Thursday, May 26, 2016

Random Thought Thursday

Re-watched X-Men: Days of Future Past in preparation for the Apocalypse, which is probably occurring this weekend. Whoa, was that a good movie. Like, super way better than the first time I saw it, which was already pretty good. If anyone is planning on seeing the new one (which I have heard is not so hot), I recommend you do this first, because at the very least, you will be seeing a really awesome flick.
Speaking of awesome things: generic store-brand goods. Seriously, they are like the X-Men movies of groceries. Mostly killer, some, a little bit meh. Killer: prepackaged salad, antihistamines, paper towels, seltzer water. Meh: dental floss, diet cola.

The first-place Seattle Mariners. I will never get tired of saying that. I will keep saying it until it is no longer true. Now if only they could build a winning record at home...

If you're considering getting a cat, get two if you can. It won't be that much more in the way of maintenance, and the allogrooming and the playfights are totally worth it.

Wireless mice: extremely cool (especially if you have cats who like to chew on cords, which are, I think, all cats), but man, do they go through batteries fast. I guess part of that is my fault for not turning them off overnight.

Went to a korean BBQ joint in Portland a week and a half ago. I ate so much that I declared, at the time, that I wouldn't have to eat for several days afterwards. Oddly enough, though, it had the opposite effect; I was actually still hungry after I had my usual suspects for lunch and dinner the following day. Then I realized: isn't that how all those professional eaters train, like, for those 4th of July hot dog eating contests? By eating so much in the days and weeks leading up to it that their stomachs expand? Anyway, this was basically all I could think about for the entire week afterwards.

I am sure there are a lot of people out there in Internet-land who will say "duh" to this, but beating the Chapter 12 boss in Xenoblade Chronicles X is soooooo much easier once you have a superweapon for your Skell. Just saying.

The other day in the car, my son - who was driving, I'm only now getting used to the idea - gave a short polite beep to a motorist in front of him who didn't realize that they had a green arrow. The driver, realizing the error of their ways, made a brief wave of apology before quickly moving along. Several days later, I encountered this exact same situation while driving by myself, so I, too, gave a short polite beep. This particular motorist, however, after looking in their rear-view mirror, decides not only to not go through the green arrow, but to sit there through the entire red light that followed, even though we were turning right and there was no oncoming traffic. Then, when the light finally turned green-green, they slowly inched forward as if they were getting paid by the hour to go wherever it was they were going. Substandard driving skills, or someone trying to be purposefully annoying? You decide.

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."

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!