Monday, January 28, 2013

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters 3D (Review)

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters was about what I expected. Fun. Entertaining. Total Mind-dump. It's one of those movies you go to when you don't want to think about anything. It's pure entertainment nothing more. The plot was shallow and predictable, the characters two-dimensional, the witches slightly comical looking but, it worked for the story.

If you plan on seeing it, leave your inner critic at home. I said this movie was shallow for a reason. Don't try looking deep into it and picking it apart. Don't look for it to be realistic either. It wasn't meant for all that. It was only supposed to be a fun ride.

Like Resident Evil Afterlife and Retribution, Hansel & Gretel has some good 3D moments. It wasn't artistic like Avatar- more like stuff blowing up in your face. Speaking of which, the fight scenes are extra violent and graphic. But, again, no more or less than what I expected. Hansel & Gretel is a great example of a trailer that did the movie justice.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Mama (Review)

I was a bit apprehensive going into Mama. Haunted house movies usually have the same plot.

Child sees ghost. Child tells parents. They don't believe them. Child insists ghost is real. Parents get angry. Mom, who usually stays home all day alone, notices things are amiss. She tells her fears to dad who dismisses her. She insists. He gets annoyed. Says she starting to sound like child.

Mom witnesses ghostly things and freaks out. She believes child now. She tells dad who gets really angry. Mom tries to get rid of ghost herself further angering dad. Strange things start happening around dad. He gets angrier. Blames mom and child. Ghost appears before dad and throws him across the room. Guess who believes now?

I've only ever liked one movie that used this formula. Insidious. Paranormal Activity 2 wasn't terrible but I don't watch it anymore because the dad absolutely refused to believe their house was haunted. Has to be one of the most aggravating characters ever.

This was what I thought the plot of Mama was going to be and I'm so glad it wasn't. 10 points to this movie for not adopting that totally predicable and annoying formula. 

That being said, I didn't enjoy this movie. I didn't expect it to scare me but it didn't even give me the willies. Like most atmospheric horror movies, it tries to get you to jump. Most are good at it. This one wasn't. The suspense built up was weak.

It has a unique premise but the plot let it down. I was neutral about Annabel, the female lead played by Jessica Chastain, until the end. She turned into a beast, in a good way. I was neutral about the movie until the end. They waited until the last couple of minutes to inject some knuckle-biting suspense. Seriously. The two girls, however, were well rounded characters.

I will say this. The ghost looked awesome. I can't stand Mama (the ghost not the movie) but she looked the part. Since The Grudge and The Ring, many horror movies have had paranormal entities, with elongated extra creepy faces, walking/floating/crawling in slow jerky movements. Mama was no exception. And, it still works. The last thing you want in a movie like this is a comical looking ghost. I love Insidious but the red-faced ghost nearly killed the movie. It was so bad.

Mama has some great horror elements but I wasn't into it. I'm thinking I'll rent it from Amazon when it becomes available. I read a lot of user reviews and people overall loved it, thought it was scary. It wasn't so terrible that I'm insult to call it horror but, I'm not awed by it the way I was with The Woman in Black and Sinister. Maybe I missed something.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Anime Powers and Writing Dark Fantasy

The one consistent trait in Dark Fantasy is the characters have special abilities. The issue I had with my trilogy is how to dish out unique abilities to a cast of over 30 without completely overwhelming the reader.

All my characters are experts at molding the Power one certain way, and not always the same way. Thinking about it, I set myself up for one ginormous headache. How can I come up what so many skills?!

Here's where anime comes in. One thing you can say about anime is the type of power the characters have are numerous and diverse...and pure awesomeness.

1. Wielding a magical sword

A weapon that does more than cuts flesh. The great thing about this one is 7 characters could have a sword with 7 completely different abilities. My favorite weapons have to be the two fangs from Inuyasha. 

Sorry it's not in English but this was the best example. My character's abilities aren't that least not always... but you get where I'm going. They can use the Power to create swords that do more than cut down their enemies...some of their blades aren't even sharp.  

2. Abilities based on a character's soul (Zanpakuto)

The Zanpakuto (zon-pok-to) is from Bleach and is similar to the magic sword only its "shape and abilities are based on their [user's] soul. Once a [user] learns his/her sword's name, they are able to communicate with one another and grow stronger together. Zanpakutō are born with their [user] and they die along with their [user]" (Bleach Wiki). I might like this one better than the magical sword.
In my series, the Power source is alive (not natural). My characters have to develop a relationship with it to use it to its fullest potential. If they misuse the Power, then it gets mad and kinda attacks them. And, like the Zanpaktuo, the character's expert skill is, for the most part, based on who they are.

One of my characters has a keen eye. He's brilliant at reading people, a great listener, even tempered and patient. These traits coupled with his naturally sharp senses means his ability is tracking. There is nothing he can't find...or hide.

3. Creating a weapon or an attack out of thin air

The characters in Fullmetal Alchemist don't really create weapons out of thin air.  They use alchemy and would be highly insulted if you called what they did magic. But, at its bases, they're using "power" to create something out of nothing.

This video is not for the faint of heart. It's a little gory.

The male in the video sort of  "conjuring" fire. I know Fullmetal fans, I'm over-simplifying what Roy Mustang actually does but you get my point. This is a big one for my characters. Once they develop a relationship with their Power, they can create almost any attack just by thinking about it.

This video is also represents another ability. Transformation. You watch anime and come across some interesting looking creatures. It gives you ides of shape-shifting abilities beside someone who turns into an animal. I read a lot of fantasy but the most unusual types of creatures I've come across are in anime.

And, since my characters aren't human and they live in a world I created, I can have someone with dark brown skin, bright green eyes and long pale blue hair. Where did the inspiration for such a character come from? I'll give you three guesses ;)

Thinking back, most of my world-building inspiration comes from anime. In my first novel, one of my characters is called a half-breed. I heard that word, with its negative connotation, from Inuyasha and stored it. It didn't occur to me I had regurgitated it from my favorite show until my brother pointed it out.

Now, I'm not writing this to say every Dark Fantasy writer needs to watch anime. Just know, if you have a world and you're stuck about what to populate it with or you need powers for you characters, watching one episode of a popular anime could be just the inspiration you need. Keep an open mind. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

"Writing is About Giving Your Blood" (TAP!)

As I said in the previous post, Total Awesomeness...Well, Not Total, I attended my first publishing conference last week. This post's title is a quote from bestselling author Guy Kawasaki during his session Author- Publisher- Entrepreneur.

First of all, I have to give another shout out to Evernote. I took all my notes in this program on my computer. When the battery of my laptop died, I continued the notes in the Evernote app on my Kindle. (Did I mention I got a Kindle for Christmas?) I love paper books but I'm thinking I'll be buying more ebooks than print in the future.

TAP! is the first of its kind so the setting was intimate. About 100 people attended, if that many. It seemed almost everyone knew everyone by the last session. It didn't make me feel more comfortable with networking but I liked I was getting in on the ground floor of something with the potential to become huge. Hmm, it's the same with Aubey LLC- the small press publisher I'm helping build.

This conference was perfect for those considering self-publishing. We heard a lot of success stories from other indie authors and received awesome publishing and platform building tips. The sessions got me excited about self-publishing. They were further evidence the indie route was the right option for me. It gives me far more control over my book and more room to experiment with presenting content.

For instance, you know many fantasy books have a map at the front...
from Sojourn by R.A. Salvatore 
I could probably make my map interactive with Photoshop and put it at the beginning of my ebook.

However, one of the speakers said something so true:
Don't get caught up in technology. If the readers aren't asking for it, you don't have to do it.
That world map at the front of print books is a nice touch and seems to be a staple in fantasy novels but, how many people actually look at it? I love playing with technology but I can't go overboard. By the way, did you know you could edit and/or create 2 minute videos in Photoshop? I'm so looking forward to trying that out.

Speaking of videos, for my book trailer, I was concerned with how I'd get the music for it. Don't need to worry anymore. You can buy royalty free music just like you can purchase stock photos and videos from and iStock Photo.

Then there was sustainability. Not just for the environment anymore. You do all this work to create pre-publishing buzz for your book. It gets published and is selling splendidly for about a week. Then, the sales start dropping because everyone who wanted your book has already bought it. You have to make a plan to keep your book at the front of people's minds mouths after your book is published.

This is one of those things that makes perfect sense but you'd never think of it.

Just like copyright.

For all you indie authors, like myself, who are hiring someone to do your book cover and/or book trailer remember, you do not automatically own the rights to it just because it was created for you. The artist does. Without a written agreement you are, in a sense, borrowing the image from the graphic designer.

If you don't sign a contract with them regarding copyright, said artist has every right, several years down the line, to tell you they don't want you using that image as your book cover anymore. If you don't have a written agreement with them... what are you gonna do?

TAP! represent everything I love about the time we're in- technology has given us nearly endless possibilities in content creation and publication. It's both exciting and nerve-wrecking.

"I do it because I can, I can because I want to, I want to because you said I couldn't."

Monday, January 7, 2013

Total Awesomeness...Well, Not Total

A massive helping of excitement plus an ounce of fear makes for one nerve shattering adventure and an awesome story.

My mother had a book signing over the weekend. It was her first big signing so that ounce of fear was spread evenly throughout the family. She sold 44 copies of her book Finding Me...Again?! Awesomeness.
More awesomeness. This week, I'll be attending my first conference.
"Technology Advanced Publishing. TAP! is a cutting-edge training conference pushing new limits in digital content creation, publishing, marketing and monetizing. The who’s who in this new emerging space will share case studies and technical how-to sessions that will help you bring your digital publishing project to life. TAP! is designed for creatives and management alike – sessions cover both practical tools and techniques as well as strategy and vision.
The conference is designed for professionals involved in the migration of content to computers, tablets and smartphones who seek cutting edge training to maximize the digital publishing trend." (TAP!)
Top it off, it's in Orlando. Three nights of warm weather, yay. I'm looking forward to this. However, a network event to an introvert like myself is like riping my fingernails off.
No matter how many times I throw myself into a crowd, I'm uncomfortable. I leave drained and feeling more than a little inadequate. Networking is essential but that knowledge doesn't magically transform me into someone who can talk to anyone, anywhere.

I've been reading Networking for People Who Hate Networking: A Field Guide for Introverts, the Overwhelmed, and the Underconnected. It hasn't made me feel more relaxed but it does have good tips.

I'm letting the warm weather, my hotel and the awesome conference sessions ease the nerves...mostly. Did I mention the hotel.
Will tell you all about it :)

Friday, January 4, 2013

Dark Fantasy World Building: Names

I saw The Hobbit a couple of weeks ago (awesome movie by the way) and it got me thinking about names in the world building process. If you're even a little familiar with The Lord of the Rings, you know a place belongs to that world just by hearing the name.

Helm's Deep
Dead Marshes
Fangorn Forest

It's hard to explain why but when I hear these I go, "sounds like something from Middle-earth." Yes, I know nerd moment but it comes with the territory.

It's the same with Harry Potter. I love the series but, I'll admit, some names I don't remember. I was playing a trivia game dealing with all the books and movies. One of the questions was what was this professor's first name. I had no idea but I got the answer right because the name I chose sounded like something from Harry Potter.

This was my Ah Ha! moment. The best way to learn world building is to study fictional worlds you admire. The recognizable sounding name is a good thing to remember but don't let it control you. We, as dark fantasy writers, do this anyway. When we name a person or place, we don't just throw in the first fantasy sounding word that comes to mind. With me, I let the story pick it. If I try assigning a name to a place and it doesn't come alive, it's not the right one. 

Similarly, personal preference, if your main cast names include Dirunocturn, Bovati, Sevyator, and Toppik, there should be a really good reason your POV character is named Mary. One of my favorite dark fantasy series, The Black Jewels Trilogy, has characters named Daemon, Lucivar, Surreal, Khardeen and Hekatah. After reading this Trilogy and two spin-offs, I still don't understand why one of the main characters was named Jaenelle. 

That being said, don't fall into the three-syllable trap. Just because it's dark fantasy doesn't mean all your names have to be extra long and hard to pronounce. As long as you listen to your story, your names will be perfect. In the end, you need to be happy with your world.
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