That Sinking Feeling.

Let’s just start from the beginning:

While outlining my Christmas story (which will obviously have to be for Christmas 2014 now, but that’s another matter), I decided that it would have four parts. Part one would include everything I had written previously, and parts two through four would progress it exactly the way I had originally planned. I figured that it would be somewhere in the 20,000-word range, making it my first official novella.

Then it happened.

I had a sinking feeling. A feeling that I was overwriting and over-explaining—something I tend to do in first drafts. A feeling that maybe things could be a little bit simpler than they were—that the story might be better if it was a little more concise.

The feeling that the 25 pages I had just finished writing might better serve the story as a paragraph, possibly two.

Sigh.

It’s been a few days since I had that epiphany, and I still haven’t decided exactly what I want to do yet. I don’t want to cut the entire thing out since there is quite a bit of character development in there and I’m not sure I can put it elsewhere in the story without it just feeling shoehorned in. However, after reading through the entire first part, it’s repetitive and predictable.

Would it be entirely unwriterly of me to flip a coin and go from there? #firstdraftproblems

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The Laundromat.

Every author has their special writing space. For some, it is a quaint coffee shop just outside of downtown—a place where a dozen hopeful authors come every Saturday afternoon to bang out another three to four pages between sips of their overpriced yet decidedly mediocre chai tea latte. For others, it is a special room in their home where the only interruptions come in the form of Facebook updates and dogs that simply can’t wait a minute longer to go outside and fertilize the lawn. Some writing spaces are remarkable areas—a solid oak desk and an overstuffed chair surrounded by shelves and shelves of first editions. Others, less so.

Mine, of late, has been the latter.

Our apartment has a laundry facility on site, but there is no way in hell I will ever use it. It’s in the basement of one of the apartment buildings, and if there are any lights in the room, they don’t seem to be functioning. Only half of the machines work at any given time, and I believe they were probably manufactured sometime between the two world wars. I have had experience with laundromats before, but never as a sole means of doing laundry. Even when we didn’t have a washer and dryer, it was always easy to take a load over to my parents’ house whenever they would have us over for dinner. But, alas, a year ago we moved two hours away from our nearest family members; popping over to wash some clothes wasn’t really an option anymore.

A few months ago, I found a laundromat about ten minutes away from our apartment that had longer hours than others that were closer. It is also the only laundromat in the area where many of the machines accept credit/debit cards—rather convenient when you don’t want to carry around ten dollars worth of quarters just to have clean clothes for the week. Add in free Wi-Fi and it becomes a no-brainer.

I started taking my laptop with me when I was working on the first chapter of One Less Hero. Knowing that I would be sitting in one space for two hours with very little to do, I decided to try and use the time for something more productive than attempting to decode what was happening on the Spanish soap opera playing on the TV (though tele-novellas are fascinating, let me tell you). I breezed through the final draft of that chapter, and the same would be true when I started working on the second chapter a couple weeks later. Sitting in that place surrounded by people of all ages from all walks of life, it was easy to tell the story of the little guys who pulled together and took down The Man (from a certain point of view). After I finished that chapter, I decided to keep bringing my laptop and use the time to further my writing ambitions, Frederico and his secret agent mistress be damned.

Lately, I’ve been working on my Christmas story, That Old Silk Hat, while waiting for our clothes to finish. With what I have so far and what I have outlined, I think this will be a novella somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 to 25,000 words. It’s been a lot of fun to write so far. The best way I can describe it is a Christmas story in the tradition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It features a cast of children, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it should be a bedtime story. This one goes to some pretty dark places, and I’m very excited with how well it’s progressing. Given a few more loads of laundry, it’s possible this one might even be finished when I expect it to be.

As always, however, don’t hold me to that.

After I finish the Christmas story, I have another novella lined up that I started working on a couple years ago but dropped once I went back to school; with the full-time workload, it was difficult to make time to write. This one is a western (a genre I don’t often associate with) with a touch of horror (a bit more familiar with that one). There’s also a story about a 19th century magician whose tricks turn out to be touched with a little something more. What makes it even more fun is that the magician story is loosely tied to That Old Silk Hat. When you build a world, you build a mythology; part of the fun of being a writer is populating that mythology with the stuff of legend.

You know, I just realized I wrote this entire post without once making some kind of correlation between writing and airing one’s dirty laundry. Eh, maybe next time.


Film Review: The Book Thief.

The Short Version


The book is a masterpiece. The film is . . . serviceable. A paint-by-numbers rendering of the Sistine Chapel. The cast was excellent, as was the cinematography. The music, though sparse, was effective. But the script was lacking in almost every way. What was a beautiful, unforgettable story in novel form was adapted into a film that was missing everything that made the book unique. Though the filmmakers tried to satisfy fans of the book with garnishes of dialogue and character moments here and there, it was ultimately an oversimplified, neutered version of an intricate and intimate story that deserved better.

Liesel takes a book from the pile.

The Long Version


Before you read this review, there are a two things you need to know about me in order to understand where I’m coming from:

  • The Book Thief is my favorite book of all time, and I regard it as a literary masterpiece that, despite its many accolades, still isn’t as well-known as it should be.
  • In general, I am fairly liberal with book-to-film adaptations and don’t mind if changes are made as long as there are reasons for said changes and the film is made with respect to the material from which it is adapted.

With those two bullet points in mind, The Book Thief should have worked. Very little was changed from the novel to the film, and the story elements that were left out weren’t overly necessary to the story the film was telling. The cast was excellent. The music fit the tone of the film perfectly. The imagery was breathtaking. In the end, it came down to the words. “Words are life,” the character Max tells our heroine Liesel in one of the film’s more touching moments. In the case of the film adaptation of The Book Thief, however, the words are also the heart . . . and the movie’s downfall.

Before we examine what didn’t work about the film, I want to spotlight the elements of the movie that did work. First, the cast was fantastic. I could have done without the monotone line delivery of the child actors, but Sophie Nélisse and Nico Liersch both did fine jobs as Liesel and Rudy, respectively, and Ben Schnetzer fit the role of Max nicely. However, the true standouts in this category were Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson as Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Both perfectly encompassed their characters, adding subtle nuances to every scene they were in and drawing the audience into the cramped, harrowing world of life on Himmel Street.

Second, the music was beautiful. Composed by John Williams, the score for The Book Thief was both sentimental and haunting, using mostly piano throughout with strings for emphasis. This is not big, booming, Jurassic Park John Williams; this is subtle, resonant, contemplative John Williams. My only complaint is that there was very little score in the movie itself.

Third, the cinematography was excellent. From the framing of each shot to the imagery itself, the film was a breathtaking sight.

So with all of that, what could I possibly have a problem with?

Easy. The words.

Aside from the touching story and the intriguing narrator (which I will touch on later), one of the most endearing qualities of The Book Thief is the beauty of its prose. It is, quite honestly, one of the most elegant and poetic books I have ever read. Its brilliant use of language and descriptive imagery does more than just paint a picture; it plants an idea. It creates a three-dimensional space in your mind for the story to inhabit, and it will stay there long after you’ve read its last words and put it back on the shelf.

The film, however, doesn’t have those words. Instead, it has the feeling of a movie that, like Rudy during the Jesse Owens Incident, is mostly racing toward the finishing line without a care in the world. I mostly blame the script for my dislike of the movie. The whole thing just felt rushed, like the filmmakers were so desperate to get to the shocking climax that they didn’t take the time to fill out the beginning and the middle. It’s still an emotional moment, but it should have hit harder. And I really feel like the only reason it resonated at all was because of the respective actors’ performances prior to the climax. (Vague enough? I’m not a spoiler person.)

One of my favorite aspects of the book was its narration. Narrated by a different personification of Death than any I’ve ever seen before in fiction, The Book Thief immediately established itself as a unique work with its choice of perspective. And, despite my doubts that Hollywood would be so bold, the character of Death is also featured in the film adaptation. However, after seeing the film, I wish he wasn’t.

Roger Allam was a great choice; his voice is full of personality, and the filmmakers really couldn’t have picked a better voice for Death. My problem is that the character doesn’t matter at all. Ultimately, his inclusion is just fan service for viewers who have read the novel. He has a few monologues here and there, but they all feel out of place and tacked on. In the book, the character has meaning, providing a different perspective on the horrors of war and the ramifications of our choices. In the film, his voice interrupts the story during a handful of quiet, landscape-filled scenes, injected random, shortened versions of some of his asides. My favorite part of the book became one of the things I wish they had just left out of the movie. It simply didn’t fit.

In the end, I was disappointed. Perhaps it is my own fault for putting the book up on so high a pedestal that an adaptation couldn’t possibly do it justice. Or perhaps it truly was a misfire, and I am not the only one who feels this way. Either way, I still have the book, and I will continue to enjoy reading it. Even Hollywood can’t take that away.

Final Grade:  N  –  Needs Improvement


The Space Between.

Right now, I am entering what I have just decided to call “The Space Between.” It’s the space between projects, that all-too-short time period between finishing one thing and beginning another. I finally finished the second chapter of One Less Hero, entitled “With A Little Help From My Friends,” and it has made it through my rather ridiculous editing process for the most part unscathed. All that is left is incorporating my edits into the final draft and then publishing the finished product. I’ve set a publication date of Monday, November 11, and I think I’m in a position to keep that deadline. It actually flows pretty well for a draft that contains various pieces from five very different drafts written over the last eight months.

[Note: Not all of the chapters are going to be like that one. I always knew what I wanted to happen in it, but I could never quite figure out exactly how I wanted it to happen. The final version is an amalgamation of several different ideas. Like I said above, I’m slightly amazed at how well it seems to flow considering how it came about. Of course, I could be completely biased and it might be a complete piece of crap that is all over the place thematically. I’ll leave that for the readers to decide.]

So Chapter 2 is finished, and it’s time for me to move onto my next endeavor. Unfortunately for my free time, I’ve already decided what that next endeavor will be. And the holiday season is the perfect time to be writing it.

Last year around this time, I had just moved to Nashville and I was living in a cheap hotel with cable and a spotty wireless connection. I was missing my family, and one of the things I did to fill that time (aside from watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory and Restaurant: Impossible—don’t judge) was writing. One Less Hero was one of the projects to come out of that hotel stay, and it heavily influenced a novelette I’m shopping around called It Starts and Ends with You. However, the story I focused on the most while I was actually staying in the hotel room was a Christmas-themed story that started with a retelling of Frosty the Snowman and made a sharp 90-degree turn after that. I’m very excited about it, mostly because a Christmas story is one of those things I never really thought I’d be writing. They always seem too sugary and tired and predictable, but this one is none of those things; it’s very much me. It’s also a little bit someone else, which is another reason why I’m excited to write it.

I’ve made no secret of my love of the work of Neil Gaiman. He’s one of my biggest inspirations as a writer, and I still constantly point anyone and everyone to this commencement speech and dare them not to be floored. The Christmas story I’m about to start working on again is probably the closest I will get to writing a Gaiman story. It’s a little bit real-world, a little bit fantasy, a little bit horror, a little bit heart-wrenching, and a little bit allegory. Gaiman himself has paid tribute to one of his favorite writers, fantasy staple Michael Moorcock, in numerous short stories over his writing career, so I feel no shame in doing the same.

Generally, the Space Between is a pretty short time period for me; sometimes it can be measured in minutes. I think I’m going to give myself a few days for this one, then dive in headfirst. And maybe, just maybe, I can actually finish this story before the holiday that inspired it arrives.


You Know, Not Everything Needs An Origin Story.

I have to get something off my chest. It’s been bothering me for several years now, and it’s only gotten worse as I focus more and more on writing. As a lifelong reader of comic books and an avid watcher of comic book movies, it’s a problem that I encounter often, and one that I generally overlook in favor of just trying to enjoy a story. However, I’m done; I can’t hold back anymore. Here goes:

I hate origin stories.

There, I said it.

I understand that, particularly in comics and comic-related media, an origin story is usually a necessary component. People generally want to know how a particular superhero gained their superpowers. Most readers and viewers prefer the stories they engage in to have a beginning; it’s not exactly out of the ordinary. And don’t get me wrong—I’m all for beginnings. I’m just not a fan of every single detail being explained to death, laid out neatly in tight little rows so that everyone understands exactly what the character’s motivation is. You know, since life is exactly like that. I know that every personality quirk I possess stems from some kind of external trauma I endured at some point in my past—more than likely in washed-out color tones and set to at least semi-ominous music.

Man of Steel Teaser PosterLet’s go to a recent example. Back in September, writer David Goyer stated during the BAFTA and BFI Screenwriter’s Lecture that he felt it was necessary in the latest Superman film, Man of Steel, to include some kind of traumatic event thatwould influence Superman’s decision to never take a life. Mr. Goyer stated that the fan’s idea of a non-killing Superman existed “outside the narrative” of the story, and he refused to accept that. He refused to accept that a hero would make the decision to abstain from murder on his own; there had to be a reason why he chose not to kill—and it had to be a reason presented in the narrative of the movie.

Let me repeat that:

Goyer had to create a reason. For the good guy. To *not* kill people.

Really? Was that really necessary?

I mean, *I* don’t want to kill people. And it’s not because of some crazy, out-of-control situation where I was ***SPOILER ALERT*** indirectly responsible for thousands of people dying and directly responsible for the death of one of the last members of my race. ***END SPOILER*** It’s simply because I’m not a sociopath, and because I was raised by decent people who taught me the value of human (and other) life. You know, kind of like Clark Kent. Did Goyer really think that in all those heart-to-hearts with Ma and Pa Kent that the sanctity of life wasn’t covered? The man grew up on a farm, for the love of Krypton—he wasn’t raised by assassins or terrorists or psychopaths. He was a country boy, through and through. That’s one particular life lesson that probably wasn’t all that necessary to explain on screen—especially in such spectacularly outrageous fashion.

Then again, if it wasn’t for all the destruction, Laurence Fishburne would have had absolutely nothing to do in that movie. But I digress.

Aside from Superman, the two most famous origin stories in comics are Batman and Spider-Man. Ask anyone on the street, and they can probably give you at least a semi-accurate background for both characters. Batman became Batman because his affluent parents were murdered in front of his eyes in an alley by a mugger. Spider-Man became Spider-Man because he was bitten by a radioactive spider; he later became a hero because his uncle was killed by a car-jacking thief—one whom he had failed to stop earlier that day. “With great power comes great responsibility” . . . you know the drill. Everyone knows these stories. Yet, for some reason, Hollywood feels the need to tell them over and over again.

The Amazing Spider-Man Movie Poster Take The Amazing Spider-Man, for instance. Though it came out just five years after Sam Raimi unexpectedly wrapped up his Spider-Man trilogy, the filmmakers felt the need to retell how Spider-Man got his powers. A few things changed here and there, but it was basically the same story. Just switch organic web shooters for mechanical ones, Tobey Maguire for Andrew Garfield, and the Green Goblin for the Lizard. Add in some bits about Peter’s parents and, voila, you have a reboot.

Speaking of reboots, you can’t talk about them without mentioning Batman Begins. Arguably the most successful movie reboot, well, pretty much ever, this one took over two hours to tell the origin of Batman. It showed the seeds being sown in Crime Alley with his parents’ murder. It showed him training in a foreign land where his stature and status were unknown. It showed him assembling the Batsuit and the beginnings of the Batcave. And it showed that comic book movies could be taken more seriously. But I have to admit, Batman Begins is my least favorite of the Dark Knight Trilogy, and I feel that a large part of that is due to its emphasis on the origin story. Don’t get me wrong; I love the movie. But it’s definitely the one I’ve rewatched the least. My favorite part? The ending on the rooftop. It felt like that was when the story really started going. Bruce was finally Batman, and everything was about to change.

Which takes us to The Dark Knight, and its perfect treatment of the Joker. It would have been easy to give the Joker some kind of traumatic past, something to connect him to the audience and maybe even put us in his mind for a few fleeting seconds. But the filmmakers chose not to. Instead, they treated the Joker as an absolute—as something that just is. He was a natural disaster, an act of God, an external event that could only be reacted to and never fully understood. Maybe he was beaten and traumatized by his father. Maybe the mob cut up his wife’s face and he did a little self-mutilation out of pity. Maybe it doesn’t matter what made him the monster he became, because the monster is what in front of you, and knowing what created it isn’t going to do you a damn bit of good.

In my own writing, I tend to avoid origin stories. For One Less Hero, none of the supervillains are going to have their backstories sufficiently explored. Sure, there are definitely references here and there—puzzle pieces for the reader to put together—but I’m avoiding an outright origin story chapter for any of them. They’re just not fun to write, and I don’t feel like they’re super fun to read, either. Most of the time, I feel like the reader is usually saying, Just get on with it—get to the good stuff. And that’s what I’m trying to do. Continuing the Batman thread, it’s more like Tim Burton’s Batman from 1989; that film told a modern story while weaving elements of Batman’s origin throughout. In my opinion, that part of it was perfectly done. Of course, I have plenty of other issues with the movie, but that’s another story.

Aside from One Less Hero, I generally don’t like to dive too deep into a character’s background in the narrative of a story. Of course, every character I create has a background—one that I become intimately familiar with before I ever set a word to page. After that, the details end up being sprinkled throughout the story rather than dragging it down with a massive info dump at the beginning. I simply write as if anyone reading already knows what I know about the character. And, in that way, they will.

I realize that origin stories will always be around. But that doesn’t mean I have to find them interesting. Because, you know, some things just are; there isn’t always a reason for every little thing. And I wish the storytellers could handle that.

One more thing—Superman doesn’t kill. And it’s not because he was forced to kill and he didn’t like how it made him feel. It’s because he was raised by parents who didn’t suck and taught him that murder isn’t cool. It’s because, despite his alien origin, he’s a decent human being (or close enough, anyway) who understands right from wrong. And it’s because, yes, he understands that with great power comes great responsibility.

You know, I’m surprised we haven’t learned where Uncle Ben got that gem, come to think of it. Oh well—there’s always The Amazing Spider-Man 2.


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