NaNoWriMo (2015) – My Experience

nanowrimoThe month of November is not only known as the month that kicks off the holiday season but it is also National Novel Writing Month. What does that mean? In short it is a month where writers sit down with their ideas and try to produce 50,000 new words for their novel. 50K words in 1 month is not an easy task, or at least it isn’t for me. The whole exercise is a challenge for me because I can not self edit during the writing process. I tend to write the same sentence over and over until I “get it right”, this is a slow a aggravating process that burns me out before I have written two or three chapters. I am not really sure why I fall into that style of writing, it clearly doesn’t work for me. NaNoWriMo forces me to just keep writing over the speed bumps.
This year was my third year taking on the challenge. My first year I completed the first draft of a 51k word novel, to be honest it wasn’t the best work I have ever done but it was a novel with a beginning, middle and end. It even had a pretty good story. It needs a second draft and I am remiss to admit that I have not gone back to it. The second year I was all gun-ho, I had an idea that was pretty good and was ready for November 1st to roll around. I admit I was over confidant. After all the previous year I finished with a handful of days to spare. Within three days the wheels flew off the car and I was completely stymied. I couldn’t write a sentence, it was more than just writer’s block it was as if the ability to write was stripped away from me. I gave up before week one was even over.
I was so discouraged that I wasn’t interested in trying again and it wasn’t until my wife stepped in that I settled myself in to try again. This year I was able to blow it out of the water, I finished the month with over 60k words! Here are things that I did different this year that really made a difference.

  • I spent the month of October getting my Scrivener project set up. That means more than just creating a new project. I explored the application tips and tricks to find out what really worked for me and set up the project to reflect what allowed me to get the most out of the tool.
  • I also created (in Scrivener) an outline of the entire story from beginning to end, and allowed myself the room to change that outline during the challenge.
  • I spent time writing character sketches for all the major characters and one sentence summaries for most of the minor ones.
  • Then on October 31st I looked at a calendar and based on work and family commitments I scheduled time allotments for each day. I was realistic with each day, some days I was able to set aside a few hours and there were days where I could only set aside 30 minutes. But every day had some writing time. My wife was great and understanding when it came to my writing time, she even allowed me to squeeze in a few extra hours here and there.
  • Because I am a bit of an analytics geek (day job influence) I created an Excel Spreadsheet to track writing session rates and metrics that actually made it a bit of a game for me, I even built in rewards for every 5k words written.
  • Each day when I wrote, I found a quiet place to write where I could stay focused.

That looks all fine and good but at the end the reason I was able to write so much in such a short amount of time was that I really became attached to story and the characters. I spent a lot of time getting to know them during preparation, I knew where I needed the story to go and was invested in the journey.

Now for the sad part. While I finished the challenge with a rate of just over 2k words per day, I was unable to keep up the pace and when November ended I fell off the writing train. My manuscript has sat for a month and a half almost untouched. I am now trying to set up a new calendar (just like I did going into the challenge) and a new spreadsheet that can keep the game going. I am kicking off in February with a goal of another 30k words (estimated to complete the first draft), I just need to get a rate of just over 1k words a day.

 

If you are interested in learning more please check out the official NaNoWriMo site

Top 10 Board Games for Family Game Night

I am a big gamer, board games, card games, role playing games, miniature games, video games, computer games love them all. My kids are big into game too. So, I am putting a list together of games that are worth unplugging for, turn off the TV and laugh, joke, bond during a Family Game Night.

10. Hedbanz

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I have a love hate relationship with Hedbanz, I am including it on the list because it does bring the family together and we do have fun playing it. The game play is simple (you wear a card band displaying a card to the other players and you have to guess what you are). My angst comes in when trying to coach younger players on the types of questions to ask. I get it that the game is approaching critical thinking and forcing players to really use their gray matter. With young players (under 8) it can be very frustrating for them and make the whole experience difficult and trying. Playing with the 8 and ups works well and we end up having a great time with loads of laughing and silliness.

9. King of Tokyo

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Okay, this is a silly one. Players take on the part of monsters attacking Tokyo (think Godzilla) and using cards and dice they earn point destroying the city (or each other). A lot of fun and things can get silly if you bring a little imagination to the table.

8. Munchkin

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Okay, not a board game (though the deluxe addition does have a board with tokens to track levels) but I will include it because it is so much fun. Warning — there are some risque cards that will go over the heads of younger players but your tweens and older WILL get it and might become a tad red faced while playing. Example: Kneepads of Allure (which depending on the edition has been taken in and out of the game… I believe the most recent edition includes it). The game is funny and easy to play and loads of fun.

7. Catan

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A strategy game that forces players to be both competitive and cooperative at the same time. There is a trading element to the game that encourages players to negotiate, and that is a great skill to teach a kid! The rules are pretty easy to pick up. It is best played with 4 players (unless you get the expansion that allows 5-6 people to play). Recommended ages are 8+, Amazon says 10+ but an 8 year old should be able to understand and follow the rules. Not your typical board game but a ton of fun.

6. Smallworld

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I am placing Smallworld on the list instead of Risk because Risk just doesn’t fit into our typical family game nights and our players are not quite old enough to keep their attention on a whole game. Smallworld is a fantasy setting that has straightforward rules (once you get playing. I recommend doing a YouTube search for a Smallworld play-through because the manual isn’t great at explaining some of the finer details). The artwork is neat and safe for younger players. We really enjoy playing Smallworld… this does tend to be a longer play so you will need to make sure you have plenty of time to invest.

5. Sorry

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This is another family favorite that is a quick play (a good 15-20 minutes before the dreaded bedtime is good). It is a classic that has stood the test of time and with variants (Sorry Sliders) it is kept pretty fresh. Sorry is a great game to introduce board games to younger players.

4. Clue

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I have a soft spot for classics what can I say. While this game encourages critical thinking because the variables are fairly narrow in scope younger players are not as intimidated as they are with something like Hedbanz. There can be some laughs through out the game but you have to bring them to the table yourself.

3. Monopoly – Star

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This version just came out and I am including it as a separate game because it isn’t just a renaming/branding of the classic game. There are rule changes and the layout of the board is actually different. The game play is smooth and the rules are easy to grasp from the beginning. The Star Wars theme is great and even though there is no Rey token (Hasbro!!???) the game is really fun and on a typical game night we can play twice in the same time it takes to play the classic game once.

2. Life

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Usually, I am a classic game is the best game kind of person; however, the electronic banker version really makes this game easier to play. Our house loves this game and we usually play it once a week (at least). There are enough funny activities and events that come up that usually has the whole table laughing and smiling. We have found that even our thinest skin player doesn’t have an issue with the outcome of games and because so much fun has been had that there is almost no gloating.

1. Monopoly

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We’re talking the classic here. I will caution though there is the potential for some really vicious competition with this game and as a parent you might need to step in and mediate conflict — don’t change rules just use it as an opportunity to teach your younger players how to resolve conflict and to deal with loss.

Football for Newbies

footballIt is that time of the year, sure the regular season is over but this is the really season, when favorite football teams are heading into the playoffs and the “Big” game is looming and taking over the news and TV. If you are a fan of the sport it is like Christmas and you can’t get enough football. If you are not a fan but you have been pulled into the all consuming gravitational pull of the sport by friends or relatives, I am offering a little primer so that you can attend the parties and enjoy actually watching the game.

First lets talk about the NFL and how it is structured and what all this playoff mess means. The NFL as we know it has been around since 1966 when the legacy NFL merged with an upstart league(AFL). Now we have a single league (ignore what is happening in Canada) that is broken into two conferences, each conference is broken into 4 divisions and each division has 4 teams. Which means that there are 32 teams in total (for now) and each year the play games to determine who will represent their conference in the Championship game at the end of the season.

How all that works can be messy and I will have to write something else to cover that. For now lets look at the game itself.

A game is played between two teams. A the beginning of the game the captains flip a coin to determine who will get the ball first. The team with the ball is on the offensive and the team without the ball is on the defensive. There are 11 players allowed on the field for each side of the ball, if one side has more than 11 then they will get in trouble.

The goal: score more points that your opponent by:
Scoring a touchdown by bringing the ball into the opposing team’s end zone. (6pts)
Kicking the ball through the upright posts in the opposing team’s end zone. (3pts)
Kicking the ball through the upright posts in the opposing team’s end zone after you have scored a touchdown (1pt)
Bring the ball (catch or carry) into the opposing team’s end zone after you have scored a touchdown (2pt)
Tackling a ball carrier in the their own end zone — called a safety — (2pts)

The offense moves the ball down the field and given 4 plays to move the ball in 10 yard increments, each play is called a “DOWN”. The Offense can throw the ball (pass) or run the ball (rush).

Each player has a specific role or position that they are filling. Here are some of the important offensive positions:

Quarterback – The Field General to typically hands the ball to a runner or throws the ball to a receiver. The call the play on the field and can change the play if they think the defense is doing something that will prevent the original play from working.

Receiver — runs down the field and catches the ball

Running Back — takes the ball and runs down the field.

(group) Offensive Line — Protects the Quarterback or clears the defense out of the way for Running Backs.

Here are some of the important defensive positions:

(group) Defensive Line — Get through the Offensive line to tackle Quarterback before he throws the ball – and prevent runners from carrying the ball. (Term: Pass Rush — get to quarterback before he throws the ball).

Line Backers — Covers the middle of the field making sure no one catches a ball there or runs through the Defensive line.

Corner Backs — Runs with receivers to prevent the catching of the ball (if they catch it, then their team gets to keep the ball).

Saftey — Typically the last line of defense.

Keeping up so far? Good because from a basics perspective that is all there really is, sure you can go deep and learn about the different types of offenses (beware the Wild Cat — a popular college formation that coaches in the NFL keep trying with usually bad outcomes). If you are really feeling energetic you can hunt down more info on defenses (my favorite part of the game).
At the end as a football newbie remember this one bit of advice and you will fine. The zebras (referees) are always wrong and the commentators are always idiots and the puppy bowl is more entertaining than a Coldplay halftime show.

Book Review: Revival

revivalI have read a lot of Stephen King’s work: novels, novellas, short stories and even a screenplay or two. Most of it is very enjoyable; though there is some that I found tedious (Tommyknockers, I’m looking at you). I would not classify myself as the type of fan that buys his latest book on the street date but I would say with some confidence that I am a Constant Reader.
Recently I came down with a King itch and started rereading some of my favorites: The Stand, IT, Dr. Sleep and 11/22/63. When I was finished with the mad sprint I found the itch wasn’t satisfied so I threw ‘Salems Lot at it only to find that it was getting stronger (the more you itch the worse it gets). I figured that a new King book was the only thing that would work, so I picked up Revival. Here are my thoughts on the novel.
King is so prolific that I imagine that it is next to impossible to not fall into the pattern of relying on favorite turns of phrases and after reading a mess of his books all at once I found myself keying in on the repetition. Not a big deal and not bad by any stretch of the imagination, it was just something I noticed. I am not talking about the broad inclusions like what he had done with the “Dark Tower” or the little Easter Eggs that tie his books together into a larger tapestry. I am talking about little things like using “Eeek a freak”. I suppose for him it is like putting on a favorite pair of boots. In my very long winded and wandering way I am saying that Stephen King’s finger prints were all over the book (of course they were he wrote it); they were more like freshly dusted finger prints, not the partial prints on the edge of a bullet casing found buried in a pile of fall leaves. I noticed it and enjoyed the near constant reminders in the language that I was reading a Stephen King novel.
One of the things I enjoyed about the story itself was the length of the fuse he put on the creepy, spooky stuff. The narrator did a good job of setting the stage for the creep feast waiting the in wings, reminded you that it was going to happen and kept you turning pages with frightening ease so you could get to the pay off.
An observation I made was that King’s protagonists have been getting quite a bit older recently. There really isn’t a problem with this; however, I do sometimes struggle with the mental image of men in their mid to late fifties being as active as these characters are getting. It makes sense of course, King is getting older and as an author/writer the skin of a 20 years might feel a tad tight when you look through the eyes of a 60 year old. I can almost image King sitting back and saying to his characters, “Listen, I have decided that just because your fifty-five years old that you have every right to put yourself endanger. After all why should the world only be saved by young people, that’s lame. Us old timers can be as good once and all that. So, pull up your plaid pants and hop to it.”
Back to the book in question, wow I am drifting a lot tonight. When you compare Revival to the other books of the King library — let’s face it not comparing would be impossible — you find a classic story that could be viewed as a more mature version of The Shining, Carrie or Pet Sematary. The problem is that King needs to top King; each outing is a contest against yourself. To put it another way, how do you out horror yourself when you have a mountain of stories and years of exposure in various mediums. His core audience has a “been there done that” chip firmly planted on their shoulders. The Constant Reader is a beast that is ravenous and is growing very picky.
For that very reason I struggled with the closure of the book. The set up was great, interesting and felt fresh and appropriately twisted. If I were able to read it in a vacuum I can see how a reader would be shocked or scared even unsettled by the thoughts being planted in their minds. For me though the ending felt rushed and almost half hearted. The characters were well rounded and I did have a real sense of their motivations the story on the whole was interesting, different enough to keep me reading and I did enjoy it; the ending was what kept it from being as good as it could have been. I did wonder if the bleakness that fogged the reveal (trying really hard not to spoil it) was coming from just the natural progression of the story or if King is struggling with his own thoughts of morality and used the book as a way to express them.

In short, it was a good Stephen King novel, which means that it better than nearly all of the other “thriller, suspense, horror” drek that is out there; however, it is not a great Stephen King novel. I would recommend it to a friend.

(My) Top 10 Epic Fantasy Series

I love lists. They are all over the Internet and most are click-bait for bloggers trying to make a few bucks with advertisers. I love lists but I hate clicking NEXT to get little bite sized bits of what could have been interesting information.
So, I decided that I would make my own lists of purely subjective information. I also promise to not break up the list into pages with next buttons in a lame attempt to drive up clicks.

So the first list…

My Top 10 List of Epic Fantasy Series

First off I am going to bring up a couple of “series” that I am intentionally leaving off the list. First Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s epic while one of my favorites was never meant as a series and should be viewed as a single novel. I might someday come up with a list of Epic Fantasy novels and that will be number 1. Also, I am not including George R. R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” not because it is not a series or epic but because I am afraid that the author has grown bored with the writing of the series and might abandon it before it is complete. I could be wrong but that is my opinion until I see otherwise.

So, one with the list.

10. “Book of Words” by J.V. Jones

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J.V. Jones’ series the “Book of Words” contains The Baker’s Boy, A Man Betrayed and Master and Fool. It is structured like a typical fantasy trilogy and seeing that it was published in the 90s (before the onslaught of series 8 books or longer) the books blended into the shelf pretty well and can been seen as a decent stepping off series for those new to the genre. You could say that they are a good series to introduce to someone new to fantasy and not be afraid to scare them off. The classic tropes are all there, “farm boy”, “out of reach love”, “evil wizard” and “evil prince/king” and to make things even better for the fantasy newbie the majority of the names are pronounceable. I mean one of the protagonists is named Jack, easy to bridge that gap with Jack.
The fact that I would consider the series approachable is not the only reason that it is on my list. There is a rich world to be found within the pages of this well written series. The characters are well developed and the writing style makes it an easy and enjoyable read.

9. “Belgariad” By David Eddings

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This five book series, containing Pawn of Prophecy, Queen of Sorcery, Magician’s Gambit, Castle of Wizardry and Enchanters’ End Game, is a classic story published in the 80s. A modern reader might find the story a tad cliche and there is a good reason for that, Eddings was one of the first to the table with farmboy hero stories that follows the classic mythology hero journey template. Cliche doesn’t always mean bad.
There are five books but they are very quick reads while still having a deep story that is engaging. Each book is an independent journey for the characters while pulling a common theme of “saving the world”.

8. “Mistborn” by Brandon Sanderson

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This series (for me) is all about the magic system. Sure there is saving the world from an evil centuries old tyrant with a twist here and there; but the magic system is why it is one of the best epic fantasies. The idea of people ingesting flecks of metal that impart magical abilities is pure genius as far as I am concerned.
There are three books in the main thread of the series (The Final Empire, Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages), Sanderson has been writing more books in the same universe but the original series are the ones to start with. What also makes this series special is that the main protagonist is female. While there are other series that have main characters that are female, those girls are usually secondary to the “chosen ones”, but here Vin is the key to the story and the other characters are there to support her.

7. “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn” by Tad Williams

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Technically a trilogy (Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell and To Green Angel Tower) but today it is sold in four volumes. When I read them the final book To Green Angel Tower was published in a single hard cover, when it was published in mass market paperback the publisher split the book into two. The ebooks follow the paperback model.
Of the series so far this is the first truly dense story. Williams built out a complex world that feels familiar while very foreign. Simon one of the protagonists grows up over the course of the series and goes from pitiful to heroic without it seeming forced.
Taking on this series is not for the faint hearted, this is a long ride (worth every moment) so be prepared to dig into these for a long read.

6. “Lightbringer” by Brent Weeks

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A newer series that is still in progress, as of this writing there are 3 books: The Black Prism, The Blinding Knife, and The Broken Eye. The series has a great magic system that is tied to the color, frequency of light that the wielder can see. There is also a bit of romance that has an interesting twist with a Man in the Ironmask like plot line.
The writing style is approachable and the world building is excellent and in someway very unique.

5. “Prydain Chronicles” by Lloyd Alexander

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A true classic. The tale of Taran the assistant pig keeper is not as long (in terms of word count) as the others on this list but it is no less magical. There are 5 novels that make up the core of the series, The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer and The High King. Each book holds its own plot while allowing the reader to continue to follow beloved characters. There is a grounding in the series that is unique across fantasy, the main character grows into being a hero, nothing is handed to him, he is required to walk a very long path and realize that heroes are forged through adversity.
The target audience are younger readers but that should not scare away adult readers (come on you know you read Harry Potter). My son started reading these in 2nd grade, he even dressed up as Taran for Halloween that year.

4. “Farseer Trilogy” by Robin Hobb

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A great assassin, save the kingdom, and heart wrenching story. I grew so attached to the characters in these books that I found myself having to put the book aside because of emotional twists. Kind of a magic lite world/setting but there was enough to have it feel “fantasy”. Great, great characters and easy writing style makes this a fun read.
The trilogy contains the following novels: Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin, Assassin’s Quest. I am especially fond of the ending where there is real lose and not the happily ever after that one might expect.

3. “Demon Cycle” by Peter V. Brett

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Demon’s rule the night and mankind is forced to hide behind magic that is until someone figure out how to fight back and through the world in chaos. That is the story that is on going with this series. Currently there are 4 novels: The Warded Man, The Desert Spear, The Daylight War and The Skull Throne.
Within the series there is a unique system of magics and characters that are driven by their own wants and desires that might not always be what you think they are. There are betrayals that are heart wrenching and yet they fight on.

2. “Riftwar Saga” by Raymond E. Feist

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Have you ever played a role-playing game, like Dungeons and Dragon, and had a campaign so rich and alive that it feels like you are playing a novel itself? Well this series is that game! Some people will scoff and look down their noses at the idea of reading somebody’s “game night”. The novels: Magician: Apprentice, Magician: Master, Silverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon are deep and detailed adventures that draw the reader into a world that is both familiar and different, that magic is not just a silly deus ex machina.
Go to the bookstore and buy these books and read them. You owe it to yourself.

1. “Wheel of Time” by Robert Jordan

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A fourteen novel series that was almost not finished due to the untimely death of the author. Luckily, Robert Jordan planed well and there was enough material that Brandon Sanderson was able to finish the last three books and thus the best epic fantasy series ever written. It is not as bloody or “real” as Game of Thrones and the modern reader might struggle with the innate goodness of some of the characters. There is though an incredibly deep and complex plot that is played out in great detail.
There are those that complain that the books are too long and that the series is too long or artificially bloated. I will admit that some of the novels are not as strong as others but together they make a series that has no rival in scope.
It is a classic good vs evil story with a strong sense of mythology. If you have not read the series or finished it go out, get the books and start reading.

Here are the books in the series:

  • The Eye of the World
  • The Great Hunt
  • The Dragon Reborn
  • The Shadow Rising
  • The Fires of Heaven
  • Lord of Chaos
  • A Crown of Swords
  • The Path of Daggers
  • Winter’s Heart
  • Crossroads of Twilight
  • Knife of Dreams
  • The Gathering Storm
  • Towers of Midnight
  • A Memory of Light

Thoughts on Star Wars

In 1977 I was the ripe old age of 4 years old and Star Wars changed my life. It might be true but wow there are thousands of these stories all over the Interwebs. I will fill in a few tiny details just to establish myself as a long term fan and then get to the meat. My mom took me to see the movie in the summer of ’77 and from that moment on my childhood was filled with Star Wars. I am not just talking about the toys, I had a beautiful collection that was played with nearly every day, or sheets, cups, plates, pjs, Halloween costumes, t-shirts, sneakers or anything else that was stamp with Star Wars. Before I could write on my own I would dictate stories about Luke, Han and Leia to my mother. She would fill up spiral notebooks with my adventures that involved freeze rays, shrinking rays, super invisible ships, cross overs with Star Blazers and G-Force. I used to wrap myself up in my Star Wars bathrobe and sneak into my grandparent’s laundry room, pretend to crawl through the drier (it was a portal to a Galaxy Far Far Away) and my trusty inflatable blade lightsaber and I would defeat the evil empire. Luke’s lightsaber was yellow in my world too. I saw the first Star Wars movie 10 times in the theater, once more than my best childhood friend Todd Boykin.

The visual spectacle that was Star Wars lit a fire in my imagination and has kept it fueled.

So, there is my official Star Wars Geek card. Are there other fans that have more heartwarming stories about how Star Wars changed their lives, sure there are but this is my story and not theirs. They can write about it on their blogs (and most have).

The Original Trilogy (Star Wars – it wasn’t called A New Hope yet), Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) were the framework of my childhood and like many things from our youth that have strong emotional ties my memories and feelings for those films are jaded. That is not a bad thing, those memories and emotional attachments are the building blocks of who I am. The adult me still has a very warm place in his heart for the original movies. To be honest I actually enjoyed the much maligned Prequel Trilogy (Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith) as I bonified Star Wars geek I am aware that statement will have many readers dismissing the rest of this blog post or maybe even having a Kylo Ren. Many years of reading books and comics from the Extended Universe prepared me, managed my expectations for the Prequels. Jar Jar was not an abomination to me, I actually found him kinda funny. I will explain as I run through the movies in release order.

 

Episode IV: A New Hope

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The one that changed everything. In the years since it has been torn apart by every aspiring student of film as a modern example of the hero journey done right. All the right notes were hit, the whole thing was put together to pull on the strings of our collective mythologies. George Lucas studied Joseph Campbell’s writings and it shows. We have to remember too that George was/is a huge fan of the Saturday matinee adventure cliffhanger stories, these were little films with cheap sets and big ideas filled with so much cheese it is hard to watch these days without become embarrassed for both watching and for the actors that worked so hard to star in them.

A New Hope capture both of George’s loves so very completely and showed the world how amazing a space movie could really be. ** special note on special editions … I never once thought about whether or not Han Shot first until I saw the T-Shirt and even then it didn’t matter to me. Han Solo was a scoundrel and shooting first or second does not change his character enough for me to lose sleep over the change. I actually liked how some of the FX shots were cleaned up and it was nice having a scene with Jabba to feel the threat to Solo.

 

Episode V: Empire Strikes Back

ep5In any three act play the middle act is where things go bad for the heroes. Empire delivers so well that it is almost universally considered the best of all the canon films. Again Lucas taps into our collective mythologies, hits us with a surprise or two (OMG Vader is Luke’s DAD!!). A greatest wise man in film, Yoda, is introduced and the whole world gets to speak in extreme passive voice. We get a better connection with far far away by learning that there is a bigger baddie than Vader (was that even possible) and that Luke still had a long way to go in his hero’s journey. Let’s also be honest with ourselves, Luke was really whinny in the first movie and only slightly less whinny in the second, he’s growing up right?

The characters are put through the ringer and in the end the bad guys look to be getting the upper hand. Perfect second act.

 

Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

ep6Final Act baby! Again George’s scholarship pays off. We have a great closing chapter to the hero’s journey that Luke has been on. We see him come into his own, allow himself to be a Jedi and come to terms with his father being the guy that cut his hand off. Not sure if Luke really deals with the whole kissing his sister thing. I almost image that awkward moment when Leia is all like “I love you like a brother and Han is really the guy for me.” Then Luke is like, “No problem, sure love ya like a sister too. By the way, those couple of kisses, can we like totally forget about them, I mean nothing personal but I really need to forget those. By the way, the little green guy that has been teaching me how to use the force told me that we are actually brother and sister, crazy right, and that Vader is like our dad. I know bummer but hey, that’s how it shakes sometimes.”

The attack on Jabba was great and the right way to start the movie. Then we get another Death Star, I guess the Empire goes with what works right, cover up the exhaust port, throw a shield around the project and make sure the laser is online first. It would have worked too if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids and their little droid.

A word on Ewoks… their cute and while it does take a taxing amount of suspension of disbelief to accept them defeating stormtroopers with rocks and spears, we are at the end of the day talking about a movie that has people flying into space slugs, getting out and walking around in the thing’s stomach.

This one has always been special to me because we saw a son get past the evil and through to the good within his father. We learn that there was good still in him.

 

The EU Years

After the credits rolled in 1983 we were left wanting. There were rumors about the prequels and then sequels. But Lucas had moved on with lame little remarks about technology and stories. The guy was just interest in making other movies and writing a couple of books with Chris Claremount. The comics died out and eventually my figures got packed away and Star Wars lived on only in my heart, a dusty collection of spiral notebooks and a pile of VHS tapes.

eu1That was until 1991 when Timothy Zahn’s book Heir to the Empire was published. I found the book on a shadowy lower display at the local Waldenbooks. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Instantly, I thought that this had to be a sign that a new movie was right around the corner. I bought it and read it in a day. I loved it, it was great and had all of the Star Wars magic that I had been craving. Then the bookstores were flooded with new novels and series that continued the lives of Luke, Han and Leia. Computer and Console games came out and gave me a fix for the Star Wars habit.

I mentioned that the EU prepared me for what we got with the prequels. It is true that not all of the books or game were all that good. There were some real stinkers and the sad part was that they told stories that were important to me. Courtship of Princess Leia, the whole Luke tries to find his mother story line and I have to admit the Yuuzhan Vong books felt a little too drawn out and I had a hard time with the Solo kids, there was something that just wasn’t rooted correctly, I liked Ben Skywalker but the twins I never connected to.

When word at long last came that a new Star Wars movie was in the works, a prequel I was excited, giddy with anticipation. I also did not fill my head with preconceived notions of what it would be like. I knew that it would be about Anakin Skywalker and that was about it.

 

Episode I: The Phantom Menace

ep1I was sitting with my fiancé during the opening midnight showing. I cried when the 20th Century Fox fan fare sounded and the opening crawl set shivers down my spine. I greatly enjoyed watching the movie and was set to watch it again by the time the credits faded to black. Jar Jar was silly, Darth Maul did not have enough screen time, Obiwan was a bit of a jerk and Anakin was a little kid with a crush on an older girl. The mythology was touched on in much the same way as A New Hope, the set up for the next two movies was in place, just like A New Hope.

When ranking the movies I usually stick A New Hope and Phantom Menace together.

Episode II: Attack of the Clones

ep2To me this is the weak link of all of the movies. I know why it is needed and seeing Yoda go all Jedi Warrior was thrilling but the detective and romance movies didn’t have enough room to spawn a good second act. Look at it this way, Captain America: The Winter Solider was an old fashion Cold War Spy Movie, George Lucas really wanted to capture the detective noir vibe with part of Attack of the Clones; he also wanted to make sure the audience bought into the whole romance between Anakin and Padme. Do I hate the movie? Nope, it just isn’t one of my favorites. I get the story that George was trying to tell but it wasn’t a best effort and elements would have been better as off screen filled in by a tie-in novel or even a tv show (what an idea, right?).

 

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

ep3It seemed to me that too much of Sith was really a second act kind of movie, as far as framing goes. We get the fall of Anakin, the rise of the Empire and the death of the Jedi. Also, Luke and Leia are born. All good things but they are there to set up a final act that doesn’t really come because we already had Episode IV, V and VI.

Just going on the record to say the final battle between Obiwan and Anakin was the best lightsaber battle on film and the ending made me cry because they had been best friends, they were brothers and it was gone now.

The fan rage that follows the prequels around annoys me, my son loves the prequels, my wife enjoys them and my daughter loves them too. In terms of quality of movie, yes there are flaws; however, the originals had flaws too. I think the biggest problem of the Prequels was that their stories were told second. It is hard for some fans to take that step backwards and care about what came before what they already know.

 

Episode VII: The Force Awakens

ep7Now the Mouse driven Star Wars movie is out. When Disney bought Star Wars I was thrilled. My family is a Disney family to start with but seeing what they have been doing with the Marvel property gave me instant comfort that Star Wars was in good hands. I was not wrong.

On December 18th, I have too much responsibility to go to midnight shows right now, when the kids got out of school we all went to see The Force Awakens. I loved it. I was blown away by the quality of the movie, the respect to what went before and the set up for what will come next.

The strongest moment in this movie for me was watching Rey holding the lightsaber out to Luke. I was begging him to say something, anything just one word would have been enough. But the silence that closed the movie was perfect. JJ Abrams and the Mouse did a good job and I cannot wait to see what comes next.

 

Star Wars didn’t really change my life, it has been this constant thread that has woven itself through me and now I get to share with my children in a way I didn’t think I would be able to. I am grateful that Star Wars is getting to live on and that I will be able to go to the movie theaters (best place to see a Star Wars movie in my opinion) and watch far far away with my family and see my children glow with those magical threads that will be woven into their lives.

Review: Ready Player One

ReadyPlayerOne

Last weekend I was at a family function and in between helping my son with the restaurant’s menu and try to catch the score of the Bronco’s Bill’s game (I had no real horse in the race for me but I wanted to see how Manning’s game was shaping up) my wife’s cousin handed me a copy of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. He had received multiple copies in various Loot Crates; after reading the book he thought it would be in my wheelhouse. I read the back cover and after navigating the hyperbolic praise I was able to tease out the 2 paragraphs that described the story and decided it was worth a read.

Two days later I reached the end of Wade’s adventure (I could have finished faster but I had to go to work, help the kids with homework and all that real world jazz). The book was a page turner, the action/story moved quickly that is for sure. Structurally the book was simple and straight forward; word choice made it easy to read. In other words the writing wasn’t dense or complex. I would say that it could fit in with other YA novels if it were not for the use (albeit sparse) of profanity (F-bombs do be here) and sexual content (not gratuitous but not something I would want my middle schooler reading).

The story was a familiar in fact it came across as a version of the “farm boy savior” that crops up in fantasy fiction. The antagonists are stereotypical and fairly one dimensional; I am not saying that the story is hurt by these two facts just don’t expect more depth.

I grew up during the 70s and 80s, so I instantly connected to the geek references of the era. I have piles of memories of time spent plugging quarters/token in to the tall cabinets of Joust, Pac-man, Defender, Afterburner and countless others. Each memory was pleasantly brought forward with every page. The 80s references while great for nostalgia it was also heavy handed. When I say every page, I mean every page had some reference to a video game, song, movie or role playing game. At times it bordered on getting in the way of the story.

In terms of genre it fits nicely as cyberpunk (lite); there is enough of a Gibson and Stephenson feel to the story that the world and rules are familiar. There were some logic issues and technology gaps that prevent it from being true cyberpunk. The difference is like Hard Science Fiction and Space Opera.

The voice, those tiny little hints of agenda, of the novel/book does not have a high opinion of our own time. There is a strong distaste for the corporate world, religion and the human condition on the whole.It wasn’t over bearing but it was very clear.

All of that aside the book was a decent read and if you have a childhood filled with John Hughes, arcades and dice bags it will feel like a comfortable pair of ripped acid washed jeans.

Marriage 101

I apologize for the delay in posts, life as it were got in the way. My writing on the whole had to take a back-seat to the day job, being a husband and being a father.

That is one of the things that spurred this mini-blog post, Being a Husband.

I am not going to sugar coat my thoughts/beliefs on this particular subject and I say these things not to offend, though I know I will, but to express my belief.

Marriage these days has started to collect so many different meanings. I don’t want to get into the weeds with all of that; for my purposes I will define marriage as, the Creation of a Husband and Wife through the union of an unmarried man and an unmarried woman for the purpose of creating family. Does this mean that all married people need to have children? No, not at all. But the creation and merging of families is a big important part.

That said I want to speak now about being a husband and a couple of things one should consider before becoming a husband.

  • Marriage is not playing house : Your spouse is not a means to an end in terms of putting a roof over your head. You don’t get married just to merge incomes, buy a house and play house with one another.
  • Marriage is not just about love : While love is a corner stone of a marriage it is not the only piece of the puzzle. In those early blushes of love that accompany the first days of a relationship will eb with time, during those periods many couples feel as if their marriage is over because they don’t “feel” that rush of passion in the same way. Go to marriage knowing that there will be highs and lows in that passion.
  • Marriage is not just a word : Don’t get married just because you need to tick off a item on a todo list. Don’t get married just because you see friends getting married. Don’t get married just because you want to call yourself a husband.
  • Marriage is not about control : Don’t get married if you think that will give you control over your would-be wife. Don’t get married if you believe that will “fix” jealousy.

Here are a couple more items to keep in mind before you walk down the aisle.

  • Marriage is work : Marriage is not easy and not something that can be ignored after the honeymoon. Every day you must work at your marriage to keep it healthy and growing.
  • Marriage is partnership : The husband and the wife in a marriage are equal partners; however, their roles are different. There are things that your wife will do easier, better and more efficiently than you; at the same time there are things that you will do easier, better and more efficiently than she. The partnership of marriage works best when you embrace the differences and strengths of your spouse and allow them to flourish.
  • Marriage is sacrifice : When you tie your life to another person you are willing to take second place, I am not saying that you should give up your needs/desires/hobbies or that you should abandon your personality. I am saying that there will be times that your wife’s needs/desires will out weigh yours and you will need to put her first. You will need to be willing to put another person first and that is the hardest thing of all.
  • Marriage is worth it : Out on the interwebs there are all these studies that prove through science that marriage is healthy, natural and something that extend the quality of our lives. As hard and frustrating as it can be, being a part of a healthy marriage is the most rewarding thing (excepting perhaps being a parent) that we can do in our lives.

Modern movements and popular culture have been spreading word that marriage is old fashion and no longer relevant. That we can redefine it as we see fit. I disagree, going into marriage with open eyes, open heart with a willingness to do the hard work will add true meaning to your life. Meaning that is worth more than all the worldly successes.

 

BTW – more fiction will be coming soon….

 

Brian

New Kingdom Crisis Story (delayed)

As it happens life gets in the way from time to time and this week’s new story was delayed. Why?

Well as it happens I have been wrapped up in the day job mostly; also my daughter is not officially off her training wheels (some practice still needed).

Anyway, this week’s story is another Kingdom Crisis tale inspired by a poem I read in college, The Pearl. It reminds me of faith, fatherhood and loss. In college it was a hit to the gut now that I am a father, I cannot read it without weeping.

Kingdom Crisis: A Father’s Tears is a pale imitation, but it was a fun write for me.

I hope you enjoy it.

– Brian

 

 

What was she thinking…

I love stories; I always have. In 1977 I was 4 years old and my mother took me to see Star Wars (not referred to as Star Wars: A New Hope) and it was like my imagination had been set on fire. For months my favorite activity was coloring pictures inspired by the movie. My mother tried to get me to draw pictures of “real things” like houses, dogs, cats and airplanes but I was more interested in X-Wings, Tie Fighters and thousands of Jedi stick figures with multi-colored light sabers clashing in imagined conflict.

Before my 5th birthday I handed my mother a spiral notebook and asked her to write a Star Wars story, she told me that she didn’t have one to tell. I further explained to her that I wanted her to write down my story. I sat on the edge of the bed and dictated an adventure story to my mother. My mother filled 4 notebooks with my stories, usually little tales that went with my crayon drawings or the latest adventure my action figures went on.

One could say that those were my very first attempts at writing.

My eagerness to write slipped into the shadows as life became filled with school, friends, the constant moving and well normal (for me) existence. I developed a deep love for books, Roald Dalh’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was the first chapter book I read from cover to cover without assistance, I had just turned 6.

After that I was off to the races and read everything I could get me hands on. I devoured every Roald Dalh book at the library, then moved on to Beverly Cleary, E.B. White, Robert C. O’Brien, Astrid Lindgren and then there were the series Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew (I was an equal opportunity reader). When I was 9 I discovered Madeleine L’Engle, Ursula K. LeGuin and a young boy named Taran who was an Assistant Pig-Keeper. The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander was the the first group of books that I didn’t just read but I reread them over and over again.

By 11 I was so hungry for stories that I would pester anyone I saw with a book in their hands to tell me about what they were reading; my mother was usually caught the brunt of this. My mother was a avid reader too and there was always a paperback in her hands. She loved mysteries, Agatha Christie was a constant favorite; but she was also a fan of Frank Herbert and Stephen King. My mother had a ready at hand answer for my “What are you reading? And what is it about?” questions.

She would show me the cover of the book and then say, “If you want to know what it is about you can read it when I am done.”.

Oddly enough I don’t see much of a problem with an 11 year old reading Agatha Christie. But looking back I don’t know what my mother was thinking when she handed a copy of Stephen King’s The Stand to a a kid a month away from his 12th birthday. It was a tough read and I can honestly say at the time I didn’t understand all of it (that was probably a good thing) but I was hooked. Before my 13th birthday I had blazed through ‘Salem’s Lot, Cycle of the Werewolf, Cujo, The Talisman, The Gunslinger and Firestarter… again I will say that I don’t know what my mother was thinking letting me read all of those. I also tried to read Dune, I say tried because that book defeated me 3 times before I was able to read it through and “get it”.

All of these books, authors and questionable parenting brought me to a tiny local bookstore, I rode my bike there at least once a week with my chore dollars, during a warm (it was Texas so let’s call it hot) September day in the year 1986. The owner of the shop had just gotten a delivery and was unboxing these monstrously thick hardcovers. The dust jacket was embossed, I still remember the feel of the slight bumps, and displayed a newspaper boat in a gutter with a clawed three fingered “hand” gripping a sewer grate, in gray bold letters on the top was the author’s name, Stephen King (of course) and the title just below in a red ragged typeface the title, IT.

I had the first copy out of the box and spent every dime I had, including the 5 dollars I kept stuffed in the toe of my left shoe, school had started and I was usually a victim of stolen lunch money so I learned to sock away (sorry but true and funny) a few dollars just in case. I could barely wait to get home to start reading it.

Outside of the Bible it was the longest book I had ever read and boy did I read that book. Every waking moment not committed to school, eating (sometimes), football practice (cause I did live in Texas) and sleep (even that time was co-opted on occasion) I spent laying on my stomach with the book propped on a pillow in front of me. I couldn’t wait to read just a few pages, I thought about it all day, wondering what would happen next.

I also realized that the characters in the book started feeling like friends to me. Perhaps it was the fact that half the book was written about them as children within spitting distance of my own age, maybe because it was just so bloody detailed. Either way it was the first book that when I got to those last few pages I had a hard time reading the words because my eyes were filled with tears. In part because of what was happening in the story but mostly because when it was done it was going to be done. There would be no more Bill, Ed, Ben, Stan, Richie and Bev; we I got to the end it was THE END.

I was sad with the loss but I was also angry at Stephen King for introducing these neat kids to me and then taking them away from me with those ugly two words. I moped around for days then I experienced an epiphany. If Stephen King could think up a bunch of kids, reach out to me (readers) through the page and have the kind that kind of power/control why couldn’t I?

That day I sat down at my Smith Corona typewriter and loaded a sheet of onion skin paper (it was all I had) and hammered out the first 20 pages (single spaced, with next to no margin) of a story called The Dreamers. It was about a group of friends, inspired by people I had been friends with, who were reincarnated heroes from a Middle Earth like world. I would flip and flop between “Real World” chapters and “Fantasy” chapters. That first day 20 pages had just burst out of me and the days that followed added to the pile. I had to buy more paper and learned how to replace the ink ribbons of the typewriter and the purpose of liquid paper. I ignored the world when I was sitting in front of that typewriter.

The Dreamers was the first story, book, novel I ever wrote. It finished up at 322 pages and was a real painful thing to read. But it was mine and I loved it. I loved the process. I loved the way I lost myself in the writing. Since then I have always written stories, sometimes life creeps up and demands attention but I still find joy in plopping down in front of my laptop and hammering out a few hundred words of some story. Every once and again I wonder if someday another reader will come across one of my stories, maybe Ocean House, and say “Hey, I can do that!”

I don’t know what my mother was thinking let me read those books at such a young age. But, I thank her for it.

– Brian