What's Wrong With The Last Airbender

I don't do movie reviews very often -- or rants for that matter. But I'm so sad. I have to get this out so I can go on pretending this movie never happened.

My family and I ADORE the cartoon of Avatar: The Last Airbender. It felt kiddish at first, but I fell in love with the characters and the fantastic action sequences. I was hooked by the third episode. During the final four episodes I literally sat on the edge of my seat, shushing anyone who spoke.

So. You know where I'm coming from.

I took my older daughters to see the movie because, even though I knew the reviews it got, it was something we enjoyed together and I really wanted them to see the story in Thai. For the record, they liked it (though they both wanted to see Eclipse, so...).

I will grant the movie these two things: (1) the sets were beautiful and spot-on faithful to the series and (2) for a movie accused of whitewashing, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of Asian and Indian actors involved. But that's it. Be warned there are spoilers below. Usually I don't spoil, but then usually I'm talking about media I want you to enjoy as much as I did. For this, I just don't care.

The pacing was awful. It felt like all the best, most emotional moments of the TV show were included, but stripped of any context that would make them emotional. Everything happened so fast, there was no time for any real character arcs.

Bending was boring. In the cartoon, bending the elements was a natural extension of kung fu. When a bender struck with his fist, fire shot out. When he drew his fingers delicately through the air, a stream of water followed the motion. The result was martial arts that were fluid, effective, and super-cool to watch. By contrast, the movies felt like watching a turn-based RPG. Zuko does a complicated move while Aang stands still. Then a fireball shoots at Aang who flips away, and it's Aang's turn to do his move.

Aang and Sokka don't smile at all. I mean, come on. In the cartoon, Aang was a playful kid who rejected the weight of saving the world. Halfway through the final season, rather than talk about what to do after their attack on the Fire Lord fails, Aang wants to play around the Western Air Temple. And Sokka... his jokes were their own running gag. He said it himself: "That's pretty much my whole identity. Sarcasm and meat."

The ending sucked. While most of the movie went out of its way to include the cartoon's emotional moments, the ending ripped them out for no good reason. Instead of fighting Zhao, Iroh sets his hands on fire and Zhao just runs away. Instead of obliterating the Fire Navy as the Ocean Spirit, Aang makes a giant wall of water and the navy just...runs away. And instead of facing off with Zuko and the Ocean Spirit, Zhao is defeated by four random waterbenders who kill him with no struggle at all and then walk away.

Maybe the movie's better in English, but I doubt it. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go watch Zhao and Zuko duel for real while I get excited about The Legend of Korra.

Networking for the Unpublished Loser

I hate networking. I hate small talk, I hate getting business cards I'll never use, and I hate feeling like I have to "connect" with people just so I can use them to further my career.

Thing is, that's the exact opposite of what networking is.

Networking is making friends. It's connecting with people and learning what they do. It's being yourself with others who are being themselves too.

Networking is following a contest winner because you really enjoyed their entry. Commenting on their blog because they're also into zombies and ninjas and pirates. Entering contests they run and discovering that you like each others' stories enough to swap critiques.

Networking is following an author whose book you enjoy. Friending them on Facebook. Discovering that you went to the same college and share a mutual friend. It's just talking.

Networking is following an agent's assistant on Twitter because they're funny. It's replying to their tweets in a (hopefully) funny, professional manner that gets them interested in your tweets. It's caring about their lives, even when things don't go well or they cease to work for an agent.

Sometimes I get a new critique partner out of networking. Sometimes I get someone willing to spread the word about a contest or a short story I got published. But whether or not they choose to be helpful to me, I always get a friend.

And sometimes I befriend someone who goes on to get an agent or a book deal, someone who--theoretically--could give me that Holy Grail of the unpublished: a referral. But here's the thing: if I did all this networking just to get a referral, I'd never get this far. People can smell Self Serving, and it stinks. Even now, I would think long and hard before asking for such a thing, simply because the friendships are more important to me than the (supposedly) quick path to getting published.

And that's the point. Networking isn't about using people. It's about finding friends. And the thing about friends is, when you really need them, they're there for you.

So that's my advice today. Be kind. Be funny. Be clever. But mostly, be a friend. Maybe that friendship will be useful to you some day, maybe not.

Hopefully, by then it won't matter.

"You Write Science Fiction? Oh, That's... Nice."

I'm always hesitant to tell people that I write. "Oh, cool! Like what?" they say.

I try to look them in the eye and smile, as if I'm not ashamed of what I'm going to say next. "Science fiction and fantasy. That kind of stuff."

The conversation then diverges to one of two places. On most people, you can see their face drop as they struggle to remember any SF/F they read in the last 10-50 years. They can't think of anything, but they don't want to offend me so they default to the polite, "Oh. That's nice."

Ah, but the OTHER reaction! The folks who light up and say, "Really? Like what?" And I get to tell them about my story and they actually think it's cool. Or they ask where my inspiration comes from, and we get to talk about things like Firefly and anime. Or they tell me about all their favorite SF/F books, and I get to tell them about mine.

It's worth the risk to find these people. It's worth having some folks glaze over my shelves of Card, Gaiman, and Pratchett for that one person who doesn't walk away scratching his head, who pulls down Neverwhere and says, "I love this book. Have you read Sandman?"

Now for all those people who aren't geeks but who like me anyway, I gotta say thank you. I know how hard it can be when something like Star Wars slips through my filter, and I'm halfway through a rant about George Lucas before I realize you're just smiling and nodding. You are awesome for talking to me again after that.

And for the rest of you geeks, I don't know why something as materialistic as comic books and movies should make us feel closer, but it does. Or maybe it just helps us to let our guards down so we can get to know the person behind the first impression. I don't know, but I'm always glad to find fellow geeks out there.

So You Want to Start a Blog...

Jodi Meadows (and Mary Kole before her) talked about writers and social media -- specifically blogs and whether unpublished authors should have them. Both posts are worth reading, and I pretty much liked all of their points, but it really got me thinking. Why do I blog? It takes up a significant percentage of my available work time. Is it worth it? What have I gained?

So, as I often do, I broke it down into lists. Here we go:

GOOD REASONS TO BLOG
  1. Make friends. A blog is a place for people to get to know you, to connect with you. The writing friends I've met outside of blogging can be counted on one hand (one finger actually, and he's blogging now too, so...). You don't need a blog to make online friends, but it can help.
  2. Learn how to be interesting. Both Mary and Jodi make the point that blogs shouldn't be boring. I agree, but I think it takes time to figure out how to do that (it took me like a year and a half, and I still struggle with being interesting 3x a week).
  3. Find your blogging voice/your brand. This is related to the previous one. If you've never blogged, and you suddenly get a book deal and your publisher says, "You should really start a blog, like that Kiersten White girl," it may be difficult to just jump in and try to be funny or informative or whatever it is you're supposed to be.
  4. See if blogging is something you want to do. While it can be good to start a blog early to find your voice, it's a terrible idea to keep blogging if it's something you don't enjoy doing. There are plenty of other ways to sell books, many of which you'll probably enjoy more. It might help to learn that sooner rather than later.
  5. Practice summarizing. One common complaint about the query process is that writing a query or synopsis is so much different than writing a novel. That's true, but if you're serious about this business, summarizing your story is something you have to learn how to do. Talking about that story online is a good way to practice.

BAD REASONS TO BLOG
  1. Sell books. Blogs don't sell books. Blogs CAN BE used to make friends, and friends SOMETIMES buy books. And when you're still unpublished, they can't even do that.
  2. Impress an agent/editor. There's a myth that if you have a blog and a following, it'll make getting a book deal easier. Thing is, everyone has a blog and anyone can get a couple hundred followers if they're willing to hand out books to followers. But followers aren't always readers. Readers aren't always friends. And, as above, even friends don't always buy books.
  3. Impress your wisdom upon the world. I'm thoroughly guilty of this one. I like to tell people what I'm learning, which is fine, but it often comes out as, "I've totally got this thing figured out, you guys. It's so easy." I, uh... I don't have the authority to say that.
  4. Rant. I mean, of course you can rant a little. About angry retail customers. About whitewashed covers. About adults acting like children. But rant with class. And DON'T rant about those commercial whore sell-outs (or whatever) who are rejecting your novel.
  5. Because everyone else is doing it. This is a bad reason to do anything. Blogging's no different.


Conclusion? I think unpublished writers can benefit from blogging if their goal is to make friends and practice blogging. I don't think it's a good idea to blog in order to build a platform for books you haven't sold yet (how do I know? Oh, I know).

Blogging takes a lot of time. The skills you learn don't always translate into fiction, and may never translate into book sales. But as long as you're intentional about what you're doing, and careful to keep your priorities straight, I think blogging can be beneficial to some.

Form Rejections

In honor of the Rejectionist's blog birthday, I give you a top 10 list of what form rejections REALLY mean:

#10
"If it makes you feel any better, getting this rejection means you're not on my blacklist. Yet."

#9
"My cat threw up on my keyboard, but I still have to answer these stupid queries."

#8
"No."

#7
"Your query did not give my computer a virus. Good work."

#6
"Congratulations. You successfully bypassed my spam filter."

#5
"On the bright side, that query service you hired sent it to at least one real agent."

#4
"I can only request 1 partial per day. Today is not your day. Tomorrow doesn't look good either."

#3
"I'm only rejecting you now because the queries never stop. They just keep coming and coming and coming, there's never a let-up. They're relentless. Every day they pile up more and more and more! And you gotta get them out, but the more you get them out the more they keep coming in. And then your computer freezes and it's the last day of NaNoWriMo!"

#2
"No!"

And the number one thing form rejections really mean...

#1
"This rejection means the same as if I said nothing. Except if I actually said nothing, you'd pester me with e-mails or (God forbid) phone calls asking why I haven't said SOMETHING. Even though you give your resume to hundreds of human resource departments without wondering if they received it. Even though you give your phone number to God-knows-how-many potential girl/boyfriends, yet never track them down to see if maybe they lost it. For whatever reason, those expectations do not apply to me.

"So consider this your non-interview. Your fake number. I am turning you down in the nicest way I have available to me. Please, please, PLEASE don't e-mail again asking why."


Happy birthday, Le R! Thank you for brightening our depressing, rejection-filled existences.

That Deeper Meaning Nonsense

When people admire art,* they often want to know what the artist meant by it. I get that. I do it myself. But honestly I don't really like "explaining" my art.

* I'm including books in this.

Part of it is plain old fear. If I have to explain it, it means I didn't do a good job of it, right? Or what if I explain it, and they don't like the deeper meaning of it, and therefore don't like the work? Orson Scott Card's Homecoming Saga is really thought-provoking science fiction, for example, but I know people who stop liking it when they find out it's patterned on the Book of Mormon.

Should that matter? Should the author's interpretation of what they wrote affect MY interpretation?

Shortly after it was published, someone wrote a review of my story "Pawn's Gambit". He really liked it (and I was bouncing for a few days after reading it), but here's what he got out of it:
We come to understand the true meaning of family, of love, of sacrifice. We have all had our differences with the ones we love, but even when we dislike our family we still do whatever it takes.
When I read that, I was all ==> O_o.

I mean, I see how he got that out of the story, but I can't say that's what I was trying to say. I can't say I was trying to say anything, really. It was just a fun adventure.

Does that invalidate his opinion? This is what the story meant to him. And like I said, he's not pulling it out of thin air. There IS family, love, and sacrifice in the story. There IS a father trying to rescue his daughter, even though his daughter wants nothing to do with him.

And who says I didn't mean all that, at least subconsciously? Fatherhood is something that's very dear to my heart, and a common theme in many of my favorite movies. So if it comes out in what I write -- even when I don't intend it -- I'm not surprised.

So what matters more? The author's intention, or what the reader brings into the text? Have you ever changed your opinion of a story because you found out the author didn't mean at all what you thought?

The e-Pocalypse Won't Be So Bad

Before we go anywhere, thank you to everyone who participated in Lurker(slash-Regulars) Week. I had fun, and I hope you did too. I'm not sure I trust the results (the first poll, in particular, seemed pretty buggy), but for what it's worth, here they are. We're going to talk about one in particular today:

E-books:
Good: 40%
Bad: 30%

I'm not sure where the other 30% disappeared to (thanks a lot, BlogPolls), but even without it, it's clear there are some fears concerning e-books. Personally I'm not so sure there's anything to be afraid of, but like any good sci-fi author, I asked "What if?" WHAT IF we took the e-book revolution to its extreme? What if paper books disappeared forever, and all we were left with were digital stories?

So consider this a thought experiment, and I guess an encouragement to not worry about the future -- to relax and enjoy the ride.

WHAT I'LL MISS
  • New Book Smell. Yes. Hi. My name is Adam Heine, and I'm addicted to new book smell (also new card smell, but I understand they have a different group for that).
  • Browsing a Bookstore. There is something nice about looking at all the books I COULD own, even if I'm never going to buy them (because, really, not all of them are that good).
  • Showing Off My Library. I realized a while ago that one reason I like to own books is so people can come over, see my bookshelf, and instantly know if they're going to like me or not (and vice versa). Saves lots of time and needless small talk.
  • Loaning Books. I know you can kind of, sort of loan with the Nook. And maybe they'll get better about that in the future, but until I can loan and borrow my e-books indefinitely (and more than once), I'll miss that aspect.*
  • Being Able to Read During Take-Off/Landing. Hopefully by the time paper books are extinct, they'll have figured out a way to shield airplane electronics from other kinds. Otherwise those first and last few minutes of every flight are going to be mind-numbingly boring.
* There's also a significant discussion to be had here about libraries, but that's way beyond the scope of this post.


WHAT I WON'T MISS
  • Waiting for a Book. Driving to the bookstore is a pain. Waiting days for shipping is worse.** But if I could have any book I want RIGHT NOW, I think I'll forget that books used to smell good. (And maybe by then they'll have put some kind of odor software on the e-readers, yes?).
  • Standing in Line for Harry Potter #8. I've stood in line for movies before, but a book? No. Not in the 21st century. I'd prefer my pre-ordered, ultra-anticipated, sold-out-in-20-minutes bestseller to be sitting in my library before I even wake up that morning. Thank you.
  • Browsing a Bookstore. While it's nice to look at books I could own, it sucks to drive all the way to the bookstore to find they don't have the book I want. But not in the future. The future will be like Amazon where I can buy every book ever made, but WITHOUT...
  • Added Costs. That's right, folks. While I'm sure they'll find a way to tax e-books eventually, right now they remain tax free AND shipping free. (I'm aware the e-reader costs money, but it would pay for itself pretty quick, I'm thinking).
  • Choosing Which Book to Take on a Trip. I'm neurotic. When I go on a trip, of course I take the book I'm currently reading, but what if I finish it? I need to pack two. I'd like to read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell next, but it's freaking huge. So I grudgingly toss in another Patterson novel. In the future though? I'll have all my books with me, all the time. Which also means I won't miss...
  • Forgetting to Take a Book on a Trip. The worst vacation I ever went on was when I forgot to bring a book. I know: talk to people, see the sights, blah, blah, BLAH. NO! I go on vacation to read, dangit! And if I have my wireless e-reader, not only do I have my entire library with me, but if I finish them all, I can instantly buy a new book.

** And if you think you have it bad, move to Thailand. When I buy books, I have to go through my contact list to see who is both (a) coming to visit soon and (b) willing to carry 20 hardbacks from Amazon for me. Then I have to wait for them to take their vacation.


WHAT I'M PRETTY SURE WON'T CHANGE
  • Prices. I don't see book prices coming down much. Sorry. Believe it or not, it costs a lot to produce a book, even if you don't have to print it. (I mean, hello? People don't expect computer games to be $5 each. Do you think that $50 goes towards copying the CD and putting it in a box?).
  • Reading in the Bathtub. I've never read in the bathtub (though granted I haven't been in one since I was 10), but I guess this is something people do. I don't see this as a problem. (A) You don't drop your book in the bathtub, why your e-reader? (B) If they can make waterproof radios, cameras, and (dear Lord) laptops, how hard can it be to tub-proof an e-reader?
  • Kid's Reading. I've heard it said that parents won't let their kids use an expensive e-reader. First of all, I let my three year olds read BOOKS, which although less expensive are a lot easier to break (trust me). Secondly, during our time in the States I saw many, many kids, ages 3 and up, playing games and watching movies on iPods without once being in danger of destroying them (including my own son, who had never seen one before). If they can do that, they can read books on the things too. In fact, most parents would probably prefer it.
  • Reading a Good Story. Honestly, I don't read books because I like smelling paper and flipping pages. I read them because I want a good story. Sure, computer screens give some people headaches (although aren't you reading on one right now?), but that will go away with time and technology. What won't go away, ever, are the stories. No matter how we tell them.
Smarter folks than me have posited on what e-books will do to the publishing industry. I'm not in the publishing industry (yet), but I am a reader, and honestly? This future looks pretty good to me.

Or it will once they figure out that odor software.