Did You Enjoy Comic-Con?

Now that I’m hip deep in new writing, I’m going to start posting some stats and a little info:

Current  Word Count: 23,392
Current Chapter: 11

Summary: This is a historical fantasy set during the Russian Revolution. The royal family has been marked for death. A mysterious savior appears in the night and whisks the main character, the youngest daughter Anastasia, to safety. It’s a race to see if she can be brought safely back to England. But the girl’s savior has been hurt and it’s up to Ana to protect him…


 

Hawker Hurricane at Military Aviation Museum
Hawker Hurricane at Military Aviation Museum

Some random musings, since I haven’t updated the blog in a while. The Internet is crackling with Comic-Con announcements. Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, TV shows, Mad Max, Game of Thrones, everybody’s excited. Were there any actual comic book announcements (besides the Eisner awards)? Let me know if there’s anything good that I should pick up.

I’ve moved into my new digs in Chesapeake, Virginia. 20 minutes from the beach. Loving it. It’s been muggy and hot (and there was a hurricane), but everything’s fine. I spend a lot of my time hitting the computer and the other time running, biking and something like Livada de Loca.  But tamer. Much tamer.

I’m contemplating a new series to write exclusively for Wattpad. Wired featured a story about a young girl who posted her One Direction/50 Shades interpretation and got a zillion reads and a contract with Simon and Schuster. I’m a huge fan of “Cast A Deadly Spell”, a made for HBO movie made in the 1980s about a private eye named Lovecraft who lives in a magic-based Los Angeles–except  he hates and wont use magic. Very pulpy. Very noir.

Oh and the script version of ZAK CORBIN: MASTER OF MACHINES made the quarterfinals of a very important screenplay writing competition here. The list is alphabetical by title, so you have to scroll to the bottom. I’ll keep you tuned if the script gets any farther in the contest.

There’s been little word on the Divertir front. I know senior editor Jen Corkill Hunt is extremely busy cheering on her current edit-in-progress. Mine could be next. The story has a title change, which I will be announcing as the edit and the publication date grows closer. BTW: did you know that September 15, 2015 is the 75th anniversary of The Battle of Britain? And today is the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. See, and you kids are freaking out about a tree named Groot and a talking raccoon. Later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ZAK CORBIN: MASTER OF MACHINES clears 700K on Wattpad

I was so pleased and thrilled to see the following for ZAK CORBIN: MASTER OF MACHINES on Wattpad‘s site this morning:

700K reads on Wattpad!
700K reads on Wattpad!

Sometime over the past few days, the seven hundred thousandth reader stopped by to check out Zak, Lisabeth, Jason, Odie and of course Pogo. I am extremely pleased to see so many people enjoying ZAK CORBIN on Wattpad.

And now the bad news. My contract with Divertir Publishing also includes the ZAK CORBIN books, so they will be coming down off Wattpad very soon. If you have not had the chance to read these adventures, go there and read it before it’s too late.

This will not be the end of Zak and my relationship with Wattpad. Very soon, you will start to see announcements for the first book in my YA historical adventure series. It’s title will be …. aha! Caught you! The first book’s title will not be revealed officially for the moment (at least not by me). What you will be able to see and read will be short stories related to this new series on Wattpad and in other places. Stay tuned.

A Thousand Words: Pictures Help Bring Life to Stories

All stories come from the nugget of an idea. The idea itself can come in many forms: lying in your bed, watching television, reading a news story, talking with friends, a visit to some place that sets off an internal memory. As writers, we drive ourselves nuts trying to figure out what we’re going to write about.

I thought I would touch on where I find inspiration for my stories. Many of my stories are inspired by art and architecture. I attribute this to my father, who was a draftsman by trade and an artist at heart.  As a kid, I snuck into my father’s office in our basement to look at his work and books. He collected wonderful art books and I often thought he used these to gain inspiration for his own work, as I would do later on.

Case in point, ZAK CORBIN. The setting is a retro-futuristic 1950s and Zak lives in a place called New Futura City which gets its inspiration from the 1939 New York World’s Fair. A place you can’t really visit anymore, but the relics of that fair and its cousin, the 1964, can be looked at in pictures and in art:

Poster from 1939 New York World's Fair
Poster from 1939 New York World’s Fair

When I started looking for new ideas for writing inspiration, I turned to art websites. One in particular stands out: www.deviantart.com. This is a fabulous site devoted to all kinds of artwork: from digital to hand-drawn, videos and even stories. This is also the place where I found Daryl Toh’s work, whom I hired to do the cover art for ZAK CORBIN. Look at the cover for ZAK CORBIN and you’ll see the retro look and feel of the old 1939 fair in his work.

I found these images on Deviant art which inspired me to write VANQUISH (which the first book will soon be sporting a new title, check this space for the announcement!) (The artwork shown here doesn’t belong to me and is the sole property of the artists.)

When I found an image, I captioned it to capture the feeling of the story the picture was trying to tell.

Briley's first patrol
Briley’s first patrol

I was impressed with the action of this first picture and I was drawn to the biplane (very ornately detailed) blasting away at an enemy fighter against a 1930s skyline. This aircraft (which had no landing gear) became the Kestrel.

Sky City
Sky City

More 1930s sky action is shown here, featuring monoplanes of the era.

Briley in Cathedral
Briley in Cathedral

This is the first image which captured my main character and I decided to start calling her Briley Bannatyne. Although her outfit is very steampunkish, the mechanical nature of the setting and her attire suggested she was walking in a place that was very special. (and very important to the second book, :) )

Warships and Aerial Scout
Warships and Aerial Scout

The Alt History/World War II nature of the story is represented here. There are no scenes with battleships like this one in the story, but the heavy dreadnaught and the intriguing aircraft caught my eye.

Sky City docks
Sky City docks

I pictured this location as a rainy, hard-scrabble place where airships and crews worked.

First Technical Church
First Technical Church

In the story, I imagined my main character Briley and her family as a member of a unique church dedicated to things logical and physical, merging these ideas with the spiritual and the social. The First Technical Church of Charles Babbage is a strange place, similar to places built by the Freemasons.

The Vanquish
The Vanquish

No action adventure would be complete without a cool airplane and this one caught my attention right away. The wings are much too sharply-angled and this aircraft doesn’t look so much as a fighter as racer, but the design conveys speed and aggression.

None of these pictures make up the story — that’s the harder part that comes later. But using pictures can help paint imagery in your mind that leads to stories.

 

“How To Train Your Dragon 2″, Missed It By That Much

Warning: this article contains some spoilery references to Dreamworks How To Train Your Dragon 2, as well the original, How To Train Your Dragon. Read at your own peril.

How To Train Your Dragon 2
How To Train Your Dragon 2 — copyright 2014, 20th Century Fox and Dreamworks Animation.

I don’t do extensive reviews. Most of the time, if a movie intrigues me or misses the mark, I make a one sentence blurb about it in Facebook to my friends. But after seeing How To Train Your Dragon 2 in the theater this past weekend, I found myself flummoxed and bothered enough to try to pen some reactions in long form.

In the first How To Train Your Dragon (based on the books by Cressida Cowell), Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) is a 15-year-old Viking lad who lives on a island called Berk that’s under constant attack by dragons. Hiccup is different than his burly, dragon-killing father Stoic and the other villagers. He rescues an injured black Night Fury dragon, called Toothless because he has retractable teeth, and then teaches himself to ride him. Along the way they learn more about themselves. While the whole village is concerned with killing the beasts, Hiccup becomes an animal lover/trainer and ends up teaching valuable lessons to his entire tribe about living with nature instead of destroying it (until they face  the monstrous Green Death dragon at the end of the film).  Both dragon and rider develop a deep bond, symbolized by (spoilers ahead) Toothless’ destroyed tail fin and Hiccup losing part of his own leg.

The first movie was a box office smash. It had a straightforward plot, a realistic relationship between an awkward teenager and his stubborn father, and an even more awkward first love between Hiccup and a fiercely independent teenage warrioress named Astrid. The movie was well animated, had beautiful scenery, wonderful flying scenes and the voice actors made the movie entertaining for both kids and adults.

It’s taken Dreamworks and the film’s director over four years to script, animate and produce the next installment, How To Train Your Dragon 2. Critical reception and hopes for a box office smash were high. The movie received some excellent reviews. It  had all the pieces to make it a blockbuster: the original voice cast, more dragons, better 3D animation, a surprise newcomer (who didn’t turn out to be that much of a surprise, thanks to the trailers) and more of everything that made the original great.

However, the film is currently not doing as well at the box office. It premiered up against another sequel, 22 Jump Street, an R-rated comedy. It’s not like that film’s audience is taking theatergoers away, but the movie’s lack of box office pizzazz (and the hopes of making another smash like Frozen) seems to relegate it to just another quickly forgotten summer release

The critics loved this movie, but the audience where I saw it were tiny in number and low in reaction. Sitting there for almost two hours, I found the movie (and this is my opinion, remember) mildly interesting and actually boring in sections. Since How To Train Your Dragon was the reason why I tried my hand at writing middle grade and young adult fiction, I pondered what went wrong.

In How To Train Your Dragon 2, Hiccup is older. His father wants him to take his place as chief of the tribe on Berk. Hiccup avoids these responsibilities, exploring and surveying the area while flying Toothless. He runs into another dragon master who turns out to be the “not-so-big” surprise character (if you’ve seen the trailers, the dragon’s out of the bag, so-to-speak). [All right, it's his mother Valka.] She tries to free and nuture dragons. But there’s another guy, Drago Bloodfist, who has personal reasons to hates dragons but for some reason uses them to destroy other dragons (yep, I was confused too) and threatens those who love dragons (mainly Berk). Oh and there’s another really really big dragon (like the Green Death) who has control over other dragons. This leads to tragedy, as the monster dragon takes control of Toothless and makes him do something horrible to Hiccup. After the tragedy, there’s a confrontation at Berk. Hiccup and Toothless persevere over Drago and the really realy big dragon to win the day.  (As I said, I’m trying to do this without ruining possible moviegoers.)

So why was I bored? I think I could count the reasons as the following:

1) The movie ignored the film’s target audience: young kids and tweens. This is a big one. You can’t write a story and not involve your audience.  The audience identified with Hiccup in the first film because he was awkward and just trying things out. He acted like a teenager and he took the audience with him on his adventures. The Hiccup in HTTYD2 is forced to make adult decisions–become chief, be a leader and protect his tribe.  He’s reunited with one parent and (well, what happens after that is a spoiler so I won’t mention it). But that’s it.

2) Hiccup has little to no interaction with the other young characters. Hiccup’s interaction with the other teens made the first film fun. At first, Hiccup didn’t fit it in and caused trouble. He suddenly started to become a dragon master (because he was learning dragon lore through Toothless) and became their idol. Later, he becomes their hero by using his knowledge and sharing it with them. In the new film, the younger characters–especially Astrid– are separated from Hiccup for most of the story. Astrid clearly loves and admires Hiccup, but there’s none of the first film’s awkwardness and fumbling. Their relationship in the film boils down to two scenes with dialogue  and a few things they yell at one another, like “Watch out!”and “Go get Toothless!” 

3) There are too many new characters … doing nothing. In addition to Hiccup’s long-lost mother Valka, there’s a dragon napper (voiced by the actor who plays Jon Snow in GoT) and the villain Drago Bloodfist who is not seen until almost three quarters of the way into the story. HTTYD2 is mostly a story without a visible primary antagonist. Valka’s disappearance for twenty years is explained away with almost with the same irrelevance as Homer Simpson’s hippy protester mother in The Simpsons. The dragon napper is introduced as a rogue (like Flynn Rider in Tangled) but he eventually helps Astrid and the other younger characters.  Then his character has nothing more to do. There’s lots more stuff in this movie. New dragons with new traits. New villains. New weapons. New super huge dragon. Very little of it comes together.

4) The storyline tries to be dark. In How To Train Your Dragon 2, there are sinister forces at work. Bad men are doing bad things with dragons. A major character suffers a tragic turn. Again, this is a thump against the movie for forgetting its target audience. The writer and director of both films admitted his fondness for The Empire Strikes Back with its surpriser plot twist and dark turn for the heroes. Going dark has become a really annoying trend in movies (think The Dark Knight and Harry Potter) that really doesn’t belong in a film intended for younger kids. Going dark satisfied the film’s critics, but left the young people watching it cold.

5) The film confounds its own principals. The whole “dragons and humans living peacefully with one another” motif that was the heart at the end of the first movie is abandoned by both sides in this one. Hiccup tries to talk reason and sense into the dragon nappers and then Drago, but ends up using Toothless as a weapon anyway. His initial peace-making persona is dropped when he must assume the role his father wanted him to take anyway.  Even Drago–who hates dragons–uses a monster-sized dragon under his control to destroy other folks’ dragons (and their village). Confusing? Yes.

So there. I’ve wagged my tongue. Have you seen the movie? What did you think of it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Status Report, Scotty!

Much has changed since my last posting on this poor, deserted Interwebs thing called my blog. I thought it would be nice to keep folks informed on what’s going down. So like the chief engineer on board a certain starship, there’s news both good and bad…

Scotty! Status report!

1) MOVIN’ ON UP: I picked myself up from point A (just over the state line in Pennsylania) and managed to arrive at point B (about twenty minutes from Virginia Beach, Virginia) without too much pain, but man did it take a very long time to get everything accomplished. There’s just so much a person could do without tearing his hair out. Selling my house (in this crazy market), searching for a new place to live, handling all the paperwork, taking care of old debts, cleaning the place and fixing things, the dividing of property with the grace of Solomon, it all happened in some kind of crazy order.

2) A PUPPY GOES TO HEAVEN: As if there wasn’t enough happening, my sweet wonderful Alaskan Malamute, Juneau, passed away just weeks  before closing on the current house.

All shaggy after a bath
All shaggy after a bath

This was painful, to say the least, and totally changed my house search plans. I was concerned about upsetting her because she didn’t handle long trips or change or stress very well. Wherever she is now, she’s chasing rabbits and having treats by the box and frozen broccoli (her favorite) by the bag, I’m sure.

3) ACTUAL WRITING TOOK PLACE: I was determined to finish something during this whole move-em mess. I finally managed to wring out the last chapters to the second ZAK CORBIN book, NEPTUNE’S FURY, and posted them to Wattpad. Many of the readers were happy but they all cried out and moaned, “oh no! another cliffhanger!” Those things happen.

4) AND MORE: I’m three-quarters of the way done with my revisions to CALL OF THE KESTREL, the first of a new adventure series that will be published and distributed through Divertir Publishing. The senior editor, Jen Corkill Hunt , has been very patient waiting for these revisions, for which I’m grateful. Between the move and the pressures of my day job, I’ve had no time to focus on KESTREL until recently.  Now I have a place and a desk to rest my head, so the writing proceeds.

5) AND EVEN MORE: I have plans to work on…

  • A revised title for the first Briley Bannatyne book and maybe even the series.
  • Writing several “prequel” stories to post on Wattpad as a sneak preview.
  • Brushing up on my old sketchpad and pencils for some KESTREL drawings (like the great old Star Wars Sketchbooks by Ralph McQuarrie, which were preproduction guides to vehicles and scenes from the Star Wars movies and books).
  • Send cover design ideas to Daryl Toh so he can start to work his magic.
  • Plot out a story featuring a new character from ZAK CORBIN: NEPTUNE’S FURY. (Hint: Russian dieselpunk set in the Cold War 1950s)
  • And yes, yes, the second Briley Bannatyne novel! At least I have a cool title for that one.

So that’s the status, Captain. Now let’s get away from those Klingons orbiting Uranus. :)