What Not To Expect

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I have hit my third big landmark as an author: The first bad review.

It was 2 stars and it left me wondering why?  Sure this is only the third review I got from someone who knew nothing about me beforehand and had no bias one way or another. So I wanted to understand what the person meant and I analyzed it and talked about it with a close friend and I got a better understanding of what I’ve done as a writer.  It wasn’t a bad review, but it wasn’t a good review and from it, I learned something about my readers and possibly what to expect in the future from my work of art.

One.

The criticism that it was unnecessarily wordy and complicated.  Definitely a taste criticism, and valid.  Some people love the complexity.  I’ve had one beta reader who wanted it even more ‘crunchy’.  It definitely goes to show this is not a book for a person who does not like complexity and deal with a new lexicon.  Totally understand that.  I wondered too if I was going overboard at times, and worked to find a balance where the language and names struck a good balance.

In fact, the whole reason created the glossary and didn’t dumb down the names to English surrogates was to follow a style idea I first experienced with Richard Adams and his classic book “Watership Down”.  Now, I’m not sure how complex that story really is to some readers, but I definitely thought it.  I could have done a footnote method, but it never felt good for the whole flow of the story.  Also, I have had a reviewer state that they preferred the complexity and worldbuilding I put into the Glossary into the text itself despite it slowing the pace of the story.  Again, it was a compromise that has had some who love it and others not so much.

Two.

The book was not whimsical or magical like Narnia, Middle Earth or Hogwarts.

Completely fair on many fronts as we all compare works against the best.  This is also an accurate assessment.  I never intended it to be like any of those books.  Narnia is an allegory which they never really delve into the miraculous magical things that happen. It is just accepted that Santa Claus can show up and that the magical beings that exist are generally happy fairy tale style creatures for the most part.  Sure, you get much scarier things in Middle Earth, and its a grittier setting, but that is offset by the Hobbits and Shire.  There is a certain level of whimsy to it, and because of those two series, I suspect people who see “Christian Fantasy” expect more the high fantasy, light-hearted adventure or fairy tale inspired adventures.

In response to this, I’d have to say I never tried to show my book as one of those outside of it being an adventure epic.  In fact, I go so far as to portray this series as low fantasy where it is based more on real world spiritual warfare/exorcism, medieval church politics, and what it means to be caught in a world where devils and angels actually manifest and go to war around you.  It is not meant to be whimsical for it was never written for children.  It was written, believe it or not for nerds and fantasy geeks who liked grittier fantasy novels, the same way some people love cyberpunk, and hard science fiction.  Although children as young as 11 and adults who are into fine literature have read this book and loved it, they were not the target audience but aspects of it spoke to them.  So yes, It is not a whimsical book, though it will have whimsical moments.  This is more Jack London’s “Sea Wolf” than the Don Bluth Studio’s version of “Balto”.

Three

This is the criticism that I think was the most revelatory, and I thank the reviewer for giving me the opportunity to address it.  The statement is made that he is a Christian that believes in spiritual things.  Good…  Seriously.  I am as well and this is a basis for part of why I even tried to write fantasy like this in the first place.  It is further said that this comes too close to the line.  Now I’m not sure what line this is, but if it is the line between reality and make-believe, then this is right on the nose.  It is supposed to mirror the Christian spiritual paradigm.

The magic and miraculous in Akiniwazi is based on the teachings of deliverance ministries, exorcism, eye witness accounts and scripture as best as I could.  The only thing I tried to do was crank the special effects to 11 to enter into the realm of the fantastic.  That means those who can do the miraculous are in direct contact with divine beings, be they Angels and the Holy Spirit or demonic forces.  There is no ‘neutral’ form of magic in the book.  If a ‘spell’ is cast, there is an angel or demon behind it in some form or another. It isn’t the individual’s personal will or power or gift.  Just like Samson’s strength, it came from God.  Just like the prophetic slave girl Paul drove the demons out of, that power came from satan.  Magic is not something that is dug out of the ground like coal, or manufactured like a microchip and is spiritually neutral.  This is a staple trope of fantasy, but one I chose to throw out at high velocity.

There are going to be many people, particularly Christians who will find this extremely uncomfortable because it will hit close to home.  The book will touch on how demons can infiltrate people’s minds, and the whole idea of legal spiritual rights.  It is intended to be conversation starters and fodder for people to question the spiritual war that I believe is going on around us right now.  Again, not something some Christians will agree with or enjoy but others will.

Anyway.  This is also not a book about having a strong or perfect faith.  In fact, most of the characters are strongly flawed failed people that do not have instagram perfect lives, and God still uses them.  It deals a lot with failing and picking yourself back up again.  How rejection by others does not equal rejection from God, and the difference between religion and faith is no respecter of person, privilege or group identification.  It’s you and God together in the end and how you walk with Him.

Now, hopefully I wrote the book well enough that if you’re not into that kind of stuff, you can just ignore all that as window dressing the same way people do with Narnia and it’s blatant Christian allegories, or say Umberto Eco’s “Name of the Rose” does not preach religion at his audience, but it is everywhere in the book.

As for the last point of being poorly executed… ::: shrug ::: not sure how to help there.  🙂 Matter of taste I guess and that’s fine.  I did the best I could, and learned a lot.  I still see stuff I wish I would have worded better, but it’s out there now because I’m not going to spend 4 years editing it.  I’d say give book 2 a try when it comes out.  I know, like most book series, only improve over time.

Thank you for reading the book and leaving a review.  It helped me consider my work better, and keep some thoughts in mind moving forward.

If anyone would like to discuss the book or anything about it, please, send me an email, or post a question/opinion here.  I’ll be glad to discuss my work, particularly if you are confused about anything.

 

Where Have You Been, Young Man?

So, okay, one year anniversary has come and gone, and my posts have become a little less regular.

 

Okay… a LOT less regular.

 

But that said, I’m still here and still working on stuff.

But it’s been a back breaker lately, I just want you to know.  My job has been cranked up to Nightmare Difficulty.  I’m having some big problems dealing with getting the paperback book published which might descend into a legal fight if I cannot get a resolution this week… I don’t wanna have to get a lawyer to get my intellectual property back!  And the hardcover’s dustjacket problem has been almost fixed… I hope.  I will know this week.

So, know that I’ve been trying to move forward, and it has been happening, slowly.  Much slower than I wanted, and that may be okay.  All the delays thanks to scattered focus, lack of energy, working on health issues, and trying to de-stress from my job have made the second book far harder to push up the hill.

On a positive note, a few “no-dustjacket” hardcovers were sold and made it to customers before it was pulled, so a few people inadvertently got a collector’s item.  LOL  listen to me pretend this is a collectible already.  I’m also learning to not make announcements till it’s already in the bloody online store!  BLARG!

I am also going through a lot of chaotic thoughts about marketing and how to get the word out for my awesome book.  I don’t want to do the things I get pissed at myself.  Spammy mailing list?  ummmm, why do I need one of those?  I barely hack writing out my blog?  Why not just use the blog and worry about the rest later?  I dunno.  It would be nice to know from readers how they like to be marketed to, so if you have an opinion, please share.  How do you want to be told about new books and products without me being spammy and sleezy like too many authors have become lately.

Junkfood for thought.

Gloria in Excelsis

 

Self Reflection Through Current Geo Politics

A bit of a different direction today spawned by several things coming together.  This will have little to do with Book 2 or the print release of ALRDW.

What spawned this little walk down memory lane into the deep dark forest of my youth is this video between Stefan Molyneux and Bill Whittle.  It is very much worth watching unless you are easily triggered or love the Bolsheviks, Stalinism, Maoism or the Soviet Union.  It is a great discussion on history, and the cold war psychology that existed at the time.  Just warning you ahead of time if you’re that kind of person:

 

I am a child of the ’80’s.  I grew up in all things Reagan, played Pac Man, watched “Night Court” and wanted to be Marty McFly.  I listened to Purple Rain, 99 Red Balloons, Rock Me Amadeus and King of Pain.  The mall was the center of my generation’s culture, you could be left unsupervised till the street lights came on and had to come home and never feared being abducted.  It was a great time to be alive in so many respects.

Thankfully the filter of 20/20 hindsight and nostalgia colored glasses help nowadays make things seem better than what they were.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was good as compared to today in so many ways.

But there was also something in that era that really shaped the Generation Xers in ways that the Millenials and burgeoning “Gen Z” can never understand in a real way.  The idea of an impending nuclear holocaust that looked likely to kill every last person on the planet at any time and the emotional scarring that such a pressure puts on a society.  Today?  Pffft.  Sure we have the terror of Islamofascism maybe… possibly getting a dirty bomb, or North Korea splashing a nuke somewhere off the coast of Japan.  But there is nothing… NOTHING… in this world that compares to the psychological pressure that existed in that era and peaked in the 1980’s.

Of course the 1960’s begat all of it with the Cuban Missile Crisis which had a real chance to spark the death of billions of people.  The “Duck and Cover” drills of the 1950’s where everyone practiced sticking their butt in the air from under their desks like dogs scared of thunder were legitimate too.  I’m sure those were just as terrifying.  These were actual, realized existential threats.

The 1980’s were terrorized by the movie technology finally reaching the level where civilians could see ‘believable’ nuclear destruction on film, or the invasion of the US with limited nuclear exchanges.  Movies like “The Day After” and “Red Dawn” burned in our psyche.  Games like Twilight 2000 and Gamma World were toys of the imagination to play in the irradiated landscape pretending we were the next Mad Max.

To this day, I remember being shown the data for what would happen when the missile that was targeting my home town was launched.  The size of the fireball, the instant incineration zone, the debris field, and then the fallout chart.

I was 11 years old.

It scarred my soul.

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An entire generation grew up with the belief, and it seemed a pretty sure thing with what we had shoveled before us by the media, the arms race and the mass media of the happy warriors and blasted remains we all expected to experience before leaving high school.  I did not believe I’d ever see the year 2000 unless I was an unlucky survivor of a nuclear doomsday.

That kind of pressure, I now see gave rise to the nihilism of Post Modernist thought, the hedonism of our parent’s generation and the insanity of what we now know as the Security/Industrial complex.

Even after the Soviets fell and Yeltsin brought a new Russia out of the ashes, none of us could believe it.  Even till today, some of us still are looking toward that far off horizon waiting to hear the sirens in the middle of the night that missiles are on their way.

I realize now how much that shaped me.  How much this belief that I should not bother planning, or thinking about a future still taints my thought process to this day.  When you are sure that somewhere, deep down in your soul, you are going to die at any moment and all those who you love will be ash as well… planning for the future is not high on the priority list.  Why prep when the land will be poison?  Just keep enough money to survive till some maniac thousands of miles away decides it is time for mankind to die.

Just as this mentality was starting to ebb, but wasn’t out the door 9/11 happened.  But even this is not the same as what we felt when we knew that all life could be reduced to radioactive isotopes and shadows blasted forever into rock.

But today, we have a future, and it’s hard for my generation to cope with it.  We who failed to launch in so many ways, because launching was pointless now struggle to deal with the fact that there will be a tomorrow.  Those who were more prepared have already begun to march too and are shaping it into a world that so many of us are angry with.  A world that is based on a hatred of truth, where the moral are ridiculed and derided.  A land of silence through violence, and freedom is only found by obeying those with the faster fist.  Where facts are lies, and feelings are law.

This world we have found ourselves in is just as alien to us as a person coming out of a catatonic fugue.  It is great fodder for a writer, I will give you that.  In fact, there are so many things happening, it is making it very difficult to focus on a fantasy novel series that is focused on faith, history and fantasy.  The truth has almost become too strange for fiction, but then again, reality does not have to abide by the rule that it must remain plausible.

This is what I had to get off my chest.  A lot of personal musing on the memory of what it was like to be a teenager in an era where life could be snuffed out like a candle.  An era that I pray no generation has to fear again.  Global genocide is off the table for now, and God willing forever more.  We have other crazies to fear, that is certain, but a lot of that is jumping at shadows and the phantoms of a people gone mad because there IS no existential threat to all life.  No… no… Global Warming is not a threat when compared to Mutually Assured Destruction.  That’s just fog pretending to be a threat.

But it’s good to remember what it was that shaped my mind.  To remember for a moment that that there are no more missiles aimed at my home with malicious intent.  The freedom and relief that thought brings is paradigm shifting.

Now, back to living in a new, better world.

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Self Awareness and the World

How many times have we heard this expression spoken to us”

“You are special.”

Everyone, right?

How about this one?

“You are unique, just like everybody else.”

A smartypants way of putting perspective on the fact that you are unique, but that unto itself is a paradoxical awareness that being unique makes you no longer unique.  Individual and collective truth collide and nothing happens.  The two ricochet off each other like billiard balls and carom about the pool table of life.

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The working title and the map for “A Light Rises in a Dark World”

Lately I’ve been dealing with my own narcissism and struggles with getting my book out there.  It has been good to see the impact I have had so far.  The people who have read it and spoke to me about it have had almost universal glowing responses.  They’ve all gotten something deeper out of the adventure, and that is what I hoped would happen.  I desire to make this series something more than just a popcorn nom-fest, and have things to it that stick around with you for long after.  Ideas that make you consider the world a little different, or maybe be that “Shakabuken” that changes your entire perspective on life.

What author doesn’t want that, right?  Yeah, you know it.  I see it in your face.

It’s that desire to live up to the accolade “You are special”.

But then comes the sharper edge realization as you watch your book rank drop, and you question whether or not what you wrote was any damn good.  You go through the stages of ‘poser syndrome’ just like every other artist in the world and you come to realize another universal truth out there.

“I may be special, but the world don’t care.”

There’s not much you can do to make the world care either.  Why?  Because there are almost 8 billion other people in the world wanting to declare “I am special” too, and that just means you are another spike in the static of the global zeitgeist.  Just another set of subatomic collisions producing incalculable numbers of quarks beyond that which go unnoticed

But, what we do not always know is that when we are that one particle that starts a chain reaction.  Plus, we have the benefit of being fired out of the proton gun of personal will as many times as we choose to try.  Fire.  Nothing.  Fire.  Nothing. Fire.  Something?  No nothing.  Fire again.  And again, and again, again again.

But then you hit something and the chain reaction starts.  Now the world sits up and takes notice because your idea, your creation is impacting the world in a way that cannot be ignored.  You are breaking down the status quo, releasing energy into the world and creating or destroying to bring about something new.  In a world of static, new is always good.  New means something is happening that can be interacted with.

Or perhaps you are the particle just sitting there till something hits you and how you respond to it is what does the trick.  Sometimes you are in the right place at the right time when the right particle just nails you in the keister and you light up the world around you with your reaction, be it good or bad.  Just remember, for every quark created, you could be a cute or charmed reaction.

pew pew pew.

So, be aware of these simple facts.

You are special

The world doesn’t care

But that shouldn’t stop you either.

And if you keep trying, someday, you may change the world on purpose or just by being in the way of someone else who is.

 

Sanitized For Your Protection?

With the book in final review stage, waiting on the cover to go, I’ve been picking at it, finding little stray hairs of errors and cleaning up the glossary of things I should have caught long before.   Then, I had something come to light that forced me to look hard at my creation.

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The Prodigal Son by James Tissiot

One of my reviewers, whom I thank for taking up the task, let me know that the book was inappropriate because of something that happened in it.  Now I bring this up not to bash, nor to seek to shame or take to task, but to help myself and others understand my work.  I keep the book relatively clean.  There are only a couple points where the language gets ‘blue’, but there apparently is one thing in here that someone found unforgivable.  It was put to me the challenge of whether or not I should remove the phrase from the book to make it ‘safe for a Christian audience’.  That caused me to think about it over the course of a day on what was the purpose of the use of the offensive/blasphemous oath.

I asked myself about the phrase.  Was it gratuitous or unnecessary?  No to both.  What the phrase did was set the tone for the kind of environment the characters were about to enter.  It was not a completely safe place and not everyone there were good citizens or Christians.  They were complex fallible people who sinned, but also gives a hint to several things deeper in the future and serves as a warning sign to the reader that not everything is as it seems.  Yes the phrase is blasphemous if you want to strictly adhere to the law violating taking God’s name in vain.  Something that we in modern times are often guilty of dozens if not hundreds of times a day.  But for a sailor in the 16th century… this is right in line with the speech and attitude many had despite being a faithful person.

What I then realized is that the reviewer’s statement was not going to be uncommon.  There will be thousands if not tens of thousands of Christian readers who will see this one statement get very offended and ban the book from their own libraries and possibly others.  I was heartbroken about this realization.  I did not foresee it.  But I also saw the solution.  Remove or soften the phrase.  Now, I’ve done this once before already, and I’m still troubled by it being the right choice.  Is leaving this phrase in the book a hill I want to die on?

I finally realized yes.  It is going to stay and here is why.

Although I want this book to be edifying and uplifting to Christians, they are not my target audience.  It is not primarily for legalists and purists of the faith.  I will be ecstatic if they read the book, get something out of it and love it none the less.  I really hope they do.  If my beta readers and some of my reviewers are good indicators, this will be the case.

The main audience I hope to gain with this book is not just nerdy Christians who have been in the faith all their lives and have never been outside God’s grace like I had been.  This is a book aimed at nerds who have never been exposed to Christianity in this way.  Who don’t want to be preached to.  Those who do not want to hear a sermon and talked down to like they are the sinner and must be saved.  I think I accomplished that even though the characters in it live their faith out loud.  You are talking a monk dealing with ecclesiastical problems who is being punished by his superiors for failing to toe the line and is caught in a crux of the plans of others.

I want those people to find a book that is entertaining… scratch that… I want them to be THRILLED by the book!  I want those Christians who are slipping or doubting their faith or wondering if they are good enough for God to be encouraged by what they find.  I want them to see characters who are not perfect Christians and fail and sin and are hot messes but God loves them and is with them inspite of themselves, while others who seem pious and in God’s good graces to have to take a step back and realize that is not all sunshine they’re standing in.

I want them to the little heresies of life to be evident, because it might inspire someone to look at their lives in a new way.  Under all the entertainment, that is what I want them to find if they look for it.  I want those who have never seen Christianity in the same ‘cool’ lighting and stagecraft before like we so often see paganism, pantheism, atheism and other occult philosophies.  How often have we read fantasy novels or even Sci Fi novels that are chock full of “ancient weapons and hokey religions” and nobody blinks an eye at it being preached and praised?  That’s what I am doing with Christianity.  “Azeroth Metrion Xinthos…” see nobody bats an eye at something that although made up, it stands in for praise of something occult when you boil everything away.  Change that to “In the name of Jesus, demon come out!” and you get the point.

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This also speaks to the other reason I am leaving the blasphemous oath in.  I have a hard time reading most Christian fiction because everything seems to be… sanitized.  Even the villains seem to be only Disney Channel level of menace.  Even demons seem that way at times, but people are sanitized the most.  Nothing that could besmirch the squeaky clean image of the Mouse is there.  A lacquered Jesus that doesn’t even get dusty.  Never do we see the real challenging aspects of faith in a mud and blood spattered mess that is mankind.  I mean even JRR Tolkien is grittier than them and he never cusses or deals deeply about crisis of faith in any of his books, but the people there feel more real than the glossy clean brand image you’d expect with people’s Easter Sunday behavior.  This is what I hope to avoid as a writer, because I want these characters you root for to be relatable because they walked in situations like you have and do on a daily basis sometimes because being a faithful Christian can be hard and we fail over and over again, which necessitates God’s forgiveness more and more.

On the other hand, you can completely gloss over the Christianity and just treat it from a historical POV slapped into a fantasy setting like you would if you watched the movie “Kingdom of Heaven” or “The Name of the Rose” (Nobody but crazy literary people and scholars actually read Umberto Eco do they?  I love the movie though!)  The rest you can treat as typical low/historical fantasy with heavy steampunk elements thrown in on top.  Nobody will fault you for it and honestly, if you don’t care about the spiritual stuff, just enjoy the story.  So I pray what I put together actually stands up that way and does not rely on faith and sermonizing to work.  It’s part of the setting and historical context, but I don’t want anyone to feel like I’m evangelizing them deliberately.

That means I now realize even more than ever this book is in God’s hands.  Hell, this whole SERIES will be in His hands!  He’s gonna do with it as He sees fit.  But then again, when doesn’t He?  ;c)

Lastly, I also realized two things that form a viscous worrisome stew in my head.

1. I realized that if this book somehow only ends up on the shelves or pages of Christian Bookstores or online retailers, I will have failed in my mission to deliver something good for nerds and fantasy geeks.  I will have missed my intended audience and gotten my secondary one.  That’s not bad, mind you, but it will go against my hopes.  And I refer back to “God’s gonna God”.

2. I’m probably going to get hate mail from multiple sides over religious purists who will not like my handling of the faith, spiritual warfare or history, despite this is a fantasy and fantasy twist that comes from a historical basis.  It is biased to my understanding and is not perfect as theologians may say.  In fact, I deliberately have mistakes in it because it’s part of the setting and/or based on historical precedents of the medieval Catholic Church and monastic system.  This will piss off legalists who will come up with a laundry list of reasons to hate this.  Ultimately I will unashamedly refer to “It’s fantasy and welcome to the liberal use of Handwavium.” if I must.

But you know what?  I am going to have to learn to deal with it.  I wrote all this because I really felt it appropriate in the book itself.  This novel is what I felt God wanted me to write, and so I’m going to do it the way my understanding guides me and let see what happens.

Just like I cannot pick my fans (thanks artists who demanded Ivanka Trump remove their art from her walls for teaching me that… but did not offer to buy it back.)  I just need to say, “Thank you.  I am grateful that you love my work.” and respect the fact that I touched someone I didn’t intend.  But God knows what He’s doing, and that is what I’m going to have to rely on.

Thank you for reading.

 

The Breakers: Mad Max:Fury Road -Something Wicked This Way Comes

The Breakers was the original idea for this series title.  Its more of what I was thinking of but derped when trying to name it.

Just for those who didn’t guess it by the title:

spoilers

 

Originally, I was going to write about only one movie, “Something Wicked This Way Comes”.  A gem of a little film and the first horror film that Disney ever really did.  Sure there are scary parts throughout many other films (The Black Cauldron or Darby O’Gill and the Little People), but this one was devoted to it.

What I was going to discuss was the dissection of story with the Hero’s Journey again, but had an epiphany about it while talking to a friend on what I was going to write.

I realized that Joseph Campbell’s “Clock” denoting the 12 main ideas of the Hero’s Journey were handed extremely differently between Mad Max: Fury Road and SWTWC.  I further realized that this is not an isolated thing, save for MMFR.

First, here’s a reminder for those who don’t remember what the clock looks like.

What is this monster realization?

Well, first off, In SWTWC (and also in T5E I looked at last time) is that if you look at the clock, and treated it as proportional time given to a story, proportionally.  On the other hand, when you watch most movies, the first six steps take up well over three quarters of the plotline, leaving sometimes only 15 minutes of a two hour story  (and in some cases even less… I’m looking at you SW:ANW).  For the last three steps (Return, New Life, Resolution) it is somewhat short shrift IMHO.

Furthermore, sometimes half the movie is spent in steps 1-3 and then spends most of the last half shoving through 4-9, while leaving 10-12 hanging.  I realized that I saw this in many films actually, but this is the first time I realized that Roger Miller did something very different from this in MM:FR.  He flipped it to a certain extent.  Now, the setup (Status Quo, Call to Adventure, Assistance and even Departure) are all crammed into the first 15 minutes, while the ending four slices of the clock take up almost 30-40 minutes on their own.  Even better that it works astoundingly well.

Mind you, Roger Miller got to cheat a little.  He was not establishing anything new.  If you were going to this film you had either seen all of or at least some of the previous movies so you knew what the status quo was.  In such an apocalyptic setting, it didn’t take much for him to get that call to adventure, nor help… though he does get it twice (The first when Nux demands him up front on his car and the second when Furiosa includes him on the escape getting him to drive the war rig)

The best part of this film is that it pays off with an all in royal flush even though a lot of the action occurs after a lovely trick of a “Lesser Reward”.  They are already looking a “New Life” and ready to start their resolution when Max shows them a greater reward and that is to reverse the “Return” and try to stealth by Immortan Joe and the rest and steal the coveted green space from him.  I am not sure if this is a pushing back of the clock to the “Crisis” point again, or an expansion of the Return.

But with them going back regardless of how you look at it, the return, is fraught with its own peril akin to the “Result” on steroids.  Immortan Joe is defeated… messily, they take the citadel and begin their new lives, with only Max deciding to be Max in the end.  Oh well.  Helloooooo new sequels!  (Which apparently are already started).

Such a bad trailer… I mean wow.  Marketing really didn’t know what to do.

 

On the other hand, SWTWC spends almost 30 minutes setting up the Status Quo alone.  Now, this is definitely NOT a poorly spent 30 minutes.  It is immersive and very much a pleasant departure to a pastoral 1930’s small Illinois town that is somehow untouched by the Great Depression.  It’s one of the first times you will see a writer “Chew the Scenery” like Ray Bradbury does, and Disney lets him get away with.  Some of my favorite in cinema.  It sets up the dichotomy between the evil that is coming and what I think so many of us wished we still lived in.  Not only that, the “Call to Adventure”, “Assistance” and even the Departure almost take a full 50 minutes or so into the 90 minute film before the approach starts.  I like to consider the Departure to be synonymous with the breaking of Miss Foley’s window.  Although we have been watching the damage done by Dark’s Pandemonium and Carnival, its been set up for the trials or at least dangers that threaten Will and Jim and Mr. Halloway.

The final conflicts of the movie occur in 2 points, and they are mostly internal in nature.  Heavy on the temptation and the ultimate failure of Mr. Halloway to stand up for the boys in the face of evil, but he is only toyed with as Mr. Dark retrieves his McGuffin (the boys) and is satisfied with having suitably cowed Mr. Halloway into cowardice.  Of course, this fails, and the final confrontation of inner demons happens at the mirror maze in what could be viewed on one angle as cheesy, but on another, it makes a great morality play on the power of love over regret and sorrow.  Even if you call that the “Result” stage which culminates in the freak storm, it has stepped over the “Reward”, which it turns out has become a bitter sweet reward of a new, changed perspective while retaining a lot of what was loved about the first 30 minutes of the film in protecting the status quo.  Yes, it has changed for poor Mr. Tetley, Miss Foley, Ed the Barman, and Mr. Crossetti forever, but that is to be expected, and thank God Disney did not insist that they be saved from their choices.

BTW, the Reward, Return, Result and New Life take place in the final 3 and lasts less than 1:50 of the movie before the credits roll.  But on the other hand, the handling of those final 110 seconds is masterfully done.  In that, the establishing shots reconnect the viewer with the original ideals, explain what had changed for the characters but yet what was still retained.  In this, Ray Bradbury, who wrote this screenplay as well, was sublime.  It takes real skill to provide a satisfying ending like that in so short a time and not leave us feeling cheated.  Of course, having good skill in using the narrator’s voice helped a ton.  The use of voice-over at the beginning and end are well handled and appropriate as it is done by an adult Will.

Now, why do I consider though this to not be bad goes back to a ‘throw away’ piece of set design.  When the Barber, Mr. Crossetti is discovered to be missing, the only indicator is his pole is still turning and a sign in the window saying “Closed due to Illness”.  Now, I find this brilliant because of something I know of history.  The nation had become numb to many horrors thanks to WW1, which is hinted at with Tom Fury walking with his army uniform and Campaign Hat on with chin strap.  But also a sign like that in Mr. Crossetti’s would have been very familiar thanks to the Swine Flu epidemic which ravaged the US in 1918.  That influenza epidemic was horrifically deadly and often killed those who seemed healthiest in society (by a process which we now understand called a Cytokine Storm), and left many a house behind the quarantine sign.  Which made the excuse perfectly legitimate and believable as well being a very subtle touch for authenticity.

Honestly I thought the movie was more into the early 1920’s, but then realized that the bar was operating openly during a time of prohibition.  Therefore, it must have been after, and I doubt it would have been before because of the cars.  Otherwise it goes into that magical Disney era of Walt’s youth that blends the most pleasant aspects of society from a child’s point of view during that era.  Walk down Walt Disney World’s Mainstreet USA and see what I mean.

What this all is teaching me is that there does not be a balance in how much time is devoted to each “hour” of the Hero Journey clock, but rather how it moves the story forward.  Not only that, sometimes the reward is not always what you think it means.

Scrapyard: Improving My Craft

First, a hat tip to David Lawrence, another aspiring author, head of The Seraphim Regiment : Christian Online Gaming Guild and co-inspirational goofus for driving me in this drive towards making writing my career and really working at my craft.  Thanks for the inspiration to try this out.  Go check his blog out.

Two resources have been put front and center in my writing life right now.  First is one I found and latched onto like a lamprey, while the other has come up behind me and clubbed me a good one thanks to Dave.

The first is “The Story Grid” by Sean Coyne while the second is “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey.  The two are revolutionizing how I write and work with my stories.  What’s even better is to realize how much I used before learning more about these things on instinct.  I think I can blame 30 years of being a GM for various RPGs and participating in oral storytelling for most of my life.

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So last night, I started analyzing some of my favorite films.  Yes, 2am, Christmas Eve/Day is a good time to watch a movie when you should be keeping your regular schedule.  What did I pop in?  “The Fifth Element“.  Not the most holiday-like of a film but it was what I wanted to see as I resisted the re-watching of “Blade Runner” because I’m on a giggly anticipatory edge for the sequel.  That, I will watch later today.  What I wondered was why, although “The Fifth Element” is an incredible movie, it doesn’t quite go over the ‘critical hump’ to make it a masterpiece.

What I realized is that it did not quite manage the “Hero’s Journey” in a completely satisfying manner or its delivery of obligatory scenes was not quite up to snuff, and made up for the gap in the storytelling with a richness of top notch production design (which nobody can disagree with.  Nope sorry, your argument is invalid because reasons.) and good acting.

Luc Besson spends a long time building the universe, and although it’s fun to watch everything up to the point of Korben Dallas getting into the story (the true personification of the hero in the story) it is about 20 minutes of setup that is more or less dithering on establishing the “Status Quo”.  It doesn’t really dig into the actual story, which in effect is a very short and basic.

You have also have a lot of parallel villains and macguffins.  Now this isn’t bad per sey because Zorg (and Mr. Shadow) with the Mandalorians are all seeking the stones.  The three threats are all striking similar chords and add some delicious betrayal and complexity, but each time, it slightly weakens the overall whole.  Mr. Shadow is a “Man Vs. God” level threat, and the other two are “Man vs. Man” threat.  You have a small “Man vs. Self” threat in terms of Korben’s depression and helplessness but that is almost an afterthought to create the ambiance of his character as the burnt out veteran. Even though the man vs. self does a quick return at the finale, it’s got no real power other than some base sentimentality and emotional manipulation to make the “gets the girl” trope work.

The movie does spend some good time with the next three steps of “Call to Action”, “Refusing the Call”, “Assistance” and “Departure” which comes in many various flavors.  The movie is more like a rope in this manner rather than a beam.  Many things working together, providing great flexibility and art, which is good, but it is not as strong in the end as a singular focus.  The call comes to adventure comes to Dallas through multiple sources, same does his assistance.  Again, although they are alloyed together and echo each other, it is not as strong.

As for the “Trials” honestly, this is almost non-existent and is wrapped up in the coupled fights before and after the Plavalaguna’s Concert, but it’s also mixed up in a disorderly mess where two of the three villians (Zorg and the Mandalorians) are dispatched leaving only the real Man vs God threat as Mr. Shadow goes right for the temple to kill everything and so too must our heroes.

“Crisis” is present when Leeloo is wounded, but again, it is easily overcome, which hurts.  Yes Leeloo is wounded with some great buildup and diminished, and then we get some angst out of Korben, but that’s about it.  Combine with that the emotional shock of the self sacrificing Diva, we are back to that “rope” I’ve referred to.  Good, flexible, textured, but again, not as strong.  The obligatory scene of “Hero at the mercy of the villain” is here with Zorg vs Leeloo, but again, its a little weak on its own, but with the death of the Diva and Korben trying to figure out where the stones are, it’s strengthened.

Then comes the final battle which combines “Crisis”, “Treasure”, “Result” and “Return” all into one quick 10 minute event.  Leeloo is fully realized, Korben gets the girl, evil is defeated for another 5000 years and they’re all back on Earth.  Badaboom, it’s resolved and for me, the first time I saw this movie, it was satisfying, beautiful and fun just like every good thrill ride.  But why did the movie not make the jump to true “classic” film?  I think it’s because it used rope versus versus a steel beam of singular sources of hero and threat.

We even get an “all is lost” moment in when they assemble the weapon only to not understand how to make it work.  As I think about this movie, it works a lot on thematic echoes.  Protagonist Korben is echoed by Leeloo and to some extent Father Cornelius.  The Villains are echoed.  The Macguffins are singular, but in four parts.  The departure (boarding the spaceplane) is repeated FOUR TIMES!  The “Crisis” and “All is Lost” moments are echoed as well.  And again, what it does it sets up a nice harmonic, but goes back to my basic criticism I think to where it keeps this movie from being considered a true classic, but rather an “Honorable Mention”.

The movie itself hits a ton of obligatory tropes:

  • spaceship with FTL
  • Flying cars
  • Megacities
  • Aliens
  • Cool new technology (that nanoreassembly is an incredible bit of SFX)

They even give a few 1990’s cultural twists that were popular ironic social observations.

  • Cynical former military hotshot
  • Benevolent or at least benign but incompetent government
  • Big Business cooperating with evil blinded by profit
  • Damsel in not so much distress (Damsel saves Knight)
  • Scatterbrained priest with undefined strange religious trappings (Dem robes y’all)
  • Shallow uber-sexual narcissist media figure idiot
  • Stoner ground crew of the Reggae variety

But how about obligatory scenes/events common to sci fi/space opera?

  • We get a few battles in flying ships.  (Flying cars and spaceships)
  • Learning about the alien culture (Leeloo learning human culture… now with nudity!)
  • Big spaceship explosion (So long, Fhlostan Paradise)
  • Hokey Religions and Ancient Weapons (Meet Leeloo the deified ancient weapon)
  • Plucky Rebel against insurmountable odds (Korben and Leeloo vs a cast of several)
  • Last second salvation  (The rainbow barf pew pew that saves the universe)

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Now I’m not trying to minimize how much fun this movie is, because dagnabbit, it’s a blast and I like to watch it regularly.  But as I learn more about my craft, I realize why it’s not a seminal classic or rated among the best films ever.  Now I get it.  Hold this up to say “Blade Runner” you can see how it differs in that manner (even though this is light space opera adventure versus a cyberpunk film noir thriller).

Anyhoo, this is me having fun with mah new skills.  I think I may make this a regular series when I sit down and tear into other movies using the ideas from Shawn Coyne and Joseph Campbell.  If not to help myself improve my craft, but to give observations that may help other writers, or just be entertaining.  So, let’s see if my “Scrapyard” will become a regular series of articles.

<Insert awesome sign-off tagline here>

 

 

Penultimate Logo Poll!

One more poll after this one I think and that will determine the winner of my logo competition.  The five remaining artists have really stepped up their game.  I mean just wow!  A little tweak here and there for the font, but I think these are it.

So which logo speaks strongest to you?

https://99designs.com/contests/poll/fl534v

Vote for only one, rate and comment on all you desire!