Speaking of Space Opera

The first full trailer for Marvel’s upcoming “Guardians of the Galaxy” trailer is out. I love the look, the irreverence, the ragtag band of “heroes”, and of course, the Racoon-oid alien with an attitude. Despite being a Marvel fan from way back, I know virtually nothing about the source material, but this trailer sold me. Baring a firestorm of negative reviews I will happily go to the Cineplex with an open mind and heart.

Ferrett Steinmetz wrote a great post on the hope for Marvel’s cinematic endeavors that this film kindles, and I agree with his sentiments. I’ve been very pleased with the crop of super hero films from Marvel Studios but I don’t want things to become routine and eventually, stale. “Guardians of the Galaxy” looks like it might be just the ticket to prevent that from happening.

This might have some of the same vibe as the classic World War II film “The Dirty Dozen,” where a collection of misfits and criminals has to pull off a desperate mission against great odds. I’m a sucker for that sort of thing. There’s one female character in them mix, and I do profoundly hope that she’s more than just a tough girl destined to be the love-interest for the hero. I’m a sucker for romance, but I’d also like the one female hero to be more than just a love-interest.

If you love super hero films, space opera, adventure, or just rollicking good times at the Cineplex, check out the trailer, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.



The Galaxy is at stake!

photo(3)I’m thrilled to see space opera is well represented in graphic novel form these days. Some of my favorite novels and TV shows have been space opera: Books like Levithian’s Wake, In Conquest Born, Pride of Chanur and televion shows like Babylon 5, Farscape, and Firefly.

Star Wars was not my first introduction to science fiction, I was sixteen when it first hit the movie screen, but it was my cinematic introduction to space opera, big, epic galaxy spanning adventure. The first space opera book I read was A.E. Van Vogt’s The War Against the Rull, featuring a galaxy wide war, telepathy and remorseless alien foes.

The first Rose City Comic Con in 2012 brought back my love of graphic novels, and the latest trip to the comic book store revealed space opera is alive and well in comic book form!

EGO: Earth*Galactic*Operatives by Stuart Moore and Gus Storms, Saga by Brian K Vaughn and Fiona Staples, Serenity Firefly Class 03-K64 all grabbed my interest. I was already reading Dark Horse’s Star Wars the Continuing Saga and Howard Tayler’s Schlock Mercenary.

I love the unabashed fun of space opera, and these comics all deliver. It isn’t all swashbuckling, EGO is a dark look an galactic struggle, for instance, but it has plenty of fast paced action and compelling stories cleverly told.

If you like “science fiction for the fun of it”, adventure in the far future and graphic novels, check these out.

2013 My Lunar Writing Year in Review

Happy Lunar New Year!

When the Year of the Snake 2013 began I had planned to begin publishing episodes of my serial novel, Weed but realized I needed more development time. I also needed more feedback about my writing as well as craft study. Snakes shed their skin to reveal a new one. As a writer, I wasn’t shedding a skin, but I needed to grow and the Year of the Snake 2013 gave me a number of opportunities to do that.

Back in January I registered for the Cascade Writers Workshop, a four day conference with small group critique sessions. Spurred by my collaborator and dear friend K.C. Ball, I applied to the Clarion West Writers Workshop, held for six weeks in the summer. The competition was especially fierce this year, with authors Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill, and the great short story editor Ellen Datlow among the instructors. I realized my chances were slim and I had also had my eye on a residency workshop that focused on novels, so I applied to author Kij Johnson’s two-week residential novel writing workshop held at the University of Kansas.

February: Worked on the outline for “Burning the Brand” (now called “The Hardscrabble”), my secondary world weird western I hoped to workshop in Kansas, as well as continued to work on Weed, my serial novel.March: I attended a one-day workshop given by agent Donald Maass: Writing 21st century Fiction. I learned I was not accepted to Clarion West, and then, two days later, learned that I had been accepted to Kij Johnson’s workshop. What a rollercoaster March moved proved to be.

April and May: Lots of writing on the outline, background and first three chapters of the novel I would be workshopping in Kansas. Weed was backburnered while I prepared for the workshop. I emailed my outline and first three chapters in early May, then began going through the workshop submissions from the other students.

June: I attended Kij’s two-week residency novel writing workshop at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction in Lawrence, Kansas, along with seven other very talented writers. Her workshop was tremendous experience, giving a lot of feedback and craft in a short time, and allowing me to learn a great deal from both Kij and her insightful assistant, Barbara Webb, as well as learn from my very talented classmates.

I rebuilt my novel outline twice, as well as did a tremendous amount of world building. The last few days I wrote hard on a new opening chapter, to be submitted to the Cascade Writer’s Workshop as I soon as I returned home from Kansas.
I made a lot of friends there, and capped it off by participating in a mass public reading and mini-workshop in how to give a public reading by the talented Andy Duncan.

Arriving home I learned a friend had a health crisis and had to help be a driver, but still managed to submit my chapter to Cascade Writers.

July: Inspired by the fishbowl in Kansas I formed a new local’s writer’s group with Jennifer Willis, Rebecca Stefoff and Wendy Wagner, all friends of mine. The group is based around brainstorming rather than critique. I realized after the fact that we had formed one a ‘mastermind’ group of the sort that Dale Carnegie and Steve Barnes advocate, and it’s made a huge difference.

After reading six other first chapters I attended Cascade Writers Workshop here in Portland, and participated in a small critique group over three days during the workshop. Our group was led by TOR fiction editor Claire Eddy, who proved very insightful. My six fellow workshoppers were all a very talented bunch. The larger workshop had lots of panels, mini-workshops and networking opportunities galore.

August: K.C. Ball and I had participated in an awesome group brainstorming session run by my pal Ken Scholes at Cascade Writers, and realized we had a science fiction story. We began writing it in August.

September: I ran into a serious case of writer’s block, probably from all the workshopping and feedback.

October: I attended a one-day workshop in Seattle, sponsored by Clarion West and given by Karen Joy Fowler on techniques to help the writer get to know their characters better. I’d taken a previous workshop from Karen (she wrote the Jane Austen Book Club among other novels and stories) and knew how good she was. I also wanted to break my block, and the workshop did just that.

That month I also finished the short story collaboration with K.C. and we sent it to Analog SF.

November: I participated in NaNoWriMo (thanks again for your inspiring tunes that month!) and wrote 55,000 words, a significant chunk of the novel I had workshopped in outline form in Kij’s workshop. My flash fiction “Coffee Shop Crisis” sold to Every Day Fiction. I read that story and the opening of my collaboration with K.C. at Orycon, our three day local fall science fiction convention here in Portland.

December: Work on my novel continued, albeit at a slower pace while I also wrote a novelette featuring the origin story of my hero from my serial, and brainstormed a new novelette with K.C.

January: I finished a draft of the new collaboration, which ran over 14,000 words, nearly novella length. I also received a rewrite request for a story I’d submitted in October to Every Day Fiction and resubmitted that.

I attended a fabulous Clarion West one-day workshop in Seattle on breaking through writers block, given by the very insightful Eileen Gunn.

So, in the end, 2013 proved pretty eventful year for my writing. It was a workshop year in many ways, though I closed it out with a decent amount of words drafted.

Here’s to many more words in the coming Year of the Horse. How about you? How was your Year of the Snake?


Penniless Super Genius

A while back author Jay Lake steered me to a post over at Scrivener’s Error, on the Price of Superheroism which really touched a chord with me, slamming me from both directions at once.

Go ahead, check it out, I’ll wait.

Read it? Great!

As the post points out, many super heroes have vast wealth, or their team has access to vast wealth. That’s a given. But what’s rarely emphasized is that super wealth is a true super power. Tony Stark is a super genius. He was also born into the ranks of the mega rich, the scion of a successful businessman. Bruce Wayne’s parents were wealthy, and he inherited that wealth.

Being a billionaire means you can acquire nearly everything. Want an electron microscope? Done. Want a super computer? Done. Want the latest in advanced robotics? Done. Chances are you’ll have invested some of that wealth into companies that make the kind of technology you can use when you are wearing a cape.

Money makes money. Billions makes more billions. Money gives you access to power, and enough money can give you the levers of power.

But, what if you are a super genius born into absolute abject poverty? You have no money, and none of the connections, advantages, and levers of power that wealth, especially vast wealth, brings. You aren’t even, in Bullwinkle’s immortal words, “a thousandaire.”

You are at least as brilliant as, say Tony Stark, and you don’t have a red cent to you. Or you are at least as physically prow and driven to justice as Bruce Wayne or Oliver Queen, but with zero bucks. Scholarship is your only hope to going to a university, and the top tier Ivy League schools with all their varied connections are very likely out of reach. You’d certainly have to get yourself deep into debt.

It’s enough to make an aspiring super hero cry. Or turn to super villainy.

Assuming you are driven to express your genius, or your martial prowess in the service of justice, what do you do? One obvious approach is to try and make a lot of wealth. But if you have no money it’s damn hard to make a lot of money.

What if you are a gadgeteer, and yet you can’t scrap up a few measly thousands of dollars to build your first invention that will make you money? You might, especially if you had family you wanted to help out, turn to a life of crime. Victimless crime if you could—though I believe no crime is actually victimless, since the perpetrator victimizes themselves if nothing else.

More likely someone like Bruce Wayne is going to wind up in the police force, or the FBI, or Interpol, after a stint in the military, maybe as a Delta Force member or a Navy SEAL.

A super genius? She’d probably end up in the sciences, perhaps at a research lab or a high tech company.

But what if you are driven to make a bigger difference? Do you look for a rich patron?

So, here’s a thought experiment –if you had a superpower, say, super genius ability or some telepathy ALA Professor Xavier, possessing it say from birth, but were born into abject poverty,  or you were a super genius like Tony Stark, what would you do? How would you take use you power? For what purpose?

Origin Stories

Oliver Queen on the IslandThere’s something riveting about super hero origin stories—the point where an ordinary person becomes extraordinary. The point where the hero learns he possesses ability or a power setting him apart from the everyday, making him unique in some way. Sometimes the change happens in an instant, other times it’s a process of growth. Sometimes the new super hero realizes at once they are a super hero, other times, it’s a gradual process.

Its no wonder why super hero films usually begin the origin story. It’s the natural entry point. Part of Arrow‘s genius is Oliver Queen’s origin story on the Island is told in an ongoing flash back story line, while the present day story arc continues in Starling City as the (Green) Arrow battling criminals and the corruption infecting the city.

Peter Parker is bit by a radioactive spider and discovers he possesses super strength, great agility, lightning fast reflexes, and the tingling “spidey sense” warning him of impending danger.

Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed before his very eyes. That was the moment that set him on the path of becoming a super hero, leading to him training, being instructed in martial arts, utilizing his wealth (a super power in its own right) to create his incredible gadgets.

The hero of my Weed serial, Jolene Jacobs, wasn’t born with her power. Like many super heroes, it came to her after some living.  It came to her on the cusp of her teen years—she had just turned thirteen, and beginning to push harder against the boundaries. For months now she could “hear” plants in her mind, their music, their sounds, their noises, telling her things about themselves, if only she could understand.

Then came the day when she realized she could do more with her connection to plants.

My novelette, “Blossoming in Snow So Cold,” tells Jolene’s origin story, the moment when she realized she was not a normal human. It’s also a story about facing a monstrous, unexpected evil. “Blossoming in Snow So Cold” will be published later this winter. Stay tuned for the release date.

In the meantime, what’s your favorite super hero origin story? Tell us in comments!

Spidey is Amazing

Amazing Spider-Man poster

I finally saw “The Amazing Spider-Man,” on Amazon Instant video last night, after resisting for the longest time. When I saw previews for it back in late 2011/early 2012, I was annoyed. Very annoyed.

I’d loved the first two Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” films starring Tobey McGuire. They had pathos and lots of heart felt emotion. I ended up not seeing the third, which everyone told me was a royal mess of a film.

So, why did I have a problem with a reboot? I was annoyed because a reboot felt way too soon, and meant another origin story rather than the next installment in the ongoing saga of Spidey.

I was wrong.

But I didn’t realize I was wrong until I started jonesing to see more of the web-slinger on the big screen. I got the itch when I checked out a battered copy of “The Amazing Spider-Man: The Original Clone Saga,” a big compilation of several years’ worth of “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-man” from the 1970s. Classic four color comics, grounded in Peter Parker’s soap opera like life, along with an overarching plot amid the costumed villain of the month. A bit cheesy today, the “original clone saga” is still a fun read, and left me stoked to see another Spider-Man flick.

So we gave “The Amazing Spider-Man” a chance. After all, comic books are always going back to the well and re-examining the origin story, “Bat Man” is a great example. I liked the new angle in the reboot, with Peter Parker back in high school, and how discovering his absent father’s notes lead him to the fateful encounter with a radioactive spider. Gwen Stacey was his first love in the comics, so bringing her in to co-star in the film made sense, but I was pleased she was a strong character and had a role to play far beyond love interest.

The story had a nice arc to it; with of course plenty of web-slinging action, but also a lot of wise cracking humor which so fits Spidey. There was a satisfying ending with a nice emotional payoff. What more can you ask for in a comic book movie?

The moral of my story is be open-minded and willing to take a chance on a story. Give a fresh take a chance. You might end up falling in love with the result.



Nanowrimo 2013, just past the mid-way point

17 days in, and I’ve hit my word count goals, and am at 32,436 on my novel. In order to complete  National Novel Writing Month, you must write 50,000 words during November. Several of my Nano buddies have already hit 50K, striking like lightning. It’s impressive and inspiring to watch. I’ve been averaging just over 1900 words a day, which included writing during last weekend’s Orycon, our local science fiction convention. My goal is 2000 words a day on average, aiming at 60K for the entire month. The Hardscrabble is projected to run about 100K in first draft, and I want to that draft finished before December 25th.

The great thing about Nanowrimo, first and foremost, is the power of a deadline helping you to get the words on paper, day by day. True, some folks binge write, but most people I know try for words every day. I’m aiming to be consistent this time around, and hit the same word total, rather than skyrocketing to 5K on one day and under 1K the next. That said, I’m looking forward to pushing my limits a bit during the final two weeks.

I was also hoping to work on some side projects, but both my wife and an author I respect pointed out that that was more than a little crazy. Focus is also another aspect of Nanowrimo.

How about you? If you are doing Nanowrimo this year, how is it going? What is your experience. Please share in comments!


What I learned from watching Arrow’s first season

I completely and utterly feel in love with the television show Arrow, after being disappointed in the first few episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

I had heard about Arrow before, but it wasn’t until after I’d seen the first three episode of S.H.I.E.L.D., a show I really wanted (and still want) to be good, I remembered Arrow. 

I checked and saw it was available on Netflix.  My wife and I watched the first episode. BAM!!! We were hooked at once. Arrow is a kind of reimagining of the classic DC super hero, Green Arrow, in the modern day, with the conflict between the One Percent and the rest of the population. Well staged, well acted, with some terrific action sequences, Arrow did what I love in a compelling story, as well as show why I enjoy serial television and over arching story lines.

For the past few weeks, Arrow consumed my limited television viewing time, and I didn’t regret that one bit. It also gave me a lot of fuel for creative thought as I continue to work on my own super hero serial, Weed.

So, what stood out for me in Arrow’s first season? (Slight spoilage follows.)

  1. Every scene does triple or quadruple duty—advancing episodes plot, characterizing, deepening the story, establishing tension or ratcheting up emotional stakes, showing competing agendas.
  2. Oliver—our hero and protagonist, drives the action. Other characters have their own agendas, and Oliver has to react to that, but he possesses the most agency, and is constantly pushing events. He is like an arrow, once he’s loosed, he flies until he strikes the target.
  3. The mystery deepens with each episode, and the lies Oliver has to tell worsen things for him. Even Episode 15, the Dating episode, did this.
  4. The show brilliantly handles the island backstory by making it an equally compelling, and suspenseful plot. We know Oliver gets off the island, but what we don’t fully know is the price of his time on the island. What’s more, the people he comes to care for while stranded there and what is at stake keep us wanting to learn what happened next.
  5. It’s a super hero television show with the great tropes—billionaire playboy with a secret identity, a driven hero, cool gadgets, at the very edge of physical and mental human capabilities etc. It also takes those tropes and shows the cost—the cost of secrecy, lies, the cost of obsession, the awful choices which have to be made (such as choosing to nab the evil real estate magnate who hired a killer rather than helping Dig against Deadshot, the consequences, physical, mental and legal, of using archery, especially super accurate archery, to fight crime, and the price of vengeance, and the consequences of getting your revenge.
  6. Powerful villains. The antagonists are equal to “the Hood” (as Arrow is known in Season 1) in proficiency and deadliness and at least as ruthless. The Huntress, The Masked Archer, Deadshot as well as the Faceless Killer, the Count and Deathstroke—not villains of the week all, but rather characters who largely have a presence beyond a single episode.
  7. The necessity for allies and friends to aid him—first Diggle, then Felicity, Oliver needs help. Even the Detective, who begins as a foe for both Oliver and the Hood, by the end of the season, is a reluctant ally who needs the Hood.
  8. Atoning for the past—Oliver was a party animal billionaire heir before the island, and he’s constantly reminded and dealing with that, initially using the persona until it becomes too obvious that he’s not like that anymore.
  9. The loneliness of being a masked/hooded hero.
  10. How to handle action. Very well staged, visceral action sequences. The Hood uses parkour as he leaps and chases villains, and in fights as well. The fighting is very martial arts based, with a strong helping of extreme fighting. Everything is a weapon for the Hood, and Oliver is utterly ruthless when he needs to fight, never hesitating because he can’t.
  11. The power of long odds. The odds are long against the Hood. The police, the plutocratic conspiracy, and various super villains all want to take him down. His secret makes him very vulnerable and we see that worsen over the course of the season. All this serves to ratchet up tension, deepen his problems,
  12. The virtues of great pacing—the show is constantly moving forward, be it the episode’s central conflict, a personal problem, a past sin revealed, a mystery, a romantic moment, the pace is always appropriate with very little wasted screen time.
  13. The importance of everything tying together—avoiding any major spoilers here, but the season kept giving hints at a big, deadly conspiracy and revealing it by degrees until, finally, the horrific scheme was shone in full to Oliver and us viewers.
  14. Excellent use of contrasting locations, all within Starling City (save for the flashback arc on the Island), the Queen Mansion, the glittering clubs, and the poverty of the Glades, there was a stark Yin-Yang aspect to the contrasting settings that fit perfectly.
  15. The joys of snappy dialog working on multiple levels. Yes, there’s some classic comic book discursive discourse—the overly on the nose dialog; but even here, it largely fits, and is very well handled.