It's been so long since I shared a song that brought out a specific emotion in me, something simple and straight forward that's perfect for writing a scene that I figured, let's do that.
When I first stumbled onto this song it was through the marketing campaign for Mercenaries 2, a game that I may or not have played partially due to the main character's name being Matias. (How often do you hear that in a game?) It was wonderful to blow the living crap out of a base and have soldiers fleeing while crying out "It's Matias!" Ah...
Anyway, the marketing for this game, and the soundtrack itself, featured a most excellent song called Oh No You Didn't. It's... perfect. If you're looking for a revenge song, something simple and without ambiguity in it's mention. The song is about getting revenge on someone that's wronged the singer... and leaving them a bloody, battered corpse. There is no room for interpretation in this song, which might leave some feeling unfulfilled if not for the way it's presented: it sounds like a small town men's choir and is accompanied only by a jaunty piano tune. That's it. No hard metal guitar riffs. No drum solos. Just a very dark, menacing message delivered in the most friendly, upbeat way possible.
So, please enjoy Mercenaries 2's Oh No You Didn't.
I'm getting to my blog late tonight because my best friend, who just celebrated his birthday yesterday, proposed to his girlfriend today. I had to travel a few hours to see them at an aquarium, but watching her say "yes" in front of a tank of penguins was more than worth it. Love is awesome.
So because I'm drained both physically and emotionally, let's do an easy one today. Nothing too complicated, just love. Now if there's anything I learned from my old fanfiction days, it's that people expect, nay, demand pairings. If you don't supply them as the author, the audience will. Heck, even if you do, they still will supply them, and I'm totally okay with that. But let's look into it from the author point of view.
I'm very much of the mind that love doesn't need to be present in a story. It shouldn't be a given that my protagonist is going to have a love interest. It should be natural when it happens. Forcing love just makes things awkward. My own opinion on writing it is just to let the story flow and, if it makes sense, let it happen. Unless you're writing romance, you're not obligated to put a love story in your novel.
Okay, I'm tired. And also so happy for my friend! See you tomorrow!
Be Excellent to Each Other
I feel like the one thing every writer, regardless of genre, can identify with is writer's block. You can almost feel the smoke drifting out of your ears as you stare at the page, your brain just grinding gears without actually moving forward. It's the worst.
I've also heard a hundred different ways around it, from "just writing" to playing games with your characters like imagining them in different scenarios. I've even heard people claim there is not such thing as writer's block and that it's just a lack of discipline. I don't know about all that, but I know that for over two years I have come to this website and written this blog every day.
Writer's block is real, at least from my point of view. Usually I'm lucky when it comes to the blogs and I have something that's been on my mind. When I don't, I usually resort to sharing a Knowledge Bomb or Paladin Playlist. But what about with my story?
Currently I'm in the planning stages for this next iteration of The Paladin, which means I'm doing a lot of plotting and outlining. The idea here is that when the time comes to actually write, I won't get writer's block because everything will be laid out for me. But that doesn't mean it hasn't happened. I've found the best ways to deal with it, for me, has been to get out of my own head. Sure, there's the temptation to turn to video games or Netflix, but I find I need to get someplace quiet and outdoors. Someplace I can let my ideas just bubble and boil until eventually a hot, frothy soup of inspiration is created.
I'm lucky enough to be near trails where I can just wander the wilderness, but I've also taken strolls downtown and through department stores. Really, all the things I do in a day beyond writing are in an attempt to quiet all the voices in my head, to help me ignore them. But when I can't write, I need to remove all the distractions so I can actually hear those weirdos loud and clear.
Well... that's what works for me, anyway. What about you?
Be Excellent to Each Other
So one of the people in my writers group shared a tweet the other day that I jokingly replied to, but the longer it's been since that tweet, the more it's been rattling around in my brain. She asked "if your book was turned into a movie, what kind of merchandise would you want to see come from it?" Jokingly I said "novelization of the movie," but now I'm wondering.
One of the fun parts of being a writer is dreaming about success. Thinking about people reading your book, writing great reviews, that's all normal. But what about the details, the nuances? Do you want walk into a store and see action figures based on your characters? Plushies? Posters? T-shirts?
I look at The Paladin and I wonder what kind of merchandising there is. Would I even care about that? I can't immediately think of anything worth putting on a shirt or turning into a toy. No... the "secret author desire" I have is so much dumber: I want to see fanfic.
It's silly. I want to see badly written fanfiction of my story out there. I want to see people making their own paladins, creating their own parishes and stewardships. I want to see people inventing renegade hunters and packs of wolves that have their own code. I want to see people enjoying my work so much that they want to dive in for themselves. And yes, I want to see all the terrible romantic pairings they come up with. Hit me with your OTPs, guys!
But the merchandise, the video games, the t-shirts, and especially the fanfic, it all has to be earned. So I push forward, plotting, editing, writing, deleting, rewriting, all so that I can see that day. I want my stuff out there. I want people to enjoy it. I want people to dive into my world. And yes, I want to see Simon/Reagan pairings that will make me cringe.
The waiting. We went on long adventure out to Los Angeles last week all for the glory of seeing that little official seal from the Chinese consulate slapped on the back of our documents. I have to tell you, it was a bit stressful.
I hold absolutely nothing against our new employers, but it is a very confusing process to go through and there's not a lot of resources out there to help you navigate the confusing world of dual country bureaucracy. Having a 15 hour time difference didn't help communication much either, but we managed to make it out to LA and bring all the relevant documents with us.
Man... that poor woman at the consulate who had to serve us. We were not prepared. I'm sure she's seen it a hundred times before because she managed to helps us plod through the whole thing with a smile on her face, but jeez... if I had been her I would've slapped me. We went up to her window five freakin' times before we had everything in order and even then, she said she couldn't guarantee they'd accept it. With a smile she took our documents and told us to come back four days later.
Four. Freakin. Days. Dropped into LA for most of a week, a thousand miles from home. Surprisingly, things went better than expected. Got to meet two friends I had previously only known through the internet and doing some podcasting online together. They were awesome (shout out to Kit and Dan!) and even paid for our dinner that night. That made things look up a bit. Then came a day tooling around Chinatown, which, depressingly, seemed to be mostly closed. But we followed that up with a Disneyland trip and our first time trying hot pot, so in the end, I'd say the waiting wasn't too terrible.
And then that magic moment. Waiting outside the consulate. Fingers gripping too tightly around the wheel of our rental car. Wife returns with documents. On the phone she sounded confused about whether we were accepted. I cringe. She opens the envelope. And there's that beautiful, indecipherable seal.
So now.. we wait. Aside from a physical I've been frantically trying to schedule with our doctor, we've done everything on our side and it's all in our employer's hands. Could be a couple weeks. Could be a month. They have to push our stuff through the Chinese legal system and who knows what that may entail. But for now, we wait.
My latest review for GeekNifty is up and I got the chance to play ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove. You can check out the full review here, but when you're done, I have a few thoughts.
I didn't actually get the opportunity to play the original ToeJam and Earl when I was a kid. If the name doesn't ring a bell, it was a fairly notable game back in the Genesis days, mostly for how freakin' weird it was. While I didn't play it, I was most certainly aware of it, and that reputation alone was enough to convince me to take on the sequel when my editor offered it.
I'm not going to spend time talking about how the game works or the mechanics here; you can check out my GeekNifty review for that. Instead, like I did with Cloud Catcher last time, I want to explore what this game means. Not in a philosophical way; frankly the game is way too simple to extrapolate too much meaning from it. I want to talk about this strange balance games like ToeJam and Earl have to perform when they try to make a come back.
So often I hear complaints that a game "isn't like the original." And yet, I feel like I just as frequently hear that a game "just a rehash of the last one." ToeJam and Earl: Back in the Groove is most certainly in the latter camp if such a distinction must be made. Playing through it was strange. It was slow, quirky, and didn't feel like anything I'd ever played. I started thinking about what I remembered of the original and, after a few YouTube playthroughs of the old game, can confirm it's pretty much exactly like the original.
It's really hard to classify this game as a sequel. It's somewhere between that and an HD remaster. Clearly things have changed, there's new characters, online multiplayer, and lots of little pop culture references that weren't in the original, but if I had to put a percentage value on this game, I'd say it's 90% identical to its predecessor.
But is that bad? Well, I think the problem here is that, while the graphics and jokes may have gotten an upgrade, the game play is identical. Game play that was fine in the '90s, but feels very, very out of place in 2019. It feels like a Genesis game. It feels like the original. But we still have the original. We can still access it and play it anytime we like.
When Super Mario Bros made a sequel, things were different. Close enough to let you jump into it if you were a fan of the original, but different enough to justify a whole new game. And I mean that whether you're talking the Japanese Mario 2 or the US Mario 2, both retain enough of the original to make it familiar while changing just enough to give you something new. And look how that series has progressed. Incremental changes, bit by bit, from the mechanics to the power ups to the aesthetics. But ToeJam and Earl? You could hand the controller to a time traveler from the '90s and they'd never know the difference.
I'm certainly not saying the game is bad, especially if you loved the original. What I'm getting at is the reason this game was made. We live in what could be described as a golden age for indy game developers, people who are stretching the limits of what a small or even one-person team can do. Five Nights at Freddy's and Undertale are cultural phenomenons that didn't have the backing of major studios. In the latter's case, it could even have been released in the '90s with it's retro aesthetics. It does nothing that a game from that time couldn't. But the purpose behind these new games was to make a statement. To tell a story. To leave the player with a certain feeling.
I won't say ToeJam and Earl didn't have a purpose back in the day. It was wacky and unlike anything else on the market. But those days are twenty years past. Releasing essentially the same game seems an odd choice. Sure, there's people who will lap it up because they loved the original (I think that's what Bubsy did, more or less,) but what are these new versions of old classics bringing to the table?
It's not like they're dropping them on the Nintendo E-Shop or Playstation Store as "retro" games for fans to fill in their long since lost retro collection. They aren't meant to sit next to Super Mario Bros 3 and Street Fighter 2 Alpha in your digital library, waiting for a fit of nostalgia to overtake you. These are new games. But they don't feel like it.
And it's not as if ToeJam and Earl are strangers to innovation in the series, either. They had two other games in the series that messed with the original formula a bit while still keeping elements of the classic. One went went to side-scrolling and the other brought the original into 3D. So why then the choice to make this new entry so exactly like the very first one?
So, is it wrong for games to do things like this? Absolutely not, it's their money and yours if you buy it off them. Both can do as you please. But where's the heart? Games adapt and change with the time. People were wary when Mario and Zelda moved to 3D, but now it's part of the identity of those franchises. New advances in gaming came along and they made the choice to explore those avenues. Sure, we still have retro-style games that look like they belong on an NES, but they do something new with the medium. Octopath Traveler. Undertale. Games like these look simple, but utilize that in a way to make a point, to tell a story. ToeJam and Earl... is just ToeJam and Earl.
It's silly. It's fun, if a little slow. It's very weird. But it's only those things because the original was those things. From the story to the game play to aesthetics, it's a carbon copy of the original. If you loved the original, maybe you'll get a kick out of it, but it won't bring anything new to the table. If you missed out like I did, you'll get to experience what you missed... but it will wear thin quickly.
Does a game sequel need to be different? Should it strive to remove itself from everything the original was? I suppose only the public can answer that over time, but for me, I don't feel like I should ever pay twice for the same game.
I can't be the only one who sees Patrick Starfish when I look at Earl, right?
I had a little too much fun with yesterday's Knowledge Bomb. I mean... it was sort of a knowledge bomb. I'm sure someone learned a little about Chinese history/folklore and got learn a little bit about an amazing horse. But in the end I'm not sure it actually helped anyone. Still, it was pretty fun.
And what can I say when I listen to Smash Fiction? How can I help but get riled up? The entire show is about arguing the dumbest of points on matters that most certainly are not important. But it's fun and I love those guys.
Still, I think perhaps today I should focus on something a little more serious than which fictional/historical horse is the baddest of all. I am nearing the date for my departure for China. With every day that passes I am that much closer to going on what may well be the grandest adventure I ever take. I'm leaving a lot behind. A good job with the university. The familiarity of my home. But most importantly, I'm leaving behind a lot of good friends.
As I've grown older the importance of friends has become more and more apparent. Where, as a youth, I talked a lot about friends but made little effort, now I mention it infrequently, but go quite a ways out of my way. When you have good friends that live 8 hours in opposite directions and you make plans to see both, you know they're important to you.
I wonder then, since I'm supposed to tie everything back to writing in this blog, how this reflects on my story? I have both young and older characters that play significant parts and, now, with the experience I've gained in making friends both here and abroad, I wonder what I can do with that as it pertains to my characters? With Jonathan being so young, does he still have idealistic views on friendship? With Reagan having been through so much, does he even want make new friends? What impression of friendship, of leaving people behind, of starting things anew, do all my characters have?
I hope I can adequately express this through my story. And I hope you'll come along for the ride.
My friends over at the Smash Fiction podcast just put out their latest battle, an equestrian engagement amongst some of fiction's finest horses. I highly recommend checking it out HERE.
Yes, Epona, Shadowfax, Maximus, and Agro. All fine and lovely horsies. And you know what? The episode is pretty good. I won't spoil it for you, but I will say this. The episode is a lie.
All these horses are merely racing for second place because the god of horses was excluded from this match. I'd be more upset, but I understand that they need to have some sense of drama and suspense, and how could you possibly have that when this glorious creature is in the battle?
This is Red Hare, the fastest damned horse in all of ancient China. You know what he has over those other four horses? He was freakin' real (maybe?). Introduced to western audiences through the Dynasty Warrior series, Red Hare has always been the most badass steed in every game... even occasionally in Samurai Warriors, the spin-off based on Japanese history. This horse transcends time!
This horse was said to be able to run 1000 li in a single day and 800 in a single night. Li is an ancient Chinese measure of distance that relates to roughly half a kilometer. Now a good horse can travel approximately 60 miles in a day if they're really booking it. This measurement means that Red Hare could travel 559 miles in a 24 hour period.
And this horse didn't let just anyone ride him, in real life or in the game. If you manage to knock his rider off in most Dynasty Warrior titles and attempt to steal him... he bucks your unworthy ass right the hell off! Because you know who was worthy to ride him? Two men.
Lu God Damned Bu! This man was the single greatest warrior of the Han Dynasty and his name is mentioned with reverence among any who know him. Think I'm making this up? Watch the Super Best Friends on YouTube and you're fairly likely to stumble across a reference to Lu Bu in their videos. In fact, in the Super Best Friends subreddit they have a thread asking who would win in a fight between Lu Bu and the big bad from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Dio. The thread is overwhelmingly on Lu Bu's side and provides this clip as evidence.
WARNING: Excessive violence and blood.
Please take notice that even after Red Hare is beheaded in that clip, he still manages to kill someone.
Point is, Lu Bu, whom the historical epic Romance of the Three Kingdoms says fought off the three greatest generals of the land simultaneously, who's quote in one of the Dynasty Warriors: Empires games is "If two sides are equal in strength, the side with me shall be victorious," is one of the only two men Red Hare deemed worthy to ride atop him. It was said of the pair by the warlord Cao Cao "Among men, Lu Bu. Among horses, Red Hare."
The only other man the horse found worthy to ride him was a man responsible for Lu Bu's defeat and death: Guan Yu, China's literal GOD OF WAR.
You know you're badass if the Chinese government spends obscene amounts of money erecting a giant statue of you that captures the glory of your perfect beard. And this man, this deity, was the only other person Red Hare found worthy to ride him.
If you don't believe me, observe this actual video filmed back in the Han Dynasty.
This horse never tires. You can kill enemy generals in Dynasty Warriors by running them over with Red Hare. He can find you anywhere on the map. He is massive. He can spirit you from one end of the map to the other in the blink of an eye. Red Hare is not quick; he is sudden.
But... I suppose it wouldn't have been fair to include this god of horses in Smash's battle. They do have a "no gods" rule.
PS. Runner up for me is the undead horse from Elder Scrolls. Your mission to get him is simply "Behold Shadowmere." He's an undead horse that stomps dragons to death. Good horsie.
Magic. Simultaneously one of the most fun and most infuriating things a writer can write about. A lot of writers tend to divide magic systems into either hard or soft magic, and when you do that you have a lot of baggage that comes with it. Well, I just so happen to be figuring out a lot of stuff about magic in my new section of The Paladin, so guess what? It's time to think about hard and soft magic.
In a nutshell, hard magic is when you give you magic system defined rules. To do X you must first do Y. To perform A, you must have condition B met. If you really need a hard way of thinking about hard magic, think about games, especially tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons. There are rules for days about when you can cast spells, how many times, and under what conditions. There are pages and pages devoted to what that same spell is going to do when it hits a vampire versus a lych versus the town blacksmith. That is hard magic. But then, so too is something like Harry Potter. True, we don't know why Harry's spell is more powerful than, say, Neville, but we know what it does and what the basic conditions are for the spell.
So then what is soft magic? Well, it's magic without all those rules. The classic example is to point to Lord of the Rings. If you had to make a list right now of what Gandalf's power set is, I know I certainly would be hard pressed to do it. Let's see... he can... make light? I think I remember that. And blow awesome smoke rings? And... make... water horses? But we know he's crazy powerful. What he actually does is fairly mutable. So if your system is open, if your spells do whatever they really need to do in the scenario, that's soft magic.
Now the question is which one should I use? I'll make no bones about it, I'm a detail oriented person, so I love hard magic. I like look at abilities like tools, knowing exactly what their purpose is and when they should be used. But soft magic most certainly has its uses. I believe I heard someone once comment that hard magic belongs with your protagonist and soft magic belongs with your antagonist. Keeping your antagonist's abilities vague and mysterious, potentially overpowered even, is better than allowing those abilities to fall into your protagonist's hands. I think there's some merit to that. After all, you want your villain to be hard to defeat, right? And it's much less of a cop out to have the villain display ill-defined abilities than to let your hero solve everything with a literal wave of their hand.
So what's right for my story? I think I'm actually going to be mixing things a bit. There are a fair number of races within my story, and I think that means that I can alter how each one of them approaches magic and the occult. Some might be more subtle and vague while others hit you in the face with their bluntness. Maybe that's just the balancer in me. But, hey, Siddhartha said to seek the middle path and that extends to writing, right?
Something that's been pestering me this week (when I wasn't working through both American and Chinese bureaucracy) was connecting the disjointed parts of my story.
I was on the road a lot, which meant a lot of time to contemplate my story. I made some good progress mapping out the characters and getting the time lines for both books to match up, but I'm still having difficulties deciding on what events I want to make sure I include.
I had to cut a lot of scenes from the original manuscript of The Paladin when I started cutting words. I viewed this split-book move as a way to help get some of those scenes back in, but I'm quickly figuring out that may not be for the best. Of course there's a desire to salvage good scenes I couldn't justify keeping in the older drafts, but I need to make sure I'm not just writing to reincorporate those scenes. I need to write to make the story better, not just save the vanity chapters.
With new material comes new motivations and new needs for my characters. The scenes I cut from the original manuscript were a product of their story, they fit within the confines of that narrative. I need to find a balance between bringing back those deleted scraps and writing completely new material that better fits the story I'm telling now.
So how do I find that balance? I mean, if I had that answer I don't suppose I'd be blogging about it right now, would I? There's a lot to consider and I think I really need to think about the deleted pieces as options and not mandatory. If I think there's a concept from an older draft that I can repurpose, then I should go with it. If not, I need to focus on the new stuff.
Well... that's the route I'm going to go, anyway. Hopefully it all works out.
Be Excellent to Each Other.
Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.