2017 in Review

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With 2017 ready to bow out and 2018 coming to invade, I think I can honestly say that this past year was a good one.

Personally, and I’ll keep it short since this blog is mostly about my hobbies, was pretty good. The wife and I bought a big dumb house (hooray mortgage) that we pretty much redid (painting really blows). The big dog ended up having heartworms, so yeah, that was fun. While the little one had to get gnarly teeth pulled. Other than spending a metric shit ton of money this year, all in all, it went swimmingly. Oh, and I added to my anime-inspired tattoo sleeve – added Castle in the Sky and Princess Mononoke to my Cowboy Bebop. Next up: Neon Genesis Evangelion.

I’ll leave my writing for the last since that’ll be the longest. In terms of my other hobbies I tend to blog about – I’ve seen/read some badass things this year. From movies to TV shows to books, I can say with aplomb this year was excellent. Now I know that I should have done some more blogs this year about all of the things aforementioned, but sometimes I didn’t want to spoil things (aka The Last Jedi, Stranger Things 2). So I might do a post about them this coming year.

I have a new favorite show: The 100. I seriously don’t know how I missed it until this year, probably the whole YA/CW stigma. But damn, this show is amazing and gets better with each season. One of my other favorite shows, Halt and Catch Fire, ended this year and I am super sadface. I will say that this season was stunning and one character’s death was probably the most well done TV death I have ever seen. Just beautiful. Emotional.

I’d have to say IT was probably the single best movie I saw all year. It (pun intended) was just perfect. It had everything – tension, drama, scares, humor, teenage angst. I just flat out loved it from start to finish. I’ll stand by it, but I loved The Last Jedi (come fight me bro). TLJ really flipped the Star Wars world on its collective head and I loved every minute of it. OK not every minute because that one scene with that one character (we all know what I’m talking about) was very cheesy. And I don’t care if people hate it, I loved it. It’s no Empire, but definitely up there with the best of them. Some of my other top films seen this year were VVitch, Thor: Ragnarok, and Blade Runner 2049.

This year, my goal was to read 30 books. While I didn’t reach that goal, I did finish with a respectable 27.5 (still reading that other half but won’t finish prior to year end). A few of those books were rereads (Elantris, Watership Down, Voyage of Jerle Shannara) but most were brand new. Majority of them were fantasy, but I did dip my toe into YA this year (more on that later). A couple of them are beta reads for critique partners, but I’m counting those because they are full manuscripts. It doesn’t matter if they haven’t been published because someone took the great effort to write them (both were excellent btw). I’d say Blood Song and Nevernight were the top two new books read this year. I will admit, I had to put down three others due to first person POV, I just have such a hard time with 1st person. So hard.

Now to the meat of this year end review – my own writing.

2017 was illuminating for a multitude of reasons. I know I don’t know shit, but I feel like this year really helped clean the muck off so to speak. At the tail end of 2016, I worked with an agent/editor on my passion project. After he lovingly tore it apart, I truly came to understand what the story needed to become – albeit to a point. I spent years writing this thing and in one fell swoop, I learned my story was trite and boring. Overdone. It was disheartening to hear it. But ever the optimist (hey I’m a Chicago Cubs fan so back off) I set my mind to fixing this story of Brynn and Hunter, vengeance v. duty of faith. Long story short, I thought I fixed this story. But I was wrong.

Something just didn’t feel right about it. I changed many things: the setting, the religion, the magic system, points of view. But it still didn’t feel complete. And then I went to my first writer’s conference. Though I grew up in the shadow of Chicago, there really wasn’t a huge writing fellowship, a group of fellow writers. Twitter has really helped grow my world in that manner, but the big thing was moving to Texas. The Writers League of Texas is amazing. I won’t stroke the ego anymore than this, but joining the WLT has been a boon. And their annual conference really helped a ton. I met some great writer friends and had some interesting ideas pop into my head.

You know how they always say you should listen to your wife, well in this case, I should have. Even though she hasn’t read much of my writing (waiting until I’m satisfied with the story) she has always said my style is very YA. So after hearing this and talking about my story at the conference, I came to the revelation it should be YA. I did the edits, toned things down, de-aged the characters, all the fun YA stuff. The story really did pop more. But, I still wasn’t comfortable with it.

I know YA is trending toward more adult themes like sex and violence, but even with toning the story down, it didn’t feel right. I have a creepy sick villain and he had to be taken out in the YA version. That didn’t sit well with me. My main character, Brynn, likes to swear (same with a sky pirate). I didn’t want to lose all of that. But I tried. So I ended up taking the darker parts/characters/plots out and went to put that into a separate book. Nearly finished with that book. But always in the back of my noggin was the original plan for my trilogy. I couldn’t shake it.

And then came the true enlightenment. And it came while playing Final Fantasy IX (of all things).

If you’ve never had the pleasure of playing that game, I highly suggest it. The reason that game inspired me was the whole package it contains – humor, tragedy, tension, rage, friendship, love, idea of self, fast pacing, darkness. I could go on and on, but the bottom line is my story contains all of that. Yes, I tend to write more YA, but the story has to have that darkness to it, that grimness. It has to be dense, fully fleshed out, the world-building has to be adult level. But that doesn’t mean my YA writing can’t fit into that mold. They can co-exist. And then I remembered something that agent/editor said to me – I can write different characters or scenes using different genres. For example, my main characters of Brynn and Hunter can stay more YA style. It fits them. It always has. Minus the swearing by Brynn. My soldier character is definitely grimdark. He sees so much violence, commits violence and has a bleak outlook on life, wavering confidence in his honor. My villain was written to be more like a horror character, especially because he deals with the supernatural. Top it off, I changed the setting again, took the premise of my magic system from a separate WIP, changed some POVs, took out a YA character and gave her a complete separate story. Now I think I’m finally satisfied on where the story sits.

To put all that into perspective, none of this would have come about if I didn’t open myself up to other writers. I have 4 excellent CPs. One (Amanda) I met at the conference, and the other 3 (Claire, Lana, Dewey) via Twitter. What has really helped me the most is by reading their stories. Amanda writes YA fantasy about mermaids and Atlantis. Lana about Slavic mythology and witches (in YA first person no less). Dewey writes Middle Grade adventure/fantasy. And Claire does YA fantasy/sci-fi. Out of all four of them, Claire’s stories are the ones I would veer toward normally. And that is the beauty of having CPs. I’m getting a chance to broaden my horizons, read different types of stories and viewing them in a different mindset than just plan ole reading them. Working with CPs gives the opportunity to read someone else’s story, but also provide constructive feedback, in addition to receiving it. Seeing these other genres/stories has opened my eyes to what my own story is missing. The ideas just won’t stop. I even bring a critical eye to published authors works, see what they did, how it works. It has been amazing to have this transformation and it has really set me up for success that I didn’t have in the past.

Also, even if they don’t read this, I really just wanted to give a massive shout-out to Amanda, Claire, Lana, and Dewey! Thank you all!

Even though my goal for 2017 was to get on the path to publication, I think I can say I achieved it. Sure I haven’t scored an agent, but damn, they would’ve had a shitty story. I know that what I learned this year has set me up for success this coming year. My goal for 2018 is to land that agent. Without all the growth this year, I know it never would have happened.

Bring on 2018!

What I’ve Seen: Dark

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Dark, a ten episode Netflix Original Series from Germany.

Brief Summary:

In 2019 a man hangs himself, leaving his son a letter to not be opened until after a specific time and date. The son, after a few traumatizing months in the nuthouse, returns home and heads to school to meet his friends. The same week a boy goes missing. Oh, and this town lives in the shadows of a power plant. When the son and his friends go to the caves where the boy’s drugs are, the youngest of the group disappears. The families are fractured and the search for the missing children unfolds, not where, but when…

What works:

Aside from the obligatory Stranger Things missing boy & weird town vibe/comparison, what really makes Dark amazing is the cinematography and the camera work. This town is eerie as sin and everything within it is creepy. The drone shots of the forest and the cave that is the crux of the story is beautiful, but also dour. The music hits all the creep factors at the correct moments. The constant rain. The setting really is the outstanding character for this series.

That said, I loved the characters – all three timelines worth! (Get to that in a moment) These characters, kids to adults, are so layered, so broken, so normal, so beaten its amazing. There is so much drama, that I hated then loved characters from episode to episode. I yelled at them for their actions, like literally yelled at the screen. Sighed heavily at decisions. That is what makes great TV! Each actor was great, even the minor side characters. The casting was spot on and each actor/actress nailed their roles.

Sidenote, I watched the German version with subtitles, I would suggest doing the same. I personally hate dubs but I think you truly lose the heart of the story if you don’t have it in German.

Holy crap how amazing was the time-travel aspect of this show? I mean it was simply awesome! The fact the show was such a sllllllllloooooooooooooooow build really helped it. You have mysterious strangers knowing things, three timelines, missing children, murders. All across 66 years. Like serious cyclical events happening. It was just downright great, I don’t know how the writers kept their stuff together, but it was flawless. As a viewer, we didn’t know what the heck was going on, which made the mystery all that more gratifying to follow. Even all three timelines (2019, 1986, 1953) had their unique aesthetic to them, just great stuff all around.

One more note on the slow burn aspect. I know most people, especially in the current era, we want instant gratification. We expect to know things quickly. But I thought the slow burn approach to this story was the perfect route to take. When the man hanged himself and left the note, the viewer doesn’t know what’s in it until episode three. That made the mystery worth it. Then we learn the truth about the time-travel, wow. That wouldn’t work if it all happened in the first episode. The luster would have been worn off.

This part might turn off viewers, but I absolutely adored the ending. Even if Netflix doesn’t make a second season, I think the ending was perfect. It doesn’t matter if there are so many cliffhangers, I think that was the point. I want to know who Noah is, what’s with the chair, what he says to Bartosz, when did Jonas go, does Ulrich get back to 2019? Like those are all important questions left open, but the point of the story was the cyclical nature of time. Is there fate or predetermination? Can we change that? Those are the basic questions asked by the show. I think the ending left it open for viewer interpretation and that, in my humble opinion, is brilliant!

What doesn’t work:

Really the one thing that is a bit flawed about this show is the giant cast of characters. Since it is only ten episodes, some characters get lost in the shuffle and their plots are weak (aka older emo son and rebel daughter). The problem is with three timelines and all these characters at different ages, juggling all of them is hard to do. Yes, the show did a great casting job that it is easy to see the transition of who is who over the time periods (moles, destroyed ears, other character traits), but there are so many characters to remember that it can be tough. It never would work if it was a weekly regular TV show.

My only other qualm is there were times when characters kept secrets from others. So the cheating part of Ulrich’s plot was fine. The cop and her husband’s marriage due to the husband’s gay preferences was fine. Those secrets are great story-telling. But there were times when the cop and Ulrich had info that could help solve each other’s case but they danced around the subject and didn’t say what they knew. I get it for drama aspects, but after a few times, it grew annoying. Like just tell them!

Rating:

5 out of 5.

This show was fantastic. Every episode drew me further and further into this world and I didn’t want it to end. I can be happy with the ending if it stays this way. But I also want more! It was dark (intended), layered, genre-bending. I loved it, nothing more can be said about it.