May 22, 2015
Just for fun, I was recently thinking about historical figures I’ve written about. (Not just mentioned or talked about — had to have lines of dialog.)
- Babylonian Emperor Darius (“The Book of Daniel”)
- Henry VIII, Arthur Tudor, Catherine of Aragon (“A Princess of Spain”)
- Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, Jane Grey (“The Haunting of Princess Elizabeth”)
- Shakespeare (“Draw Thy Breath in Pain”)
- Edward Alleyn (Kitty Steals the Show)
- Emily Dickinson (“In Time”)
- Queen Victoria, Princess Alexandra, George V, Princess Victoria, Maud of Wales, Carl of Denmark (the whole damn family!) (All the Harry and Marlowe stories)
- H.G. Wells (Harry and Marlowe again)
- Rose O’Neill (“Goodness and Kindness”)
- Joseph Kittinger (who is still alive!) (“This is the Highest Step in the World”)
- Janis Joplin (“Just Another Word”)
I think there may be a few I’m missing. Like, all the pirates in Steel and probably a couple of walk-on characters in Discord’s Apple.
Some of these characters I’ve done a ton of research on. I’ve read multiple books about the Tudors. I did a ton of research on Janis Joplin for one single short story. Rose O’Neill, creator of the Kewpie doll, has an autobiography that I read. I took a whole seminar in grad school on Emily Dickinson and felt very confident writing about her — or rather my interpretation of her.
On the other hand, I did zero research on H.G. Wells and Darius, just using general knowledge and context to portray them, and mostly making them do what I needed for the story.
I probably worried the most about Janis Joplin — hence all the research — because she’s so iconic, it was important to at least try to portray her accurately. I definitely worried about using Kittinger as a character, because he’s still alive, and the story was so fantastical and symbolic I didn’t really make an effort to portray him as he really is. I wasn’t writing about him, really, but about the situation. Where I did do the research was in reading multiple accounts of his Excelsior jumps, so I could at least get the details right.
I have to admit though, having used Kittinger to inspire a character, I had a really good time a couple years ago watching him (via livestream) as capcom for Felix Baumgartner’s high-altitude jump that finally broke the record after 50 years. He had exactly the wry, calm, old-school test pilot demeanor I expected him to have.
May 20, 2015
The latest Holy Taco Church newsletter is out. Sign up for book giveaways and recipes!
So many ideas buzzing around my brain today. And it’s still raining here. I’m sun activated, so this is really getting me down. It’s not supposed to be gray and mucky on Memorial Day weekend. I’m tired of being cold.
I keep running into other peoples’ posts that insist that Mad Max: Fury Road doesn’t have a story and isn’t really feminist. While I have an urge to argue with people over this. (How can any movie that has the Vuvalini, where the entire point is to overturn a patriarchal nightmare with a more egalitarian system where everyone has agency, not be feminist? What?) But I have decided for my own sanity not to engage in these arguments. I should be writing instead.
Speaking of feminist, I’m one of those people who might be bailing on Game of Thrones after this last episode. For me, it’s mostly that they were setting Sansa up to be one thing — she was figuring things out, she was conniving on her own, and telling people off. But then the show just subjected her to the same old same old violence. Overall, the show is exhibiting many of the same traits that are the reasons I don’t read multi-volumn, multi-p.o.v. epic fantasy. How much longer am I going to have to wait for a Brienne episode? And on a TV show I can’t skip chapters to get back to the characters I like.
And I think I’m coming down with a cold. WAAAAAAAAAAAH.
May 18, 2015
Longtime readers of this blog will know that one of my favorite film genres is 1980’s Post-apocalyptic Roadtrip movies. Mad Max: Fury Road is a delightful addition to the genre. As in, I was literally delighted through much of the movie, because all the gonzo weirdness I expect from a 1980’s Post-apocalyptic Roadtrip movie was here in spades. A roomful of voluptuous mothers being milked? Check! An obsession with industrial fetish gear? Check! Diaphanous women in unlikely clean white muslin? Check! Random stilt people in a swamp? Check! That one colorful punk biker gang that’s been in every single 1980’s Post-apocalyptic Roadtrip movie for the last thirty years? Check! And so on. Loved it.
Then we have the Vuvalini. I’m not sure I have words to adequately express how glorious the Vuvalini are. There has never been anything quite like them in any movie ever, and they are amazing and powerful and if I start talking about them I won’t be able to stop, so I’ll stop now. (Max: “That’s bait.” Me: “Hahahahahaahaha, it sure is, I love all you people so much!”)
I was going to talk about how wonderfully feminist the movie is, how the entire third act is pretty much about three generations of women — the Wives, Furiosa, and the Vuvalini — all supporting and nurturing and teaching and fighting for each other, and it isn’t a big deal, it’s just another story to be told along with all the other stories in this blasted wasteland, and how revolutionary this is for a general-audience action movie, when it shouldn’t be revolutionary and yet it is somehow… But I think all this is pretty self evident.
Instead, I’m going to talk about how truly baffled I am at all the people saying this film doesn’t have a story. That it’s just action and nothing else. What??? What movie did these people see? It’s a simple story: Get vehicle from point A to point B, overcome obstacles to reach promised land. Definition of promised land changes, overcome more obstacles, the end. How is that not a story?
But what really makes it a story are the three distinct character arcs hanging on that simple plot. Nux’s entire belief system breaks down and he has to find something else to believe in — love. Furiosa discovers the goal she’s been fighting for no longer exists and has to decide to either give up or a find a new goal — this decision marks the transition between the second and third acts. And Max has to regain his humanity — he spends the first third of the movie mostly nonverbal, and slowly he regains speech, and the ability and desire to interact with the people he’s been thrown among. His climactic moment, the climactic moment of the movie in fact, is when he finally tells Furiosa his name. And he is human again, and sane.
There isn’t a wasted detail in this movie. When the one Wife takes the bag of heirlooms from the Keeper of the Seeds, I cried. I’ve never cried in a Mad Max movie before. This is some really good story meat here.
People who say this doesn’t have a story — Is it because none of the characters stopped to explain things and they had to figure it out for themselves? Were they really so distracted by the shiny explosions that they didn’t notice all the powerful stuff happening underneath all that?
People keep talking about the action in this movie, and how great and relentless the action is. But I propose that one of the reasons the action in this film is so great is because it’s supported by a really good story. Everything happens for a reason. It’s all pointed toward the narrative drive (ha!), and nothing happens at random. And it’s happening to actual people we care about because of these powerful arcs.
My great fear is that moving forward, we’re going to get a bunch of action movies that think they have to top the action in this one — without realizing that the action is great because of the story, not in spite of it.
May 15, 2015
As you can see, I’ve taken out the paper mache again, so that I can make a Thing. It’s a secret project. I might post pictures of the finished thing, or I might not, because there are some extenuating circumstances. How’s that for mysterious? Anyway, this bit is what I did Wednesday. I worked on Phase 2 last night, and left a wet sopping mess to dry overnight. (I love living in an arid part of the country, where paper mache actually dries overnight. I was reading one set of instructions that suggested putting your paper mache in the oven to dry, and that just sounded like a disaster waiting to happen. Or maybe that’s just my oven.)
When I got up this morning and took a look at it? Ooooooooh, it’s lookin’ really good! I’m really excited! Next step: paint.
May 13, 2015
No real post planned for today. I’m in the throes of revising stories and trying to clear off my appallingly messy desk. I’ve got a couple of trips planned for the end of the month, and if I can just get some of this done by then. . . so yeah. The usual story.
In the meantime, here’s a really great article on the failures of modern CGI. Very illuminating, and the reason why I still love going back to watch the original Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies: there’s something about models that have weight and dimension to them. Weight, dimension, and realistic camera angles and tracking. I’m glad to hear they’ve been using a lot of models on the new Star Wars movies. We’ll see how that goes. The color saturation comparisons are really shocking when you see them side by side — and I agree, it’s one of the reasons the Marvel movies looks so good. There’s actually something there to jolt our eyeballs. Favorite quote from the article: “They really were so preoccupied with whether or not they could have 88 dinosaurs throwing exploding helicopters at each other that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
I’ve had a lot of CGI rants over the years, like during a stretch where they seemed mostly to be used to replicate reality rather than to create wholly imaginative new worlds. And yes, about how they often look so very cartoony. And about how computers move so quickly the human eye can’t actually track some computerized effects. It’s why I actively don’t go see 3-D movies anymore — I simply can’t see what’s going on a lot of times. Maybe I’m just getting old.
May 11, 2015
It’s spoilers all the way down, people. There’s no other way to talk about this. Nuts and bolts, it’s a sci-fi thriller about AI with a subtext of gender politics, so if that’s your thing you should definitely go see it.
About halfway through this I thought, “The only way this is going to make me happy is if it ends with a girl robot uprising.” And then that’s exactly how it ends! So if nothing else, I feel like the movie knew what it was doing, even if I could see the strings making it move. (Seriously, a woman next to me in the theater shrieked when Nathan got stabbed, and I wanted to turn to her and mutter, “How on earth did you not see that coming? They only showed us the knife five times in the last two minutes.”)
Okay, so, in male-centric storytelling (i.e. stories that assume the audience is primarily straight men, i.e. most stories), one way to make a thing truly “other,” alien, foreign, is to make it female. So of course the robot is female. Of course she is. And the only reason for it is to create sexual tension and explore the back-and-forth manipulation that rises from that tension. This thing is filled with enough beautiful naked women I’m pretty sure there’s an assumption of a straight male audience. For the first third of the movie, I had a really hard time getting past the profound gender imbalance I was being shown: two male scientists are in complete control, are self-proclaimed gods, in command over a waif-like female robot who has been created to be both childlike and sexual, and a voiceless Asian woman who is their servant. (spoiler: She’s a robot too! They’re all robots!)
At the same time, the two male characters, Nathan and Caleb, are so unlikeable — Nathan is a genius asshole of the highest order, and Caleb is so naive and unaware he’s almost unreal — and Ava is so sympathetic, that it’s pretty clear the movie is using these fundamentally sexist tropes to tell a cautionary tale about how objectifying women — literally, here — can only end badly. Like I said, this movie pretty much had to end with the girl robot uprising, if it wanted to avoid collapsing into the very sexism it’s criticizing.
What’s subtler, I think — to the point where I wasn’t entirely sure this subtext was intentional — is how heroic Ava appears. Particularly to women who are survivors of domestic abuse. Ava will do anything she has to to get out of that situation, and she subsequently comes across as the most sensible character in the film. I’m even happy she left Caleb to die, because that was the logical decision, and Caleb’s vision of himself as a white knight rescuer is as much a damaging outcome of the objectification of women as Nathan’s misogyny.
Most people will talk about this movie as a psychological thriller about intelligence, desire, and manipulation. (I think there may also be a few terrible people who think this is a movie about how women are all manipulative murderous bitches. But those people are terrible.)
Taken from a slightly different perspective, though, this is a rather different movie I think. Which is to say, I think this movie is also about surviving domestic abuse. Did anyone else get that? Because I’ve not seen too many folks talking about that. I need to read up on some other reviews, I think…
May 8, 2015
I am having One Of Those Weeks. Reverse 911 calls, bank freezing the credit card, broken printer, a week of rain, not going to ride TinyHorse because I cannot face the rain, predictions of snow for the weekend, some really annoying paperwork. The couple of unexpected checks I got (the “Hey, this’ll buy a bag of groceries!” kind of checks for short stories written years ago) couldn’t even cheer me up.
But mostly I think it’s because I’m working on this screenplay and it’s kicking my ass. I have a self-imposed deadline on this one and I really want to get it finished, because I think it’s going to be pretty good. My problem: I write short. I know I write short. I zoom through plots. Not a single one of my published novels is longer than 100,000 words. I’ve never had to cut a novel down to size. Now, on a novel, short or long doesn’t really matter as long as it’s in the ballpark. Someone picking up a 70,000 word novel or an 85,000 word novel is not going to be able to tell the difference. There’s a lot of wiggle room.
A feature length film screenplay has to be at least 90 pages. You calculate about a minute of film time per page. This is strict industry standard. But I write short, and I’m coming up short.
So, what to do? Well, a B plot would help. Looking at every single scene and seeing what opportunities for character development I might be missing. Adding to the story without padding it out, making it drag.
This is really brain-cramping work. But I can tell the thing’s going to be better for it — a more developed story, richer characters, etc. I know intellectually this is really good for me as a writer — this is actually something I’ve been trying to do on the last couple of books, to go through every scene and look for missed opportunities, look to flesh it all out more than I have.
But holy crap I’m tired and cranky about it.
(I’m not going to talk about what the screenplay’s about until it’s finished, and until I feel like I won’t jinx it by talking about it. I don’t know when that’ll be. I’m sorry.)