Now that we've all survived the relentless onslaught of Christmas elves, we're about to welcome a new year! I hope you enjoyed my Christmas "story," those of you who are signed up for the mailing list (and if you're not, you can sign up on the bottom-right of this very page)! I also hope that you received your heart's desire from Santa this year, and not your nightmare's greatest fear from Krampus.
In the spirit of providing what people asked for, here's another thing some people requested of me on the blog: reviews. I've tried reviewing some things in the past, but I always feel awkward doing it, because in the end my opinion is only my opinion. Why should it be any more valuable than yours?
Well, I'm going to start sharing what I thought, if only so that you can form a better picture of my aesthetic tastes and what I like, don't like, look for, and try to avoid in stories. If you disagree with me about a work, no problem!
Without further ado, I'm going to start with the most obvious target for a review this season: Star Wars Episode VIII, The Last Jedi.
[Major spoilers follow. I'm sure you've seen Star Wars, because slightly more people have seen that movie than currently reside on Earth, but if you haven't...well, I'm not going out of my way to ruin the movie for you, but I am going to be talking about specific scenes in the movie. Which includes the end. You have been warned.]
I didn't like it.
You can now feel free to skip to the comments and tell me what a terrible or awesome person I am, depending on your position.
I know everyone has a strong opinion about this movie, and I'm no exception. While it had some awesome scenes--the appearance of Yoda, the incredible hyperspace suicide run, and Rey and Kylo Ren fighting together all spring to mind--the impact of each of those scenes is weakened by context.
First off, there was a problem going into this movie: Episode Seven didn't explain to us who the First Order or the Resistance actually are. That was a minor weakness in Seven, but it becomes a huge flaw in Eight, when we don't know what the Resistance is actually fighting for. Or against. Is the First Order a galaxy-spanning super-Empire greater than the Emperor's dreams, or is it a fractured cult using the remnants of the Imperial army for terrorist ends? We don't know.
I know there is an answer, and in fact I know what the answer is because I've read some of the books, but that doesn't help. If the audience has to do their homework in order to answer a basic plot question like "Who is the bad guy and what does he want?" then you've made a mistake.
So that's the foundation on which this movie is built, and it only splinters from there.
We don't know what the good guys or bad guys are after, so we don't know what's at stake on a broad scale. However, we're soon shown what's at stake for the heroes: a First Order fleet is bearing down on the Resistance and will kill all the good guys in one fell swoop. Great! Clear threat, timeline established.
Now we break into three plotlines: Rey trying to convince Luke Skywalker to come back, Finn and Rose trying to stop the First Order from tracking them through hyperspace, and Poe trying to save the fleet from an incompetent and possibly self-serving vice-admiral.
...they all fail. And yet it doesn't matter.
Sure, some of the faceless, nameless members of the Resistance die, but everyone we care about survives. We also still don't know the purpose or scale of the Resistance, so being left with like twenty people is...fine? Did they lose ten people, or two hundred? Or two thousand? Not sure. And what happens if they're destroyed, does the galaxy end? Don't know.
I was left feeling like most of the movie was a waste, like all the heroes could have stayed at home and accomplished the exact same thing (because, in at least one case, that's true). It's a long movie, and it feels long, because no one accomplishes anything.
I could go into specific complaints, but then this post would get really long. So I'll just say that it's a shame where this movie ends, because now I'm not excited to watch Nine.
At the end of Empire Strikes Back, going into Return of the Jedi, we have the following specific questions we want answered:
--What can Luke do as a trained Jedi?
--How will Leia escape?
--How will Han escape the carbonite?
--How will the Rebellion beat the Empire, now that the Empire has demonstrated control even over Rebel allies (Cloud City)?
--How will Luke beat Darth Vader, now that he's demonstrated he can't beat him in a fight?
--How will Luke beat the Emperor, who's even more powerful?
At the end of The Last Jedi, we don't have any of that.
Rey has been Kylo Ren's equal from the very beginning, and has gotten the better of him in every exchange...with zero training. So I have to assume she's going to keep beating him and win with no effort.
The Resistance has lost...some portion...of its membership, so maybe we want to see how the Resistance could possibly beat the First Order. But I still have no sense of the size or purpose of either organization, so as far as I know, the First Order has even fewer ships and people left.
Plus, as far as I know, both organizations are equally to blame for the state of the galaxy. The only explicit villains we see are war profiteers, who sell war materiel to both sides, leaving the Resistance just as culpable for the suffering in the galaxy as the First Order. Why am I rooting for these guys?
This movie has given me nothing to look forward to in the next installment. But I'm obviously going to see it anyway.
It's Star Wars.
When I asked last week about blog topics that you most wanted me to cover, there were a few common responses. Some people wanted to hear my opinions on books and movies and so forth, some people wanted writing advice, and some people wanted to hear more about my writing process.
This suggestion came in that last category. A friend of mine, after reading the blog post, texted me suggesting that I should post a brief history of how I came up with some of my characters.
I thought it was a good idea, and I figured a natural place to start was with my first protagonist: Simon, son of Kalman, hero of the Traveler's Gate trilogy.
Traveler's Gate started out as two documents. The first was a file called Rivals.rtf, which was a very broad three-paragraph outline about a story in which two boys were competing to see who could save the world first. The second was a few brief notes on what would become the Territory magic system, but I'll probably cover that in a future post.
In the earliest parts of the story development process, I usually refer to characters by role. In this case, Alin was Hero and Simon was Rival. I wrote down the whole broad shape of the plot (which I usually don't do) and left it there.
In 2012, when I was first facing down the prospect of really writing a book, I decided to go with the concept that I thought would be easiest for me to finish. Not necessarily my best idea, just the one that I believed I could execute. When I looked through my notes and found Rival.rtf, I knew I had something that I might at least get to the end of.
First, I gave Simon a name. I named him after the main character of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
That's about as complicated as it gets.
"Simon" is simple and easy to pronounce or remember, which was my priority. It's also Greek in origin, which gave me a basis for naming the entire rest of the region. I used mainly a mix of Greek-origin and Hebrew-origin names, though with a heavy dose of fantasy-ization and a side of "whatever sounds cool."
The entire time, I intended for that to be only a placeholder name. One of the last things I did before putting House of Blades up for production was try to come up with a more original name for Simon, but by the time I did that it was too late. His name was Simon.
As for his personality, I knew he was going to end up as a pretty standard hero--he uses a big sword, hits things really hard, and does the right thing--so I tried to give him a little twist in the other direction. He's awkward. When he doesn't know what to say, he doesn't say anything.
This was all in the service of bringing him to life as an individual a little bit, rather than leaving him feeling like a vehicle for the plot. However, it meant that he was too...quiet, really. He didn't interact with the other characters enough, which left him feeling detached.
He needed somebody to talk to.
The dolls were a happy accident that I might go into at a future date, but basically they were the result of my general philosophy that I put in anything that sounds fun. I needed someone for Simon to play off of, and if they can needle him a little bit and make it so that he's not just the brooding anime antihero with the huge sword, so much the better.
Interacting with the dolls helped me define Simon's personality, because he gets to open up around them. His dialogue and his choices interacting with him help make him more vivid and more human, which is something that I often struggle to communicate in main characters. My side characters are always lively, but my protagonists can be a little stiff.
The rest of him--his history, his family, the choices he makes during scenes--were the result of me repeatedly asking the question "What kind of person would do these things?" Who would set off to Valinhall without a group of friends for support? Who would try and save the day even though Alin was already around to do those things? What kind of a person would do well in Valinhall, even if he wasn't some kind of genius?
At long last, the world-building answers are finally complete! I've answered all the questions I'm going to, and boy did that take a long time. Man. I should have limited it to the first fifty.
Either way, there were some great questions in there! Honestly, I should write down all the answers so that I'll remember them and can work them into the books someday, but I know I probably won't do that. That's too efficient and organized.
Before we get into today's business, I'd like to give a shout-out to fan "Danksouls" and the webcomic "Kill Six Billion Demons."
In addition to his question in the blog, Danksouls asked me if I'd ever read the comic Kill Six Billion Demons. Before responding to his question, I googled the comic, and was subsequently distracted for days. It's an action-fantasy comic wherein a girl from Earth is drawn into a multidimensional hellscape where seven gods and their armies are battling for control of creation.
The main character is sort of a non-factor, which is fine, because the world is the real star. It's gorgeous, and you should check it out.
A small warning first: the art is somewhat disturbing and can be a little gory, so if that's not your thing, maybe tune out. But it's rich with detail and with martial arts angels punching holes in extradimensional demons. I loved it. If I had read it before writing Cradle, it would likely have inspired some of Cradle's world-building. Alas.
Now, as for the main event...
I've been wondering recently what kind of content you guys would like to see here on the blog. I've been writing this thing for four years now, but when I don't have concrete writing news I basically have no idea what to say.
I'd love to put up some weekly content here on the site, but a lot of weeks my progress report could be summed up in two words: "Still writing."
That's most weeks, in fact.
And I feel like if I don't have substantial news related to the books, then I really don't have much to say. Therefore, I'm turning to you--the audience--to ask what sort of content you'd like to see on the blog.
Here are my thoughts. First, the highest priority will always be given to informative content: i.e. hard news about the books. If I have a release date or something to announce, that's going up.
Second, there's always narrative content: short stories or other written content. I know you guys enjoy that, because I know I would if I were you, but that's harder to write and can take away from novel-writing time. I can only produce narrative content sparingly.
The third category I came up with was personal content. This is stuff about me and my life. I don't know what you guys would want from me in this regard--I don't really read blogs that are heavy on personal content, and most of my life revolves around writing, playing games, or reading anyway. Honestly, personal posts would probably be about movies or games or books or comics or what-have-you. Fantasy media.
But I'm willing to talk about other things, should there be demand.
And finally, I thought you might be interested in instructional content. I almost never share any of this, because it feels unbelievably pretentious, but I could share posts about what I've learned in regards to writing and self-publishing. Believe it or not, I do actually have a Master's degree in Creative Writing. It's at the bottom of my closet somewhere.
Anyway, those were my thoughts on the types of content I could share on this blog. What would you like to see more of? What sort of things would you like to read in those posts? Do you want more instructional posts? Do you want to know what my favorite donut is? Do you want to know what I thought about Justice League, or would you prefer I stick strictly to my own work?
In the comments, let me know what sort of thing you'd like to read more of!
And thanks for sticking around!
EDIT: Also, I've caught up on emails. I had some email problems through October and into November that may have resulted in your email getting placed into my junk, spam, or promotions folder, and therefore I may have deleted it. If you emailed me during that time and I never responded to you, please stop tormenting that voodoo doll with my face on it and send your message again!
"Calder straightened his back, focused his mind, and opened the door."
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