Futurescapes Catch-up

Friends, my brain is still oozing from the majesty and magic that was Futurescapes 2018. Accordingly, I’m taking a minute to check in here before running off to do all of the things that I need to do to get caught back up. Thanks for your patience while I was out of town.

First of all, the Sundance Resort was lovely. I’ve got tons of pictures. I’ve also got an official Instagram now, where you can see some of those pictures and keep up with my writing if that’s your poison. I’ve put a couple of favorites at the end of this post.

I met so many cool people who were all really supportive. I also got a huge amount of feedback on the novella. I’m hoping to get that groomed up by July in time for some important submissions windows to open. Obviously getting Daughter of Madness out takes priority, there, but the worst of that should be over by the end of June so the timeline works out perfectly.

I also took a lot of notes for some of the lectures and panels I got to attend, which were all incredibly useful, and some of those I tweeted. All of it is tagged with the #futurescapes18 hashtag, so you should be able to find them.

And here, at last, your promised photos! I probably won’t make another post this week, since I’m behind on edits and have some other deadlines to meet, but I will be back next week!


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Maintaining mystery

Recently, I was listening to this podcast review of Annihilation as a movie adaptation, reviewed on this site here, and I realized just what bugged me about the movie the most. While I reviewed Annihilation based off of its feminist leanings and how that settled for me, and have recently seen Jessica Jones Season Two and faulted it for similar, that’s not actually why the movie or show, respectively, failed to grip me in either case. Sure, if those inconsistencies could have been resolved I would have been less disappointed. But I was emotionally less than invested from the beginning. The reason, I realized listening to that podcast episode, was because the writing itself lacked something essential.

It lacked a sense of tension, tension resulting from mystery.

I think this is a particular problem in genres which trade on suspense, but it can be a problem for all stories. Annihilation is a story that is at least playing heavily in the horror sandbox. Jessica Jones mixes horror elements into a detective mystery – mystery or thrillers being horror’s close cousins. Another popular sequel series which came out last October, Stranger Things, also fell a little bit flat with viewers for, I believe, similar reasons, and dwells squarely in the horror and supernatural action camp. What made the book Annihilation and the first seasons of these other two stories work so well was the tension that kept you engaged, and that tension was reliant upon mystery.

Mystery in a story comes from a lack of knowledge, or, more specifically, from the slow release of knowledge like breadcrumbs. Too much knowledge out the gate can feel like force feeding. This was the case for me with Annihilation the movie, where many of the major questions in the book are answered in the first five minutes of the movie. We know immediately that Area X is likely caused by aliens – the opening scene with the meteor and the lighthouse leaves little question of that – and the main character will return from her journey to investigate that phenomenon. She is, after all, being interviewed in the first scene where we meet her, beat up but still recognizably her. We see the ending before the story even begins, and both of the largest existential questions we could have been left with (why is this happening, and will she survive) are answered. Rarely do those sorts of story framing devices work for me, though rarely is not never – I have seen it done well, and usually it is because there is another more emotionally important question introduced to replace the one (has the narrator survived) that is being eliminated. There are more ways to lose yourself than to die.

The reverse of this, of course, is when you put too information little in your story. Information can be an anchor, and it’s important to keep your reader or watcher oriented. So maintaining suspension is not about giving no information, but delivering the pieces of the story slowly. It’s like getting a little bit of food when you want a feast, exquisitely spiced but only enough to make you more ravenous. If you can keep up that trail of breadcrumbs at the right intervals, you maintain tension throughout. If the protagonist can only succeed when they have all of the information and failure becomes more assured the longer it takes for them to figure it out, you have the perfect recipe. But it requires enough of a trickle of new knowledge to keep the reader oriented and engaged throughout, so it’s a fine line to walk.

Annihilation gave too much information upfront, but other stories give too little. Often this is a sign of bad writing – inconsistent characters and deus ex machina plot twists can leave a reader or watcher cold. Internal consistency is just as important when slowly revealing information, because something that contradicts too sharply with everything that you’ve learned before is a sure-fire way to throw you out of the story. In short, in order to do quality reveals you already have to have a good idea of the rules and the backstory as a writer. This requires a lot of pre-writing, including research that may never make it into your story at all.

It’s a lot of work, but tension is the heartblood of any story. It pays to get it right.


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MystiCon!

Hey folks! It’s MystiCon this week, which I am attending Saturday and Sunday as a guest, so our post is a little early this week. Here is a list of my appearances, in case you’re in town to check things out.

Saturday

  • 9 am: The Politics and Economics of Cover Art
  • 1 pm: Beyond Western Europe: Other World Cultures for Fantasy
  • 3 pm: Women on the Dark Side

Sunday

  • 10 am: The Last Racebenders/Genderbenders (M)
  • 12 pm: Epic Scale Fantasy (M)

I either volunteered or was volun-told that I am moderating two panels Sunday, as the (M) indicates. I’m really excited to do these two on race- and gender-bending and on epic scale fantasy with some wonderful authors, including R.S. Belcher and Liz Long. A lot of work goes into moderating, so I’ve been hustling to get that figured out! But I think the discussion will be great for all of these panels, and I’m excited to see some new and interesting topics this year.

I hope to see you all there!


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A lifetime of juggling

My motivation has been super terrible in the month of February, probably because January kicked my butt. The dayjob got wild those last two weeks, there was some general drama, and I finished APM, the novella I had been working on, which rang in at a little under 26k. Which, by the way, you can see a sample of on my Patreon at the $1/month tier.

We also did the math on our finances (finally) and realized we’re really going to have to cut back on some of our discretionary spending, what with being house owners and such. The bills have been much higher than expected this winter – though I am hopeful they will go back down once the weather breaks and that will take some of the stress off. That means that writing lunches are a lot harder to swing. (Since my office doesn’t have a break room or anything, I was going out to get lunch in order to have privacy to do non-dayjob work, but that’s not going to fly now.) Add to all that the fact that the S.O. has gone to dayshift and it’s been a weirdly off-kilter couple of weeks, though not bad. I’ve enjoyed being in the kitchen more despite the obligation, and not going out as much gives the S.O. and I more time together usually.

All of this is to say that I rolled into February feeling exhausted, mostly, and really hoping for a snow day or three, and six days in that has not let up. But, being as it’s February, I’m technically behind on some of my deadlines with DoM (I built a cushion, but I didn’t want to use it this early). I am, however, back into editing as of this weekend. This round of edits is the good kind – tweaking word choice, adding detail, and making sure character dialogue and general descriptions are consistent with the prior book. It’s weird to realize how much I have evolved as a writer, honestly, comparing the two texts. I hope that I am successfully keeping the tone and voice of the prior work in a way that makes reading between one and the other fluid. I have 426 pages to get through and I think I’m on page 30, so it’s going to be a long month.

Jumping back to writing has been really difficult this time around, probably because I have been doing so much of it for so long without really feeling like I’ve hit any milestones. Impostor syndrome is a writer’s bread and butter, but I do feel that there’s a need for some positive feedback occasionally on this long road, and it feels like it’s been a while since I’ve had any of that. World Fantasy Convention was awesome, of course, and it was great to meet new friends and rekindle connections with old ones. I am really happy to have done that. But it was expensive. Futurescapes will be as well. Though I am excited, doing these things means using up my limited vacation time and using up money that we probably need for home repairs and other such fun adult things. And it’s time that I can’t rest. Lately, I feel sorely in need of rest. Preferably rest involving a mountain cabin with no internet, snow, and a hot tub, but I could handle an island instead, just a tent and the sand and quiet there, too. You need rest to regain your chutzpah, and the quality of that rest is important. Self-imposed isolation seems like the way to go.

So after Futurescapes, I’m going to take a break from appearances and workshops until next winter and focus on some other, non-writing projects for a few months. The goal is to push through April, get Daughter of Madness out, make it to MystiCon, RAI, and Futurescapes, and then take a break. During my break I’ll be creating for fun and mostly focusing on some of the things I need to wrap up at home and at the dayjob. Plus it will be summer, and maybe I can at least get some time on the riverbank, or maybe a long weekend adventure in.

That’s technically three months from now, but it’s something to work towards. Until then, it’s back to juggling.

The big screen in 2018

It’s a new year, which means so many new movies that I get to look forward to! Though I doubt that I will enjoy anything as much as I enjoyed Blade Runner 2049 and The Last Jedi in 2017, I’m willing to give all of these movies a chance. Most specifically, Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time, my two most anticipated films for the year.

Something is going to surprise me, of course, and I am totally ready for that. No doubt I will also be disappointed as well. But for now, in release order, here are the stories I’m looking forward to seeing on the big screen in 2018.

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Black Panther – February 16th

Black Panther is the most anticipated movie of 2018, and so far the graphics and costume design, not to mention the casting, look amazing. I am going into this movie with a lot of nervous anticipation, mostly because I really, really don’t want Marvel to screw this up.

Annihilation – February 23rd

Yes! It’s finally here! I wrote about this movie last year, and it remains an anticipated film. I think that it’s going to be even creepier than I thought it would manage, and I’m feeling a little bit better about the direction they are taking with it (it seems like a combination of Annihilation and Authority, at least in part). The trailer released late last year, and February is just around the corner!

A Wrinkle in Time – March 9th

Have I mentioned how here I am for Storm Reid in A Wrinkle in Time? Making the decision to cast this movie so diversely is a wonderfully visionary one, and brings a refreshing newness to a well-loved text. I can’t wait for this film. If you haven’t seen the trailer, I recommend a watch.

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Tomb Raider – March 16th

I am…possibly pretty skeptical about this movie, but I plan to see it. I loved Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider when I was a kid, flaws and all, so any reboot of the story is going to be a little hard for me, especially one that looks to deviate so drastically. I’m not really a fan of the game it’s based off of either, but I’m not a gamer to be fair. I will probably see this one, but I am going to be side-eyeing it.

Avengers: Infinity War – May 4th

So I’m not the only one in the universe who was really kind of meh about the last Avengers installment. However, Thor: Ragnarok gave me life and I have good feelings about Black Panther. I’ll be seeing this one in theaters, if only so that I can lambaste it with everyone else. I have to admit that I’m most interested in Captain America and Thor’s arcs in this film. Iron Man is getting annoying for me – Civil War sealed that, though I love RDJ in the other Iron Man films. However, it really felt like Captain America gained complexity in that film. Likewise, Thor did some growing and changing, too. While I still can’t forgive Whedon for the whole Natasha-Bruce love arc bullshit, I am interested to see how the team brings these new, evolved characters into the mix.

Solo: A Star Wars Story – May 25th

Continuing the side-eye situation, we have the Han Solo prequel. Will I see this? Let’s be honest here, the answer is yes. Am I skeptical of it being done well? Also yes. It’s going to be a hard sell to have anyone filling Harrison Ford’s shoes (or Billy Dee Williams’ for that matter). I’m at least more hopeful than I am for the Tomb Raider movie, if only because I have enjoyed all the other installments of the new Star Wars to date.

 

Mulan – November 2nd

Bringing up the end of the year, we have a live action of Mulan! This is part of Disney’s effort to make money off of past classics, and I will forgive them many prior indignities if they get this movie right. So far rumors are promising, but we shall see! Anyway, I’m far more excited about this movie than the prior three on this list.

What are you looking forward to watching in 2018?


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What have I been reading?

I realized I haven’t shared with you all the magical things I’ve been reading and watching lately. Sure you got my “Best of 2017” post, but that’s not really indicative of all the things I’ve loved recently (though there were several things I enjoyed on it). Honestly, recovering from the holidays is taking a bit longer than I thought in terms of getting my feet back in under me, which is fine because reading all the books is, as ever, one of my favorite pastimes.

On the non-book front, I did go see Thor: Ragnarok when it came out way back in November, and it was so much fun. You got my post on The Last Jedi, and I finally made it to The Shape of Water, rounding out my anticipated movies of 2017 list. All of them were lovely, it’s been a great couple of months for movies honestly, though The Shape of Water was not quite what I was expecting – it struck me as a modern fairytale more than anything. In retrospect, that’s in like with del Toro’s style.

I’ve also been enjoying occasional forays into Brooklyn 99, which we discovered on our honeymoon and has become our chill date-night favorite. I finished Mahoutsukai no Yome, which started off super feel-good, got pretty dark, and then made it back to feel-good. It’s a found family situation with fairies, so despite some of the weird undertones with Chise being bought and sold, I’ve really enjoyed it. (I was really skeptical at first, but really it’s a pretty tame anime on the gender relations front.)

As for reads, I’ve enjoyed T. Kingfisher’s Seven Daughters, Mira Grant’s Into the Drowning Deep and M.R. Carey’s The Boy on the Bridge on the horror front. I’ve also been doing some reading into gothic literature, including checking out Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Picture of Dorian Gray, though I’ve only just started Dracula. I have consumed Seasons 1 and 2 of Roadtrip Z by Lilith Saintcrow, picked up because I’m looking into the serial publishing process and what that looks like. And for fun I read Grave by Michelle Sagara, finishing out the Queen of the Dead trilogy. A few of these may knock loose some reviews, etc. Pretty creepy reads lately, in other words, and more planned.

On the less horror front, I recently finished Elizabeth Bear’s The Stone in the Skull which was so very good. It’s set in the same world as A Range of Ghosts, and I think it’s honestly better. I didn’t think that was possible, but that’s how I feel. It pairs well with K. Arsenault’s The Tiger’s Wife if you’re looking to double up on your Asian-based fantasy worlds. I’ve also squeezed in Lightning in the Blood by Marie Brennan, a sequel in a series of novellas about archetypes who are reincarnated over and over, also an epic fantasy style deal. And I just started reading Conspiracy of Ravens by Lila Bowen, which is a weird western tale.

Lastly, I’ve got Oral History by Lee Smith to read. This is a deviation from my usual fare, but I thought I should read something by this Hollins author and also it is a bit in line with a project I’ve been working on. I’m holding on to it to read when I’m done with my first draft of said project, which should be sort of soon? Hopefully?

Anyway, there are lots of words going into the word-pit! Hopefully I will digest them and they will become magical new material.

What have you been reading?


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Year-end Creation Saga update

And we are back to Friday blogposts! Sorry for the hopping around, friends. I promised that I would update you about Daughter of Madness when I was re-capping my 2017 Resolutions, and here it is, the update you’ve all been waiting for.

Writing this book has been like pulling teeth. I guess that should have been the clue, way back when, that I was not doing something I was happy with, but it took me several months of poring over the draft to realize that I was not going to publish what I’d come up with. It didn’t fit who I’d become as a writer and what I wanted to say. Worse, it didn’t fit together – the characters marched hither and thither without meaning or agency, moving along on some predetermined arc I thought I needed to write to get to an ending that didn’t end up being the ending anyway. It was, in short, a trainwreck. The worst thing I’ve ever written. It lacked the spark that makes even a clumsy story fun. And I didn’t want this book to be a clumsy story. I wanted it to burn going down.

I think it will.

In many ways, the entirety of the Creation Saga is a problematic story. I guess that is true of everybody’s stories. Wrestling with that after years of growth as a human being has been a lot of what made this story hard to write. I still don’t know if I did it justice – I’ll have to wait for my beta readers to get back to me and tell me how palatable it is, and if that is a good thing. But I’ve worked really hard to smooth the edges that needed smoothing and file the others to a point. In the process, I threw out about 2/3 of the book, added 1/3 back with major changes, and another half of that wrote up from scratch, leaving a much shorter but more powerful book. It was something I couldn’t have managed earlier in my writing career, and we’ll see how well I’ve pulled it off this time.

So where are we in the process?

I’ve got a draft, well, a third draft at this point. It’s gone out to beta readers, who will tell me how bad it is. I will then try to make changes as I can, hoping to add some words back in to the total word count. Then I’ll do line edits, a rigorous process that I am NOT looking forward to. The official release is planned for April, to coincide with Roanoke Author Invasion. Hopefully I will have review copies in March.

There’s a lot of work to do still. But I think we’re on track.

Look forward to some fun promotional things in March, and some other cool life updates as we go forward.


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