Friday, December 12, 2008

32

Next week, I turn 32. It seems like such a strange age. There’s nothing particularly fetching about it.

I remember when I was a kid that every birthday had significance. I’m 8! I’m 9! Around 16, that loses its luster, and 21 signals the end of any serial counting. In fact, after 21, I started losing track of my age, and I often have to calculate it in my head before reporting it.

Certainly the decade milestones are noteworthy, but they’re spread out. Excitement with each year won’t happen again until 90. By then, everyone is so shocked that you’re still alive that each birthday is as exciting as when you were a kid. Grandpa’s 91! Grandpa’s 92! Everyone tries to make it to your party because you might not be around next year.

If I reach 90, I’m going retro with every year’s birthday. We’re having cakes made from pan molds of dinosaurs or He-Man. We’re going to have a McDonald’s birthday party. We’re going to Chuck E. Cheese's! My offspring should track down old items on eBay (or virtual eBay, whatever exists) so that I can get Castle Greyskull and Sgt. Slaughter all over again.

Don’t get me wrong. I still like birthdays. I just don’t get as excited about random ages. But that’s all going to change in 58 years…

Friday, December 05, 2008

Copying Tolkien

In the realm of fantasy, the most common of clichés is to borrow from Tolkien. I wanted to take a moment to explore this phenomenon if for no other reason than to better understand myself as a fantasy writer.

Regardless of how much we’ve read in our lifetimes, some of us find the world of fiction so fascinating that we determine to add to it. What we choose to add is more than likely a decision based on what we like to read, and for some of us, that preference includes fantasy. Our ideas of fantasy must be formed from some definition of the genre, a definition we often discover through examples. As we endeavor to create new stories, we reference our known definition of the genre, and I think the rigidity of that definition could be based on the volume of fantasy works we’ve been exposed to.

Tolkien’s works, particularly The Lord of the Rings, have such popularity and notoriety that we are highly likely to read them once we begin exploring the fantasy genre. (In some cases, we must read his works as part of a classroom assignment.) Once we’ve read them, they become part of our fantasy definition, but that may not be all that happens.

When we enter Middle Earth, there’s something magical that occurs. One of my college professors who taught a literary course on speculative fiction had read The Lord of the Rings several times, and he said that it was a world he always enjoyed returning to. Tolkien’s creation is vivid and detailed, and as writers, we want our own work to be just as captivating. We want memorable places and endearing characters.

As beginning writers, we recall the strongest elements of Tolkien’s world, and we try to imitate them. Perhaps we use elves and dwarves or a struggle against a dark lord. In our attempts to write like Tolkien, we inadvertently copy his world. (I know there are writers who decide to go directly into his world in the form of fan fiction, but I believe that most fantasy writers are striving for uniqueness.) As we grow, we learn how to avoid certain types of clichés, but this takes time, and through this maturing period we often submit our works to various magazines and book publishers, wondering why we’re being called cliché (if we’re called anything at all).

How much can fantasy fiction resemble Tolkien before it becomes clichéd? How much can anything in fantasy fiction resemble known fantasy tropes before it becomes clichéd? I would like to see more experienced authors attempt to write high fantasy to stretch the limits of these two questions. I think high fantasy can be done well without duplicating Middle Earth, even if it seems as difficult as destroying the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Submission Follow-ups

After we submit a manuscript to a magazine, we wait for a response. That duration varies depending on the market, among other factors, and we should follow-up with the editor of that publication if there hasn’t been a response in a reasonable amount of time.

What’s a reasonable wait? We can find reported response times for established markets through websites like Duotrope and The Black Hole. Some magazines also post slush updates or statistics on their websites. Newer magazines tend to be fairly quick at first because they don’t have a backlog of submissions to sift through (unless they opened to a private group of authors first).

Once you’ve calculated the average response time over the past few months, add that time to your submission to figure out a due date. (For example, if you submitted on June 1 and calculate an average response time of three months, expect a response on September 1.) When you reach the due date, check Duotrope and The Black Hole again to see if other authors have posted submission updates. If the magazine responded to authors who submitted after you, that should be a yellow flag. If not, you may need to adjust your due date based on the latest statistics.

My due date is here, so I’m ripping the editor in half! Don’t be so hasty. Check the magazine’s website to see if they have any news about their slush pile. Also, look at the submission guidelines. They may specify that you not contact them about unanswered submissions until a certain time period has passed, one that is likely past your due date. (Look for taglines such as: “Do not send a follow-up query until after 90 days.”)

If all sources, from the tracking sites to the magazine’s site, indicate that you should have received a response by now, be kind in your follow-up. Letters get lost in the mail, spam-guards kill emails, and editors get side-tracked. In any case, assume this was not malicious on the part of the editor. Just send a quick note or email stating the date of your submission, the title of your story, and ask if they received the submission.

Hopefully the editor will respond within a few days, and I usually like to allow for at least a month for a response. If you don’t receive a response to your follow-up, you may want to send an additional follow-up or choose another market for your work. Don’t waste a year waiting for a response from a market that typically replies within three months. Something happened. Move on.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Football Woes

It’s almost November. My Purdue Boilermakers have a dismal 2-6 record. My Indianapolis Colts are 3-4. What’s going on with these teams?

The standards have been set by each team in recent years: Purdue goes to bowl games (including the Rose Bowl once), and the Colts go to the post-season (winning the Super Bowl once). I don’t know what to think when I have little to cheer about. True, the Colts are still early in their season, so I have hopes for them to turn around, but I like it when both teams are powering through their seasons.

Rather than speculate and analyze all the intricacies of these two programs, I thought I’d share why I like football, even during the bad seasons. There are one hundred yards of ground (not including the end zones) that is essentially a battlefield. Each team is trying to move towards their own goal, and the only way to do so is to go through the opposing team. It takes strategy and skill, and there are usually captains and heroes that lead the way.

It’s a physical game; men are knocking other men to the earth. I especially love the plays where it takes three or four guys just to pull one man to his knees, but not until that man has charged several yards forward. I don’t care which team that man is on; I feel like saluting him.

Then there are the passing plays. Receivers cut through to the open and catch the ball in amazing ways. Quarterbacks target men even if they’re surrounded, drilling the ball forward like a weapon.

In a lot of ways, I feel like I’m watching an ancient war. It’s powerful. It’s invigorating. That’s football to me.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

I recently came across a new fantasy magazine named Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by Scott H. Andrews. Paying pro rates, this online magazine that is free to the public seeks to publish great stories of “literary adventure fantasy.” Along with the stories and artwork available at the BCS site, there is a public forum for discussions and comments on the magazine, fantasy or other topics.

Fantasy readers should be thrilled with a magazine that’s publishing free content, especially when the stories are as strong as the ones I’ve read so far. Since this is adventure fantasy, my guess is that those who like stories in Black Gate will probably like stories in BCS.

Fantasy writers should be thrilled with this magazine because this is another pro-paying market (a nickel a word) where we can peddle our wares. I’ve subbed two stories to them so far, and they responded to each one within a few weeks. Not only are they quick on the draw, but the editors give personal feedback. This combination strikes me as some kind of paradox; perhaps Mr. Andrews has discovered a fold in the space-time continuum that gives him more than twenty-four hours in a day.

The first issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies debuted on October 9 with works by Chris Willrich and David D. Levine. Willrich’s story, “The Sword of Loving Kindness” (part 1), continues the saga of Guant and Bone, a pair of thieves whose tales have appeared in several magazines, including Fantasy & Science Fiction. The fantasy details in this tale were very rich, and the pacing was terrific.

“Sun Magic, Earth Magic,” by Levine is a tale about Shira, the Sun Sorceress, whose service to the Empire takes her into cold mountains populated by a rough group of people who still worship the Earth. I like the protagonist in this piece, especially as she discovers the limit of her powers.

This is a magazine that I recommend so highly that I will actually add a new link on my page for it. It is a trivial honor for BCS, I’m sure, but it’s the best I can do.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fun Words

There are certain words that click with me. It could be in the pronunciation, or maybe it has to do with how I use them. At any rate, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites.

Cerulean – This is one of those words that just sounds great. Cerulean. One of the best color descriptions out there. Its four syllables come out so smooth, it’s like I’m speaking a foreign phrase. I think I’ve used it once or twice in writing because it has to fit the rest of the sentence, but I just like seeing the word.

Acerbic – It’s difficult for me to even say the word in a normal voice. I want to sneer or narrow my eyes as I spit the word out. I know the word can be used for taste alone, but I tend to associate it more with someone’s words, the kind that burn through you like acid.

Huzzah – This is part of my regular vocabulary. I use it when things go well, usually with my fist partially raised (I suppose if I just slew an orc I might raise my entire arm, but that gesture seems to overemphasize the small victories in my life).


I’ll try to think of more words that come to mind in striking ways and present them in future posts. Perhaps my interest in words is a bit odd, but I like to use just the right word to convey an idea. It seems logical that with our plethora (I like this one, too) of words in the English language, I would enjoy some better than others. I wonder if other people are intrigued by certain words. Or is this just another indication of my bizarre nature as a person?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Sleep is Overrated

Sleep is overrated, or so I tell myself when my daughter is awake through the night because she’s teething, has a diaper rash or is in the middle of a growth spurt. Most nights, my wife graciously lets me sleep, but on the days when she needs assistance, I jump in to help meet our little one’s needs and send her back to sleep.

Elora doesn’t like waking up either, it seems. She cries because something isn’t right in her world, and when that’s addressed, she starts to doze off. We can communicate in slight ways, but some nights we’re really bumbling about until we discover the true issue.

Parenting is tough work, especially on low sleep, but it’s rewarding in its own way. In the future, I’ll be glad that I held my daughter when I could. It’s also a good feeling to know that someone is completely depending on you for survival and that they trust you to take care of them.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Writing Exercises

My writing group recently disbanded due to a lack of attendance, but I thought I’d share some of the writing exercises we would use in hopes that they will benefit other groups or individuals looking to get their thoughts flowing. I’m pretty sure I swiped these ideas from other people, so I wouldn’t be surprised to find them elsewhere on the Internet.

The intent for each of these exercises is to let people write for 3-5 minutes, just long enough to put 2-3 paragraphs together, but not long enough to think for an extended period of time. It’s good rough-draft training for those of us who like to think through too many details early on. Each person should read their work aloud at the end of the time.

Exercise 1: Let someone think of a random sentence. Each person must begin a short story with this sentence. I tend to runaway with this exercise and never end up at a good stopping point. Maybe that’s why I prefer the next exercise.

Exercise 2: Let someone think of a random sentence. Each person must end a short story with the sentence. I really like this one because you can be clever in getting to the end, to the point of drawing laughs. It’s like being given a punch-line.

Exercise 3: Divide the group into teams of 4-5 people. Each person in the team should start a story. When time is up, everyone pushes their papers to the left (keeping them within the same team). Give everyone a minute to read what has already been written. Then, each person should continue the story they were given. Continue rotating the stories until they reach the original authors, and then read the stories aloud in their entirety. This could be a good way to get people mad at you for ruining their work, I suppose, but I haven’t had that experience. I especially like it when an author tries to set up the next person, but the newest author ignores the suggestion and takes the story someplace the previous author never wanted it to go.

There are a plethora of other exercises out there, but these were some of the ones we liked to do on a regular basis. You can run through one or two fairly quickly, and sometimes you may come away with a new story idea.

This article is part of the Top Five Writing Improvement Articles:
1. Writing To Your Strengths Or Weaknesses – Should you write to your strengths or weaknesses? The answer varies depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.
2. Writing Tools – As writers, we need to consider which tools will help us the most with our craft and have them at the ready.
3. The Callous Editor – To edit our own works well, we must divorce emotions from the process and make hard choices.
4. Writing Exercises – When thoughts seem locked up tight, try some exercises to get the sludge moving again.
5. The Jab – We need good openings to our stories, and this article shares some advice and an example from my own writing.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Back From Vacation

We returned from our vacation to Cincinnati earlier this week. One of the events we took part in was the Ohio Renaissance Festival. Once again, Ron (my father-in-law) and I donned our mail coats and assorted armor to become knights. Bess and her mother dressed as middle-class ladies of the medieval era, and our daughter wore a princess outfit (complete with pointed cap).

Normally, Ron and I draw attention wherever we go in our outfits, and we love it. This time, however, my daughter stole the show. Cameras came out from everywhere to film the little princess. How cute was she? Check out this picture.



My wife also took this quick video towards the end of the day. I’d like to point out that it was about 90 degrees, and Ron and I had been wearing our armor for several hours. Ron’s wife was pushing the princess’s cart most of the day, so he was giving her a break. As for me, you can see that I’m just fighting to stay alive.

video
We came back to the Ren Faire on Monday dressed as twenty-first century civilians. It was even warmer that day, so I was glad for the break, but it did feel a bit odd. No one asked for our pictures. It was like we were celebrities in disguise. Our next outing is in October, and Ron and I are going without the princess on the first day so that we can get our fill of attention before we bring her back into the spotlight.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

First Performance

My father-in-law, Ron, and I decided we would take what little we know about sword fighting and present ourselves at Men’s Game and Hobby Night at my church. Our hobby is to dress up as post-Crusader knights (we’ve taken a few liberties, but we’re fairly authentic), a time before full plate armor was employed, when those who could afford it wore mail along with assorted armor pieces, such as greaves, pauldrons, gauntlets and helmets. Actually, this was our hobby about a year ago. Since we haven’t had heart attacks from wearing 40-50 pounds of armor yet, we thought we’d see if we could use swords without injury as well.


We initially began the evening in our full outfits just to look our best. After dinner, we got rid of the helmets, gauntlets, capes and decorative shields and changed surcoats so that I would be the black knight and Ron would be the red knight. (We didn’t want to get our “dress blues” dirty for our fight.)

Ron and I practice fighting with either wooden wasters (so named because you end up wasting them) or blunted steel, and we wear Kevlar gloves along with fencing masks. That’s plenty of protection for us given what little we do, so we decided that for the fight, we would stick with the Kevlar gloves but wear our helms instead of fencing masks. At the last minute, we found that the helmets just weren’t fitting well, so we opted to just wear our mail coifs and try not to hit each other in the head.








We had choreographed our fight in two stages: a series of exchanges with sword and shield that would end with Ron “injuring” me. Then we would move to longswords, and after four exchanges, I would “kill” Ron. When we began the fight for the crowd, Ron and I took turns whacking each other’s shields as hard as we could while backing me up. On Ron’s second or third hit, his waster broke in two just above the handle.







Ron ran back for his longsword, so I traded up as well, thinking we would go to stage two of the fight. My father-in-law thought we hadn’t given a good show, so he went unscripted for a while, and I took a glancing blow to the head (the mail protected me well enough). Eventually, we settled back into the routine, and Ron met his untimely demise.


All in all, it wasn’t a bad performance. The crowd applauded, and we felt pretty cool. For me, it’s about taking my interest in medieval history to the next level. There’s nothing quite like wearing armor and fighting someone, even if the weapons are wooden. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Black Gate 12

I finished reading the latest issue of Black Gate, so I thought I’d post a review of some of the content as a way of drawing further attention to my favorite magazine. By the way, if you’d like to read this issue of Black Gate, it is available for a limited time as a FREE DOWNLOAD.

“Oblivion is the Sweetest Wine” by John R. Fultz is well told, arguably the best tale of the issue. The protagonist is an experienced thief with lofty plans of retirement, and I found myself hoping he would succeed. I didn’t know exactly where the story was going, so I was a bit shocked by the turn of events.

“Payment in Full” by James Enge is the latest tale of Morlock the Maker, continuing with many of the same characters from “The Lawless Hours,” published in Issue 11. I liked the voice of the female narrator, demonstrating Enge’s extending range as a writer. It was an enjoyable read, and I have but one critique. Just as Christopher Walken’s character in a Saturday Night Live sketch needed more cowbell from Blue Öyster Cult, I needed more Morlock from this story. Too many other characters were crowding him out. Not that they were bad characters, but I don’t like to see Morlock’s spotlight stolen for too long.

Martha Wells contributed another piece with Ilias and Giliead in “Houses of the Dead.” I know she has a lot of published material with these two characters, but I like that she didn’t expect the readers to know all of it. I’m sure there were some points of interest for those who have read much more than me, but I was given enough structure to understand this world and the two characters without needing to read Wells’ other volumes. “Houses of the Dead” pulled me in quickly by presenting a mystery that Ilias and Giliead needed to solve with their limited experience. I hope to see more tales with these characters in future issues.

I wish I had more time to review the other stories. I enjoyed all of them (although I skipped out on the Tumithak story) and recommend reading the entire issue. Download a copy while you still can!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Swordfight in Detroit

My father-in-law and I went to Detroit for several days to the International Swordfighting and Martial Arts Convention. While attending, I focused most of my time on longsword sessions.

Watching someone fight with a sword and actually fighting with a sword are vastly different experiences. I’ve come to realize how much skill is involved in expertly wielding such weapons. Each series of moves is like a dance, and I’m not talented in that area. It takes a lot of concentration to do things right.

Every instructor spoke in terms of killing the opponent. Rather than "slice with an upwards cut," the instruction was to “slice through his throat.” To strike out was to “strike him in the skull.” There was no mincing of words, and even if the occasional comment was intended to be humorous, the vast majority simply pointed out the fact that we were being trained to use a tool that had been designed to kill people.

I also took a class on using the poleaxe, and I struggled to remember all of the
moves we were taught. I had no idea there were so many combinations that could be achieved with such a weapon, and I had a new appreciation for what someone armed with a poleaxe could accomplish on the battlefield.

It was an enjoyable trip, and I’ve come away with a lot of knowledge that will seep into future fantasy stories. For anyone interested in being trained to use swords, I highly recommend ISMAC. The instructors are knowledgeable and patient. I plan on returning next year.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Flashbacks

I’m currently at work on a short story that is a strong candidate for flashbacks. I usually avoid flashbacks, perhaps because the types of stories I tend to write do not require them. I have a few thoughts on how flashbacks/non-sequential stories can be effective.

One example of good flashbacks, in movie form, is Batman Begins. (Yes, I’ve still got Batman on my mind.) The story begins with Bruce Wayne as an adult in prison in a foreign country. The main timeline continues from that point, but periodically, we are shown flashbacks of his childhood and also a time when he was old enough for college. Had the movie started with his childhood and progressed sequentially, it would have lacked a strong hook for the opening and killed the pacing of the overall plot. Takeaway #1 – good flashbacks improve the pacing of a story and allow you to start at a more interesting point that will keep readers interested.

An example of a well-done non-sequential movie is Memento. (Yes, another film by Christopher Nolan, but the Nolan brothers are really talented writers.) The entire movie comes in short spurts, without sequence. As soon as a scene blends into one that was previously shown, it cuts. I think this was done to correlate with the protagonist’s condition: he has no short-term memory. He remembers things from long ago, but no new memories are formed; after a few minutes he forgets anything he’s just learned. Takeaway #2 – if the protagonist does not think in normal patterns, it might make sense if the story’s timeline is irregular to further draw readers into the protagonist’s mentality.

Looking back at the takeaway points, bad flashbacks get in the way of the story by interfering with the pacing (almost always by slowing it to a crawl). There should also be an identifiable main timeline (in most cases), but if the flashbacks are constant, it makes it difficult for readers to anchor themselves to the story at all. A confused or bored reader will often stop reading.


I think flashbacks can be challenging but are well worth the investment for the right story. I’m ready to give them a shot.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight

I watched The Dark Knight Friday afternoon. The latest Batman film is an excellent response to the previous movie, Batman Begins.

I’ve only recently seen Batman Begins, and I felt like kicking myself for not viewing it sooner. The dialog and pacing were outstanding. When I discovered that both Batman movies had the same writers, I really wanted to see the sequel.

The Dark Knight is indeed a dark movie, but I think this is a result of casting a truthful spotlight on evil. Some films glamorize villains to the point that I find myself identifying with these antagonists and sometimes secretly cheering for them. The Joker, however, isn’t the typical villain. His only purpose is causing people pain and degrading the morality of Gotham’s citizens by putting them in situations that test their convictions. Those character traits remind me of Satan, so I’m not surprised at how creepy The Joker comes across on screen.

When I first left the theater, I thought Heath Ledger (The Joker) had outperformed Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman). Clearly Ledger’s portrayal of an insidious and deranged Joker left me with chills, but Bale’s acting was subtler. I think I’ve simply gotten so used to the smooth scenes between Michael Caine (Alfred) and Bale between both Batman movies that I expect (and take for granted) the excellence of their performances. That said, if I could only nominate one of the two men for an award, I would recommend Ledger because The Joker seemed much more complicated.

For those who haven’t seen this film yet, I don’t want to oversell it (or spoil it). I really enjoyed the movie, but in the past, I’ve sometimes been disappointed when good movies become too hyped. Of course, Batman Begins had a lot of hype, and I wasn’t disappointed at all. One measure of approval that I think most everyone could agree with: if you liked Batman Begins, you should really like The Dark Knight.

Batman has seen its share of bad sequels in the past, but if the current writers and actors stay on for yet another Batman project, I wouldn’t hesitate to see it. There is something special about the group of people that is working together to make these movies. I hope their collaboration continues in the future.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

This Isn’t What We’re Looking For

I’ve collected numerous rejections of various forms from editors and agents, and there’s a certain phrase that comes up often. The common form of the phrase is: “This isn’t what we’re looking for at this time.” I have some ideas as to what this response might mean:

1. Stories with poor grammar, inconsistent characters and a confusing plot don’t match up with what we’re publishing at the moment.
2. You didn’t read our guidelines, but there’s no point in telling you that.
3. I didn’t read this, but with that stupid title, do you blame me?
4. I’d rather not stain our issue with your name.
5. Five minutes ago, I’d have sent you a contract for publication. Unfortunately, it’s now the hour of rejection.
6. I’m waiting for Stephen King to submit something.
7. I can’t make any money with this crap you sent me.
8. We had fifty submissions this month, and they all looked like variants of your story, as well as the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.
9. I only have enough room left in this issue for 2100 words, and those words will come from me.

10. I’m trying to find stories about monkey ninjas exploring outer space. But not like the one you submitted.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Agent Stats Final Update

One of the agents I had previously selected seemed to go out of business (as far as I could tell) before I could submit, so I ended up querying only 19 agencies. Here are my final stats:

19 queries submitted (11 electronic, 8 postal)
5 assumed rejections
13 rejections received (10 form-letter rejections; 3 personal rejections)
1 letter returned to sender unopened (I'm not sure what happened with this agency)
1 request for additional materials

Average response time: 21 days

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Indiana Jones

A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I was not only surprised by the price of admission for a matinee, but I was also taken aback at the quality difference between this latest sequel and others in the series. For those who have yet to see this film, beware of spoilers that lie below.

I think my main dislike of this film is how it mixed genres. Science-fiction does not belong in the Indiana Jones universe. Each of its predecessors had an element of the supernatural, but I can more readily accept God (in the general sense, not necessarily God Himself) as the supernatural force than extra-terrestrial beings. As soon as I realized this latest caper was tied to the Roswell incident (though I’m not sure they used that phrase exactly), I inwardly groaned. Why did we have to go there with this? Couldn’t the crystal skull unlock some other mystery, like the lost city of Atlantis?

Aside from the genre-conflicting plot, I agree with one reviewer who said this movie just felt tired. The dialogue revealed everything all the time, leaving little to the imagination, and some of the action sequences seemed like they reruns from the previous trilogy. One example of the slowness is when they go over three waterfalls. It just seemed to go on forever, and I thought, “Didn’t this already happen in Temple of Doom?”

Then there’s the hokey factor. When Indiana goes into an atomic bomb test site, my hokey-sense started tingling. Sure enough, Dr. Jones is there as the bomb is about to go off, and he survives by climbing into a refrigerator lined with lead. I can’t even begin to express how ridiculous this entire concept was. Again, why did the film go there? I could accept Indiana’s unexpected confrontation with Hitler in The Last Crusade as an interesting scene, but this was way over the top. The rest of the movie going in hokey directions, to the point that I just threw my hands up towards the end and though, “Why not?”

Now, the film wasn’t horrific the whole way through. I liked the concept of an aged Dr. Jones who doesn’t get around quite as well as he used to, and I even liked the character of Mutt Williams as a decent sidekick (though he often proved to be a device for explaining too much of the plot). There were also some cute throw-back moments, like when the Ark of the Covenant is revealed near the opening of the movie. Some of the action sequences also worked well, or seemed to at least fall in line with the same level of expectation as previous Indiana Jones movies. Of course, that may have been because they were part of the original movies.

I think there’s a level of accountability that’s missing from George Lucas’s life right now. Maybe that’s what’s keeping him from coming up with more good movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark. Instead, we’re left with movies like the Star Wars prequels and this latest Indiana Jones disappointment. Somewhere between Raiders and now, Lucas realized who he is, and that pride is getting in the way of better stories.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Wii Fit

We were finally able to get a copy of Wii Fit a few days ago. Nintendo pulled off another fantastic achievement by bringing exercise to video games.

Wii Fit comes with a new component: the balance board. This is essentially a new controller that interacts with the game. You step onto the board, and it’s sensitive to pressure. It’s more advanced than a bathroom scale in that it can detect differences in where your weight is applied, so it “knows” if you’re leaning forward or to the side.

Wii Fit offers a variety of exercises from strength training to flexibility and endurance. It also focuses a lot on balance and posture, routinely testing you and evaluating your progress. I especially enjoy the balance games offered that help you to learn balance in a fun way, like skiing or heading soccer balls (watch out for the shoes).

The yoga and strength training areas use a virtual trainer who demonstrates the moves and comments on your performance (positive and negative). The screen will usually display a real-time indication of your balance, and this gives you something to focus on when you perform the moves. Everything is very straight-forward. For example, I know nothing of yoga, but I was able to perform some of the moves pretty easily after watching a demonstration (but I will probably never pull off some of the moves that require more flexibility than I can muster).

I was surprised at how much fun this game really is, considering that the whole point is to get you to exercise. Perhaps the humor of the “Body by Nintendo” shirts will soon be lost if people play this game enough to get in shape. Or perhaps the shirts will be used more for bragging than joking.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Varying Forms of Writing

Sometimes I get frustrated when I don’t have much time to write fictional stories, but there are other opportunities available for writing that I should take advantage of.

Emails are part of my everyday life, especially at work. At first glance, it would seem that they aren’t of any significance, but that isn’t true. My messages should be conveying thoughts clearly, with just the right words. I don’t want to use the gibberish syntax of instant messaging or send a message that comes across as confusing. Why write an email that doesn't communicate effectively?

Letter writing is quite strange for me, but I have done it from time to time. Our society as a whole has lost touch a bit with reality with all of our emails floating around. It’s good to actually sit down and put pen to paper, to show that I think so much of a person that I would painstakingly draw my words onto a page. It also forces me to think very carefully about what I would say (especially since my hand starts hurting after a couple of paragraphs).

Blogs and journals are another category that I find my writing in. It’s within these that I can let my inhibitions go and express how I truly think and feel. Again, it isn’t the same as writing fiction, but it does exercise similar “muscles” (for lack of a better term).

My point is simply this: rather than becoming frustrated by how little I write fiction, I need to look at all of the opportunities that are before me and write well in each area. Emails, blogs, journals and letters all use the same principles of writing, and if I strive for excellence in each setting, I will be increasing my writing skills as a whole.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Agent Stats Update 5

I don't have many more queries to send. I would have sent more, but I ran out of envelopes.

20 Agents Selected
15 queries submitted (10 electronic, 5 postal)
9 queries awaiting response (average wait time: 26 days)
6 rejections received (4 form-letter rejections; 2 personal rejections)
1 request for additional materials

Average response time: 10 days

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Joy of Writing

I’ve rediscovered that writing is relaxing and enjoyable. Somewhere in the bustling past few months, it seems that I’d lost that realization.

The other day, I was sitting behind the keyboard in my office with my daughter in a baby carrier out in front of me. I had a soundtrack playing, and Elora was kicking and occasionally trying to sing along (at least I think that’s what she was doing). My mind traveled off to the story I was writing, and it was just a wonderful experience.

I try to write stories that others will enjoy reading, but I think that even with stories that don’t make it to publication, I still gain enjoyment from them (along with more experience). Sometimes I do get frustrated with rejections, even after receiving so many, but I need to remember that even though I’m writing with the goal of publication, at the core of it all, I’m writing because I love to write.

This post is to encourage others who have let the strains of publication or life in general get in the way of the happiness that comes from putting words on a page. We are artists, dreamers, imagination wanderers. If we don’t pause to enjoy what we’re doing, why are we even doing it? There was a reason we first started pursuing writing, something we could not explain that compelled us to craft our thoughts through the written word.

If you’ve lost your way, come back. Take up the joy of writing again.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Agent Stats Update 4

I've sent four more queries out. That means I've attempted contact with 60% of my selected agents. All of the rest require postal queries. I'm noticing that some agencies mention on their websites that if they don't respond within a certain amount of time (specific to each agency), an author should consider that as a rejection. I never imagined all agencies would respond to my queries (based on past experience), but I am a little surprised to actually see this as a standard policy. Ah, well...

20 Agents Selected
12 queries submitted (10 electronic, 2 postal)
7 queries awaiting response (average wait time: 18 days)
5 rejections received (4 form-letter rejections; 1 personal rejection)
1 request for additional materials

Average response time: 11 days

Monday, March 10, 2008

Smash Brothers for Wii

Nintendo has at last released Smash Brothers for the Wii. My wife had reserved a copy for us at a local video game store, so we picked it up right after church yesterday.

With my daughter asleep, my wife and I started working our way through various challenges and getting used to the controls. Soon, my wife was asleep as well, leaving me to unlock characters, trophies and the like by myself. (After all, these things won’t unlock themselves, so someone had to get to work!)

I’ve only played the game for a few hours so far, but it seems comparable to Smash Brothers Melee for Game Cube. One thing I like is that the challenges aren’t limited to single players anymore, so my wife and I could team up to hit the sandbag or break targets.

The addictiveness of the game is fairly high, and if you have a personality type where you like to accomplish things, you’ll find yourself unable to stop playing, even when your eyes hurt. Not only does the game reveal that you’ve unlocked something (like a new trophy), but it also lets you know of some other things you will unlock if you complete certain requirements, such as win five games with Peach. There is an entire screen with row upon row of boxes that signify something to unlock.

I’d like to see us unlock all the characters just to have them available (in my limited play, I’ve unlocked Luigi and Captain Falcon). We probably don’t have the time to really work this game for all its worth, but it’ll be fun playing it from time to time, especially when we host parties.

Congratulations, Nintendo, on creating yet another great game for the Wii.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Agent Stats Update 3

I was only able to get one additional query out last week, but hopefully more will go out soon.

20 Agents Selected
8 queries submitted (6 electronic, 2 postal)
4 queries awaiting response (average wait time: 25 days)
4 rejections received (3 form-letter rejections; 1 personal rejection)
1 request for additional materials
Average response time: 10 days

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Agent Stats Update 2

Not much has changed, but I thought I should post an update anyway:

20 Agents Selected
7 queries submitted (6 electronic, 1 postal)
4 queries awaiting response (average wait time: 22 days)
3 rejections received (2 form-letter rejections; 1 personal rejection)
1 request for additional materials

Average response time: 3 days

I will be submitting more queries next week.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Sharing the Germs

It isn’t much fun to be sick at the same time as my wife, mostly because neither of us can wait on the other. Add a sick baby in the mix, and things become even more interesting.

A couple of weeks ago, I had one of those, “Oh, I guess I’m a parent,” moments when we took my daughter to the pediatric emergency room. She wasn’t quite to a fever, but she hadn’t kept much food down at all that day. It took us three hours to see a doctor because the plague seemed to have hit most of the community’s youth, although I was a little annoyed by the illness’s apparent symptoms of running around and shouting.

Once we saw a doctor at 1 AM, our daughter’s digestive tract flushed itself upon my wife with a gooey fanfare. Our daughter had a change of clothes on hand; my wife didn’t. After learning of this latest event, the doctor recommended we be admitted to the hospital for overnight observation.

I drove home to pack some things for us and started back to the hospital at 4:30. I hadn’t slept for a long time, and driving was quite perilous. At one point, I was certain there was a man running along the side of the highway at the same rate as my car; he turned out to be the antenna.

Our daughter’s temperature relented during the wee hours, and she was finally able to keep some food down. Apparently, she had cried so much from being sick that her stomach had filled with gas, and that was the reason for all the vomiting. Her temperature did fluctuate a little over the next week, and she’s still a bit congested to this day, but overall she’s doing much better.

My wife was sick at the same time as my daughter. I came on board with the illness a few days later (probably from a lack of sleep). Things could have been much worse, of course, and these events weren’t unmanageable. I simply had no idea how dynamic parenting is.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Agent Stats Update 1

Below are my latest stats from contacting agents:

20 Agents Selected
7 queries submitted (6 electronic, 1 postal)
4 queries awaiting response (average wait time: 5 days)
2 rejections received (2 form letter rejections)
1 request for additional material

Average response time: 3 days

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Queries Away!

I queried seven agents, and I’ve already received back my first rejection (no comments – possibly a form response). I might send one more query out next week, and then I’m going to wait for a while. I want to see what kinds of responses (if any) I receive from these first few queries. It takes me a lot of time to prepare each query, and I’d rather not prepare all twenty queries at once. I think I’d like to keep the number of open queries below ten. So far, here are my stats:

20 agents selected
7 queries submitted (6 electronic, 1 postal)
1 rejection received

Average response time: 1 day

Stay tuned for more updates as I have them.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Almost Ready

I am getting everything ready to go: synopsis, author’s bio and a quick intro to be used in the query letters. It’s all coming into place before I start contacting agents.

My list of agents stands at twenty. I took the time to find agents who are open to new writers (meaning no previous novels published) and handle the category of fiction this novel fits under. I think it’s common among newer writers to submit to all the wrong places, and I find that to be such a waste of time and money. Taking just a few minutes to read through an agency’s website can reveal quite a bit.

Writers who bombard every agency in America with their novel are no different from someone who shows up to a limo company looking for work as a pig farmer. It is up to us to sift through agents, looking especially for these two phrases: “I am looking for” and “I am not looking for.”

Twenty agents does not seem like very many, and perhaps I’m more stringent in who I select than other writers. But just as an agent examines the materials sent to him or her before deciding to represent an author, so must we examine each agent to decide if that agent should represent us. The difference is that we should be doing this BEFORE we make contact.

I will start sending out queries through emails and the postal service shortly. It will take me some time to get through my list because for me, each query is personal. I take the time to share why I selected the agent and to make sure that he or she gets the exact material requested (in the specified format) for a first contact. To me, this is no different than sending a resume to a company I’m seeking employment with, and I do this with as much professionalism as I can muster.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Publishing a Novel

I’ve decided to be very open with my latest project. I have a finished novel. I’ve tweaked it here and there. In fact, on the journal page of my website, you can read about all the iterations it went through and look at my weekly updates through last year. Now it’s go time.

My mission is to get the novel into publication without resorting to self-publishing. If I reach a point where I feel like I’ve exhausted all resources, the novel will be shelved, like so many short stories of mine in the past (and two cruddy novels that I shall not describe in this post).

My first stop on this grand tour is to find an agent. I admit that a couple of years ago, I proposed this novel to a few agents, and I only managed to get beyond the “front door” with one agent whom I met in person at World Fantasy. I’m not going to resend the proposal to any of those people, just as I wouldn’t resubmit a short story that’s been refined unless a magazine specifically asked me to. After doing some research, there are quite a few agents I want to approach with this newest proposal. I won’t get into the specifics of who I’ll be contacting, but I will probably give updates on the percentage I’ve heard back from, feedback, etc.

If I don’t find an agent willing to represent the work, I will start hitting publishers directly. I’m much more limited in who I can query directly without an agent, which is why this is my second step. No publisher has been queried for this novel in the past, so the field is wide open. As with agents, I won’t report specifics on who I’m querying, but I will give updates on the types of responses, speed of responses, etc.

I’ve gone down this road before with a cruddy novel, and even that was somewhat exciting (especially the returned manuscript that had a shoeprint on it). Now I’m going down the road with a much better novel (and more experience). Bring on the fun!