Thursday, March 27, 2014

Snow White and the Huntsman

I saw Snow White & The Huntsman for the first time a few days ago, maybe because I had a craving for Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, this was like wanting a slice of warm apple pie topped with a scoop of ice cream, and getting an apple core to nibble on.

I’ll start with the good. The black glass warriors were very cool. Also, I liked the music at the end (the coronation plus the song that plays over the credits).

Other than that, everything was blah. Except for Charlize Theron’s turn as the evil queen Ravenna, who reminded me a little of Jeremy Irons’s evil mage Profion in the similarly awful Dungeons & Dragons. It’s as though they realized they were the only elements in the films with the potential to be something other than dull, but regardless, they couldn’t possibly make the films worth watching. So they just went to town on the scenery-chewing.

I can’t even think of Kristen Stewart’s character as Snow White. That character is Kristen Stewart, wearing a perpetually dazed and open-mouthed expression. The sets and clothes are so grungy that her two upper incisors, always on display, look all the whiter in comparison. Even when she’s crowned queen, she just stands there silently with her chest heaving, a tabula rasa to the end.

You can tell they were going for a Joan d’Arc vibe, because to gain her throne she put on armor, led a tiny army and fought the evil queen, but all throughout it I just wondered why no one was wearing a helm. Plus, the resolution of the battle is telegraphed from the moment she meets the titular huntsman. If a man teaches a woman a self-defence move, I guarantee the woman will pull that move out at the last minute to save herself from the villain.

Another problem is that I was never sure what was the source of the evil queen’s power. Shades of Elizabeth Bathory here, since she imprisoned a girl, fed on the girl’s youth and became beautiful while the girl grew old. But apparently there’s a whole village of women who have deliberately scarred their faces (just pale lines down their cheeks, wouldn’t want to gross anyone out) to deter the queen from choosing them. So… she derives her youthfulness from only hot women?

Then she eats a bird’s heart, and of course she wants Stewart’s as well – though why she kept Stewart locked up in the tower for years is anyone’s guess. As for the nature of her power, that goes beyond youthfulness. She’s got Wolverine’s healing factor, Mystique’s ability to change her appearance, super strength and telekinesis (she can raise a portcullis by walking to it). Oh, she also changes into a flock of birds. Basically, she’s all over the place, and no, I have no idea why Stewart was able to kill her at the end. But it was a relief, because that meant the film was over.

The dwarves were awful, the takeover of the castle was unbelievable, and the black glass warriors were utterly wasted. If millions of shards of obsidian fly at you at high speed, you’ll need to be rinsed off the walls. Of course, Stewart’s love interests are barely scratched.

These love interests are the scruffy huntsman (who doesn’t even have a name) and some pretty-boy duke’s son, both of whom kiss her after she eats the apple. I’m sure you can tell which one’s kiss works, but this is a modern retelling, not “Some Day My Unshaven Prince Will Come”, so he just exchanges a few angsty glances with her afterwards.

The queen, a self-made widow, has a love interest too – her brother. Yes, they were going for Jaime/Cersei here, because this film is a patchwork of borrowed concepts covering up a whole lot of nothing. The brother has a silly haircut and that’s about all I can say of him.

If you want to see a strong yet vulnerable princess, watch Pan's Labyrinth instead, because Ivana Baquero can act, plus there’s a gripping story and a believable villain to go along with her. Everything this film doesn’t have.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Five kinds of wings in fantasy

1. Feathered wings

The most common type, though these could be as varied as actual feathers are. Not just in color but in purpose too—there’s a species of bird which has a surprisingly large repertoire of sounds it can make with its wings.

Owls’ wings have also evolved to be nearly soundless in flight—an advantage for hunters.

2. Skin wings

Like bats, whose wings are sensitive enough to detect changes in air temperature and currents, meaning bats can make swift changes to their flight patterns. This would be great for an interspecies romance too—imagine the wings being an erogenous zone.

It’s been a while since I read Anne Bishop’s Daughter of the Blood, but her Eyrians might be like this—if anyone can confirm, please let me know in the comments!

3. Insect wings

I like insect wings the most, perhaps because they look so fragile. The veins running through them help to strengthen them, but it would be interesting to see these scaled up to humanoid size. That would also raise the question of whether the humanoid could hover like a dragonfly, and whether the wings would be concealed in cases when not used in flight.

4. Mechanical wings

The Icarii of Dru Pagliasotti’s Clockwork Heart have metal wings, but these can be adapted for defense and attack as well. In the X-Men comics, Archangel’s wings had metal feathers which could be fired as projectiles, and such wings could also have guns mounted on them, similar to rotary cannons or even air-to-air missile launchers. Provided, of course, that they didn’t weigh the flyer down too much.

5. Magical wings

The angels’ wings in the Diablo video games are great examples of this.

As well as looking cool, the tentacles are also prehensile and can grasp at enemies. I love that dual purpose.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Writers who don't read

I want to get into writing but my question is: "Is there ever been any real-time authors that didnt actually previously read books, as in, more than 4 books?" because i feel that i can make it, and that i have a unique mind

Every so often, on the Absolute Write discussion board, a new writer will ask whether he or she can become successful without reading.

At first I found it difficult to understand this, because I was given books from the moment I could sit up to be read to. I tried reading my uncle’s huge hardcover copy of The Lord of the Rings when I was six, and when he found out, he gave me a paperback of The Hobbit which I still have. But these writers have their own reasons for not reading.

Some of them worry that reading other people’s work in the genre may distract them from their own thoughts and ideas. They don’t want to be influenced by someone else’s imagination.

One problem with this is that while you can certainly write in a vacuum where no book exists but your own, once you send it out… well, agents, editors and the general public do read. Plus, they’re aware of books they may not have read. So if you’ve reinvented the wheel because you weren’t aware of what’s being done in your genre, there’s going to be a sad awakening somewhere down the line.

The other problem is that reading extensively is the best way to familiarize yourself with not only techniques and tricks of writing, but also the requirements of a genre. I once saw a self-published erotica novelette from an author who didn’t seem familiar with what successful short erotica provides. I say this because the sample was all about the heroine preparing lunch for herself, and the most exciting thing was a long carrot.

You see the same mistake made by people who’ve written a tragic love story but want to call it a romance. Not going to happen.

Another reason was provided by someone who wanted to write for teenagers, but who said, “and re reading "ya", whatever that is, books are a luxury i cannot afford” (link). Unfortunately that showed in her manuscripts, because apart from other issues, no one in them was a teenager.

I sympathize with not having money, but this isn’t such an obstacle when it comes to reading. Even if there are no libraries nearby, what about online contests and giveaways? Some publishers will send free books for reviews. And then there are garage sales or borrowing from friends. All of which I’ve done.

If you really want to read - and grow as a writer - you’ll find a way.

Learning disorders aside, some people just focus and concentrate in different ways that may make reading a novel from start to finish a difficult process. But in that case, there are other things to try—like audiobooks. Or short stories, which take less time. Some MG books are intended for “reluctant readers”.

What turns me off, though, is if someone actively looks down on other writers’ work (in general). I can understand not enjoying a specific author. But if a writer says, “I like writing because I have so many ideas, but I have no interest in anyone else’s books” (to paraphrase this), it comes off as incredibly pompous. Not something likely to make me try that writer’s work.

I'm sure there are a few writers who are so naturally talented that they can write well without having read anything, but they would be the exception. The rest of us need to read, and lots thereof.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Writing Irresistible Kidlit

I like checking out how-to books on writing, and Writing Irresistible Kidlit is by (former) literary agent Mary Kole. Although I don’t write MG or YA, I felt sure there would be ideas and techniques that would apply to adult fiction as well.

Well, there are, but I’d definitely recommend this to anyone wanting to write for children or teenagers. It’s a great resource. One chapter is devoted to understanding the mindset of these readers. What level of complexity are they looking for when they read? What themes would be too heavy to introduce directly into MG, and what to do under those circumstances? Male or female protagonist?

The book describes the “big ideas” behind some of the most popular YA fiction, cliché openings, grabby openings, characters and plots, along with input from other agents and editors giving examples of what didn’t work for them. Kole even makes a good stab at analyzing the elusive “voice” – how the words used, the emotion in them (or lack thereof), dialect and even repetition of certain words contributes to a highly individualistic result.

Voice for kidlit readers needs to be fresh, electric and immediate, in order to reflect their lives. Never let passive construction (“The party was being attended by teenagers”) sneak into your work.

What I enjoyed most, though, were the quotes from novels. I don’t read a lot of YA and MG, but with this book I got an intriguing cross-section of the best of them (nothing with vampires or werewolves, too, which was a plus for me). This book made me curious about Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls, and that’s one novel well worth reading. I’m also going to check out Jenny Downham’s Before I Die, although I usually don’t read books about cancer. This one just sounds too intriguing.

So if you’re thinking about writing for children or teenagers, check this book out. It’s a great starting-point.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Illegal downloads are fine because...

___ authors understand that their real problem is obscurity, not the piracy of their books.

___ authors want, most of all, to share their work with as many people as possible.

___ some authors don’t mind illegal downloads at all.

___ some authors report increased sales as a result of the book being made free to anyone who wants it.

___ someone who illegally downloads a book and enjoys it will be sure to pay for the sequel, which will be published even if sales of the first book are low thanks to illegal downloads. So because of piracy, the author has gained a honest fan… somehow.

___ e-books can be expensive. If you consider things expensive, it’s acceptable to take them without paying for them.

___ only publishers are financially affected by piracy, and they’re all big corporations which can afford the loss. They probably use it as a tax writeoff anyway.

___ it’s not like you’re taking a physical copy, or something which can’t be replaced.

___ if you wouldn’t pay for the book under any circumstances, the author has no grounds for complaint because he wouldn’t have been paid under any circumstances, so you might as well go ahead and download it.

___ it’s like borrowing a book from a friend. The only difference is that with unauthorized file sharing, you get to have your own free copy. But otherwise, it’s just like sharing a book. Sharing is good.

___ people need to read the book for free to know if they want to spend money on it, and libraries aren’t an option here, for some reason.

___ people should have what they want, when they want it.

___ people are going to do it no matter what anyone says or does, so authors might as well accept it.

I've seen all these used in favor of illegal downloading, but this article by agent Rachelle Gardner is a good summary of what authors can do about it. Most of the time, I try not to think about my work being stolen. Today, though, I noticed a thread about the topic on Absolute Write and decided to list the reasons why.

But this is my single reason why not. I spent a great deal of time and effort on my books. I think I deserve to get paid for that. Unless it's by my choice, I don't think I deserve to have them downloaded without my getting any compensation at all.

And that goes for all authors, everywhere.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Grizzly Man

The story in a nutshell: Timothy Treadwell was obsessed with grizzly bears and spent over a decade of summers filming them in a national park, taking unbelievable risks and breaking regulations to do so. At the end of the thirteenth summer, in October 2003, he and his girlfriend were both killed and partially eaten by a bear. Grizzly Man is a documentary by the director Werner Herzog, featuring Treadwell’s footage of the bears plus interviews with people who knew him.

Before I was five minutes in, I knew Treadwell wasn’t mentally balanced. Filming himself with a bear feeding in the background, he claims he’s a “kind warrior” but adds that if the bears become aggressive, he needs to be a “samurai”. He seems to be just one katana short of a Quentin Tarantino movie.

Treadwell frequently claims he’s protecting the bears. Park Rangers make it clear that there is no poaching in that particular area—and I believe them, because if Treadwell had stumbled across corpses with their gall bladders cut out, that would be on tape. Instead, all we see is him wearing a faceful of camouflage paint as he stalks imaginary poachers. If I were hunting grizzly bears, with the kind of gun that could take those out, a skinny unarmed man with a camera would not be a problem.

The only other people he actually comes across are also there to take pictures, which inspires a rant from Treadwell about “commercial people” invading his turf—I mean, the bears’ turf—with cameras. The irony seems completely lost on him. These people, having spotted him despite his masterful camouflage, pile up rocks and draw a tiny smiley face on them. Treadwell films that carefully, then explains it’s a warning.

Yes, he’s paranoid too. Or just so delusional he imagines he’s in a movie where he’s the hero, the animals are his loyal sidekicks and everyone else, from the tourists to the Park Rangers, is the villain.

Putting aside his need to play bear whisperer—his only claim to both fame and financial support from his fans—the problem with his actions isn’t only that they culminated in the deaths of two people and two bears. It’s that, for all his claims to understand and love grizzlies, very little of what the documentary shows us is actually about them.

Treadwell is in the forefront of nearly every shot. When he comments on the bears, it’s not to point out some aspect of their lives which might otherwise have gone unnoticed—it’s to say this is a friendly bear whom he’s named Mr. Chocolate. At times he comes off like a child - “He’s a big bear! A big bear! Wow!”

For me, the fascination of wild animals is their wildness and their animal nature—what makes them different from us. As a helicopter pilot said, Treadwell acted as if the grizzlies were “people in bear costumes”. He croons “I love you” to bears and foxes in a high-pitched voice, as if sending out enough happy thoughts will make them “bond as children of the universe”, as the pilot put it.

The film is like watching someone play Russian roulette again and again, giggling with the thrill. At one point, a bear is swimming and Treadwell enters the lake up to his waist. The bear paddles out. As it moves past him, paying him no attention, he taps it on the rump.

This is more than being an adrenaline junkie. This is someone who can’t stand being ignored. Imagine a stranger in your house, someone who didn’t speak any language you could understand but who followed you around making occasional attempts to touch you. That’s wildlife harassment, something the National Park Service noted in their file on Treadwell.

Rather than watching the animals as they go about their lives, Treadwell forces himself into their environment. A few shots of bears where he isn’t looming in the foreground show his fingers darting into the frame to touch the bears’ muzzles. He sets up his tent in heavy brush, between two dens of foxes, and pets their cubs—all of which has the effect of habituating them to humans.

Amie Huguenard, his girlfriend, is a silent nonentity. She appears in only a few minutes of his footage, keeping her head down because a nearby bear is looking in her direction. It’s obvious she’s afraid. A professional in her mid-thirties, she felt he was “hellbent on destruction”, as he wrote in his journal, and was planning to leave him.

The only parts of the documentary I could enjoy were those which focused on the beautiful scenery, and where Treadwell was too far away from the animals to either bother them or be in the picture. Like this one.

The film is worth watching if you want a glimpse into a seriously disturbed mind and are prepared for many jawdrop moments. I won’t even get into Treadwell’s rant about how good he is to “girls”, who don’t seem to appreciate his many wonderful qualities. Ultimately this quote from the director sums it up for me.

And what haunts me is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature.

Which is as it should be. The bears owe us nothing. Superimposing human relationships, thoughts and emotions on them isn’t just meaningless, it’s dangerous to us and disrespectful to them. It diminishes them, makes them Furface or Cuddles instead of the magnificent wild animals that they are. That’s something Timothy Treadwell would never have agreed with. Because without the animals playing supporting roles, providing an exciting background—and purpose—to the movie of his life, he would be alone on an empty stage, a nobody.