Friday, January 30, 2015

Woven is a magical book from a magical publisher and I got the inside scoop from authors/part-time sorcerers Michael Jensen and David Powers King

Today is day four of the Woven blog tour! Huzzah! And I have an exclusive interview to share with you ("exclusive" meaning that in this case, these are all my questions and no one else's :) But first, here's all the relevant information regarding this GARGANTUAN release from publisher Scholastic

Here is the book description from Goodreads:

Two unlikely allies must journey across a kingdom in the hopes of thwarting death itself.

All his life, Nels has wanted to be a knight of the kingdom of Avërand. Tall and strong, and with a knack for helping those in need, the people of his sleepy little village have even taken to calling him the Knight of Cobblestown.

But that was before Nels died, murdered outside his home by a mysterious figure.

Now the young hero has awoken as a ghost, invisible to all around him save one person—his only hope for understanding what happened to him—the kingdom’s heir, Princess Tyra. At first the spoiled royal wants nothing to do with Nels, but as the mystery of his death unravels, the two find themselves linked by a secret, and an enemy who could be hiding behind any face.

Nels and Tyra have no choice but to abscond from the castle, charting a hidden world of tangled magic and forlorn phantoms. They must seek out an ancient needle with the power to mend what has been torn, and they have to move fast. Because soon Nels will disappear forever.

Available now wherever books are sold

About the Authors:

Michael Jensen is a graduate of Brigham Young University’s prestigious music, dance, and theater program. Michael taught voice at BYU before establishing his own vocal instruction studio. In addition to being an imaginative storyteller, Michael is an accomplished composer and vocalist. He lives in Salt Lake City with his husband and their four dogs.

Photo credit: Michael Schoenfeld

Photo credit: Katie Pyne Rasmussen

David Powers King was born in beautiful downtown Burbank, California where his love for film inspired him to become a writer. An avid fan of science fiction and fantasy, David also has a soft spot for zombies and the paranormal. He now lives in the mountain West with his wife and three children.


And now, the INTERVIEW

Please note that Mr. Jensen's responses are highlighted in blue and Mr. King's responses are highlighted in orange:

1) "Woven" is one of the most original fantasies I've read in years, and the "fabrication" magic works so well with its thimbles that protect you from harm, and the slip-stitches that allow fabricators to follow someone over great distances, and even the Needle of Gailner (which is an artifact of power equally impressive to "The One Ring") that I've got to ask: how did you come up with it? It's so awesome!

Michael: It started as a dream that I had years ago; I was crushed by a tree and became a ghost. I was so frustrated because no one could see or hear me. It was such an interesting perspective I wanted to share it in story form. I had the intention of making a musical out of it, but it ended up on the shelf until I met David. He caught my vision right away and we teamed up and started writing this book together.

2) Why did you go with leather armor for the knights of the kingdom? I thought that was an interesting choice instead of plate mail.

David: After some research we decided leather armor would be a nice change from how knights are usually portrayed. Leather armor is more casual for a festival setting and cooler, since the scene takes place in the summer. Plate armor is heavy and wasn’t easy to come by, but they do wear chainmail and armor as the plot thickens.

3) Did you have experience as a wrestler? I thought the scene where Nels wrestled the other knight was quite well written.

Michael: Neither of us have any wrestling experience (nothing professional anyway). It’s amazing what you can do with a little research and wrestling YouTube videos!

4) Names, names, names! Seriously, where did you get "Gailner", "Nels", "Ickabosh", "Fargut", and "Gleesel" (I love Gleesel!)? And by the way, I love how you broke stereotypes so well in this book! I expected Gleesel to be some monster, and she totally wasn't. Oh and do each of you have a favorite name?

David: Much of our inspiration came from medieval Scandinavia. We looked up old names that were popular in the era and area, like Tyra and Lars, and a few others we changed slightly. This helped us keep names similar and simple to read. One of the messages we hope to convey with Woven is that people aren't always what they seem on the surface. Even Rasmus is fighting for the greater good, though with reprehensible methods.

5) Was it a difficult choice for you to switch out of the narrative voice of Nels earlier in the book to being in Tyra's head after Nels was murdered? And why did you decide to step into Tyra's head and not just stay in Nels' head the entire time?

Michael: The point of view switch was natural. And refreshing! After Nels’s death, he could no longer be the main character of the story. Tyra is the one who interacts with the world of the living, so her POV is crucial to the story. Deciding whose perspective was most interesting in a given scene was the tricky part.

6) How do you get your tertiary characters like Gleesel and Fargut to resonate with such sparkle?

David: Every character in Woven has a history; and that history generates the motivation for their actions. We love the characters because they remind us of ourselves, even if they are sometimes a little eccentric.

7) As I read this, I kept thinking that it would make a perfect blockbuster movie by either DreamWorks or Disney, so let's just go ahead and go there since you have a HUGE publishing contract through Scholastic. In my mind, I pictured a full-blown computer-animated feature like How To Train Your Dragon or Frozen. You of the $160 million dollar animated films that go on to gross a billion dollars. But I have to ask, if it were your choice, would you want "animated" or would you want "live action" ala real actors like in the Harry Potter franchise?

Michael: It’s too early to know, but it would thrill us to see Woven brought to life on the silver screen, animated or otherwise. We have a series planned, so live-action might accommodate this best. The good news is we have received inquiries from studios, which is very exciting for us.

8) Can you tell us about some scenes that you probably trimmed from the book? You know, ones that didn't work out and maybe why you decided to trim them in favor of others? A project like this one that takes ten years had to have a lot of winnowing and editing, and I'm interested in your process.

David: We trimmed quite a bit from our original 120,000 word manuscript: a haunted lake, a dream/vision sequence, and even the last chapter had to be rewritten. Emily Dickenson wrote, “I hesitate which word to take, as I take but few and each must be chiefest.” Every chapter, scene, paragraph and word needed to move the story along. Trimming the fat was a process, but we both knew everything in the story had to have a purpose. No wasted words.

9) So there were some dangling "threads" in this book. Is there a sequel planned? Does Tyra fulfill her promise to Threadbare and return the Needle of Gailner to the land beyond the magical gate? Are you allowed to share any details of the sequel with us eager readers, and if so, what can you share?

Michael: We wanted to make a great book that could stand on its own with potential for more. These dangling threads are no accident. These threads will tie together in the other novels we have planned for this series, which will be a series of companion novels (same world, different main characters). We hinted who one of these main character will be at the very end of Woven.

10) What advice do you two rising stars have for authors out there that want to get published with Scholastic (or a similar publisher)?

David: Our path to publication was an unusual one, but we can say that major publishers are on the lookout for high concept storytelling. Really immerse yourself in the genre you write, look at what is out there, what is popular, and then make something unique that we haven’t seen yet.

11) Who drew the map? It's absolutely wonderful. I tried to make out the name on the signature but was unsuccessful.

Michael: Isaac Stewart did a fantastic job with the map. He happens to be the cartographer and interior artist for Brandon Sanderson’s books, so we are extremely lucky to have commissioned him. Isaac is planning to expand our world as we continue to write more novels in this series.

And there you have it folks. If you have one question for me, it's probably "What did you think of Woven when you read it, Mike?" So click HERE to read my review.

Rafflecopper Giveaway Link (One of 5 copies of Woven – signed by both authors): a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

At least five of the Flash's most famous enemies have appeared on the CW in season one and that makes me think they're building up to something huge

The first season of the Flash is putting together the enemies of the fastest comic book superhero in the universe, and they're collectively known as the "Rogues." So far, this is what we've seen:
Captain Cold, a.k.a., Leonard Snart. Played by actor Wentworth Miller in the television show, Snart stole a weapon from S.T.A.R. Labs that fires out a beam of intense cold that Cisco Ramon created as a "solution" to "The Flash" should he prove to be evil. Basically, this gun has the ability to freeze anything to absolute zero. He's the leader of the "Rogues" since he is charismatic, and Snart has what I would call a "Jim Jones" kind of persona, able to make emotional appeals to naturally occurring megalomania (in his teammates) through grandiose promises of rulership. He first appears in the episode "Going Rogue," which is number four in season one.
The Pied Piper, a.k.a., Hartley Rathaway. Played by actor Andy Mientus, Hartley has created a pair of gloves that allow him to manipulate sound waves. He's a former protégée of Dr. Harrison Wells and is after vengeance because Wells fired him, threatened him, and ignored what he had to say about the dangerous particle accelerator. Hartley, much like Captain Cold, is not a meta-human. He's just really really smart, and he basically has gone evil because he's filled with so much hatred for Wells, Cisco, Snow, and Barry Allen. Hartley is introduced in the episode "The Sound and the Fury" which is number eleven in season one.
Weather Wizard, a.k.a., Clyde Mardon. Played by Chad Rook, Clyde robbed a bank with his brother Mark (who's the Weather Wizard in the comic books). Clyde is a meta-human, having derived his powers from being in a plane that exploded when the S.T.A.R. Labs particle accelerator went boom. As far as I know, this character died in the Pilot episode of season 1. It's still interesting they introduced him though. Maybe they have plans for a resurrection.
Heat Wave, a.k.a., Mick Rory. Played by actor Dominic Purcell, Heat Wave makes his appearance in the tenth episode entitled "Revenge of the Rogues." Heat Wave's character is a friend of Captain Cold's, and he has basically the opposite fetish of Cold in that he's a pyromaniac. Cold gives him a gun that's essentially a bottomless flame thrower so that they can put the squeeze on Barry by hitting him simultaneously with both fire and ice.
Captain Boomerang, a.k.a., Digger Harkness. Played by actor Nick Tarabay, Boomerang was in the crossover two-part episodes "Flash versus Arrow" and "The Brave and the Bold." In the episodes, Harkness is a guy that kills people with deadly metal boomerangs, and who has a connection with A.R.G.U.S., which may or may not have something to do with the Suicide Squad. I wish there was more information available to us fans.

That's five out of (I believe) what might be ten of the "Rogues." I think at this point I'm most interested in seeing them break out Gorilla Grodd (there's going to have to be some serious CGI for this one), and then more on Professor Zoom (which we now know for certainty is Dr. Wells AS I had predicted last year).

Please stop by Friday when I post my interview of Woven authors Michael Jensen and David Powers King. I'm going to their book signing here in Salt Lake City at The King's English. I shall take a few pics and post them for you :).

Monday, January 26, 2015

The International Space Station has an office window worthy of the throne for Emperor Palpatine

Sometimes, it pays to be a NASA troll.

The above image shows the interior view of the International Space Station's Cupula module, and it was taken on January 4th, 2015. As you can see, the large window has a spectacular view. There's a robotic work station too, and it's used by astronauts to manipulate the large robotic arm that was used throughout the construction of the station, and to grapple visiting cargo vehicles, and to assist astronauts during spacewalks. Below is a picture of the robotics work station.
Personally, I think this has got to be the coolest office space anywhere. I think you could safely say, "I've made it," if this ended up being your office. And because I'm a geek that loves Star Wars, I can't help but think of how the cupula window above looks a lot like the window in Emperor Palpatine's throne room on the Death Star.
Sigh. Now that it's Monday, I suppose I have to get ready to head into my much less stately office and get some work done. See you in the comments :)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Is the popularity of Body Worlds and the massive fandom of Attack on Titan growing from a grotesque fascination with death?

I think the first time I saw a skinless representation of a human being, I was watching the film adaptation of Clive Barker's "The Hellbound Heart." The title of the movie was Hellraiser, and the guy that was skinless happened to be a demented rapist by the name of Frank, who in the pursuit of ever more adventurous sex, managed to breach a gulf between worlds using a magical puzzle box and summon terrible demons who then proceeded to rip and cut him to pieces. But a piece of Frank survived and basically "grew" in the attic with the assistance of a former lover named Julia, who lured men to their doom so that Frank could drink their blood and gestate a new "skinless" body. I remember being horrified by Frank's appearance because he was so visceral, raw, and red.
If you had told me that this kind of thing, seeing a skinless human being, would grow popular I would have said "no way." But in today's world, I guess the skinless anorexic human is the new grotesque. How would I define "grotesque?" Well, that's kind of hard. Maybe it's a state of being where I'm left with the conclusion that something is both beautiful and hideous simultaneously. Does that sound crazy? How can something be so hideous that it's beautiful? I fail to find the words to answer that question.

Clive Barker's popularity has waned over time, but I think he is still popular among those who love horror. And without having even met the man, I would bet that Clive Barker loves Body Worlds. If you haven't been to a Body Worlds exhibit (or its competitor Bodies...the Exhibition) in a museum in your area don't worry. I'll tell you all about it. Body Worlds is a gallery of real human beings who have undergone plastination, oftentimes skin removed. And everywhere this show goes, it sells out.

The official disclaimer for one exhibit is that all of the bodies were "donated" to science upon their deaths. But there's been questions regarding the dubious origins of some, perhaps adding to the horror and thereby the experience? I'll let you decide. Some cadavers were traced to a Russian medical examiner convicted of illegally selling the bodies of homeless people, prisoners, and indigent hospital patients. Some simply are "unclaimed" bodies from Chinese medical schools, meaning that they weren't donated willingly. Either way, my feelings toward the exhibits billed for their "scientific contribution" wasn't really so much that I learned anything spectacular (although anatomy is certainly on display). Rather, it's that I felt like a participant in a certain kind of capitalist excess. I mean...what kind of society plasticizes dubiously attained cadavers and then sells tickets hand over fist to gawking crowds? And why are there gawking crowds to begin with? Is it because we all desire to be horrified? Maybe it's that our society is so clean that seeing a dead body is a rarity. In a way, we've kind of sterilized the process of dying so that it takes place behind closed doors, sparing all of us the horrors of dealing with a corpse.

The writer in me can't help but create a scary fiction around these exhibits. A man who has grown rich and successful from his art gallery of plasticized cadavers is a serial killer by night. He stalks those that attract his attention while visiting his gallery. Later, he makes an excuse to meet them, slips them a drug in a drink, and they wake up just as he starts the process to turn them into one of his masterpieces. He does his work in a soundproof room somewhere under his gallery where he can take his time with his gives me the shivers just thinking about it.
These are a pair of huge statues that offer many photo ops for tourists visiting
Universal Studios Japan's new Attack on Titan theme park.
In some ways, Attack on Titan and specifically the titans themselves are the latest expression of the skinless human as spectacle. It's MASSIVE popularity both here and abroad is frightening. If you haven't heard about Attack on Titan, it's an anime series set in a world where gigantic humanoid monsters (some skinless) roam around eating humans. To survive, humans live in a walled city under constant fear that the Titans will smash their homes and eat their families. The monsters are terrifying and the action is intense.
This Attack on Titan Ride at Universal Studios Japan
But as far as monsters go, is there a psychology at play? Are skinless human beings the new "grotesque?" If so, why? Is it the viscera? Is it the appearance of all those raw tendons and muscles? There is a strange connection between the popularity of Body Worlds and the massive fandom of Attack on Titan that I think, grows from a grotesque fascination with death. What's your opinion?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

When crafting a post apocalyptic story be sure to incorporate the crazy

What makes a post apocalyptic story work? We all have various answers to this question, but I think the most important thing is to include what I call "the crazies." Stories that fail to incorporate "the crazies" tend to be the ones that fail or just fall apart. In other words, I'm saying that "crazy" is the glue in which post-apocalyptic works best grab their audience. It's like tree sap for insects. Don't believe me? I submit the following examples for your discussion (and give you the second season trailer for "The Strain" to boot):

1) Revolution. This canceled show on NBC did incorporate the crazy, but decided to go "crazy-lite". When you've got ratings at stake, you can't hold back the crazy. You've got to unleash the fury of full-on insanity that defies all explanation and scares the bejeebus out of the common viewer. By the time Revolution did this, it was too late. The show got grounded in basically functional human societies that (while dystopian) weren't crazy enough until we started going with the nano tech and the strange cults that were rising around the world because the nano decided it was a god. Had they stuck with the nano from the very beginning instead of going with the war with Texas (no one really cares about watching Texans and their militia), I think it might have gotten renewed for a season three, because it was just nutty enough to keep luring us along.

2) The Strain. The first season of this gory FX vampire drama had a lot of really slow parts in it that might have killed the series were it not for the fact that vampires are popular and people will sit through hours of nothing in order to be scared by blood-sucking freaks. Plus, it kind of worked against the whole "vampires are beautiful" trope, which in today's society is "cray cray." In the second season, it appears that the war between humans and vampires has escalated from covert to being overrun and on fire, and I'm going to say that from the looks of it that THIS is totally the right level of crazy. If they keep that up all season, you know there's going to be a season 3.

3) The Walking Dead. This show is a masterpiece on balancing the perfect amount of crazy. There are some slow episodes that get you to a point where you're almost willing to give up on it when all hell breaks loose, main characters die, and you're left sitting on the edge of your seat wondering if there will ever be any happiness on this show. In a way, The Walking Dead seems bent on slashing through every taboo that there is. The crazier the taboo, the more it shocks me into a drooling couch potato unable to tear my eyes away.

4) Falling Skies. If ever there was a television show that rode the tails of crazy, it's this. Not one but two alien species invade Earth, and they are both bad. The show's main character is a charismatic man who gets leid easily, knocks a woman up after having alien DNA inserted into him, and it results in a girl-child hybrid that grows up super fast, has incredible superpowers, and likes to put herself and family members in a cocoon all the while maintaining a Manson-esque cult vibe that has nothing to do with alien invasion. No wonder it gets renewed season after season.

5) The 100. This show decided to repopulate an Earth destroyed in a nuclear holocaust with teenagers that make kids in Lord of the Flies look good. There's lots of death, dismemberment, brutality, mutilation, strange clouds of acid that boil your skin off, mutated animals, and humans who are so cruel to each other that the craziness never stops. The only thing you really needed to add to this formula were six pack abs and the CW does that in spades.

6) Defiance. This storyline is the ultimate in crazy. It has bio-engineered creatures, death and subsequent resurrection, multiple personality syndrome brought upon by possession by powerful gods, crazy sex, crazy drugs, and an all out crazy political system. Nearly every ten minutes of Defiance is something so crazy, you shake your head wondering why any of it works. Maybe it's because when everything is so crazy, you've got something in common.

Friday, January 16, 2015

In defense of Dr. Paul Krugman and how I think he's right about everything

Paul Krugman is a Nobel-prize winning economist and writes for The New York Times. I also agree with just about everything he has to say. Is politics to play? Am I so abashedly liberal that I cannot embrace other points of view? When I read his opinions I most unabashedly find myself nodding yes, because (to my brain) what he's writing sounds so logical. I suppose by stating this, I should be thankful that I'm indeed not famous. My obscurity shields me from public attack by the ilk who frequent such capitalist pig publications like Forbes (who basically hate him). After all, defending one's opinions online against a horde of people who hate Obama and by extension everything that's been done under his watch (and have discovered their web browser allows them to comment thereby giving them a voice) is mentally exhausting. Trust me; I speak from experience.

For those of  you unfamiliar with Dr. Krugman, he is a Keynesian. In other words, he thinks that activist government spending helps the economy in times of recession. His opponents (who are very vocal on Facebook and are always posting articles to the contrary from websites like "big government overreach" and "the conservative voice") reject the notion that government intervention to aid the poor or to regulate the economy could be beneficial. In fact, they believe that any type of government involvement, including slashing of taxes to "boost economic activity" is absolutely useless and detrimental to the economy. They claim that stimulus spending leads to hyperinflation and economic disaster, and they believe that all economic exchange regardless of its nature, is highly beneficial to society. Yeah I saw Breaking Bad and not all economic exchange is beneficial.
Ben Bernanke, former head of the Federal Reserve, nominated by President
George W. Bush to succeed Alan Greenspan. He has since been succeeded
by Janet Yellen.
I don't understand Libertarian points of view. Not any of it. Reading their rants over government spending is like trying to find the logic in a David Lynch movie. Even a stooge like me can see that if you want to stimulate the economy, there has got to be money being spent. This is not rocket science. If no one is buying anything, then the economy goes to pieces. I get this. So at a time when America was hit with a recession as big as the Great Depression of 1929, why did so many people have a hard time seeing that government spending needed to step up to the plate while Americans lost jobs, hoarded money, and banks tightened up lending? We couldn't depend on our neighbors to continue spending, not when they were either losing a job or not getting a raise for years to come, and when the place they were working at was going through a hiring freeze or reorganizing under Chapter 11.
Nothing that any "Ayn Randian" voice has said about how to get out of a recession makes sense to me. In a way, it's like they're all writing fiction and spouting off specious arguments with the conviction of a Baptist preacher. Conservatives and Libertarians called the Federal Reserve bond buying program ($80 billion a month for a year) a ticking time bomb. "Inflation will sky rocket," they screamed. "This will create (or did create) an asset bubble that's gonna pop and destroy the economy!" Well guess what? That program ended successfully and there's been no asset inflation. How do I know this? I've been paying ATTENTION.

The fact is that the consumer price index which measures inflation is dangerously low at 1.5 percent. Healthy inflation according to those (like Krugman) who have the educational chops to tackle such economic science agree that inflation in the United States needs to be at 2-3% The fact that we are far below that number is why your savings account is worth nothing. Most places (if you carry a balance less than $10,000) just give you an interest rate of .01 percent per year (that's 1/100th of a percent). This means that if you keep your money in your savings account, you might as well be stuffing it in your mattress. Inflation is eating it away every day at the rate of 1.5% per year making it worth less and less over time. Why would the Federal Reserve do such a horrible thing to the saver? Because they want you to do other things with it rather than just sit on it because that's how economies prosper.

Yesterday, in an article in The New York Times entitled Francs, Fear, and Folly, Paul Krugman again said something that makes sense to me. And again, I don't think it's politics at play. What sent a shiver of fear through the stock market yesterday was that the Swiss National Bank (their equivalent to the Federal Reserve) shocked the world by abandoning its policy of pegging the franc to the euro. It also cut the interest rate it pays on bank reserves to -.75%. What? Why would they do this?
The world outside of the United States is fighting deflation (the opposite of inflation). Deflation causes economies to stagnate. People hoarding money in bank accounts can act like dominoes toppling one after another until you have this out of control spiral which is essentially what's happening in Europe and in Japan. The United States thus far appears to be the only relative safe spot in the world to put your money, but it's been fascinating to see how the rhetoric of those who hate Krugman keep saying that our central bank needs to hike interest rates soon. But if this happens before the economy is ready, my understanding (thanks to Dr. Krugman) is that this would be disastrous. Of course the anti-Krugman crusaders disagree in droves probably because saving money seems like a logical thing to do.

Hiking interest rates is a saver's boon because suddenly your CD's and your bonds and your saving's accounts are all worth something again. But here's the rub: hiking interest rates puts the brakes on a roaring economy, and our economy isn't roaring. Trust me when I say, I want higher interest rates too. I don't want to have to chuck all of my money into risky assets just to stay ahead of inflation and make a nest egg suitable for my retirement. However, Krugman thinks the time isn't right, and I believe him especially after the spooky event that just happened in Switzerland yesterday.

As further evidence that all is not right with our economy yet (it's come a great distance with low gas prices, falling unemployment, a healthy stock market, etc.), just last week we saw an unemployment report that indicated that wages were FALLING across America even as job hiring was robust. There are several theories to how this is happening because when the labor pool dries up, wages are supposed to rise. Some voices say that it's because all the jobs that are being created are crap jobs, ones that are part-time with no benefits and with low pay. All the good ones have people squatting in them because they know better than to leave. And without that sense of value, well there's just no arguing with an employer about a raise. Add to that good-paying jobs being lost in droves from the oil industry as the falling price of oil strangles huge employers like Schlumberger, and we've got problems, folks.

Overall, defending Dr. Krugman in pitched Facebook battles against people who don't read his articles has been like banging my head against a wall. I finally just decided to stop, because it isn't worth my time to do so with people who just post clips that they find from around the internet to "counter" the points that I make. I've basically either blocked those people or made their posts invisible. Isn't Facebook supposed to bring us closer together? I think I fail at social networking. But here I am, yet again, posting my final thoughts regarding Dr. Krugman, because I feel like I need to defend the man whose ideas I agree with, and it's not just politics.

Why can't everyone see that there's a reason Dr. Krugman has a Nobel Prize in economics?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Agent Carter is good but can it be great?

Last week I watched the premiere of the mini series/TV show Agent Carter, and from what I've seen it's way better than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It could be that I make such statements because Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. more or less just seems like a trampoline for the Marvel movies, and that has left me a little irked. But in either case, I'm saying that Agent Carter is good while wondering if it has the chops to be great. In unconventional review style, I'm going to break down last week's episode in pro/con tvland-fu and see what I come up with, and I hope that you'll chime in with some comments :).

Con: No Chris Evans cameo. I realize that it probably takes buckets of cash to even move Chris Evans from the lap of "anything he wants" these days, but it would have been awesome if there was something outside of movie clips to feast my eyes upon.
Pro: We got a radio program that not only made me laugh to see the special effects of hands slapping an uncooked pot roast (not to mention a guy cracking a lobster in half over the microphone), but it made me nostalgic that I can't just listen to radio programs like that anymore. On the plus side, my friend who watched Agent Carter with me said that England still has radio dramas, and I was instantly intrigued.
Pro: The setting. I used to play this roleplaying game called "Top Secret," and one of my favorite settings for it was the Agent 13 Sourcebook. Basically, you played a spy in the same era that Cthulhu stories are written in (and which made Dick Tracy), and there's nifty gadgets and awesome villains and some very colorful characters. I loved seeing the gadget that Agent Carter used to crack open the safe in the night club. And on the interesting character bus rode Leet Brannis, a man with no larynx, trying to sell a weapon of mass destruction to the highest bidder.

Con: Leviathan. Other than instantly knowing this is obviously a Biblical reference, I hate mysteries that get dragged out for the sake of intrigue. We better get some explanations soon, or I may pitch a fit.
Pro: Peggy Carter. She puts on a blond wig and can seduce anyone. She wears one of Howard Stark's sex costumes (the doctor) and transforms into a milk inspector that is so convincing I wouldn't have recognized her in real life. She diffuses a powerful bomb using only nail polish remover and some baking soda, and she does kung fu to the Captain America radio broadcast so well, it looks choreographed.
Pro: Jarvis. Yes, I would have loved for them to actually get Paul Bettany (who voices Jarvis in the Iron Man films) but James D'Arcy really goes far into being the "Yin" to Peggy's "Yang." There's also some chemistry there; it's pretty difficult to catch as he's a prim married man that goes to bed by 9 p.m.
Con: Everyone that Peggy knows ends up dead. I know this is how superheroes need to feel. But she hasn't gotten over losing Steve Rogers and now her roommate Colleen ends up dead from Leviathan assassins. Ah well. I may not like it but it makes for intriguing storytelling, right? Is the number one rule of writing to "never let your characters be happy?"

Someday, someone who's a better writer than me needs to redo that rule. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Youtube gives us the proof we needed to rest assured that the new lightsaber is a work of genius

To my surprise, the most talked about film for 2015 is probably going to be the seventh installment for the Star Wars franchise, and not the sequel to The Avengers, and most of this is owing to the great trailer that J.J. Abrams put out in fall 2014 which features a red lightsaber with lightsaber quillons...because well...nerds.
In yet another reason to check Reddit, user DaniAlonso put out a post called "Well I don't think the lightsaber in the Star Wars episode VII trailer is dumb anymore" and then linked to a video by YouTuber Thrand who collaborated with his friends Eldgrimr and Marquez to answer the most burning question of our age: does wielding a lightsaber with this design pose any danger to its user? The answer is "no" and whoever thought of this design is actually pretty genius. If you read through the comments of the Reddit thread, you can see that there are millions of people who are emotionally invested in the decision to feature a lightsaber with a "powered" crossguard.

So if you are one of the people that have cast aspersions upon J.J. Abrams and who have lost faith in his ability to bring us the greatest Star Wars movie ever, I think you should ask yourself a few questions:

1) Why is it so hard for me to admit that this lightsaber is really clever?
2) Was there actual testing done behind this, or did they just luck into brilliance?
3) Why did I have a negative reaction to what is (undeniably) very cool?

Maybe the answer is that you're one of those people that's grumpy and likes to tear everyone down because...jealously much?

And in other Star Wars news, is anyone thinking that Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad is hinting very strongly on his Twitter account that he's been cast in the Han Solo spin off? I wonder who he'll play. And yes, if you didn't know, there's a Han Solo and a Boba Fett spin off in the works. Remember, Disney wants to release three Star Wars movies a year from now unto infinity :) and that is what I call a good disturbance in the Force.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Of course shows made from comics comprised my four favorite among a huge lineup that aired in fall 2014

I figure that my post today will mostly be a reflection post (with spoilers) in regards to my four favorite selections from fall tv. Now, when it comes to entertaining television I watch a lot but rarely do I think "Wow this is so good that you must watch it!" In other words, I have high standards and try not to recommend crap to my friends because I know they probably value their time more than I value mine. So what follows in the next paragraph is a rundown of my disappointments.


"Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." overall has been very meh, and I hope they pick up the pace and start providing answers or I may just tune out. It seems obvious to me that we're only going to get satisfaction from the Marvel movies, and I think that's just too bad. "Supernatural" should get canceled, because the only thing making it even remotely interesting anymore is Crowley. Big Bang Theory has stopped being funny for the most part, and the cast is way too big now for 20 minutes. Elementary just seems like another detective show. Gotham is starting to gel, but only when they start featuring more of the Bruce Wayne storyline. Fish Mooney is a way better villain than Penguin, and it's too bad they don't go in that direction more. And Constantine is absolutely terrible. I hate this show, find it boringly derivative of other shows like Grimm and Supernatural, and think that it should just get canceled. The best thing about American Horror Story: Freak Show has been the opening credits. The storyline on the other hand, is just not all that good and the characters are barely holding my interest this year. It's too bad that this is Jessica Lang's last season, but honestly, the cast is so huge now that they don't need her. The 100 fails to get me to care about any of the characters. I just don't think any of them are very well-developed. Dr. Who was remarkably terrible for the ENTIRE season. I've decided I don't like Peter Capaldi because he's a know-it-all jerkface that's all caught up in his own greatness, and then the show decided to be absolutely cruel to Clara and destroy any happy ending she could possibly have, which just sealed the deal for me on hating Peter Capaldi's doctor. Finally, The Newsroom had its last remaining episodes aired on HBO. I loved the majority of them and really fell in love with Olivia Munn's character Sloan Sabbith. It's too bad this show has been canceled and that's why I'm putting it in the "I'm so disappointed" pile.

But there were some bright spots in fall television, and here they are:

The Flash -- (spoiler warning) This did end up being my favorite new series as I had predicted somewhere around mid-summer. I think that the casting of Grant Gustin as Barry Allen was perfect. I love how the show is creating the Rogues gallery for Flash by putting together Captain Cold, Reverse Flash (part of the greater storyline), Heat Wave, and Gorilla Grodd (we haven't seen him yet, but he's coming). I also like the secondary characters: Cisco, Catelyn Snow, and Iris. But the show's greatest strength just might be the multiple crossovers with Arrow. These are like mining gold every single time, because they have a greater universe appeal kinda like a micro-sized Avengers custom-fit for your t.v.

Arrow -- (spoiler warning) I have to admit that when I first started watching this show three years ago, I had really low expectations. I thought it was going to travel down the same path that Smallville did, forever setting up love triangles and going "freak of the week" or something like that. Boy was I ever wrong. Instead we got introduced to a whole cast of characters and the CW proceeded to kill them off one by one. It's hard to have a love triangle when the points of the triangle perish horribly. 2014 marked the third season of Arrow and it started off with a bang by killing off Sara, one of my favorite characters from season two. I was like, "Are you f*cking serious?!" But yeah...Sara died (horribly) and the rest of the season pretty much went like a chess game played by Malcolm Merlyn who skillfully used Sara's death to checkmate Ollie into a battle to the death versus Ra's al Ghul, a fight Oliver couldn't win. So in the fall finale, the CW killed off Oliver Queen. What the hell?! I NEED ANSWERS CW!!! He can't be dead!!! *bawls loudly*
Negan talking to Rick and crew (who are on their knees).
The Walking Dead -- (spoiler warning for the comic books) With the Terminus storyline resolved and Beth dead, this show is heading toward the Negan storyline that literally had me up late many nights as I read comic after comic. Negan is perhaps the worst villain I have ever seen. This guy makes the Governor and the Terminus cannibals look like nothing. Things I am looking forward to from this show are the first gay couple (who are actually great guys with many redeeming qualities) that lead Rick and his rag-tag group of survivors to a town that has electricity, a big wall around it, and houses for people to live in. They even have kids that play in the streets. So for a while, things will be great, but The Walking Dead does not allow its characters to stay happy for very long. Negan's the storm on the horizon. He has an army see, that roams the countryside to find survivors of the apocalypse and force them to pay tribute (half of everything they possess). What they get in return (these "communes" of survivors) is half-assed protection from zombie hordes. But if they don't pay the tribute or haven't gathered enough to keep Negan happy, then Negan gets angry and people die. I am very curious how they will handle Negan, because his brutality in the comic books is such that I don't think they can show it on television. That, and he drops the "F-bomb" all the time.

Sleepy Hollow -- The fall finale ended with a conclusion to a major storyline involving the return of Moloch and an impending Armageddon straight out of the Book of Revelation. This series continuously surprises me with its ability to go to historical fact and spin the supernatural from American history. With its return this week, I got a few answers and the show appears to be heading in a fresh direction with a new villain and the possible redemption of an old one. If you aren't watching Sleepy Hollow, I suggest you give it a try, because it's consistently one of the best on t.v. And you know what, the cinematography and cast are everything that Supernatural once was (thinking season five).

So that pretty much rounds out what I thought of fall television. With the new year, let's all hope that there's plenty of entertainment and fun things to watch on the horizon, because who doesn't love a good story?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The forecast for 2015 is writing and insecurity and reformed narcissism just in time to discuss the benefits of accepting failure

Today is Insecure Writer's Support Group day, which rolls around once a month. According to Alex J. Cavanaugh and his Monday post, I'm supposed to write a short introduction to myself and put it before my entry. So here it is:
Michael Offutt writes speculative fiction books that have science fiction, LGBT, and paranormal elements. His first book, Slipstream has received some critical acclaim and was published by Double Dragon in 2012. The sequel, Oculus, came out in November 2012. He has one brother, no pets, and a few roots that keep his tree of life sufficiently watered. By day, he works for the State of Utah as a Technical Specialist. By night, he watches lots of t.v., writes, draws, and sometimes dreams of chocolate. 
Michael Offutt graduated from the University of Idaho in 1994 with a Bachelor's degree in English.
I suppose what makes this particular installment of the Insecure Writer's Support Group special for me is the fact that it lands on January 7th, which is just in time to examine New Year's resolutions and to take a moment to talk about the dangers of "forecasting" and planning your life based on the whimsy of fortune-tellers.

I consider myself to be a person with his feet firmly planted on the ground. But I wasn't always this way, because I listened to people who probably believed (to some extent) that they could see the future. And it led me to many bad decisions, a lot of wasted time, and a little bit of heartache. The problem with depending on "forecasts" is that they often emerge from a place filled with desire, and it has little if nothing to do with the actual truth. For example, speculators who "short" the stock market forecast that the economy is going to do terrible, that everything is going to hell in a hand-basket, and that if you're smart you should just run for the hills and keep your money buried in a pot in the garden. In contrast, "bulls" will tell you that the economy is constantly improving, that companies are hiring more people than ever, and that if you're smart, you'll put all your money into stocks to join the party where there's nothing but Levian chocolate diamonds, caviar, and good will.

Relationship "experts" do this too with lonely single people who are looking for help in attracting a partner. They'll forecast that "You'll find love" if you just do this and this and this. But I think that a lot of people (myself included) will end up accomplishing the list of things that they're supposed to do and end up empty-handed. "Well obviously you missed doing this at this precise time," an advisor might say. Or they might fall back on the idiom "there are no guarantees in life," which you really can't argue with so you might as well not even try. For the record, that phrase really serves only one point: to end an argument, which makes sense because the person uttering that phrase probably has little investment in you anyway.

Is there a universal truth? How about "just because you believe in something it doesn't have to be true." To clarify, there's what you believe and then there are facts, and in this universe the best that any of us can do is to take a measurement and record what we observe ourselves in order to better understand what's going on around us.

The field of publishing is rife with forecasts. "This year publishers will be looking for dark fantasy." "Young adult dystopians are so out; historical romances are in." "Portal fiction is so 2010. Now it's magic systems; the more original, the better." "No one wants a guy as a protagonist.""Don't write in third person." "Don't write in first-person." And the advice goes on and on and on, all of it based on "forecasts" of what a person believes makes money.

I'm sure that any of you out there who have been writing for a while have seen the "forecasts" and have tried to adjust your writing so that you aren't caught without an umbrella on a rainy day. But the danger of doing this for me was that writing became less enjoyable. I realized I was trying to "publish" instead of trying to create something that I loved. Writing is a business, and it probably took me over two years to fully embrace this concept--that all that matters is that a story have the widest possible appeal in order to sell the most books and thereby make the most money. If you know someone with a big book contract, it's because a company is convinced that what that person has to offer is going to make them money. They don't even have to have read the story, and many of them probably don't even care to.

I think what I'm trying to say is this: forecasts make me insecure because I wonder if I'll ever be able to fit in. When I write, it's to create something for me with no regard to whether or not anyone else will like it. And to anyone that feels the same way I do, I would encourage you to learn to ignore forecasts when it comes to certain things (like writing) unless all you want to do is make money. If you don't do this, you may end up seriously compromising what you truly want to say. However, if making money is your primary goal, then you probably don't have my insecurity issues. Knowing what I do about the publishing business though, I'd still say that 1) you should probably consider something else because very few writers actually make decent money with their books, and 2) best of luck to you because one of the most narcissistic professions out there is being an author.

So yeah, I'm saying if you're trying to write, chances are you're a narcissist. I'm not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, but I do know that one of the things that a narcissist feeds upon is energy from others. If you're doing all this writing, and no one is reading it or proclaiming your brilliance, then you're probably not getting very much emotional energy in return, which ends up slowly bleeding you dry and making you a miserable person.

No one can tell you what the future holds. For me, overcoming my insecurity about the future brought me inner peace in the present. I consider myself a "reformed narcissist," a person that has learned to set achievable goals, to accurately measure many things including my own value, and to recognize that there is no formula that can make you "fit in" with the popular kids. As a result, I'd say growing comfortable with certain levels of failure can in fact be the healthiest thing some of us can do.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Woven by Jensen and King is the rare book that begins with a brilliant idea and ends flawlessly

Happy New Year my friends! I hope that Christmas, Thanksgiving, Hannukah, New Year's Eve, and any and all celebrations that I might have missed in my time off went well for you. As for me, I had a great Christmas. I saw Into the Woods and loved it because Meryl Streep nailed the witch role and made me think she'd be a good manager for a business run by capitalist pigs. I played plenty of games of Bananagrams and Mare Nostrum (maybe I'll blog about these later because it makes for great fun on the "cheap"). And speaking of "cheap," I don't think that authors David Powers King and Michael Jensen have anything to worry about in that respect with their book, Woven, coming out this year because it's absolutely brilliant, and if it doesn't sit at the top of the New York Times "bestseller lists" for fantasy for at least twenty weeks...I may just lose faith in the barometer of what I consider "good taste."
"Woven" in hardcover. Not every book from a Big Five publisher is graced
with a hardcover print. The fact that Woven is means that there's a big marketing
push for this book, and honestly it deserves every penny. I hope King and Jensen
become millionaires over and over. It's raining hundred dolla bills y'all!
Okay, so I've known David for quite a while now, and he sent me an arc of "Woven" in November (for the first time in my life, I actually felt like I knew somebody important--thank you, David!), and I basically read all 365 pages in three days. Woven is the kind of rare, original fantasy that I was thirsting for. In a way, I felt like a man that hasn't had a drink while attempting to cross the Sahara desert on foot and is about to collapse with exhaustion and dehydration when suddenly there's this oasis with Palm Trees and a Four Seasons hotel.

"Woven" came along at just the right time (kinda like a 90-minute massage at the Kura Door spa in Salt Lake City), it's fingers kneading my jaded temples back to life with respect to a genre that I think has grown stale with copycats and nerds who all played Dungeons & Dragons as a kid and decided they'd write stories about their characters and expect people to read about them. Woven is free of magic schools and universities! It is free of hipsters and man-scaped spornosexuals that bounce between the real world and the world where magic, fairies, and vampires are real! It's free of "fantasy bloat" (which is how I describe pretty much any of the Wheel of Time books). It's free of the narcissistic author: the writer that sets out to dazzle and horrify you with his epic-ness because no one has ever thought of anything as epic as weirdly-named epic monsters and epic labyrinths and epic seasons that last ten years and epic walls and epic power struggles and epic descriptions of food and epic battles and the epic idea that killing off beloved epic characters makes the story epic, dammit! Hell, I don't even know what "epic" means anymore since it has become as useless in describing things as the word "very."

Much like its cover, Woven is simple and that makes it beautiful. Let's look at the cover for a moment. It features a ring and a needle, both of which are important for the story. The ring is something Tyra gets from Gleesel (the coolest goat witch ever), and it isn't The One Ring. However, it does allow the wearer to distinguish between truth and lies. I'd love something like that. As for the Needle? It's a bit more on the cool side of things. It's called the Needle of Gailner, and it has the ability to alter reality in the same way that a weaver can alter a pattern on a loom.

Woven is also clever. Nels is a strapping lad that's had his "thread" woven together with that of a beautiful princess named Tyra (when they were babies). The idea of "arranged marriage" is very medieval (I didn't really like this part but understand that for the majority of history, arranged marriages are how things got done). I do like how it is essential to the story, because without it Nels would have stood no chance at all.

Because Tyra's "thread of life" was woven together with Nels, she could always find him even in death. As romantic as that seems to Notebook lovers everywhere, each possesses a personality that's like a cheese grater with respect to the other, and this is mined to great effect by the authors for comedy. As expected, circumstance (and the fact that they are both gorgeous people) pretty much ensures that they grow to love each other (which ends up being something even more powerful than the most powerful artifact in the world, a.k.a. the Needle).

The engine behind the whole story is the diabolical Rasmus who is a powerful magician bent on destroying Nels because, as Shakespeare wrote in the Merchant of Venice, "The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children." Rasmus is a well-developed villain, having been the apprentice of Ickabosh (a master fabricator/sorcerer) and a person that's willing to do anything in the grasp for power, even if it means murdering lots of people and using his magic to impersonate them once their dead.

Although I've never met Michael Jensen in person, from what I know about him, the idea of Woven's magic system came to fruition in his mind over the course of ten years. Forgive me, Mr. Jensen, if I get that wrong. But in reading this book, and thinking of the hard work both of these authors did, I can say that all that time and dedication shows in the pages. Woven is a polished jewel among books. It deserves it's Big Five publishing contract hands down, because this thing is a masterpiece. The pacing in Woven is perfect, every single character has a purpose, every place the characters journey to moves the story forward, and "fabrication" is probably the most original and elegant magic system I've encountered in books since David Eddings introduced me to the Will and the Word in the Belgariad over thirty years ago.

Woven is a book whose peers are Stardust by Neil Gaiman, the Belgariad by David Eddings, the Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny, and the Prydain chronicles by Lloyd Alexander. It's a book that can be read and enjoyed by all ages, and I hope it gets made into a big budget movie. Disney are you listening? I own your stock so making this into a movie would make us shareholders happy :).

Anyway, for clarity's sake (and for that old Amazon bone), I give Woven five stars out of five, and it's honestly one of those books that had I known something was going to be this good, I might have rated other books lower in comparison. Alas, these are the challenges in life I must face when it comes to reviewing books.

I hope you all stop by David Powers King's website, congratulate him on Woven, mark it "Want to Read" on Goodreads, buy the book when it's out, and shout out some love for #teamScholastic (they brought you such fun stories as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games and now, well...Woven). Please stop by on January 30th of this month when I'll be honored to be an official stop on the Woven blog tour! Let's hope that Mr. King and Mr. Jensen's literary agent and publicist don't mind the interview questions I sent them (and answer them) because they are some pretty good ones. But if they don't get answered, well that's what twitter (and sequels) are all about.