Thursday, May 19, 2016

Book Three Status Update: When You've Flown As Far As You Can, You're Halfway There

"What did he say?"
"We're halfway there!"
Those are lines from Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, a movie - based on a book series - that my daughter and I enjoyed. We used to quote those lines to each other for fun, which is a thing that me and my kids do when we like a particular show, movie, or book. We even used to quote lines from Book One (in particular, the scene in chapter one where Joel is talking to Taylor) to each other, which is probably the highest form of flattery I can receive from them.

Anyhoo (see what I did there), the reason I thought about those particular lines is that I am over halfway through the story outline for the second draft of Book Three! Translated into word count, I'm at 46,000 words, which is 16,000 more than I had at last month's status update. Super stoked. If all goes according to plan, mwuahahaha, I expect to have this draft completed around August or September.

And why am I so optimistic, you ask? Especially after all the trials and tribulations that went into hammering out Book Two? Well, aside from the fact that I'm working from an outline that includes detailed chapter summaries, I've settled into a pretty good routine when it comes to the writing process for this volume of the Spectraland Saga. Basically, at the start of my writing day (which is usually actually at night), I start off by reading the previous day's (night's) work and doing minor little edits on it. This gets me into the flow of the story and into "writing mode," and from there it's pretty smooth sailing until I hit - or exceed - my word goal for the day (night), which is 500.*

I've discovered that this technique actually works a lot better than some of my other methods of breaking writer's block or getting past that "activation hump," like the one where I would just write any kind of nonsense, not related to the story at all, just to get the creative juices flowing (although I did get some usable material out of that exercise). So for all of you writers out there who haven't settled on an effective anti-block method yet, feel free to try out that idea and see if it works for you!

* I'm actually writing about this so that I have a documented reminder for myself when I start on Book Four

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Movie Roundup: Family Feud Edition

All right, as promised in the previous episode of Movie Roundup, here are my thoughts on the latest batch of movies I've managed to watch! And remember: these are not really reviews, they're just my stream-of-consciousness observations and reactions. Also, there will be spoilers...

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Look, I'm not going to bash this movie. I'm just not. You can find plenty of that elsewhere on the Internet. Okay, sure, maybe it wasn't the greatest superhero film ever, and I tend to be rather forgiving (I enjoyed the Star Wars prequels), but to be honest, I had a decently good time. And really, isn't that what we go to the movies for? I liked the fact that Batman now has an actual voice-changing device in his suit, as opposed to the DIY approach employed by previous incarnations of the character. Remember in The Dark Knight Rises, when Catwoman* bails on him and he says "so that's how that feels?" Every time I see that, I think, why are you saying that in the Batman voice? Is that really necessary? Dude, there's no one around to hear you!

Captain America: Civil War
This was a really good movie. Although, I didn't think it was as super-epic-OMG-awesome as everyone seems to be making it out to be. I dunno, perhaps I just need to see it again. After all, I liked The Force Awakens more the second time around, right? There, that's me talking myself into giving Marvel and Disney even more of my money. Tom Holland = great choice as Peter Parker. Still, I kinda wish they had gone in the Miles Morales direction. Oh well. Let's see, what else...oh yeah, I did not see the whole twist at the end coming, the one that makes Iron Man fight Cap and Bucky. There they were, looking for Zemo and the other Winter Soldiers, all buddy-buddy again, and I thought, "Wait, wasn't there a scene in the trailer where the three of them are fighting and Cap says his 'I can do this all day' line? Did that get cut, or something? Seriously, you cannot cut that scene out."

Concussion
And now for something totally different! It's not a superhero movie - it's not even vaguely science fiction or fantasy-related! Yes, believe it or not, on occasion I do watch and read non-genre fiction stuff. As you may know from a previous blog post, I am a fan of professional American football, so this movie seemed interesting to me. I'm also a fan of the standard sports-movie David vs. Goliath trope, which I had heard this story - based on true events - embodies really well. So did I enjoy it? I did. The idea that this one guy, an unknown coroner in Pittsburgh, had the guts to take on the behemoth that is the National Football League, is pretty inspiring. Also, it made me wonder why Troy Aikman, who suffered multiple concussions during his career, seems so coherent when he's doing his color commentary for Fox NFL broadcasts? Robotic implants, perhaps? Hmm... (see, I can never totally get away from genre fiction.)

Alice in Wonderland
So on that note, we return to our regularly scheduled programming. I actually had not seen this movie in the theaters the first time around, even though I thought it looked pretty cool, but since the sequel is coming out later this month and I am a rather avid supporter of portal fantasies, I figured it was high time that I got caught up (plus, it showed up for free on cable TV right at a time when I had a few free hours.) The verdict? I liked it more than I thought I would. A lot, in fact. Tim Burton and company kind of grafted a more traditional structure onto the original Alice story, which I have absolutely no problem with, and hearing Alan Rickman's voice as the Caterpillar made me grin stupidly. And doesn't it seem appropriate that Bellatrix Lestrange was once married to Burton? That doesn't really have anything to do with this movie other than the fact that Helena Bonham Carter, who was Bellatrix in the Harry Potter movies, plays the Red Queen who, in this movie, has a rivalry with the White Queen*, thus continuing the "Family Feud" subtitle of this post, and okay yeah now you see what I did there. Maybe. I guess. Whatever.

Next time: X-Men: Apocalypse (I promise), Alice Through The Looking Glass (probably), and Teenage Mutant Ninja...uh, no.

* Played by Anne Hathaway

P.S. Completely off-topic, but Stephen Curry is undeniable living proof that the Matrix is real.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Where Did That Idea Come From?

When I'm doing author presentations to classrooms, one of the questions that I usually get is something along the lines of, "where do your ideas come from?"
My general answer is that they come from my array of influences: the books I've read, the movies I've watched, the life experiences I've had (you can watch me answer this question at my author visit to Shahala Middle School in this video). That's the general answer I give in the interest of time and (relative) brevity.

But since we have the luxury to stretch out a little bit here in this blog, I thought it'd be fun if I started up a new recurring item, namely: where did that particular idea come from, exactly? So what I'll do is flip to a random page in either Book One or Book Two and then talk about the thought process behind whatever is happening on that page (and possibly the adjacent pages, if necessary). Ready? Here we go! (Warning: if you haven't read Books One or Two yet, there are possible spoilers to follow.)

Fliiiiiiip...okay, the lucky page number for today is...90! Okay, yeah, so in Book One, this is the part where Joel and company are confronted by the vagabond tribe on top of Roughrock Pass. I wanted the members of the tribe to be very distinct from the other Spectraland natives that Joel had encountered to that point, and so I figured that one of the better ways to do that would be to have them talk in a strange dialect that the translation cast couldn't quite parse.

As far as how that would sound, I settled pretty quickly on having it sound like those electronically-distorted telephone voices that criminals use to disguise themselves - you know what I'm talking about, I'm sure you've heard it in countless episodes of crime TV - because I liked the combination of the menacing quality with how comical it looks when you write it out ("Hnnddzz inn thee errrr.")

From a narrative standpoint, this scene was a rather significant moment in Joel's arc, as he uses his knowledge of how to deal with bullies to bail his party out of a sticky situation. It also gave me a chance to have Joel and Felicity get into a little argument, which leads to another pivotal scene later on in the chapter. Maybe I'll talk about that one next time!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Spectraland Saga: Origin Story, Part Five

Read parts one through four here:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

After I started composing the first draft of Book One in late December of 2010, I set a goal for myself: I would write an average of 400 words a day, no matter what else was going on in my life. If that meant I had to stay up late or wake up early - or both - then so be it. It sounded pretty daunting at the time. Apparently, though, the ideas just came flowing out, because somehow, I was able to finish an 80,000-word draft by the end of April 2011 (appropriately, Autism Awareness Month) - which was more like a 650-700 word-a-day pace.
It's not how fast you write, it's how well you write fast
Naturally, a lot of that draft was utter garbage. I had an entire chapter near the beginning devoted to how Joel got his job at Art's guitar store in the first place, which was kinda interesting - to me, anyway - but really had nothing relevant to add to the story as a whole. Basically, the draft meandered around a lot, and it took a while before Joel even got to Spectraland at all. My friend and fellow author Roslyn McFarland, who was one of my beta readers, said something to the effect of: "It's a little hard to tell where this book is going, or what it's about." My son, another beta reader, was even more direct. After I gave him the draft, a few weeks went by and he didn't say a word about it. So, one day I asked him: "Hey, uh...have you read the book yet?" Him, somewhat sheepishly: "Well, I started it, but...I got kinda bored."

Well, then! Quickly realizing that they were right, I went back and axed a good 5,000 words or so from the beginning of the book and rewrote the first few chapters. The result was a first act that moved along a lot quicker and firmly established the story as a portal fantasy (Narnia, etc.) and not some weird dissertation about how a teenage kid should go about finding employment. So, in the immortal words of Emmet Brickowski, everything is awesome now, right? Uh...no.

Next: Rewriting...Will It Ever End?

P.S. If you've read Book One (the final version), please take a few minutes to leave a review of it at its Amazon page here. Ditto for Book Two. Mahalo!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Book Three Status Update, Autism Awareness Month Edition

I am happy to announce that the second draft of Book Three has reached...(drum roll)...30,000 words. Woo!
Okay, yeah, I know, you're thinking - but wait, Brian, just four weeks ago, you said that you were at 50,000 words. What the heck? You're going backwards, not forwards!

But that, my friends, is the writing process at work. That 50,000-word first draft, in this case, really just existed to help me find my bearings with regards to the story as a whole, and now I feel that I'm on much more solid footing when it comes to where I want to go with this next installment of the Spectraland Saga. And trust me, I'm still way, waaaay ahead of where I was at a similar juncture when I was working on Book Two, so all is good. I'm really happy with where things are at this point, and I'm confident that all of you will enjoy the end result ("But will we?" asks Felicity. Good question...)

On another subject, if you haven't yet registered for Autism Empowerment's 1st Annual Bowling Tournament coming up this weekend, it's not too late! Just go to this link here and sign up. It's easy, fun, and helps out a great cause, so I hope to see you all there!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Maiden Tacoma

This past Monday, I finally got a chance to fulfill a life-long goal: to see Iron Maiden, live in concert!
EDDIE
As I mentioned before, Iron Maiden is basically responsible for my wanting to pick up a guitar in the first place. So, as you can imagine, I was pretty stoked when they were scheduled to play in Hawaii, back when I was a teenager. I was also in the high school band, though, and unfortunately, we had to play at a football game on the same night of the concert, so I didn't get to go (later I found out that some of the seniors in the band skipped out on the game to go to the concert. Dangit!)

At the time I figured, ah well, there'll be more opportunities. But then as the years rolled by, they didn't come back to Hawaii, Bruce Dickinson left the band, and another chance to see them never materialized. Even after Bruce rejoined, the stars never really aligned, and I began to think that perhaps I wouldn't ever get to see what I consider to be my favorite band of all time.

So you can imagine my excitement when, about six months ago, I heard that their latest tour was going to be coming through Tacoma, Washington, just a two-hour drive from Vancouver! And it was on a night that I could go! My bandmates in Second Player Score are also fans, so we snapped up some tickets and patiently waited for the big day to arrive.

And arrive it did. We drove up in the afternoon, found parking by the arena, and went to have dinner at a nearby restaurant. Then we went in, bought the requisite overpriced concert T-shirts, and found our seats. After an opening band that featured the son of Maiden's bass player, the moment I had been waiting so many years for was finally here: I was going to see Iron Maiden!

They played a set that was about half newer stuff, half old stuff (what Bruce amusingly called "legacy songs"), and it was great. Yeah, they were a bit loose, and Adrian Smith and Dave Murray kind of annoyed me by not playing the old solos note-for-note, but I still had a great time.

So I guess the moral of this story is: never give up on your goals, because one day you just might accomplish them. Or maybe it's: don't worry if you miss an opportunity, because one day you just might get a second chance. Or I dunno, something like that. I'm still trying to recover from sleep deprivation...

P.S. If you haven't already, check out this video of the Spectraland All-Star Jam Band playing a cover of Iron Maiden's "The Trooper" (it starts around the 4:35 mark) at the Book One relaunch party back in 2013!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

24 Hours For Autism

As many of you already know, April is Autism Awareness Month. Which is, like, seven hundred and twenty hours of autism awareness! And for twenty-four of those hours, my friends over at Neue Regel Radio will be holding their 3rd annual radiothon called 24 Hours For Autism, where live DJs will be taking requests in exchange for your donations.
The radiothon will start tomorrow, Friday the 8th, at 9am Pacific/12pm Eastern, and will run until 10pm Pacific on Saturday the 9th (1am Sunday for those of you in the Eastern time zone). If that seems like more than twenty-four hours, so what? That just gives you more time to tune in and donate $5 for 3 requests, $20 for 3 requests and a swag pack (which may include a copy of Fortress Storm Attack by Second Player Score, a Second Player Score T-shirt, and/or Books 1 and 2 of The Spectraland Saga), or $50 for 5 requests, a Neue Regel Radio T-shirt, and a deluxe swag pack!

And speaking of The Spectraland Saga, I'll be the subject of a special guest interview on Friday night at 6:30pm Pacific with none other than DJ Kyelzbub, the maestro of the awesome Northwest Xposure show that airs every Thursday night on Neue Regel. We'll be talking about books, music, autism, and all kinds of other stuff, so be sure to check it out!