Randomness for 1/10

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1) A random comic generator. NSFW.

2) Things said by and to a two-year-old, as graphic design posters.

3) Was 2014 the Year of the Video Essay? Who knew? How to make a great video essay: Video (naturally)

4) A long run down a concrete luge in New Zealand. Video.

5) Artist adds cute illustrations to photos on Instagram. So cool.

6) Google maps for fantasy spaces. Cute.

7) Questions posed to librarians before the internet.

Today is my son’s birthday

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My son was born on Boxing Day, and his mom and I have always made an effort to make this day special for him. Not just a little christmas, where he gets a few more gifts but everything is all colored lights and decorated tree. My wive and I used to strip all the Christmassy stuff off the table and replace it with a bright yellow table cloth, balloons, and birthday pie (never cake).

But he’s turning 13 today, so it’s unlikely we’ll be spending the day together like we used to. He got a new gaming keyboard and mouse yesterday, so I expect he’ll want to spend at least part of the day trying to get used to his new “rig.” (God, I can’t believe he calls it that.)

Still, we planned lunch at a local Japanese place that he likes, and we have gifts to give him: a couple of books and some Tshirts from Threadless.

And I have work to do. Some folks are having problems with the books I published, plus I’m trying to work out some publicity, plus I have end of the year payments and tax stuff to do. Will I be online, doing all that stuff, or will I be press-ganged into a co-op game or something?

Time will tell. In the meantime, if you received bookstore gift cards, you can pick up a copy of The Way Into Chaos. Order a paper copy now and, like the Kickstarter backers, you’ll get the version with the massive but invisible proofing error on the back cover. Seriously, readers send me typos all the time, but no one has caught this. (I certainly didn’t!)

“Superheroes are not a genre.”

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Over at io9, Charlie Jane Anders has a post about lessons learned by the entertainment industry in 2014, and her number one lesson is that subject header above. And I think she’s wrong.

There are two ways to come at the question. First, do we pin the blame of a box office failure on a poorly-used plot structure? Well, you can try, but it’s not very convincing. Eventually, we’ll have something like Raimi’s version of Spider-man which, for all its flaws, made the structure of super-powered-nice-guy-vigilante-with-two-identities-trying-to-stop-crime-in-secret really come together. Audiences went nuts for the first one, and if they’re less enthusiastic now it’s because later iterations have been really, really flawed, and far too familiar.

But are superheroes a genre?

What unifies the books in the horror genre? The emotion they invoke.
What unifies the books in the mystery genre? The central plot question.
What unifies the books in the western genre? The setting.
What unifies the books in the fantasy genre? A plot element.

Some genres are easy to mix. You write a scary story set in the Wild West: Horror western. You write a romantic story with fantasy elements: Fantasy romance.

So the real question becomes: Are superheroes a “plot element” genre or are they a plot structure genre? While it’s true that there’s a standard plot formula that has become associated with superheroes (true with any genre, really), the remainder of the “superheroes are not a genre” argument Ms. Anders makes demonstrates how well they mingle with other genres.

Notice also that those other genres are mainly settings and plot structures: dystopian time-travel, space opera, etc. That’s because the superhero genre is a “plot element” style. You wouldn’t say that Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier isn’t a superhero movie because it has spy thriller plot. It’s both, in the same way that Romancing the Stone is a romance and an adventure.

BTW, did you know that I’ve been pitching my new trilogy as “Epic Fantasy that reads like a Thriller”? It’s epic fantasy because of the setting and the inclusion of magic, and it’s a thriller because of the pace and tone. Genres based on different things are easy to mix. Genres that are very similar can be really difficult.

Looking at numbers, part 2

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Part 1 is here and it talks about the numbers without giving specifics, but this post will.

No, not sales numbers. Clicks. And not clicks for something I’m trying to sell. This is a situation where “click” = “something people already paid for.”

Obviously, I’m talking about Kickstarter backers getting copies of my new book, plus.

Some background:

Because I had to get ebooks to almost 1200 people, I couldn’t send a flood of emails, especially ones with attachments over 5 or 10MB. That would have gotten me blacklisted by a bunch of ISPs (don’t ask me how I know that).

So I set up a newsletter program that would automate the emails, spreading them out over many hours. I also uploaded the ebooks to a folder on my website so I could send download links instead of attachments.

Finally, I did my best to make things as simple as possible. The email subject line was “The Great Way ebooks are here!” to be totally unambiguous. The list of books included cover pics. The download links were alone in their own section with a single line of text for each of the links. This is what it looked like (behind the cut) for people who backed at $25 or above. Backers at $12 had two fewer covers. Continue reading

Randomness for 12/21

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1) Get your rage on with this complete ranking over every Star Trek episode ever.

2) 22 pictures that prove we live in the future.

3) There’s an “atmospheric river” flooding California.

4) What colour is it? The time of day expressed as a hexidecimal color.

5) Pixel art illustrations that tell a personal story.

6) The relationship between coffee and mesmerism, and the importance of morning rituals. Video.

7) Unused audio commentary by Howard Zinn and Noam Chomnsky, recorded summer 2002, for the Fellowship of the Ring (extended edition) DVD.

Bad Book Marketing Ideas

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Cracked has an article on outrageous stunts people have pulled to get their books out in the world, and it’s way way worse than the endless streams of promo tweets most people adopt.

Weirdest of all are the people who think public stunts will get them a publisher. That shit is just sad.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to crash a motorized hang glider into the Space Needle, then shoot myself.

Authorized Fan Fiction: Watching THE HOBBIT Movie Marathon

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As I mentioned before, I think, I’ve been working from wake to sleep on Kickstarter stuff, and I needed a break. Luckily, there was a movie marathon of all three Hobbit movies yesterday, so I slipped away for an afternoon and evening to see them all in one go.

I’d deliberately decided to skip the first two movies when they were released, figuring I’d have an opportunity to see them all at once. I’m sorta glad I was right, but only sorta.

(Spoilers for the first two films)

Here’s the truth: the movies don’t work. It’s obvious they’re meant to be seen together, and while that unity helped, I can’t imagine sitting down for part one, knowing part two was a year away and part three a year after that, and being content with that endless dinner scene. I could bear it because I knew I was seeing a seven(ish)-hour movie, but wow, those scenes were slack. Really slack. And they weren’t alone.

And the dialog… Okay, the Lord of the Rings movies had plenty of shitty dialog in it, but it also had amazing dialog, too. These two examples are pasted right out of imdb:

Theoden: Simbelmyne. Ever has it grown on the tombs of my forebears. Now it shall cover the grave of my son. Alas, that these evil days should be mine. The young perish and the old linger. That I should live to see that last days of my house.

Elrond: If Aragorn survives this war, you will still be parted. If Sauron is defeated and Aragorn made king and all that you hope for comes true you will still have to taste the bitterness of mortality. Whether by the sword or the slow decay of time, Aragorn will die. And there will be no comfort for you, no comfort to ease the pain of his passing. He will come to death an image of the splendor of the kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world. But you, my daughter, you will linger on in darkness and in doubt as nightfall in winter that comes without a star. Here you will dwell bound to your grief under the fading trees until all the world is changed and the long years of your life are utterly spent.

Quibble with that if you want, but even if you don’t like that sort of dialog, it’s head and shoulders above “Do not think I won’t kill you, dwarf!” or “I am fire! I am… DEATH!” or

Thranduil: [to Thorin] Where does your journey end? A quest to reclaim a homeland, and slay a dragon!… I suspect something more prosaic. Attempted burglary, or something of that kind. You seek that which would bestow upon you the right to rule: the Arkenstone!

Which… ugh. Lee Pace is great in the role of Thranduil, giving him a complexity that the other characters desperately needed. And that’s the odd thing about this adaptation: So much stuff has been added to the story, and very little of it serves to make the characters interesting. (Sidenote to the woman in the row in front of me: I actually liked the love story Jackson et al added to the films).

And it’s all this added bullshit that people have hated about the films, and it’s easy to see why. The Hobbit, as a book, is a children’s story set in the same world as LOTR. It’s a prequel, too, but the tone and the language are very different.

With these movies, Jackson is trying to create a prequel trilogy that matches the tone and style of the first movies. If you were hoping for a children’s movie version of a children’s book, you’re not getting it.

So, the company of dwarves can’t be hapless regular folk who cower before every enemy, they have to be high-level PCs who plow through orc mooks. And, obviously, we need an extended scene where Thorin et al make a serious effort to defeat the dragon with his golden not-jaeger. (I swear I thought that thing was going to open its eyes, and I would have been really disappointed. I mean, even more disappointed than I already was.)

Not that this fits with the dragon’s decision to *run away* from those dwarves and burn Laketown, but the new stuff has to be shoe-horned in, right?

And the dwarves can’t just be sealed in barrels and floated away, complaining about being cramped and bruised. Instead, there has to be a running battle with orcs on the shore, with weapons flawlessly passed between them like the dishes in Bilbo’s kitchen. In other words, they have to be exceptional.

And there’s all those scenes at Dol Guldur. From overhearing other audience members, I guess they came from unfinished stories. They would have been enjoyable enough, if only they hadn’t been filled with all these Tolkien characters. Those were the parts (along with the forges and molten gold) that felt like fan fiction: characters we recognize but creative choices we don’t, as though someone wanted to play with Tolkien’s stuff and fill in all the blank spaces.

The thing is, whether or not you like Tolkien, his work was heavily informed by epic grandeur. He would never have created a conflict scene that played like a Rube Goldberg machine that so many modern movies expect us to watch. They’re like amusement park rides or video game levels: the toppling stone stairs of FELLOWSHIP have been transformed into ledges on the body of a giant in the midst of a fight. Jump here, grab this, cut this rope, swing here, now push this fucking wheelbarrow into the stream of molten gold and ride it to the waterfall, then jump onto the come on, people. Come on.

There’s an undeniably visceral excitement that comes from this shit. The music, the camera swooping past a dizzying height… one a very basic level the body responds to this stuff. But when it’s over, the feelings don’t stick with you. It’s like riding a roller coaster without even the feel of the wind on your face. It certainly doesn’t match the scenes where the people in Helm’s Deep prepare for a fight no one thinks they can win. It’s not enough for characters to bash a shitload of mo-capped cgi monsters. It has to mean something more.

Worse, the parts of the children’s book that remain unchanged (like the amazing survival rate of the dwarves) just didn’t mesh with the new tone and design. Why is it so hard to write decent dialog for a dragon? And why did they add so many extra scenes but cut a bunch of Bilbo’s riddle contest with Gollum?

The first movie was not good. The second was even worse. The last one was the best of the bunch, and I’m reasonably glad I stuck with it. Thorin’s dragon sickness was portrayed very well, and since there are a few characters who don’t survive the final war, the violence finally carries a sense of risk to it.

Plus, there’s much less Rube Goldberg bullshit.

Here’s a shocker: adding genuine mistrust within Thorin’s circle, terror and tragedy for the people of Laketown, and Thranduil’s grief-driven reluctance to lose his own people in war, actually turned the third movie into a story I cared about.

There were definitely low spots and a prequel-ish urge to fill in back story, but it mostly worked. Of course, maybe it just looks good because it came on the heels of Desolation of Smaug.

Let me just say one thing, though: On my birthday, I took a day to watch all three extended editions of LOTR, and for weeks afterward I had the urge to watch them again. For all their flaws, they’re terrific movies. I had no urge to watch the Hobbit movies again. At all.

A two-hour movie from a 32-page picture book???

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For the past several years I’ve been listening to people griping/mocking/whatever about the The Hobbit being turned into three movies. Frankly, I think it’s ridiculous.

Shrek is a 32-page picture book that was turned into a two-hour movie. See also Where the Wild Things Are and The Iron Man (which became The Iron Giant).

The next Captain America movie will adapt Marvel’s Civil War crossover story, but how are they going to fit everything from dozens of issues into one movie?

Did you know that the screenwriter of the KULL THE CONQUEROR movie took advantage of his contractual right to create a novel version of the movie, which was closer to his original script? I haven’t read it, but he says he never wrote the stupid stuff about Kull being terrible with a sword, and he included the reason for the “madness” that drove the king to murder his children, along with other complexities cut from the film?

In other words, yeah, people adapt things. They condense them. They expand them. They change them significantly. They put happy endings on the end of Romeo & Juliet. They turn Stephen King’s vampire into a wordless nosferatu. Works high and low are altered in the adaptation, and I’m tired of hearing the same old gripes about Jackson’s Hobbit films.

Yeah, there’s profit-seeking in it (says the guy about to release a fantasy trilogy of his own) and can I say that I’m shocked, shocked, to find gambling going on in this establishment. Of course, the only way to stop movie-makers from splitting adaptations into more than one film is to turn them into flops. Having just taken my son to see MOCKINGJAY PART ONE, I’m not holding my breath.

Me, I haven’t seen any of THE HOBBIT films yet. Maybe they suck. Maybe they’re fine and people are shit-mouthing them because they feel ripped off.

In any event, I have a ticket to see all three films, in a marathon, on an IMAX screen, this Monday afternoon. It’s going to be a nine-hour event, starting at 1pm (watching all three LOTR films on my birthday took 13 hours) and I’m going to be there for the duration. Unfortunately, my wife and son aren’t bit on movie marathons, the poor dears, so I’m having a Me-day.

(Seattle-area folks: is anyone else going? Drop me a note on Twitter at @byharryconnolly and maybe we can arrange to meet up)

Certainly, some parts will be dumb, some will be entertaining, some will be both. I last read the book a few years back, when my kid was young enough that we could subject him to family read-aloud time, so I won’t notice minor changes and won’t care about large ones. In other words, fuck Tom Bombadil. I expect that the worst thing about it will be eating meals out of the concession stand.

If I get a shit ton of work done this weekend, I’ll even be ready to sign and mail out the paperbacks when they arrive the next day.

Seriously, though: if you’re going and want to meet up, let me know.

Randomness for 12/10

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1) Man mounts paper coffee cup on his car, tweets people’s responses.

2) How does a 150 ft oil drilling rig disappear into a lake that’s only ten feet deep? h/t @CEMurphy

3) Is everything good about Minecraft gone? This piece echoes my earlier post about buying my son an Xbox, and I agree that Minecraft has changed as third parties set up their own servers. My son plays a game that’s a lot like The Hunger Games, and doesn’t build nearly as much as he used to. He still builds, but there’s a lot of PvP, too.

4) Typeset in the Future: ALIEN edition.

5) Dutch real estate broker installs mini-rollercoaster into home to give prospective buyers a tour. Video. As stunts go, this one is terrific.

6) Ugly Christmas sweaters are the new thing, so why not turn them into men’s suits? (That’s a rhetorical question.)

7) Ben Edelman, Harvard Business School Professor, Goes to War Over $4 Worth of Chinese Food. You can be very very wrong while being right.