Unexpected Convergence

Something I noticed the other day when my daughter asked if she could listen to music on the way to school.

Firefly (and Other Murdered TV Shows)

Malcolm Reynolds and his crew live on the edge of the law, preferring to do jobs -- legal or not -- on the outer planets where Alliance influence is weak. Things get sketchy when they unknowingly take on two Alliance fugitives: a doctor and his genius little sister. The Alliance had been secretly experimenting on her, and they desperately want her back.

Half a season, 14 episodes. Fox killed this one partially by airing the episodes out of order. Fortunately Joss Whedon is the leader of an online cult with the motivation and power to finish the series. Though I think all of us would prefer if it never ended.

The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.
Brisco County, a Harvard-educated lawyer-turned-bounty hunter, is after the infamous bandit John Bly Gang that murdered his father, Marshal Brisco. It's a western, but with sci-fi and steampunk elements thrown in. Oh yeah, and Bruce Campbell.

Fox (once again) gave up on this one after 27 episodes. Fortunately the secret of John Bly had been revealed by then, but still.

Nowhere Man
On a date with his wife, photojournalist Thomas Veil returns from the bathroom to discover his life has been erased. Nobody knows who he is, not even his wife. Every trace of his identity is gone. He discovers it's somehow related to a picture he took years before, but he doesn't know why. He must keep the negatives safe from a mysterious organization out to get him, while at the same time trying to learn the truth about what happened to him.

The defunct UPN canceled it after the first season, 25 episodes. Long enough to find out some cool things about Thomas' past. Not long enough to find out what they meant, dang it.

Pirates of Dark Water
Ren, the exiled prince of a sunken kingdom, is charged with finding the 13 Treasures of Rule to stop the ever-hungry Dark Water from consuming the world of Mer. He has an "unlikely but loyal crew of misfits" on his side, but the Pirate Lord Bloth is after him, trying to take the treasures for himself.

This one died on ABC after 20 seasons (although it started on Fox Kids -- a trend?), after Ren had found only eight of the treasures.

All of these shows had hardcore fans and critical acclaim, but they didn't make it. If there's a lesson for writers here, it's that everything's subjective. Though at least in writing, if you have fans and acclaim, you can self publish.

What were your favorite murdered shows?

Books I Read: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Title: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Author: Mark Haddon
Genre: Mystery (sort of...more like literary)
Published: 2003
Content Rating: R for language

Chris Boone is an autistic 15-year-old living with his working class father. When the neighbor's dog is killed, Chris decides to find out who is responsible. In the process, he learns things about his parents he was never supposed to know.

I'm not normally a literary kind of guy (you may recall the literary genre loses points with me),* but I loved this book. I read it in like 5 days which is some kind of record. I loved the mystery, even though the book's not really about who killed the dog. I love the methodical, logical way Chris went about it.

For that matter, I love the methodical, logical way Chris thinks period. He has a near-perfect memory and likes order. If he sees 4 red cars in a row on the way to school, it's a Good Day. He can explain the Monty Hall problem with complex combinatorics and a diagram that's simple to understand. He reasons that if there are aliens, they would be totally different from us and might use something like rainclouds as a spaceship. Almost every other chapter is an exploration into one of these (mostly very interesting) digressions.

And craftwise, this book is genius. It does nothing normal. The chapters are prime numbers. Every few pages has some unimportant diagram (though it's important to Chris).

And not a single description is given of the other characters feelings. Chris doesn't understand tone of voice or body language--he doesn't even look at people's faces. He simply records what people say, word for word. And yet we are given enough context, and the occasional telling gesture, to feel what the other characters are feeling.

As a writer, I'm in awe.

* Then again I loved Life of Pi, so maybe I'm kidding myself?

Sketch: Phoenix Fan Art

If you haven't heard, Cindy Pon got a box of ARCs for Fury of the Phoenix, the sequel to her debut novel. Now she's holding a contest to giveaway at least one of those ARCs. I read Cindy's debut last year and really enjoyed it, so I had to do my best on this one.

So what do I love about Silver Phoenix? The action, yes, but mostly the Asian setting and mythos (I wanted to draw the gods or immortals, but this scene was hard enough as it was).

I don't know why, but rice fields make me happy.

I tried a lot of new things with this (I really want that ARC!), so I screwed up a lot of things too. But watercolor pencils? My new favorite. I found a pack (Disney brand?) with the stuff that came with our four newest kids. They don't know how to use them, so I figured I'd learn.

They're so cool. Like painting, but without the abject fear that I'll get it wrong (because I can pencil everything in first). If I keep fiddling, I'm going to have to get my own high quality pack.

Anyway, there you go, Cindy. Congratulations on getting not one, but two novels published, and thank you for writing them. If any of you guys want to get in on the contest, there's still time. It doesn't close until December 1st (and you don't have to draw to win).

James Patterson is an Evil Genius

FACT: For every 17 hardcovers sold in the US, one of them is a James Patterson novel.
FACT: James Patterson has published an average of 4.5 novels per year since 1995.
FACT: He is the second best-paid author in the world.

But have you read any of his books? The prose is awful. The villains cartoonish. If an unknown author tried to break into publishing with stories like these, they'd be kicked out on the street.

Or would they? It's true that a lot of the reason Patterson novels sell is because they're, well, Patterson novels. But a brand like that -- even a very big one -- can only carry a crappy product so far. I submit that if James Patterson wasn't doing something right, people would stop buying his books. As Nathan Bransford once said, "Every popular book is popular for a reason."

And I think I understand now. The last book of his I read suffered from everything above: lame villains, deus-ex-machina climaxes, prose that looked like he just wrote what he thought as he thought it. Bugged the heck out of me, and yet I read the whole thing. Why?

I wanted to know what happened next.

I don't understand all of how he did this, but here are some things I noticed that worked:
  • Short Chapters. Very short, like 2-3 pages. What this does is it makes the reader less afraid to read just one more (I can always put it down after the next one, after all). It's a cheap trick, but it works.
  • Effective Chapters. The chapters were short, but something happened or was revealed or was cliff-hanged in every single one.
  • Mystery. In spite of myself, I wanted to know who the villain really was and why they did what they did. Patterson sets up the mystery from the start and gives you little crumbs of information all along the way. Just enough to keep you interested.
  • Plot Twists. I haven't read a Patterson novel yet that didn't have some wacky, heart-wrenching plot twist at the end. Imagine if the Scooby-Doo gang solved the mystery and got Old Man Jenkins sent to jail, then Daphne kills Velma and reveals that she's been the mastermind behind everything. That's the kind of twist I'm talking about. And dangit if it doesn't make me want to read the next novel.

It's not cheating. It's the "What happens next?" factor. It's what makes the reader turn the page, perhaps even against their better judgment. I don't care if you write fantasy or romance or literary or academic textbooks -- you can learn from this. (Although textbooks may have a problem with the plot twists).

Fear of Failure and Revisions

I have a problem with a fear of failure. I guess most people do a little, but I feel like mine affects everything I do. I mean, I'm even afraid to talk on the phone or exercise because I might do something stupid.

It affects writing and drawing too, of course. I stare at the blank page until I convince myself to sketch something fast and light, reminding myself it doesn't have to perfect. Once I have something sketched, I'm afraid to darken or ink it because it already looks good -- what if I make a mistake? And once I ink it, too, I'm afraid to color it.

It's stupid, I know. My wife called me on it the other day. "At least you can always erase and redo a drawing. It's not like you only get one shot."

I know she's right, so why am I so afraid then to put my pencil (or ASCII characters) to the page?

In performance, like dancing or singing, you don't get to revise. Once the moves or notes are out there, they're permanent. But for some reason I'm not as afraid of performance. When I am afraid, I practice -- that, after all, is how you get your body to do the right thing when performance time comes. And I don't mind screwing up in practice because, hey, it's just practice.

So why the heck can't I do that with drafting and sketching? The delete key's only like two inches from my pinky!

Not sure I have a conclusion to this one, so I'll throw it out to you. How do you struggle with fear of failure? How do you overcome it?

Sketch: Hidden Pushers

Susan Quinn of Ink Spells won second place and a sketch in the Demotivational Contest we had last month. This is her prize, a scene from one of her works in progress:

Although everyone now reads minds, sixteen-year-old Kira Moore can't and never will. When she almost kills her best friend by accident, she discovers she can control the minds of others and is torn between passing for normal and exposing the hidden pushers of her world.

In this scene, Kira meets a young pusher named Laney, while on their way to deeper trouble.

I've only read the one scene, but already I want to read more of this. Thanks for letting me draw some fan art, Susan!