Friday, March 29, 2013

The Sealord's Successor, Part Two

Some reviews are in for Part Two of The Sealord's Successor (Part One is here), and they seem pretty positive.  This is something of a relief, to me, not so much because I'm on the fence about the story itself, but because of the torturous route its creation took.

Before I wrote Part 2 of this story, the most trouble I had ever ecperienced in getting a story off the ground was when writing another story about Gloren Avericci and Yr Neh, called The Highwater Harbor.  I'd come up with the plotline while in Paris, and so had written it down, rather than keeping it all in my head, like I normally do.  So you'd think I'd be ready to go as soon as we touched down back home, right?

Sort of.

I did start right in.  And then I started again, somewhere else in the story.  And then again, elsewhere.  And again.  And once more.

This was a phenomenon I'd read about, but never experienced.  The false start.  I knew the story was in there, but couldn't seem to set my sights on the true beginning.  It was horrible, but I knew at once when I wrote the opening words to what became the true starting place.  The story was flowing, without any effort, like my others always had.

Whew!  I remember the feeling of relief as I continued with the opening of what was to be my longest Gallery Hunter story to date.  But I never expected the same thing to happen when I agreed to write Part Two of The Sealord's Successor.  After all, the original ending was a cliffhanger chase.  So, to start part Two, simply begin there.

More easily said than done, in this case.

Logistical problems began at once.  The main characters were separated, in the beginning, and I labored to reunite Yr Neh and Gloren.  It showed.  It was a tapestry of seams.  I finally wrote an opening that served its purposed.

Then I began telling what was structured like a new short story, including introducing a new cast, as if I was going to either jettison the original, mostly, or increase it.  But it mattered not, as I dragged Gloren and his new compatriots through one scene and then another, stopping and scrapping dead-ends and false starts for every scene.

Finally, I sat back.  What did I think I was doing?  Time for a reboot.

Start again.  Cliffhanger ending.  A chase through the rain down a switchback mountain road.  The suspects of a fantasy mystery story in full flight.

Stay focused, I told myself, and the real story should just start itself.

And, like with Highwater Harbor, it did.  Eventually.

Part Two is a testament to how writers sometimes have to show a little grit, and tough out the bad times.  It's frustrating work, though, and that's often the kiss of death for fiction.  Though I rarely have problems starting stories, it's nice to know that I can keep at it when the going's not so smooth.  I admire writers that fight through this sort of thing all the time, as a normal part of their process.

Those are some tough writers.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I the Jury: Snow White and the Huntsman

The Charges:  Kristen Stewart’s acting; CGI for its own sake; Poor storytelling

The Verdict:  Guilty as charged!

The Ruling:  Fairy tale re-imaginings are all the rage at the moment (as my own current project will attest), and what makes them usually such weak tea is the fact that they expect the audience’s knowledge of the tale to do the heavy lifting.  Very little setup or development is ever attempted, and this is a problem that Snow White and the Huntsman (hereafter “SWATH”) has in abundance.

The installation of Charlize Theron as the evil queen is perfunctory at best.  An evil army appears out of nowhere, and is met by some knights led by the king.  The evil army is destroyed, clearly betraying their non-natural origins by collapsing into glittery rubble when defeated.  Rather than causing suspicion, this fact is ignored, and the king falls in love with a convenient captive woman being held nearby.  The fact that his love is magically extracted is all well and good, but the rest of the kingdom isn’t under the Queen’s spell, so the fact he marries a complete stranger after knowing her for just a few hours would raise eyebrows, if not open protest.  The king doesn’t seem like he’s a “yes-men only” sort of ruler, so this circumspection is odd.  The entire palace just sort of shrugs and washes the accumulated grit from their new queen’s athletic body so they can hurry her through a dress fitting before the sudden marriage.

It takes her just a few minutes after getting the crown to kill the king.  Not much time for an exploration of her motives.  She just walks up to the castle gates and lets in an army.  Where the soldiers are who would normally be manning a palace’s front doors is never addressed, nor is the fact that castle gates don’t exactly have doorknobs so one person can just open them casually.  And shouldn’t there be someone on those walls, looking at the army that is waiting just outside for her to open the doors?  But no, that would be too much effort.  Anyway, the queen opens the gates and lets in her real army.  Coup achieved.

The young princess is spared for the ominous potential of using her royal blood in some way in the future.  Charlize Theron makes this line sound convincing, and by the power of her delivery alone justifies keeping the young Snow White alive until adulthood.

During the rest of the film, though, Theron is stuck acting and reacting to nothing, as if expecting hordes of CGI servants to be inserted later.  If that was what they told her, imagine her surprise at the final screening, when she’s stuck shrieking and glowering to one or two people, who react not at all.  I think there was some cradling of her head during those sequences.  Acting can be a cruel business.

Cruel, too, can be the experience of watching acting.  Or, in this case, non-acting.  As my first brush with Kristen Stewart’s alleged craft, I was put off from the very first moments of her being on screen.  Her gaze is so utterly devoid of emotion, I had to keep reminding myself of why Snow White might be doing any of the things she was doing.  Her brooding gaze and jutting chin was entirely unsuited to a character who was always being billed as being pure and good.  It wasn’t so much that she was unattractive physically (though, I have to add, she really is), as unattractive emotionally.  Her vacant stare is only occasionally replaced by a sort of icy determination, of the kind people use to chew off their own arm to escape a trap, or torture someone for information.  It is not the look of purity we are always being told she radiates.

An ember of passion seems to animate Stewart for her climactic rousing speech to the troops before the battle.  The writing, however, leaves her spouting utter nonsense, a rambling rant that is makes her sound completely insane.  The troops around her would, if she weren't the paragon of purity, roll their eyes and wonder what they were doing following an utter twit.  Instead, they give a somewhat rousing cheer and ride off to battle.

By the end of this short tale (which takes but a few days), Snow White is an armor-clad, sword-swinging badass-ess.  Huh?  Is the only means to any goal armed combat?


Kristen Stewart’s patented stare serves her well as she storms up steps and charges the Queen’s exposed back.  That’s honorable!  The Queen, however, reminds us of what experience and training can do, and proceeds to wipe the floor with the metal-wrapped girl.  Why she cannot capitalize on her success, and finish Snow White off is a mystery, but somehow she can’t seem to go that final step.  The Queen’s punishment is a ho-hum death, followed by having Kristen Stewart deliver a painfully inept parting line.  Ouch!

The final confrontation itself is pretty much just resolution, so drained of suspense is it.  A note to evil sorceresses: if you have a magical army made of obsidian shards, that fall to pieces when a blow that would kill a human strikes them, they aren’t much better than human troops.  But if they can become an unstrikable storm of flying glass, as the ones in this movie apparently can, maybe you should skip the vulnerable man-form and go full-on glass tornado.

Just saying.

So bad is this movie that I kept meta-viewing, wondering what the cast and crew were thinking as they made this film, rather than what the characters were thinking and feeling.  This is never a good sign.  After her speech, for example, I couldn’t help but feel that half the cheers came from the cameramen and crew at the thought that the scene was finally over.

SWATH is completely dreadful, saved only by the abused reputations of excellent actors like Theron and Bob Hoskins.  What the making of this film has cost those unfortunate enough to have been involved in it is equalled only by what it costs the unfortunate masses to have to view it.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Sealord's Successor, Part One

The Sealord's Successor has gone live over at Black Gate Magazine.

This was the second story that featured Gloren and Yr Neh.  It was my first story using the same protagonists from another tale, and I wanted it to have a different feel to it.  I brought in the services of Aven Penworthy, the young chronicler that Gloren meets in The Daughter's Dowry.  Even while writing that short story, I was setting up the stage for more adventures, and intended roughly half of them to be told from Aven's point of view.  This was my first attempt at this.

Having the narrator not be the focus of the action was something that I admired a lot about Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories.  It always seemed to me that the character observing the action has so much impact on the tale, and I wanted Aven to be as rosey-tinted as observer as possible.  That's why Gloren is usually presented as perfectly unflappable, here, as opposed to the stories he tells in his own voice, in which he is often debunking Aven's work.

I also brought in the running written record, in which Aven writes events soon after they happen, but before the next section occurs.  This is the narrative effect I enjoyed most in Bram Stoker's Dracula.  I loved the way we, the reader, would finish a section, and, a few pages later, the characters themselves would be reading and discussing the very same written document.

And, given that this is set up like a mystery, I like letting the characters comb the pages of this very tale, searching Aven's writing for hints and clues.  The clues are all there, in the story, for those who know what to look for.  I had a hard time actually getting the scheme to work, and the actual crime to take place almost on-camera, as it were, and to give Aven strong reasons to note the clues, even if he didn't recognize them for what they were.

Writing mysteries is something that I've never tried before this, but the challenge of weaving a plot around a crime in a way that is clear enough to be understandable and limited to a few suspects, and opaque enough to not be completely obvious is a lot of fun.  I can see why so many people enjoy writing this sort of thing.

Obviously, mystery writers are constrained by what can happen in the real world, and I think that having fantastic elements in the comission of the crime itself would cheapen the whole thing.  So the crime is done clean, the way it could happen in our world.  No shortcuts.  Otherwise, what's the point?

Part One was, until a few years ago, the entirety of the Sealord story, and I only considered expanding it at the advise of my editor, John O'Niel.  But his main criticism, that the story wasn't fully resolved at the rather cliffhanger-ish ending, was one I'd heard before, and so I decided to heed his words and write what happened next.  And that was why there is also a Part Two.  Now that Part Two exists, I have to agree: it's better now.