FOGCon

Went to FOGCon over the weekend and it was fantastic!

It’s a small con – maybe 200-300 people at most. So there were only 2 or 3 tracks of programming going at once but even then the sessions were wonderful and insightful. Probably my favorite session was “The Gaze”, about different kinds of gazes and how we view the world around us through the lenses of who we are. This of course involves many different kinds of privilege operating in those lenses. I consider myself a semi-enlightened hetero male, but there were things here that really opened my eyes and from which I learned.

But really every panel I attended was interesting:

“Writing Between Genres”, which started as a discussion of what’s happening in current fiction, both speculative and mainstream, and moved into novelty in fiction and how self-publishing enables more stories and what “genre-crossing” can bring to an author and a work.

“In Between the Pixie and Crone” talking about how middle-aged women are often invisible in science fiction and fantasy literature (but interestingly not as much in mystery, romance, or literary mainstream). There were examples of work with middle-aged female protagonists, discussion about what these characters can bring to a story, and many funny personal anecdotes about the panel’s experiences (the phrase “personal microclimates” is a great one).

“Medieval POC” about how medieval times, which we usually think of as “dark ages” and are usually envisioned as extremely all-white were actually much more varied between cultures and more multi-cultural than one would think. The MedievalPOC tumblr was a fantastic site mentioned during the talk.

“Outlining”. I’m a short story person so I don’t do too much with outlines beyond my “road trip” model of writing a story. But there were some great techniques discussed by the panel that would be very useful for helping strengthen short stories and novellas, and “retro-outlining” (doing an outline for an existing work) sounds like a great tool for studying story structure and confirming the form of one’s own stories.

I met many new fun and wonderful people throughout the con, at the noodle house dinner Friday night, at the Unaward Banquet Saturday lunch, at the Codex dinner Saturday night, just hanging out in the hallways, and in the bar. I had a total blast singing at the Karaoke session, staying to the very end. My writing workshop session went rather well (I brought the “Full Moon” story) and I got some good insight into the story that I think will help me crack it open and strengthen it.

Overall, a really marvelous con. Literary, writer-ly, social, insightful, very “woke” (as the kids say), and just overall great. I’ll definitely be back for FOGCon 2018!

Writing Status – Jan/Feb 2017

January and February were mixed months for writing.

January started strong, with Paragraph a Day happening for the first three weeks. I made a lot of progress on the Rumplestiltskin story. Well, a lot of words – we’ll see what kind of progress it ends up being. The weekend of Jan 21-22 was a weekend of running math contest (ES, MS, and HS) and by the time I was done with those I was pretty wiped out so the next few days felt like recovery. Then I got sick (perhaps explaining why I was so wiped out after running the contests).

But January was a good month with 18 writing sessions and about 6700 words output. 3 story submissions. 6 story responses, all “no”, 1 story pulled because market dead.

February, not so good. Started out sick. Stayed sick for two weeks.Finally recovered from being sick in enough time to have a birthday party and then run a weekend of math contests (MathCounts Regional, and with ES and HS in El Dorado Hills). And then it was the end of the month.

So February was rough: 3 writing sessions, a little work on “All That Was Left Behind”. 2 story submissions. 1 story response of “no”, 1 story pulled because market closed.

March looks to be better, especially with FOGCon on the second weekend. I plan to get back on the paragraph a day practice and make progress on stories.

a paragraph a day, that’s all we ask

One of my New Year’s Resolutions related to writing was to do A Paragraph A Day.

While thinking about writing at the end of the year, I realized that I had become very “bursty” – I’d do 3 or 4 mornings in a week, or even in a row, but then I’d take multiple days off. Those multiple days would even extend into a week at times, depending on what else was going on in my life.

I’m thinking that the idea of Daily Practice is very important. It keeps me going, keeps my pace moving, and keeps me involved in whatever story I’m working on at the time.

So I’m trying it out, with the fairy tale story I’ve had sitting around on paper in various forms for many years. I decided to start from scratch and take a more “interstitial” approach and really do “free-form” writing on it. So far I’m enjoying the approach, and the daily interaction with the story.

Once I get into revision it will get tougher to do both a daily paragraph and do revision. I’ll have to see how it goes. But for now I’m liking it.

WOTF Finalist is “official”

Have been laid slow and low the last few weeks by holidays and more powerfully by a cough and a cold and a cough that will not go away.

In the meantime, the Finalist status is now official as per the official post at WOTF blog.

I will say, seeing is in print is pretty cool. And now it’s officially “done” and the story is out in the world still looking for a home.

Beyond that, making plans for 2017. And drinking champagne and eating posole. And waiting for 2016 to get its butt out of here. Some good stuff in 2016, but not enough to make up for the bad stuff.

Happy New Year!

Movie Review: DOCTOR STRANGE

DOCTOR STRANGE is a classically structured superhero origin movie, with a smattering of 60s pop psychology and some very impressive visuals. I enjoyed watching it, but didn’t think it was anything special in the run of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.

The origin of Stephen Strange felt like a lot of superhero origin stories – he’s an attractive, arrogant person (surgeon in this case) who is not completely unredeemable then suffers a terrible accident (car crash) which renders him unable to do the thing that defines him. He goes on a quest for answers and ends up in Nepal where he meets a group of magicians who help him tap into his inner powers and become a great sorcerer (magician). Along the way they battle against an evil sorcerer who wants to turn the world over to a Dark power (Dormammu, in this case) and, no surprise, defeat him. There’s nothing in this storyline that hasn’t been heard a bunch of times before, in different forms, in a bunch of different “origin” movies.

The 60s-esque pop psychology is overlaid on the spiritual aspect of the movie, with calls to “open your mind” and “envision other universes” and “accept that reality isn’t just what you see”, etc, etc, etc. No different than other “basic eastern/60s spirituality” seen in movies like THE MATRIX. I’m not any sort of expert in Buddhism or Tibetan Buddhism, but it didn’t seem too grounded in that spirituality, instead more of a pastiche of eastern thought and philosophy.

The most impressive aspect of this movie is the visual special effects, as the sorcerers battle by bending reality around each other and causing each other to fall and collide with real objects and have to run long ways. It’s a surprisingly physical aspect to what is primarily a mental and visual situation, especially since most objects and people around them don’t seem to be affected by the magic (cars keep driving on vertical streets, people keep walking sideways and around) until a physical object is actually destroyed and the world is affected. The visuals are very reminiscent of INCEPTION in that sense.

Benedict Cumberbatch did a nice job with making Stephen Strange an arrogant American, even if he might have overdone the “one sounds American by hitting the Rs really HARRRRD” aspect of the accent. Tilda Swinton did good work as the Ancient One, especially with making the character more of a person and less of a caricature through the use of an “un-mystical” speaking style and humor. But I don’t understand why the studio couldn’t cast an Asian-American actress. I would have loved to see Michelle Yeoh in the role, for example.

The other characters felt very secondary, with Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo being the strongest of the supporting group. It looks like Mordo will be the villain in the future movies, and while I’m not totally convinced of his change in character was justified I do think that Ejiofor played it well. Rachel McAdams played the “ex-girlfriend, sort of love interest” who, while pretty thinly drawn, was at least also an ER surgeon. I was hoping that she would turn out to also be capable of becoming a magician, and perhaps even a great one because she’s a more humane person versus Strange. Then she could get out of the “girlfriend”/”assistant” role. Didn’t happen in this movie, could happen in a future movie? My one nitpick with the medical scenes why people persist in doing solo operations in dark emergency rooms. That’s beyond me.

The movie itself had some regular and fun spots of humor and light-hearted banter, as we expect to see in a Marvel movie and as Marvel movies do well. Banter and humor does bring such a fresh light to what could otherwise be very ponderous and/or grim superhero movies (see most DC movies for examples) so it’s always nice to see it. Make sure to stay for both extra scenes in the credits, one is quite fun and the other sets up future movies.

Overall, I enjoyed Doctor Strange but I didn’t think it was one of the stronger or more distinct movies in the Marvel collective.

WOTF Finalist, but not a published one

I mentioned a while back that I was a finalist in Writers of the Future Q4 2016 (I was in fact *fourth* for Q4) and that they wanted to hold the story to see if it would chosen to be the Published Finalist.

Well the news came today and “The Void and the Voice” was not selected to be the Published Finalist. Darn. So close, and yet so far.

It does mean that the story can go out into the world again and see if it can find a home. It was knocking at the door, looking in the windows, seeing the meal at the table but alas was not invited in to dine. So out it goes. Good luck, little story!

Movie Review: FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

I saw _Fantastic Beasts_ on Thanksgiving weekend. I’m just now getting to putting up a post with my thoughts on the movie.

I enjoyed watching Fantastic Beasts. The creature visuals were especially wonderful and the creatures themselves were very lovable and had a lot of character. But the whole time I kept thinking that the movie felt odd and out-of-sorts to me.

Part of the movie was a very charming romantic comedy featuring two couples: Newt Scamander and Tina Goldstein, and Queenie and Jacob Kowalski. Add in a suitcase full of runaway creatures and you almost have a Harry Potter version of “Bringing Up Baby”. Newt and Tina are both introverts, so I found their burgeoning relationship intriguing as they both were attracted to each other but tried not to show it. Queenie and Jacob were more outgoing, more blatantly attracted to each other, and thus more immediately appealing to the audience. Suitcases get mixed up, creatures escape, and the four of them try to re-capture the creatures before they can bring around too much havoc in the city and before all the no-maj (American for “muggles”) figure out that there are wizards in the world.

Had the movie been just this, it would have been a very nice, lighthearted, appealing movie. The relationships themselves felt like not quite enough time was given to them to fully explain the attraction of the couples, especially Queenie and Jacob. Their appealing natures and the fine job by both actors of portraying the mutual interest made the relationship believable, more than the plotline or situation itself. Having more time for these relationships would have really helped them feel deeper.

But then there was another plot. An entirely different plot. This plot concerned a dark wizard in disguise and a woman who adopts children and mistreats them and rails in public that there is magic and wizards and witches in the world. The dark wizard is trying to find a special child with a dark power and use this child for his advantage. This plot was much more dark and menacing, and felt like a different movie.

It was like they started with the romantic comedy and said “oops, too light, we need some menace” and created another plot with the dark wizard and welded it onto the romantic comedy at a few points. The two movies felt like different movies and led to the out-of-sorts opinion I had throughout the movie.

And really, can’t magical governments figure out that dark wizards travel in disguise and get their act together on detecting them? This happens enough in the Harry Potter world that you think they’d get on that issue.

Still, overall Fantastic Beasts was enjoyable especially for the creatures and the nice acting work by the four leads in the romantic comedy part of the movie.