Yearly Archives: 2015

Hugo Category Highlight – Best Fancast

Best Fancast: Awarded for any non-professional audio- or video-casting with at least four (4) episodes that had at least one (1) episode released in the previous calendar year.

As with the previous two categories, Best Fancast relies heavily on the interpretation of the definition of Professional:

Some Hugo categories (Best Professional Artist, Best Fan Artist, Best Semiprozine, and Best Fanzine) are defined by whether the work done was professional, semi-professional, or fannish. The definition of what is a “professional” publication is somewhat technical. A professional publication either (1) provided at least a quarter the income of any one person or, (2) was owned or published by any entity which provided at least a quarter the income of any of its staff and/or owner.

Essentially, this award is the media equivalent of the Best Fan Artist and Best Fan Writer awards, with the provision that it actually be episodic (apparently one-off items produced by people who don’t meet the definition have to compete with the big money that’s usually behind the creators of the Best Dramatic Presentation (Long and Short Form) awards. Well, nobody said award categories had to meet my standards of logical.

(I should mention I’m typing this on my backup system without any of my bookmarks, saved logins, regularly open tabs or anything like that. Thank you main system for making a nasty noise and dying yesterday. I really wanted a replacement computer. Not.)

So. What counts? If you watched it on TV it almost certainly doesn’t. If you watched it on YouTube or any of the similar sites, it might or might not. It’s not clear if a massively popular YouTube series funded by advertising or a series funded by multiple donations (or, for that matter, an indie game series funded by donations) would be considered professional or not. I lean to “not” unless the thing is paying its creator(s) a decent amount. Decent still being rather subjective, but I ain’t asking anyone if they’re making more than a quarter their annual income from their YouTube video series or from their audio series.

I’ll note here that “non-professional” does not and should not mean “low production standards”. That said, this category is rather more forgiving of flaky participant audio than the professional categories would be.

Some examples I like: Honey Badger Radio have what sounds like an open discussion format but is rather more structured behind the scenes to ensure that all their participants get a chance to have their say (yes, I’ve been a participant – that doesn’t mean I’d consider the episodes I was in are necessarily their best ones). WrongFun has nice production values and a humorous look at the issues in SF. And some awesome guests.

Sadly, I haven’t had the time to go looking for more potential nominees, but I’m sure everyone here has their personal favorites that they can add. Just go to the Sad Puppies 4 Recommendations Page  and add your entry. It might be a few days before I get your additions out of moderation prison (thank you ever so much soon-to-be-former-main-computer) but it will happen.

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THRILL ME

So, let’s talk about how to structure a thriller.  Two things before I begin:

This is not prescriptive.  That is, I’m not telling you how to structure YOUR book.  I’m simply giving you what the elements are for a thriller, so that, should you find that your book would benefit from this structure, you can revise some into the book to improve it.

Thriller structure can be used for more than thrillers.  I’ve seen it used in women-in-peril romances, Jim Butcher uses elements of it in his urban fantasy (not the whole of it, though), F. Paul Wilson mostly uses it on his books (mostly because the ending often isn’t), and you can use at least part of the structure in books that you want to give a tighter and faster feel to.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s begin.

A Thriller structure is called that because it — duh — is mostly used in thrillers.  That is, it is used in books where the forces of good race the forces of evil before something horrible can happen.

A note on that horrible thing: it has to fit the book.  If you’re using thriller structure for a children’s board book (Heavens knows why.  I’m not responsible for the crazy things YOU do) the terrible thing might be that the little boy/girl loses a cookie.  If you’re using thriller structure for a spy thriller, the terrible thing might be the planet-killing bomb going off.

To Begin:

You begin a thriller by making it clear how evil the antagonist is and what kind of mayhem he can bring.

Of course you don’t show him setting off the planet killing bomb, but you might show him setting off a country-killing bomb and enjoying the results.

Depending on what type of book you’re writing, this section might or might not show the character’s identifying characteristics.  If your book slants traditional mystery, the identity is occluded, of course.

To continue:

Thriller structure requires a sense of urgency. This means some way you give equal time to the bad guy’s plans and the main character’s efforts to defeat them.  Whether this is through letters the villain sends or through scenes that show the villain setting the trap, is up to you.

To tighten the screw:

Every book has timing devices.  I.e. “she must be married before–”  “He must find the formula before”.

In the thriller the timing device is often made explicit.  It is not unusual to have the countdown clock literally on screen or in the title of each chapter, as it counts down to irrevocable doom unless our plucky hero…

The climax: will often be just before, or even just after the final countdown (but before the bomb explodes/disaster happens.)

To further tighten the screw:

The villain must do more heinous things, and they must escalate, so that the reader FEELS the urgency of stopping him.

There must be a fight.  You can’t get away with a soft ending in a thriller.  there has to be a fight and your character has to pay for his victory somehow, even if just in tiredness and abrasions.

For further reading I recommend:

Writing the Thriller: How to Craft Page-Turning Suspense with Instruction from Best-Selling Authors

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What is . . . .

Last night, I was talking with Kate and some of our regular MGC readers about what I should write about today. We discussed several different possibilities but we kept coming back to a single topic and I signed off the internet, satisfied that I had my topic for this post. I finished editing the chapter I’d been working on and went to bed, knowing I’d be up early enough this morning to write the post. Then morning rolled around and after having a dearth of ideas last night, I find myself hit over the head with several new ones this morning thanks to a quick look at Facebook.

The first is thanks to our own Brad Torgersen. He linked to this article from Barnes & Noble about books publishers and editors want us to read in 2016. Brad’s question relating to the article had to do with the covers for the books from Tor. Take a look at the covers. Do they signal science fiction or fantasy to you? To me, they don’t. Two of them “read” literary. One reads as possible horror and the third has a simple contemporary fiction feel to it.

What struck me about the article even more than the covers was how different the editors from Tor described their recommendations when compared to the other recommendations on the list. Of the seven books on the list, the Tor editors start three of their blurbs with mentions of the awards the author has been nominated for or has won. One then goes on to talk about the “decorative blurbs” from other authors — before discussing what the book is about. Another starts with “For the discerning speculative reader and mainstream fantasy dabbler”. Huh? Again, this is before discussing the plot of the book in question.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but if someone is recommending a book to me, I want to know what the book is about and what genre it happens to be before knowing if the author is award-winning, etc. When I see things like “discerning speculative reader”, my first inclination is to move past that book unless I’m in the mood for something literary. I have nothing against literary fiction. I enjoy reading it from time to time. But it is only one part of my reading and even it needs to entertain me. This is something so many people seem to have forgotten. Literary doesn’t have to be boring. It can be thought-provoking even as it entertains. It can have a message — heck, any fiction can — without preaching. Most of us read for entertainment and for publishers to continue to survive, they need to remember that and quit thinking that those who are buying they books give one flip for how many awards the author has been nominated for.

Then came this article about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. No, this isn’t another opening salvo in whether Rey is a Mary Sue character or not. We can continue to debate that if you want on Saturday’s post. Actually, the article itself wasn’t so much what drew my attention as some of the comments I saw associated with it. I don’t remember who showed up on my FB feed with a link to the post but what made me follow through to it was their assertion that the problem with the movie was that, while entertaining, it didn’t go far enough to make us think. You see, it’s not enough to cast a female in the lead role or to have a person of color as a secondary lead. It wasn’t deep enough, intellectual enough. Apparently, it isn’t enough to have an entertaining movie any longer. It seems that is “dumbing down” our country.

What strikes me by comments like this is that those making them comes off not only as an intellectual snob (and I don’t doubt that most of us here at MGC have more letters after our names than many of these commenters) but they also suggest entertainment is not a good thing. This has been and still is one of the basic differences between the Sad Puppy supporters (I can’t and won’t talk for Vox and his supporters) and the Puppy-kickers. Despite what has been said by the other side, Sad Puppies are not against fiction having a message. We just want it to entertain us as it makes us think. If we — or any other reader — gets bored, we aren’t going to continue reading (or watching). But entertain us, subtly wrap your message in with your plot and character development and we will think about it, talk about it and enjoy it. And isn’t that what we, as authors, want? Don’t we want people to be entertained by our work, to think about it and talk about it?

Finally, we get to the topic that I was going to focus on when I sent to bed last night.

In one of the groups I belong to, someone posted a link to this article. Even though the headline for the post is “The Main Difference Between Urban Fantasy and Horror”, the actual thrust of the article is about the difference between the protagonist in UF vs Horror. According to the article, the difference is simple. An UF protagonist takes the supernatural in stride while the Horror protagonist doesn’t know how to react.

Urban fantasy characters generally take vampires and zombies in stride and react as competently as the reader would like to think they would do in similar straits.

Horror characters, on the hand, tend to freak out, panic, doubt their sanity, make unwise decisions,, or even descend into gibbering madness—which is probably the more realistic approach!

I happen to agree with the above explanation. In Urban Fantasy, the fantastic is part of the world and is usually known to the mundanes. Oh, the main character might not realize at the beginning of the story that the next door neighbor turns furry with the full moon or has a dietary need for hemoglobin but, once they get over their feelings of shock or betrayal, they accept it and move on. Why? Because that is the way the world of UF is built. Horror is different. For those characters, the supernatural is not a part of their world. It is something they might have read about or watched in the movies. But it wasn’t real — until it stood up and spat in their face.

(Now, I’m going to be vague here because the discussion took place in a private forum. I am not going to name names nor be specific about what was said. I ask that those who are members of that forum remember the rules and not be specific with your comments. Forum rules still apply.)

Horror strikes people differently. Some readers love it. Others can’t stand it. Some want to read it because it gives them an adrenaline rush. There are those who won’t read it for religious reasons. Others feel it is too depressing while some see it as glorifying the tenacity of the human spirit. Like any other genre, it has its fans and it haters.

However, one thing I will say is that any author writing good horror is anything but lazy. I can think of no other genre that requires more emotional manipulation of the reader than horror. The horror author has to pull the reader in, put his hand on the virtual heart of the reader and tug it, even as the other hand is wrapped around the reader’s throat, squeezing slowly and inexorably. The author has to create characters we want to see survive and win out over the supernatural threat, even as we hope at least one person gets eaten by the big bad.

Is horror depressing? It can be. But beyond that sense of helplessness the characters feel from time to time because they are so out of their depth, good horror includes the need to survive. There are often heroes who are willing to sacrifice themselves to save the others. As with any good fiction, you see the good and bad of humanity in the characters. This isn’t Buffy who suddenly learns she is the Chosen One sent to save the world. These are Everyday Joes and Janes thrust into a situation straight from their worst nightmares. Some will fall and fail. Some will go mad, unable to adapt and deal with what is happening to them. Some will prevail. Just as would happen in real life (at least I hope so).

So, is horror lazy writing? I don’t think so.

Is entertaining in a book or movie a bad thing? I don’t think so.

Is it necessary to make people think when reading your book or watching your movie? No, but if you can slip your message in in such a way that you make them think and still manage to entertain, cool.

Is it important to readers that authors are nominated or have won awards? Nope. Most readers don’t know what the Hugo or any other literary award is.

What is important to readers? In my opinion, a book that draws them in, keeps them entertained (if they are reading for entertainment) or holds their attention (if reading for any other reason) and if it makes them think too, all the better.

So, what do you think?

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Filed under AMANDA, SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY, WRITING: CRAFT, WRITING: PUBLISHING

It didn’t fly

Books fail. We, naturally, look for reasons, and, as often as not, apportion blame.

All of us are at least mildly paranoid to some extent. The paranoids just don’t understand the severity of the issue. Seriously, we come from a long, long line of evolutionary selection that said ‘if you were too trusting, you got eaten.’ There are of course huge benefits in being able to trust and in being trustable – any social species needs this or they stop being social species with all the advantages that implies (you know, facebook, twitter… oh dear. I am digging a deeper hole.)

With this, of course come the inevitable breakdowns in trust, and the fact that, somehow, some people think someone besides Charlie Brown will always play Lucy-ball. You can go on playing Lucy-ball for a long time… but not with the same person. Trust is a rare coin which the same person is unlikely to get twice. The trust between readers and writers is no different. Sometimes that breakdown is by accident – the reader thought this was X and got Y. That may destroy you for that reader. Sometimes it was Lucy-ball – and that reader is not coming back. Re-building trust is hard and slow, and not always possible.

Look, all relationships need some trust, especially by the weaker part of that relationship. As the weaker part you know you are open to exploitation and abuse. If that happens: Common sense says ‘get out’ but often the abuser (or reality) paints a situation where that’s not possible, or at least not easy, and maybe worse. Plenty of writers have found themselves in this situation with their agents, their publishers even their readers. At this point Stockholm syndrome often cuts in. It’s a grim reality, you will encounter in everything from abusive marriages to hostage situations. Writing is no different. Blaming other people, even oneself rather than the abuser is a natural and human reaction (not a healthy one but real). There are plenty of examples in our field: where a publisher or agent or even bookseller has made a horrendous mess of a book, its launch, its availability, printing, cover etc. This is actually pretty obvious. Yet the author will blame almost anyone else. Amazon. The patriarchy. Homophobes… anything that is unlikely to strike back at them.

The above is also true when it comes to trusting yourself. Sometimes your work really just isn’t what the reader wants. You need to deal with this and move on. Few books and fewer writers appeal to everyone. It’s probably not the patriarchy’s fault. Nor is it likely to be the matriarchy’s fault.

For it to be real discrimination, not incompetence, or generic abuse of power (where your publisher doesn’t care if you’re a black male heterosexual conservative, or a white female gay Maoist) the evidence really has to be there. In a field like traditional publishing where the staffing of publishing houses skews strongly female and overwhelmingly left… it is incompetence, not discrimination if you fit their group ID. For it to be malice, the publisher would actually have to know and care who you were, which, despite those Stockholm type delusions, unless you’re a chosen darling, they don’t.

Neither, by in large do readers. It’s not patriarchy that’s stopping men buying your sf. It may be your publisher, your distributor, your cover, or prior experience with your books… but none of these is ‘patriarchy’ or any other nebulous and unable-to-hit-back bad guy.

There is an element of luck. There is an element of skill. There are aspects of history. You can blame away. If the numbers are on your side, you might even be right. But it won’t help you.

The only thing that works is to step away, and try again. If you’re convinced it your religion, skin color, orientation or even that your publisher personally has it in for you, or that all sf readers hate women/men/trannies… There is the chance to prove this, to succeed. Being an author is potentially the most flexible (thanks to Indy publishing) and the least subject to discrimination field in the world – if you choose to make it that.

If it doesn’t fly – stop looking for a safe ‘blame’. If it is you publisher or the traditional publishing establishment… get up and try again. You can use a pseudonym, you can choose your own cover.

You can own it.

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When do you need a contract?

Welcome to the business of monetizing intellectual property. No, you’re not in a different dimension or that nightmare of a class where you showed up for the test without studying (or clothes). I say again, welcome to writing and publishing.

What is a story? What is a nonfiction book, or a work of art? The writerly answer may be that it’s a form of communicating facts and emotions to an audience. The business answer is that it’s intellectual property, and intellectual property is something you can resell again and again to many audiences, in may formats. For art, the original may be an oil painting, but it can be resold as a poster, a fine art print, a t-shirt, a mousepad, a desktop background, or a book cover. For a story, it might have been written on paper (or not), but you can license or sell it as a paperback, as a hardcover, in English, in Polish, in ebook, in Indian translation, in audio, as the basis for a movie, a play, or tv show, or all of the above. As long as you hold the copyright, you can license the IP to anyone you want, or not, for any terms you can come to mutual agreement on how long, and for how much.

As a one-author business, you’re also going to find times when you want someone else to do work for you – a cover artist, cover designer, editor, proofreader, formatter, advertiser, or retailer. So, how do you make sure they pay you what you wanted? How do you make sure they turn the property back over if circumstances change? That, my friends, acquaintances, and strangers on the internet, is what a contract is for. A contract is nothing more and nothing less than a formal, legal way to clarify a business relationship, define terms, and lay out who will do what if the business relationship is no longer going swimmingly.

So, here’s a few good points to contemplate on contracts.

1.) A good contract protects both parties.
The best contracts make everything fair to both parties, and ensure both are happy. Contracts provide clear guidelines, and clear resolution to problems on both ends. They’ll save you lost time, frustration, and lost money trying to recoup due payment, and provide a clear bright line for when to cut your losses and stop hoping things will work out. A good contract also means that even if a particular project goes south, or the business relationship sours, you can see get out of it with the professional relationship still intact and often still friendly. You may even be able to do more business with a different project, when circumstances change!

This isn’t just for court; this is when you’ve submitted a rough draft to a copyeditor and found out they only did the first third of the book and the last chapter , or when you paid a cover artist $500 and they returned one proof of concept, then stopped answering emails. This is for when the small press gives you a horrid cover, no release press, and you have some real doubts about your royalty statements. This is for when you’ve agreed to turn in a sequel, and you find out your spouse has cancer, and nothing’s going to get done that’s not medically related. It’s for when you get the avian flu and aren’t going to make your slot with your editor, and aren’t sure you could make a pushback date, either, or the house washes away in a flood and you weren’t even thinking about when your cover artist finished her painting and wants paid.

2.) Don’t start work without a contract!
Without a contract, you don’t have a leg to stand when things get rough, any more than when sitting in the back seat of a car trying to prove “did not!” against a sibling’s charge of “did too!”

Mike Montiero summed up concisely, if rather saltily: “Starting work without a contract is like putting on a condom after your girlfriend has gotten a home pregnancy test.”

3.) Don’t blindly accept terms. Read the contract carefully. All contracts will be written for maximum protection of the business; it’s the opening round of negotiation, not the final answer. Don’t want basket accounting? (You really, really don’t.) Don’t want to give all rights, worldwide, for the life of copyright? Negotiate.

In fact, at least one author out there who went hybrid specifically licensed his audio rights before shopping the Big Five, so they couldn’t take it in the contract.

On the indie publishing side, a lot of the heartbreak I see over sudden changes in Amazon algorithms or business practices as they go after people gaming the system could have easily been avoided if people had read, remembered, and abided by the terms of the contract. Really. “Everybody’s doing it” doesn’t mean it’s what you signed your agreement to.

4.) IP Transfer on full payment – Your artists and designers should have this clause in their clause. Even if they don’t, it’s a really smart business decision – don’t use their stuff until you’ve paid them for it. If you do any work for hire, like media tie-in or ghostwriting, you REALLY NEED to have this clause in your contract, so the client can’t start making money on it before you’ve been paid.

5.) Kill Fee – a kill fee is the fee to terminate a project when it’s not working out for all parties. This ensures the person doing the work, and turning down other paying projects, gets paid for the work they did. If you and the cover designer have gone through 8 designs and none of them work, this ensures the designer gets paid for their time, and you two can part ways without really bad blood. If you’ve licensed a book to a press (small or large), and they absolutely drop the ball on it, a kill fee allows you to terminate the license, and republish it elsewhere. (This is referred to as “paying back the advance” in publishing, sometimes, but check your contract carefully. The kill fee may be anything from any portion of your advance that hadn’t earned out to whatever else they want it to be, as specified in your contract. “Industry standard” isn’t, and the publishing term may be completely misleading.

6.) Liability – This is legal talk for “Who’s in trouble?” If you publish a book labeled as nonfiction that claims our current president ordered the assassination of American citizens and is having wild affairs with some celebrities, who’s going to get sued for libel? (Or, if you promoted it on TV and podcasts, slander as well?) If you criticize the king of Thailand and the book is published there, who’s going to have the Thai legal system out for their blood? Do you know the difference between libel and slander laws in the US vs. varied European countries, and are you sure you’re in the clear if you’re published there?

KDP Contract terms are really clear – Amazon takes no legal liability for what they sell. Whether it’s a pissed off French mime, a really hopeful lawyer playing the lawsuit lottery out of California, the government of Thailand, or a handful of savages eager to use a cartoon of Mohammad as an excuse to burn, loot, rape, and kill – they’re going to step aside and let the publisher bear the blame. If you’re indie, that’s you. If you’re not indie, then the critical question is: who was assigned the liability in the contract? If you blindly signed, you may be surprised when somebody envisions deep pockets of a publisher, and you find out the six-figure lawsuit is aimed at you alone, in the end, because you agreed to shouldering all liability.

If you’re writing fiction, make sure you put the disclaimer that it’s fiction in the front matter!

7.) Lawyers talk to lawyers. People hire lawyers to protect themselves – so if the party you’re negotiating with wants to bring their lawyer, wrap it up and end the meeting. Bring in your lawyer.

8.) Be specific and confident about money. If you don’t know what the cost will be, tell the other party you’ll research and get back to them. But be confident when you ask for what you feel your time is worth and you know the market can bear. Similarly, make sure people you’re working with have their rates, amounts, and when it’s due (usually tied to when work is delivered, which often also has a due date stated in the contract). When your payment is due, audit it. Make sure the numbers all line up, or ask for clarification. If it doesn’t come, send a friendly reminder first, referencing the contract. (That’s what it’s there for!)

9.) Be Ready To Walk Away. If you’re not willing to walk away, then what leverage do you have? As much as people like to laugh about “Dear Publishers; I have reviewed your offer of publication, and have decided that you do not meet my needs at this time” – it’s true. If you cannot get a contract that provides a business relationship you’re happy with, don’t do the business. If you get an offer from a publishing house that comes with such a lowball offer on the advance you know they have no skin in the game, and it locks up not only that IP for the life of copyright and grabs all rights, but includes first right of refusal with no time limitation (so you could be blocked from publishing under that name ever again if they never get back to you on the next manuscript)… and most especially if they’re unwilling to negotiate on any of the above… It’s time to walk away. You  may get a better offer (just about any offer would be better than that, unless it’s one of the many faces of PublishAmerica.) You may have to take the book indie. But getting an offer is not the same as agreeing; you are under no obligation to take any contract.

Two last notes:
10.) Contracts should be clear. They’re usually written in legalese, not layman’s english, when written by lawyers. If you’re not sure what it’s asking you for, granting, or withholding, your best bet is to write down what you think it’s saying, then take it to a lawyer and have them write down what it actually says. Sometimes, it’ll be the direct opposite of what you thought, because you missed how Page 35 paragraph 2 clause (d) acts on what was laid out on  Page 2.

11.) If you’re writing down a quick contract with your artist or editor, neither of you want sixty pages of mock-legalese. Aim for this: Who is doing What, When, and for How Much. If something goes wrong on the who, the when, the what, or the how much, then how much goes to whom, who owns the work, and what can they do with it?

By the way, obligatory disclaimer. I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice. Consult an Intellectual property attorney for legal advice. This is advice to help you understand what you need and what ground to cover when consulting the attorney.

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Filed under FYNBOSSPRESS, Uncategorized, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

star-wars-force-awakens-official-poster-691x1024Yesterday saw a return to a tradition Mom and I hadn’t observed in some several years. No, not Christmas. For years, we would go see a movie after opening presents, having a huge meal and needing time to get out of the house and relax for a bit. Attendance varied from Mom, myself and my son to sometimes include several members of our extended family. For the last few years, real life seemed to keep us from our Christmas Day trek to the theater. Yesterday, that changed. Mom got the two of us tickets to see the new Star Wars movie at our local Movie Tavern and, much to my surprise, in 3-D.

Now, if you don’t want spoilers — and I am going to try to keep them to a bare minimum — don’t read any further. I won’t promise not to spill some of the plot simply because it is difficult to talk about how I felt about the movie without talking a few specifics.

I’ll start with the theater itself. Our local Movie Tavern is in its last throes in its current location. In a month or so, it will move to a newer, more modern location in the same shopping center. So some of the amenities at the theater are, well, a bit run down. But that didn’t take away from the excellent service and comfortable seats. Add to the fact we chose a time to see the movie when most folks were still doing their family Christmas lunch/brunch/whatever, and the theater was probably only 3/4 full. (Note: the line was already starting for the standard def showing an hour and a half after our showing.) Good food and brew was ordered and we settled back to watch the film.

I will admit I was a bit worried about seeing it in 3-D. It’s been years since I’ve been to a 3-D movie and all I remembered were the headaches and fuzzy images, even with the funky glasses. Whether we hit the right position in the theater or technology has improved or both, I left with neither the headache nor grousing about fuzzy images or the inability to focus where the action was. There were a couple of times when objects seemed to come into view from my peripheral vision, there were no real “oh crap!” moments.

As for the movie itself, I went in with little in the way of expectations. I hated the prequels. Anakin Skywalker was, in my opinion, a spoiled, whiny brat. Then there was the stiff acting and even stiffer dialog. The fun of the original trilogy had been lost. With it, a generation of possible fans were left with a big “meh” because they saw the prequels in the theater but the original trilogy only on their home TVs where much of the awe was lost.

All I wanted was for The Force Awakens to be better than the prequels. After all, that shouldn’t have been that difficult. I doubted it would come close to the original movies. I even told myself to act as though I had never seen any Star Wars movie, read any of the books or seen any of the other related media.

Maybe I was helped by the fact that I haven’t read a great deal in the Expanded Universe. So I wasn’t as invested in what came before, especially once Disney announced that the EU would no longer be canon. Maybe, as a writer, I realize that what is written often bears little resemblance to what winds up on screen. Still, I had stood in line to see Star Wars on its opening day. I did the same with Empire Strikes Back and with Return of the Jedi. So there is a bit of a fangirl in there that can’t be denied.

J. J. Abrams drew me in with the familiar. When the scroll started across the screen and the fanfare began, I settled back and waited, hoping not to be disappointed. I smiled when the first few scenes brought memories of the first movie. Oh, it’s not a remake but there are echoes there to be seen. That is part of what I liked. It gave it a sense of familiarity.

I loved seeing Han Solo and Chewbacca back together again, wise-cracking and growling and howling. Han was older and grayer and even more worn — as he should be. You know there is a backstory to the two of them, especially when it comes to the Millennium Falcon, and you want to know what it is (don’t fret. You’ll get at least part of it during the course of the movie.) Princess Leia, now General Leia Organa, wears her years and her worries on her face and in her posture. I have to give it to Carrie Fisher for not having major work done and the studio for not doing major Photoshopping to make her look 20 years younger. She looks the appropriate age for the time that has passed since Return of the Jedi.

It was interesting to know that not all stormtroopers are created the same. Finn’s backstory, as it unfolds and you have to listen carefully for it, gives some hints into the changes between what we last saw with Return of the Jedi and (gag) Revenge of the Sith. I’m curious to find out what else will be revealed in the subsequent movies.

Odd little things I noted as I watched the movie was that I saw more female pilots for the Resistance that I remember seeing before. There is one notable female stormtrooper — Captain Phasma. I have a feeling we may be seeing her again and our heroes will rue that day, should it come. She didn’t strike me as someone you’d want to piss off and, well, they did. Now, I’ll admit that I don’t sit in a movie trying to figure out if the casting director got the right proportion of sexes and races and whatever. However, it was nice to see a more representative mixture in some of the scenes because crowds should not be one-dimensional, especially in a future where we have so many different species and races, etc.

My one disappointment was, to be honest, the villian. Kylo Ren in a lot of ways reminded me of Anakin (yes, yes, I know. There is a reason — maybe, kind of, sort of. Nope, not going there.) He pitches fits any pouty, spoiled 13 year old would be proud of. That weakened him, in my opinion, especially since there were times when he could have given us more evil and didn’t. Of course, I know why some of this is (it’s revealed in the movie) and can guess other reasons. Still, that sense of evil we had from Darth Vader and the Emperor wasn’t quite there in the new movie.

My pleasant surprise was Rey. I’ll admit to being worried about her. From what I’d read, Rey is Daisy Ridley’s first major role. That is always something to worry me. How will a relative unknown handle the leading role in a movie such as this. I am pleased to say she didn’t disappoint. Is she a great actress? No. But she was much better at conveying her character than either of the leads in the prequels were. At least I felt that way.

Now, in case you’ve read the reviews and posts saying she is a Mary Sue, I can say this. Yes and no. Yes because things do happen that make it so she can prevail, in a way, at the end. But then, if you look at that sort of plot manipulation as Mary Sue-ing it, so was Luke Skywalker. However, a lot of the criticism falls short when you really look at the specifics. I’ve seen reviewers and bloggers complain because Rey knew how to pilot a certain ship when all she was was a junk collector. First, we have already seen her piloting a skimmer-type of vehicle. Second, when she and Finn are racing to a ship to make their escape, she says she is a pilot and then, when they get to the second ship you can see her fumbling and making guesses as to what to do. And, hey, if the world is blowing up around me, I’d find myself a ship and try my best to get off, even if I’d never flown anything like it before.

Then there is the criticism about how she was suddenly able to fight with a light saber. Those complaints claimed she was “proficient” with it and was, again, being a Mary Sue. Well, if you have ever trained with sword or staff, you would see how wrong their complaints were. Yes, she activated a light saber — but so had another character earlier, also someone who had not been trained in its use. Yes, she fought with the light saber and she did eventually win. However — and this is a big however — if you looked at her fighting style and compared it to earlier scenes in the movie where she was fighting with her staff, you would see that she fought with the light saber in much the same way as she had the staff. No proficiency and a lot of blundering and stumbling as she figured it out.

One last criticism that I’d seen before going to the movie was about the culmination of the fight between Rey and Kylo Ren. It ends in what is basically a draw (although one was winning by that time) when a fissure in the ground opens between them. Oh, the cries of Mary Sue again by some bloggers. Nope. Not really. We had already seen fissures opening up and the reason for it. Sure, J. J. Abrams could have insisted the fight come to an end but, had he done that, there wouldn’t really be any need for future movies.

As for the denunciation of the Expanded Universe as canon, that was Disney’s call when it bought the rights to Star Wars. However, if you pay attention, you can see the movie tipping its hat to the EU in several places. I won’t say where, not yet because I’ve already come too close to spoilers as is. But if I, someone who didn’t follow the EU after the first few years, could see them, the real fans of the EU should be able to as well.

Over all verdict, a fun movie that kept me entertained for the duration. I didn’t look at my watch once and even my mother, who isn’t a real fan of the series, loved it. The Force Awakens is definitely much better than the prequels, in my opinion, even if it doesn’t quite rise to the level of A New Hope and definitely not to Empire Strikes Back. If you can suspend memory of the prequels and go in not expecting too much, you should enjoy it. I did and I will be going back later this week with a friend. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, I missed the first time through.

(Reposted from Nocturnal Lives.)

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Hugo Category Highlight: Best Fan Writer

Best Fan Writer: This is another person category. Note that it does not just apply to writing done in fanzines. Work published in semiprozines, and even on mailing lists, blogs, BBSs, and similar electronic fora, can be including when judging people for this Award. Only work in professional publications should not be considered.

This is another category that tends not to get much attention, and, like Best Fan Artist, has a definition full of holes large enough to drive a Death Star through – with plenty of wiggle room. As with the Best Fan Artist, what counts towards nominating someone for this award hinges on the Hugo site’s definition of “professional”. In this case publications, presumably including websites, that meet the definition are ineligible.

(Just for what passes for clarity around here, the Hugo definition of professional)

Some Hugo categories (Best Professional Artist, Best Fan Artist, Best Semiprozine, and Best Fanzine) are defined by whether the work done was professional, semi-professional, or fannish. The definition of what is a “professional” publication is somewhat technical. A professional publication either (1) provided at least a quarter the income of any one person or, (2) was owned or published by any entity which provided at least a quarter the income of any of its staff and/or owner.

Clear?

I thought not.

I’m not going to claim guru-understanding here, since I’m well aware it would be possible to rules lawyer this category into oblivion, but as I understand it, if the publication pays someone 25% or more of their income (presumably annually), then anything published in it doesn’t count. It doesn’t appear to matter whether the author (or artist) was paid, nor does there appear to be any kind of threshold. Caveat Emptor, I suppose.

Anyway, the rules as I read them would allow someone to be nominated for any original work published in fanzines, posted on a blog, posted to fanfiction.net (yes, fanfic does appear to be included. I have to admit to a low hope that nobody tracks down my fanfic alias and tries to nom me for that because how in heck do I turn it down without blowing my cover?), or distributed by any other means including handwritten copies delivered to your Mum on Christmas Day (how you’d get samples to anyone to judge is another question). As long as it’s not a professional publication and it’s science fiction or fantasy (and of course it was published/posted in 2015) it counts.

So what’s eligible? In theory, any of my Mad Genius Club posts could be used as the examples to nominate me (but don’t you dare recommend me on the strength of that). Fanfic writers count. If Larry Correia hadn’t pre-excluded himself and informed all and sundry he’ll turn down any nominations he gets, I’d say this year’s entry in The Christmas Noun series most definitely counts. So do any of the Tempest In A Teardrop posts and comics. I’d suggest Dave Freer’s posts here, but he’d probably never forgive me for dumping him in that load of festering poop for another year.

Some of my personal choices: Kris Rusch for practically every post she’s written this year, but particularly the business posts. They’re an invaluable resource for writers trying to navigate the business side of writing. For the humorous side, all the posts in this series appeal to me although be damned if I can figure out how I’d nominate anyone for them. Keith Glass for his comedic gem of a quasi-Lovecraftian review on Amazon. It doesn’t reach the lofty heights of the classic review of sugar-free Gummi bears, but that is long past eligibility.

I’m not going to list the usual suspects, simply because they are the usual suspects and I generally check their blogs every day. They may show up on the list or not, and may be nominated or not. Regardless, from what I’ve read this part year, they are very much worthy.

The pieces I’ve highlighted here are a somewhat… different… selection of potentially eligible works that technically fit the rules (they really are that broad) and appeal to me. If there’s anyone you think deserves a nomination for the quality of their non-professional SF or fantasy writing, feel free to add it to the list.

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