Saturday, February 28, 2009

Dear Charlie:

Funny how time gets away from you, ain't it?

So, to skip ahead, it's snowing in great, big, gorgeous flakes outside. They're piling up in those lovely, concealing piles that make the world look fresh and new instead of dead and wintery. I love snow. Hate ice, but love snow.

And I just got done watching Maximum Overdrive. Never watched it before. I think I'll have to watch it at least ten more times, if for no other reason than to really, really enjoy the AC/DC soundtrack. God, I love it.

Hilarious flick. Not a good flick, by any stretch -- plot holes you could chuck a cat through -- but highly entertaining, which makes it a successful flick in my humble estimation. And it has Emilio Estevez, who will always be Billy the Kid to me. Or the guy from Loaded Weapon, heh.

Awesome.

I also have interestingly good news. I'll be switching jobs shortly. Still working for the same company, but in a different office. I can't wait. It's gonna be awesome. Dunno how quick the change will happen -- they gotta hire someone, probably wait their two weeks, and then I gotta train -- but it will happen.

Also awesome.

I ran myself down to the nub last week, what with getting the car fixed and making sure the new job went through and a special project at work, so I came down with a migraine that still hasn't completely gone away. Not so awesome. But I'm getting on top of it.

Plus, I started a new writing project. Yes, another one. Yes, at the same time as I'm still writing two others. What can I say? Variety is the spice of life.

Let us not forget that too much friggin' spice burns the hell out of your tongue. Heheh. One of these days, I'll learn. Promise.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Update:

Ugh. I have now completely lost hope. DBtheMovie.com posted the grimmest news yet as regards the DragonBall movie coming out in just a couple of months now.

It's...rated PG.

That's right. The movie based on an anime/manga that gloried in fighting and blood and scantily-clad women and dirty old men has officially been Disney-fied as regards its parent material.

*sigh*

There are no words. This is...the opposite of awesome sauce. I guess that makes it suck sauce.

Anyway, on a brighter note, my car's transmission died yesterday. Suddenly, my car decided to just stop going. The engine still worked, but it was like trying to drive in neutral.

So, thanks to Dad, I'm in a rental until at least Monday -- when the transmission place tells me if they can overhaul it or not -- at which point we'll have to decide if I can keep my poor car or if I'm gonna have to sell a kidney to get a different ride.

My credit is atrocious -- do they make two-digit credit ratings? -- so it'll be...interesting, to say the least...if I have to look for something else. I'm pretty much down to a bike or, preferably, just walking. I'm only...what...four or five miles from work?

Ha.

We'll see. Dad's made some hopeful suggestions, and things may be changing for the better at work, and I have some other feelers out if things aren't changing for the better at work, so maybe this is a good time to look up instead of down.

After all, as Billy Blanks says, "Keep your head up. You can't breathe when your head's down."

Oh, and my favorite quote of the day?

Thou shalt not kill the tattooed white lab rat.

You can think Kingdom Hospital and the lovely and vivacious Janice McManus for that one. Heheh.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My Dearest Charles:

I have the best friends.

See, it's been a tough few months. Okay, it's been a tough couple of years, but I usually just kinda soldier on through it. My friends get me through. My beloved sister gets me through. I can usually just go, right?

But every now and then, those nearest and dearest can tell when I'm really bothered about something, and they usually have a pretty good idea what's really bothering me, instead of what's just a symptom. Because they're cool like that.

So...when I looked up from my over-piled desk at about 4:30 this afternoon, my brain fried from too much input/output, what did I find at the secretary's window?

Pesh. With a piping-hot-fresh London Fog in hand.

*sniffles*

I have such good friends. I am truly blessed. Thank you so much, Pesh, for knowing me so damn well.

Now, get outta here before I puddle up and make an ass of myself.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Dear Charlie:

Some days, you just have to cut your losses and go home.

After a not-too-spectacular day at work today -- one of my 8am to 7pm days with a cranky provider and entirely too much work to fit into even a long day -- I decided to stop off at Starbucks on the way home (not exactly on the way home, but close enough) and get a London Fog. I've mentioned that I'm kinda hooked on these things, right? I can't talk myself into the superfluous expense too often, so it's like a treat to get one. It's a pick-me-up. Sort of a pampering kind of thing.

Get it? Some people shop. Some people sniff shoes. I buy hot tea. It's a crazy ol' world.

So I stop off, get in the drive-through line, chitchat pleasantly with the guy at the window, and head home with a smile, waiting for that yummy Earl Grey scent to infuse my car. But less than a block down, I smell...coffee. Strong coffee.

Oopsie. I don't do coffee. Unless my beloved sister made it and toned it down with half-n-half and a load of sugar.

So, I turn around and go back, sheepishly trekking inside to trade out the steaming and very smelly cup of mystery coffee for a London Fog, which I want like kids want Christmas, right? They apologize profusely, which I brush off. Everyone makes mistakes. No big. Everyone was really nice about it.

So I get in the car with my wonderful-smelling, piping-hot-fresh London Fog and head home. Ah, home. Change into my comfy jeans, put the ol' dogs up, watch some Kingdom Hospital, answer some e-mail. Just chillaxin'. I don't take a sip yet because I know good and all that I'll burn the skin off my lips if I do. Besides, the anticipation is part of the taste, in my humble opinion. It brews a little more by sitting in the steaming cup longer.

So, I get home. I park in the driveway. Lock the car door. Head up the steps. Trip over a mystery cat that's crouched in the shadow of the top step.

Drop my wonderful-smelling, still piping-hot-fresh London Fog, which explodes all over porch and mystery cat and shoe and slacks.

*sigh*

Mystery cat ran off yowling into the night. I scalded my shin a little and had to hurry in to avoid ruining the leather of my Docs (they're water-proofed, but tea is kind of acidic, yes?).

My yummy London Fog disappeared through the cracks between boards and is currently pampering the gravel under the porch.

Yeah, I could brew me up a nice, fresh cup of Earl Grey. I have the good stuff in the cabinet -- actual tea leaves, not that over-processed bagged stuff from Wally-World. I could dump in some vanilla and whole milk, though I don't have a steamer. I could even add a little vanilla-flavored soy milk to it instead -- I just happened to buy some a couple weeks back for a recipe.

But it doesn't taste the same, and making it defeats the whole point of coming home with one in hand to just chillax.

So, no London Fog for me tonight. I'm cutting my losses and having a Coke instead.

Oh, well.

I can still watch Kingdom Hospital. I'm already in my comfy jeans. I can still kick up my tired ol' dogs, though one is still a little blotchy and damp. The night's not ruined, by any stretch.

I just wish I hadn't spent $4 and two trips to Starbucks for a hot tea I never had a chance of drinking. Ha-ha.

[Edited to add:

I think I've been a Chiefs fan for too long. I'm watching the KH episode where the entire world reviles Earl "Error" Candleton, the first baseman who "lost the World Series" for the fictional Robins back in 1987 and put the loser curse on his team ever after...and I find myself mentally defending the poor guy.

I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't baseball a team sport? So how is it that a single missed catch by one man can be blamed for losing an entire game, thus losing the entire series? Why were the Robins in a position to lose on a single hit? If they'd played better earlier in the game, it shouldn't have come down to one man's miss.

And, perhaps most damning, the announcer talked about Candleton being "perfect in the series thus far". Why doncha just hex the guy while you're at it, Talk Box?

Funny how fate can turn on you, huh? And funny how I jump to the defense of otherwise decent sports folk. Heh.]

Friday, February 13, 2009

Dear Charlie:

My beloved sister is doing a workshop on characters and character building over at her blog, and she's asked for her readers to opine on what makes characters memorable and great for them or, for authors, how they build their characters. Whether reader or writer (or viewer), what makes Han Solo speak to you? Why will you never forget James T. Kirk shouting "Khhhhaaaaaaannnn!" What makes you go back and read IT over and over again?

Or, on the other hand, why don't you remember the names of the slaughtered teenagers in any of the Jason movies? Why can't you remember which pitiful humans were able to go from primitives to fighter pilots in the agonizingly bad Battlefield Earth? Why do so many romance novel heroines sound the same and do the same dumb things?

What makes a good character? A character that walks and talks and practically dances off the page or the screen?

Well, since I don't have any idea, I'll just blather about it for a while by telling you what works for me as reader/viewer first, then as a writer. I'm sure a point will emerge.

Okay, semi-sure.

For me, whether or not I'll like a character is pretty much set in either the first ten minutes of a movie or the first ten pages of a book. On rare occasions, I have been pleasantly surprised by a lame character suddenly becoming fascinating half-way through, but it's pretty rare. Usually, how a character starts is how they end, even if they "change" or "grow" through the course of the story. An asshole in the first chapter will probably still be an asshole at the end.

Unless, of course, the insipid heroine has turned him into a flower-bearing wuss. Which is worse.

So, why do I like or dislike a character? That's tricky. My first instinct is to say that I like intelligent, witty characters, usually with a secret.

But that's not entirely true. Forrest Gump was not an intelligent man. Nor was he particularly witty -- at least, not on purpose. Nor did he have a secret. That hasn't stopped me from popping that flick in probably once a year or so, just to remember how he says "That's Loo-ten-nit Dan" as he comes out of the TV studio.

So I like the goofs, right? Not so. As much as I like Cuba Gooding, Jr., I was only mildly interested in Radio, and that only because it was football.

Hm. Maybe movie characters are too influenced by the actor playing them (though I just refuted that point by saying I didn't like a Cuba character, heh). I'll stick with book characters, then.

Young, vigorious, witty, intelligent people in books. That's what I like. Except for Ralph Roberts in Insomnia. He's like 70, and while he's got yards of common sense, he says himself that he's not the most intelligent guy on the block. Hm. Fairly vigorous, though.

Okay, so...maybe I like...likeable characters. That's the ticket.

Except for Montresor in The Cask of Amontillado. He's not really a likeable guy. Eaten up by vengeance, that one.

Or Miss Emily in A Rose for Emily. She's little more than a spoiled, deluded bitch, really. Crazy as an outhouse rat (a particularly apropos comparison, considering the smell from her house).

Hm. So...likeable isn't exactly a requirement, either.

See what I mean about this being tricky? It's hard to pinpoint exactly what about a character does or doesn't work for me. I guess it boils down to a character being fully-fleshed with consistent details. Useful details, not just meaningless filler. And at least a modicum of intelligence, even if it isn't in the universally accepted measure.

So, what makes a character fully fleshed? A thorough description of the character's appearance? Inventory of his clothing and favorite room? A listing of her reading preferences and favorite movies and songs? An ad nauseum essay about his past life?

Not so. In fact, a good author can do a better job of fleshing out a character in a few telling conversation exchanges than a bad author can in a page-long paragraph about the character staring at herself in the mirror and pondering her guinea-gold hair and porceline complexion.

Maybe that's what really sells a character for me -- what they have to say. I've read several books where the characters didn't seem really alive until they spoke. At that point, they nearly leapt from the page. Good dialogue can do wonders.

But it's not just what they say. It's also what they think. A character's thoughts, those private things that we readers get but the other characters can only guess at, flesh a character out more than anything else, I guess.

Telling me that a character has fiery red hair and flashing green eyes is okay, but standing back and watching inside her mind as she tries to rein in her simmering temper while a suitor blathers on about how pretty a wife and mother she'll make, though, deep down inside, she really wants to be a painter or an archeologist or the first woman on the planet Venus shows me everything I need to know about her. Add in her stroking the paring knife she always keeps hidden in her bustle, and it's just icing on the character cake.

Of course, how they talk and what they think has to be logical. Consistent. A character that, in chapter one, is a coward inside and out is fine, but if he -- for whatever reason -- puts himself between an anonymous bully and an anonymous stranger without any real reason for it but plot movement, I don't buy it. Something would have to work him up to it. Maybe he knew the bully. Maybe he knew the "stranger". Maybe he decided that a lifetime of wussitude was enough and wanted to try to turn his life in another direction.

But he can't just do it because he needs to be injured in the next scene or because the plot demands that the stranger give him a big "my hero" kiss or whatever.

Does that make sense? The character can be a louse and still be a good character, so long as he is who he is. So long as he's consistent. So long as he's fully-fleshed.

The hardest part of all of this, though, is trying to translate what works for me as a reader or a viewer into what I hope works for me as a writer. Because that's where all of this leads. How do I create a Montresor or a Miss Emily? How do I create a Ralph Roberts? A Captain Kirk? A Han Solo?

The truth is, I'm not sure I have yet. Lots of my characters seem to walk and talk to me, but do they dance for anyone else? I dunno.

Gabe and Jack and Mike seem to do okay with the few people I've let read about them. I get lots of good feedback on the relationship between the sisters, Gabe and Mike, and Jack gets enough oohs and aahs that I don't worry too much about him. I hope that means that they're fully fleshed.

But I don't know.

All I can do is remember what seems to work for me: dialogue and details. Characters that talk until they walk, and then walk like they talk. Consistency.

So what do I do to keep track of those details to ensure consistency?

Some people use character sheets. These have pluses and minuses. Sometimes, they're a little too detailed and become stifling, but they do make sure that you don't accidentally call your blue-eyed heroine the hero's brown-eyed girl.

My sister uses color themes and a static trait. These work wonders for her, because they weave themselves into the fabric of the story and ensure consistency by their sheer brilliance. The static trait, especially, makes for instant verisimilitude because it usually ends up effecting the plot somehow. Like John Constantine lighting up a smoke after every paranormal encounter until he ends up with the lung cancer that puts him in line for his destiny, a static trait can be the basis for an entire story.

She also chooses an actor or actress to represent her character. She's even been known to "interview" the actor until they step into character and inhabit that persona. These interviews are freakishly effective. And usually funny as hell.

Other people use "emotional toolboxes". Some use tarot cards. The zodiac. Knowledge of psychology and philosophy. All work extremely well, so long as they work for you.

What works for me, you ask?

Well, the truth is that I haven't tried everything yet. I don't have a tried-and-true strategy. Each story demands something different from me, and probably will until I pick a steady genre. Yeah. I tend to genre-jump.

For instance, for the rewrite of my Survival Trilogy, I used character sheets. Each sheet helped me define the earlier characters' fears and weaknesses, their strengths, how they relate to each other. It gave me a much clearer picture of where they needed to go in the story and thus made the story more compelling. It created conflict where I'd only blundered around before. Very handy.

But for Gigolo, I just had a picture in my mind of the heroine (Annie from the first Halloween movie, if you're curious) and built her personality and motivations on as hard a past as I could think of without torture and child molestation ('cause that's not how I roll...yet). She grew up thinking of herself as a burden, and thus she refused to be a burden as an adult. The conflict is nearly self-evident, and I think it flows pretty well through the story because of her character.

Charles Stone grew out of a loose fanfiction that quickly outgrew its source material and had to take a new direction, mostly because the character solidified into someone else and became consistent there. Funny how that happens. I didn't do a lot of character work on him because he was supposed to be someone else, someone pre-existing, but when he refused to act on the situation like the existing character would, a whole new story opened up with him at the helm. I definitely liked where it went, and so I was off to the races with him. He made himself an original character.

Lady Anne was herself from the moment she entered my mind. She's spoiled but neglected. Angry but afraid. Hateful but pitiful. Physically weak but mentally, oh, so strong. Her story is inspired by the disagreeable but strangely likeable characters in The Secret Garden, but in idea only. I wanted a disagreeable character that is strangely likeable, and in walked Lady Anne. I don't have to keep track of her character traits. She's just Lady Anne.

Maggie -- my sole foray into young adult fiction -- is a tomboy, so she's pretty much my own experience talking. Oh, she has entirely different circumstances, but she grew up running with the boys instead of the girls. Again, I don't really need any help keeping her consistent. I see her story like a movie in my head, and it's more like taking dictation than writing. She needs a gimmick, though, which is why she's currently on hiatus. If it were regular adult fiction, I know where I'd go, but since it's young adult, I gotta figure it out a little more before proceeding.

Kazlénne, on the other hand, is directly from a character sheet. A Dungeons & Dragons character sheet, which is the best kind. She was my favorite character from my flaming D&D days back in college. I remember her fondly, and thus, I've brought her forward into Story. Her story may not be the Story of My Heart, but she's definitely the Character of My Heart.

And then, there's The Diplomat. He's not the "main" character of his story, but he's my favorite of the three leads. He's based on just about every kick-ass assassin story I've ever read or seen. Makes him hard to keep consistent, but somehow, I manage. He's fun. Not necessarily likeable, but I hope he's at least memorable.

So yeah, I don't really have a consistent strategy. Doesn't mean I'll stop looking for one, though. I have a feeling that, if I ever find one, I'll spend a lot less time in revision hell. Heh.

And that, friends and neighbors, is all a writer can ask for.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Dear Charlie:

Well, the original creator has spoken. Not God, of course, but Akira Toriyama, the creator of my beloved DragonBall Z. And DragonBall, of course.

Translated (I can only assume the source is reliable, and the DBtheMovie site has been pretty reliable thus far), his statements are thus:

As the original creator, I had a feeling of “Huh?” upon seeing the screenplay and the character designs, but the director, all the actors, the staff, and the rest are nothing but “ultra” high-caliber people. Maybe the right way for me and all the fans to appreciate it is as a New Dragonball of a different dimension. Perhaps, this might become a great masterpiece of power! Hey, I look forward to it!!

Bless his heart. He always was good about fanfiction.

It's gotta be hard for someone to create something and then hand it over for someone else to breathe life into. I mean, you could end up with a beautiful being of light and poetry. Or, you could end up with a half-animated corpse that shambles along sucking the brains of its victims.

I mean, DragonBall was a brilliant new step for anime, and DragonBall Z so grew in popularity that even now, it rakes in millions -- billions? -- in merchandise every year. And then, he let TOEI Animation have it because he was pretty much done...and we got DragonBall GT. 'Nuff said.

And now, he's let us Americans have it, and we get that sense of "Huh?" that the creator himself felt. Oh, I'm sure it'll be a rip-roaring good time, action-wise. I'm absolutely positive that the effects will be spectacular. You can see that much in the trailer.

But that doesn't make it DragonBall. In fact, instead of DragonBall: Evolution, they should've gone with the concept that fans have been whispering about and kicking around since the last GT episodes ground out. DragonBall: Alternate Future. I mean, you can even find "images" out there that some diehard fans claim are actual stills from the mysterious DBAF, a super-secret set of episodes that will be released at some foggy future date.

Might have been a little more sincere, anyway. But hey, that's Hollywood for ya.

I think I'll wait for the DVD. And rent, to start.

At Blockbuster, of course.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Dear Charlie:

So I recently relented and got a Blockbuster membership. Up until now, I've really only had memberships to two rental stores -- Action Video & Tanning and Hastings. Hastings made me feel a little like a movie whore, but I was willing to live with it by consoling myself that I still had a good ol' non-franchise, hometown kind of membership with AVT.

But I've seen just about every non-new movie at AVT (they're kinda cycling the older stuff out to make way for more tanning beds) and I pretty much only go to Hastings to buy used stuff now, so I needed a new store to raid. Preferably a new store with a voluble horror movie section. See where I'm going with this?

Now, rather than switching over to Netflix -- because I need another monthly payment like I need a cranial lobotomy...although that might actually help -- I decided to at least visit ol' Blockbuster to check out their horror and sci fi sections. Not overly huge, but at least with lots of old movies I haven't seen before. So, I signed up and rented out.

Yes, I am a movie whore. And this is my story. Heheh.

So anyway, imagine my delight when I found the TV series, Kingdom Hospital, right there in the horror shelf last weekend. I'd watched the first few episodes when they were actually on TV -- I'll take anything by Stephen King, including his laundry list (which jealous critics have been accusing him of publishing for years) -- and caught the last two by sheer force of will because, I think most of you remember, I'm not very good at watching TV. But I'd never found all of that stuff in the middle, and I always wondered what happened in those middle episodes.

Admittedly, I didn't know about the glories of YouTube back then, but hey. I just got cable internet a year or two ago. Because I'm cheap. Let's not belabor the point.

So I snatched it off the shelf with a few other fun-looking horror stories. The 'Salem's Lot TV miniseries (also based on a Stephen King novel), The Haunting, Valerie on the Stairs (a Clive Barker flick), etc. Went home. Watched everything but Kingdom Hospital first, because I wanted to really just sit down and watch it.

So there I was last Sunday evening, laptop buzzing and the first disc of KH in the DVD player. Needless to say, I didn't get much writing done. Or any, for that matter. I was too busy watching.

It's just a good story. In one of the making-ofs, one of the actors calls KH "ER on crack", and that's as good a definition as any, but I think LSD is probably more accurate. I dunno that crack is an hallucinogen.

It's a very Stephen King story, though he got the idea from a Danish series called The Kingdom that he stumbled across while filming the The Shining TV series.

Ironically, my first thought upon seeing the action start was, "Omigosh! That's Mr. Bennet!" Yeah, I watch Heroes, though I usually watch it on-line because, as I think I've told you, I'm not very good at watching TV. Yeah, the artist's character is played by the same guy who plays everyone's favorite company man and Claire-bear's adoptive father, Noah Bennet. Awesome.

Anyway, you don't need a plot synopsis. The point is that I watched it all the way through between Sunday and Tuesday, then watched it all the way through again by last night.

The kid that plays the bad ghost, Paul, and the human version of the mutant/mystical anteater, Antubis, is frickin great. Kett Turton, if I remember right (because I'm too lazy to go look). Creepy as hell one moment, frustratingly neutral the next, strangely empathetic the next. And his voice work for the anteater is excellent, too. Gives the beast some real emotion that it can't exhibit on its own.

The anteater itself is spectacular. Its CGI is as good as any I've seen for movies, and this is from, what, 5 years ago? And for TV? They usually don't spend a TV budget on such excellent effects.

But the look of the series didn't suffer for an expenditure there. In fact, the rest of the series looks just as good. Sets are intricate and as correct as you can get for a TV hospital. The actors are, for the most part, superb. The lighting is either beautiful or creepy, whatever the script demands.

And the script itself is compelling. Both King and Dooling do a masterful job of moving from tension to laughter, from pity to action. I haven't seen the original show, but I don't really have to. The Americanized version is undoubtedly different, probably even different in tone, and it works for me.

The episode with the lawyer suffering a heart attack, for instance. The scene where Dr. Hook starts barking orders for cameras recording every moment of the treatment and a notary to stamp the medical record and for the lawyer to sign a waiver that he won't sue is priceless. His orders are so pulled from some expert doctor's deposition, so packed with legal jargon that it ceases making sense. I used to be a paralegal. Trust me, I know. Heh.

But later in the episode, Antubis pulls some shenanigans that are decidedly creepy. While his name is a misunderstanding of the god Anubis, he basically stands in the story as Fate. As the little girl, Mary, says, he cures and kills. He's horrible and beautiful. He eats disease and likes to be scratched behind the ears.

And he grants wishes, but only the right wishes. He embodies the axiom, "Be careful what you wish for." Because you definitely might get it, as the lawyer finds out.

And his opposite number, Paul, just begs for backstory. I mean, we get the generics, but I'm itching to write why he is how he is. How he came to be the psychotic doctor's patient in life and assistant in death. Who he was before he died. Why his afterlife teeters on the edge of madness. I love it.

But, unfortunately, I only rented the series, so I had to take it back today. I actually should've taken it back yesterday, but I still had those last two episodes to watch, so....

However, all is not lost. When I get my income tax refund back, I'mma hit Amazon.com and see if I can't find it decently priced. If not, I can always get it used. It's all good. Paul's backstory will just have to wait.

And now, back to what I was trying to write when I stumbled upon that excellent series.

Oh, and one more thing: I am so giving the Keepers' secret greeting to everyone I see at work Monday. No one will have the slightest clue what I'm up to, which is par for the course, but I'll be having an awesome time. Heh.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Dear Charlie:

And this was my favorite SuperBowl commercial.

I think...it might be time. Especially the punching small furry creatures part.

Oh, dear.

Oh, yeah, and GO STEELERS. And my boys are looking up, because in addition to sloughing off ol' Peterson, we also managed to shuffle off the Herm Edwards coil. Hopefully, we can now rise above.

Or at least finish 8-8. That'd be cool, too.