pioneer, with a debut hardcover coming out next month.
- Joe R. Lansdale: Can you say Bubba Hotep anyone?
- Jim Butcher: Bestselling author of the Dresden files.
There will most certainly be more coming, but this should whet your appetite. Check back later this week for the first interview. Also, if you have suggestions on who you would like to see interviewed, please feel free to send them along. I’ll see what I can do.
So it’s been a good day, and another milestone for my efforts at writing fiction.
That is, my first short fiction publication in a print magazine.
My horror short story, “That Long Black Train” will be appearing in Cemetery Dance magazine sometime in 2008, and I’m pretty excited about it. I’ve had a couple of sales to online journals, and I’m happy about those too, but print magazines are still where it’s at in the writing business.
So all you other struggling writers out there, take heart! It can be done! For you horror and dark fantasy readers, check out Cemetery Dance. It publishes good stuff!
Since this is my blog, I am quite happy to use it to toot my own horn.
It is with great satisfaction that I announce my next publication. My novel, Heart of the Ronin will be published in hardcover in Spring 2009 by Five Star Publishing.
More information on this will likely appear in this ol’ Groove in the months and weeks to come, but you heard it here first!
And oh, yeah, the novel in a nutshell.
This will be the first novel in The Ronin Trilogy. In a nutshell, it is Excalibur meets The Seven Samurai. John Boorman meets Akira Kurosawa. I call it “historical fantasy.” The story is set in medieval Japan, when gods and creatures of folklore and myth were as real as the village down the road. Underworld crime bosses, bloodthirsty demons, samurai lords, beautiful maidens, and Mongol hordes. Oh, yeah, you know you’ll want to read this!
Yes, it’s been a blue moon since my last post, but that‘s actually a good thing for me, because it means I’ve been busy the last couple of months.
The thing that‘s been on my mind lately is how horribly the Sci-Fi Channel has not only failed, but soiled, one of the great icons of science fiction. As a kid, I lived for the Flash Gordon animated series on Saturday morning. When the most recent movie came out in 1980, I had that Queen soundtrack and actually wore out the cassette. I spent countless hours drawing Flash Gordon rocket ships and dreaming up epic space battles.
So you can imagine how interested I was when I heard that the Sci-Fi Channel was doing a Flash Gordon series. I heard an interview with the director, who said that Sci-Fi Channel bought thirteen episodes without ever seeing a script. They knew there was a lot of prestige in sci-fi-dom behind the Flash Gordon name.
And perhaps you can imagine how disappointed I was when I saw the results. If there is justice in the sci-fi universe, there will be no more than thirteen episodes. Ever.
I was giving it a chance. The show was set mostly on Earth, not Mongo, and there were no rocketships. Ok, giving it a chance. Here are the OK points.
Eric Johnson (Flash) – A fair enough choice. Adequate acting and screen presence. Not overwhelming, but certainly adequate.
Gina Holden (Dale Arden) – Again, a fair enough choice. The lack of screen chemistry between Dale and Flash doesn’t help things, however.
Karen Cliche (Baylin) – This character/actress grew on me, even though her name sounds like something uber-hip yuppies would name their Baby Gap kid. She had good comic timing and just enough evil in her eyes to be interesting.
Jody Racicot (Dr. Zarkov) – Quirky, funny, good comic relief.
Planet Mongo – When they DO actually make it onto the planet Mongo, it‘s sufficiently well done to not ruin anything.
HORRIBLE UNFORGIVABLE DOWNFALL POINTS
John Ralston (Ming the Merciless) – Give me a break! This guy looks like somebody’s lawyer! He‘s not the least bit scary (except for his dialogue) and his screen presence is hyperbolically approaching zero. This might have been redeemable IF he had some great stentorian Shakespearean voice, like Max von Sydow or Patrick Stewart. Nope, sorry. Some whiny kid named Jimmy next door would have made a better Ming. Whoever cast this guy for this part should be kicked out of Hollywood. Go make some Lifetime movies.
Giles Panton (Joe Wylee) – Dale Arden’s fiancee… Huh? Whoever decided to make the Dale/Flash relationship a love triangle should suffer the same fate as the person who cast Ming. There is zero screen chemistry between this guy and Dale. Their relationship is never explored. He‘s just thrown in there as the “third wheel,“ the obstacle, because everyone KNOWS Flash and Dale are a thing, with no intention of making him into a real character.
Rocketships – There AREN‘T any! They do some sort of dimensional leap back and forth between worlds. Lame. Cheap and lame.
The Hawkmen – Up until I saw this episode, I was still trying to give the show a chance. Rarely have I ever flown into paroxysms of outrage whilst watching a TV show. I was yelling at the screen, “OMFG! Lame, lame, lame, LAME!” The hawkmen, a race of people with WINGS, were an old standard of the Flash Gordon universe, and the Sci-Fi channel turned them into guys with ragged leather capes that they used for GLIDING, and they went around screeching at each other like hawks. And they stood around on the side of a hill with drums and skulls dancing around in a circle like Indians. I swear to God, the actors looked embarrassed. I was embarrassed for them.
From a network that brought back Battlestar Galactica and turned it into one of the greatest sci-fi drama series EVER, gave us the lovable Farscape, and kept Stargate alive probably longer than they should have, they took a science-fiction icon like Flash Gordon and turned it into a gob of filthy green ooze that I can’t wait to get off the bottom of my shoe. Somebody at SFC should know what good sci-fi is. If they had done Flash Gordon with a cast and budget like Farscape, as it SHOULD have been done, it would have been a monster, smash success. Guaranteed. But they didn‘t, and the result is something everybody involved would probably best forget. The lack of talent in every aspect of production, from scripts to costumes to directing, shows how committed no one was to making this a worthy effort.
If you want real Flash Gordon, watch the old TV cartoon. Or find some old Buster Crabbe serials. Let this one die quickly, and bury it under the sand. Deep. Bury it deep.
I’ve had the good fortune recently to be doing some submission reviews for The Harrow, an online horror fiction journal. My task is to review and critique manuscripts submitted for publication. I’m also a member of Critters.org, a website where SF/F and Horror writers can have their works reviewed and critiqued by their peers. I must say, it’s a great experience on many levels to read the work of struggling writers out there, not to mention having my own stuff critiqued on Critters. I’m good, but I’m not Ray Bradbury or Harlan Ellison. Give me another 35 years. Maybe someday I’ll be able to tell beautiful, eloquent lies for a living.
The best part is remembering what it was like to be there, where they are, longing to be a writer, struggling, slaving, agonizing, yearning for publication. “Just give me the time of day and a frickin’ published credit for God’s sake! I don’t suck! … Do I?” I can remember what it was like, but at the same time, I know that I’ve passed that stage, and that feels good. Granted, I still feel a fair share of angst when tossing out a fresh short story to be read, but I have honed my craft such that I don’t have to worry about a lot of mechanic and structural problems. The problem is, most of what I’m reading does, in fact, suck, in one way or another. There are legions of breathtakingly awful writers out there.
This is not to be mean, but it needs to be said. If you’re going to be a writer, you need to learn how to be a writer, and to do that you need to learn what separates crappy writing from the stuff that really sings. To paraphrase Ray Bradbury, write a thousand words a day for the next 20 years, and you’ll reach the point where your writing ability can get out of the way of your subconscious and let the stories come out. You won’t have to worry about the mechanical mistakes that you might make.
So without further ado, a few tips on How To NOT Suck as a Fiction Writer.
- Get a copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. This little book, all by itself, taught me a lot about weeding out my own mistakes, double-checking grammar and mis-used words, and in general making me better at what I do. The biggest problem I see with many of the manuscripts I read is the lack of basic knowledge about how to structure a sentence. Good writers routinely break the rules, but they do it on purpose, from a position of strength, not because they don’t know any better. Learn where to put commas. Sentence fragments are ok, when used properly. Run-on sentences are NOT OK, unless they are done for a specific and recognizable purpose.
- SHOW, DON’T TELL! You’re thinking, yadda yadda yadda. That is the first maxim any fiction writing class ever tried to bang into your head. But yet, in a startlingly high percentage of manuscripts I see, I routinely see sentences like, “He was angry.” It doesn’t get much more boring than that. Maybe you don’t realize that SHOW pertains to emotions as well. Don’t summarize a characters emotions. Chart the physical sensations that show the reader what the character is feeling. The reader will know by your description of hair standing on end, teeth clenching, fists quivering, and a beet-red face that the character is angry. This provides the reader a door to enter the character’s reality, and makes us identify with what is happening in the story.
- The Twilight Zone was groundbreaking in 1950. Today, not so much. I see a lot of horror fiction with characters drawn up as mere caricatures by which the ‘horrible idea’ of a given horror story is imposed upon them. The writer has an idea, then tosses off a cardboard character to enact that idea upon. Is that actually moral? To create an empty, bland, boring vessel just to do nasty things to it? Do nasty things to real, living breathing characters, I say! Create a wonderful, living breathing character, someone you could love, or love to hate — and then jam them screaming and writhing into a meat grinder! That is good horror fiction!
- Item 3 ties in with the idea of cliches as well. If you’re going retell Ye Olde Vampire Story, or Ye Olde Werewolf Story, or Ye Olde Three Wishes Story and the dangers thereof, you had better find a fresh, new, and intriguing way of telling it.
- Microsoft Spellchecker sucks. It only checks that you have words spelled correctly. It does NOT check that you have used the proper word. Ex. ‘heel’ vs. ‘heal.’ Nor is it any good at checking grammar. It will catch a few legitimate grammatical errors, but in general, I find that the MS Word grammar check is little more than useless. Learn to proofread your own work.
- Recommended reading on becoming a better Fiction Writer.
- Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury. Brief, powerful, and beautifully written.
- From Where You Dream, by Robert Olen Butler. He’s kind of pompous and arrogant towards any sort of non-mainstream or genre fiction, but he has some good points to make on how to dredge truly good stories out of your most creative brain.
I subscribe to Bradbury’s assertion that writers have to write a whole boatload of bad stories before they arrive at something that is truly wonderful. The good news for many of the writers I’ve read in the last few weeks is they have put one more of those bad stories behind them, and they’re one step closer now to where they need to be.
Now, for one of the coolest comic book movies ever!
I’ve been a fan of Marvel Comics since I was a little kid. Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, I loved them all. And the movies in recent years have overcome some of the appalling crappiness that so plagued super hero movies in the decades preceding CGI (with the exception of the first two Christopher Reeves Superman movies and Tim Burton’s first Batman movie, which were awesome.) The first Spider-Man movie blew everyone away because it really was Spidey. (X-Men was great too, but I have to say that Spidey 1 and 2 have been the best Marvel movies to date.) Great scripts, awesome special effects, great performances, great director. They were magic. Hollywood (and the viewing public) seems to have caught on that comic books can make fantastic movies. (Ok, we won’t talk about Elektra. (Love that character and Jennifer Garner, who was a perfect choice, but awful movie. How’s that for being double-parenthetical?) And we’ll give a nod to Daredevil and Fantastic Four, because they were worthy efforts and I enjoyed them at the time, but things just… didn’t … quite click with those.)
Marvel has continued is string of real winners with Ghost Rider.
Here’s an image for you. Two Ghost Riders riding hell-bent-for-leather across the dark and stormy desert, one on a flaming hellsteed, one on a super-kick-ass chrome-and-hellfire chopper, with the song “Ghost Riders in the Sky” stomping in the background. Let me tell you. That was one of the coooolest movie moments I’ve had in a while. That alone was worth the price of admission.
So, for you non-comic-book folks out there, here’s a run-down.
Here’s the legend. Every generation, the Devil chooses a Rider, a bounty hunter to do his dirty work on earth. Someone who will take escaped souls back to Hell and perform whatever bidding Mephistopheles requires.
Johnny Blaze, motorcycle stunt-rider extraordinaire, is visited by a guy claiming to be the Devil (Peter Fonda, when was the last time he was in a movie). The Devil tells Johnny he can save his father from dying of cancer. Poor naive teenager that Johnny is, he makes the deal, and from that day forward, Old Scratch owns his soul. Johnny’s father is cured of cancer, but he dies the next day in a stunt-riding “accident.” Distraught over his father’s death and trying to escape the Devil’s reach, Johnny flees the carnival, leaving his gorgeous true-love, Roxanne, behind.
Fast forward about fifteen years. Johnny (Nicholas Cage) has become a national superstar stunt rider, a la Evel Knievel, and manages to get up time and again after some spectacular crashes. He has an â€œangelâ€ on his shoulder. He seems like a man with a death wish, and he also seems indestructible.
He’s carried a torch for Roxanne (Eva Mendes), and vice versa, every day for fifteen years, and suddenly they meet again at one of Johnny’s motorcycle events. This meeting is the sign that he’s been looking for, the sign that he could have a second chance after selling his soul to the Devil.
But the Devil has other plans. A demon known only as Blackheart (Wes Bentley) is loose and looking for a scroll that holds the contract to a thousand souls. That’s some powerful demonic currency. The Devil wants that scroll for himself, so he calls in his debt with Johnny. Thus, the Ghost Rider is born. At night and in the presence of evil, a demon takes over Johnny’s body, and he becomes the fearsome, burning-skull-in-black-leather-and-chains bad boy.
His mentor and predecessor as the Ghost Rider, played by Sam Elliot, provides the necessary background for Johnny to assume his new role and battle the forces of Evil with–well, more evil. Fight hellfire with hellfire! Armed with red hot chains and a sentient demon-chopper, the Ghost Rider tears ass across the city, up and down buildings, leaving a trail of flaming asphalt and molten glass behind him.
If there’s a serious flaw in this movie, is the behavior of the police when they arrest Johnny for the murders committed by Blackheart. Their over-the-top nastiness didn’t have a rhyme or reason other than to give the Ghost Rider a sequence to escape from jail and ride tearing across town to get away from them. If you look, you’ll find some other plot holes. But in the end, I didn’t care, because it was a damn fun ride.
So Johnny Blaze must battle the menacing Blackheart and his demon-elemental minions, struggle to save his soul, prevent both the Devil and Blackheart from getting the scroll, control the demon lurking within him, maintain his humanity, and win back his lost love, all in one movie. Can he do it? Well, duh!
I’d have to rank this as one of the best Marvel movies, better than FF, DD, Elektra (by far), and probably X-Men 3. The Cool Factor on his movie is through the roof; Nicholas Cage makes a great Johnny Blaze, Eva Mendes a great love interest, and Peter Fonda a damn fine Mephistopheles. I would love to see another one of these.
P.S. One of the previews before this movie was Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer! The Coolness Factor bounced high on that one too. Reed and Sue’s wedding is upstaged by the arrival of a flying silver guy on a surfboard. Got me all excited. I hope it’s better than the first FF movie (which could have been so much better)!