Monday, August 25, 2014

Book Nerd Problems by Epic Reads, Plus Some Doctor Who

I came across these last night and could not resist sharing them. Book Nerd Problems by Epic Reads.

Frozen fishsticks.

I mean, CAN YOU RELATE OR WHAT? Especially the eating one, sheesh.

Speaking of nerd problems -and I know this has been awhile- but did anybody else have closure issues with the departure of the Ponds in Doctor Who? (See, I told you this was awhile back.)

And did anybody else not know about the unfilmed extra scene where Rory's dad finds out what happened? Because I only heard about it yesterday, and this is gold. GOLD.

How did this not wind up in the episode? HOW?!

I'm feeling very exclamatory, apparently. But why shouldn't I? My first Q&A went pretty well, it's a beautiful new week, and there's a brand new joke up in the sidebar for Corny Joke Monday. No, seriously, check that out. There is no better way to start your Monday, I guarantee.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Iroh and the Spirit World (Legend of Korra)


Okay, Avatards. I've just had a thought.

Remember last week, that look of shock on Zuko's face when Korra said she spoke with Iroh in the Spirit World? 

Maybe he isn't reacting to the fact that Korra spoke to his dead Uncle. Maybe he's reacting to the possibility that Iroh never died.

Before you go crazy with the nay-saying, hear me out.

The Spirit World isn't inhabited by ghosts. It's not the place that people go to when they die. It's inhabited by the spiritual entities that embody aspects of life and nature. Aside from the past lives of the Avatar, humans are rarely seen living in the Spirit World.

Iroh is a singular exception. It was difficult for a mortal to journey on his own into the Spirit World before the Harmonic Convergence, but we know that Iroh did to search for his dead son Lu Ten.

What if, instead of dying, Iroh decided to cross back into the Spirit World? He's always revered and respected the spirits and their influence on the mortal world. It seems plausible he could want to spend eternity there among them.

Most of the other mortals either entered by the portals or were kidnapped by spirits, like Admiral Zhao. Who is still alive. Whether or not the Spirit World itself or the Fog of Lost Souls is keeping Zhao alive is up for debate.

Obviously, there are some opposing facts for this. Professor Zei, for example, stayed with Wan Shi Tong's library as it retreated back to the Spirit World. Korra and Jinora discovered his skeleton last season. But don't forget that Wan Shi Tong isn't the biggest fan of mortals, so the Professor's death may not have been...natural.

I could be wrong. And according to some notes about the commentary on the LoK episode 'Spiritual Age', which I haven't listened to yet, it's more than likely.

But it's still a fun thought. *cue fanon writer brainstorming*

Spirit World Shenanigans concluded

In other news, the hour for my first Author Q&A is creeping closer. This Sunday (24th) at 11 am EST. Hope to see you all there!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Published Stories, My First Q&A, and Some Amazing Cover Art

Hey, everyone! Just some announcements today, but they're pretty awesome ones.

I got a story published! To Slay a Dragon appears this month in Bardic Tales and Sage Advice, the anthology for Bards and Sages Quarterly. You can find it at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, in ebook or hard copy. Shiny!

Is that cover art incredible, or what? Gorgeous and creepy, whimsical and disturbing.
It gives me chills.

It's doubly awesome because this is the story's second appearance in print. It was originally published in the Quarterly's October issue* last year and I had the honor of being voted the 2013 Author of the Year in their Reader's Choice Award, thanks to all of you who voted. Yeah, that was pretty epic. (Thanks, everyone!)

More great news? Bards and Sages hosts the virtual book fair, eFestival of Words later this month (22-24), and I'm having my very first Q&A session. So all those burning questions you have about writing, reading, my other projects, or corny jokes? Bring them with you on August 24th at 11am (EST) to the chatroom and get some answers. It'll be fun!

I'm very excited and hope you'll join me for this first and make it an even more awesome experience.

Get the anthology on Amazon | Barnes & Noble

*As you can see, that issue also had a really awesome cover. A ball of dancing skeletons? Say no more!
(If you feel the same, you can still grab a copy of this issue, too. Amazon | Barnes & Noble)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Books Done Write: Plot AND Character featuring The Ever Afters by Shelby Bach

Hey, guys! I originally posted this 'Books Done Write!' piece as a YouTube video on my channel. It's sitting right below for your convenience, or if you prefer the text, just keep scrolling! (but in Dory's sing-song)

There are two general types of books –the character-driven ones, and those that are plot-driven.

Plot-driven stories tend to be more genre novels and there can be a great absence of character development, while 'literary' novels fall into the character-driven category and overflow with character depth, but sometimes fall short in the plot department. For an ideal story, you don't want just one or the other, but instead a balanced combination of both. To date The Ever Afters by Shelby Bach is the greatest example of this technique I've ever seen.

I'm going to try and keep this as unspoilery as possible, and I promise I won't give away any big dramatic plot twists, but for this reason we are just going to stick with the first book as an example.

Let's get started.

First, let us define each of these story modules:

  • Character-driven: A character makes decisions of their own volition that drive the story forward.
  • Plot-driven: Things happen to a character, to which they react.

'Plot-driven' essentially denotes exterior forces, while 'character-driven' comes down to depth and development.

Of Giants and Ice does not sacrifice plot for character, but neither does it sacrifice character depth and development for action.

A good example is Rory's sword fighting. She is thrown suddenly into the realization that dragons and giants are real.

Her REACTION to the dangers of this new world -like coming face-to-face with a dragon- is to grab a sword and slash its eye.
Her DECISION about these dangers is to practice long and hard with her sword. This is not purely reactionary, because she's already learning sword fighting in training. This decision to train harder on her own stems directly from Rory's insecurity about being helpless in any situation -magnified by the fact that she is unable to stop her divorced parents from fighting all the time or having no way to make things easier for her mother. Rory realizes that she's terrible in sparring class and decides she won't stand for it. Some things she can't change, but becoming a better fighter with hard work isn't one of them. This decision has a direct impact on her character development in the book, and in this way the character and plot of the book are inextricably linked.

This is how the entire story is, even for the two supporting characters.

With every event in the storyline, Shelby Bach does not just provide us with the REACTION. She also focuses on the emotional repercussions of this reaction in the character and follows it up with how the character is changed by it and the CONSCIOUS DECISIONS they later make because of it.

In real life, a person's reaction to a situation will affect their decisions, and vice versa. There is no line or separation between them, so why should there be in books?

Everything that happens to Rory has an emotional impact on her. In a lot of books, character's experience such defining moments to help the plot, but the impact of events on Rory isn't only limited to the really significant ones. A great thing about Shelby's writing is that she understands how kids are impressionable, and how they will react to anything that happens to them. She doesn't simply concentrate on the emotional impact of the major events that further the plot. She concentrates on every emotional impact because it develops Rory's character.

This is, I think, the defining characteristic of The Ever Afters. Not only is the plot and character development administered in equal parts, but they're inseparable. It's written in such a way that, without the thickening of the plot or external forces, Rory would not develop, and if Rory did not develop, the plot would not be as interesting.

That's about it from me. I'm not sure I've done this series justice, but I hope I've said enough to get you writers to check this it out, for a good read and a good example.

Learn more about Shelby Bach and The Ever After series on her blog!
Not convinced? I've reviewed books one, two, and three. I seriously can't shut up about this amazing series. But don't just take my word for it; try them yourself!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Avatar Nostalgia

Last night, I finally read the Avatar comics 'The Search' trilogy and first two parts of 'The Rift' by Gene Yang. I mean, finally right?

(After years of waiting, I know what what happened to Zuko's mother! Honestly, I was the tiniest bit disappointed in Ursa, but moving on...)

Reading through them all, especially after watching the Rings of Ba Sing Se come tumbling down in last week's Korra episode, made me terribly nostalgic for A:TLA. So I thought I'd share some of the old memories with you.

Favorite character:
Zuko. Always Zuko. A lot of others -Toph, Iroh, Mai, Sokka- take turns running a close second, but my number one favorite will always. be. Zuko.

Favorite episode:
The Storm. This is when we really start figuring out who's who and just how deep this show is going to cut. Close seconds are Zuko Alone, the whole Ba Sing Se arc, Boiling Rock parts 1 & 2, The Chase, and The Ember Island Players.

First introduction to the show:
If I'm being entirely honest, my sister watched this show before I did. At the time, I was trying to 'grow up' and made the woeful mistake of lumping it in with all the other 'stupid cartoons.' Thankfully, my best friend shoved the first season into my hands and ordered me to watch it. I have been in her debt ever since.

The Part Where I Cried:
'The Tale of Iroh,' especially followed by the Mako dedication. *sob*

The Part Where I Laughed the Most:
'The Desert.'
"It's the quenchiest! It'll quench ya!"

The Part Where A Character Broke My Heart:
Book 2 finale. Zuko. You turned on Uncle. How could you?!

Most Epic Moment:
Final confrontation between Zuko and Azula. Like, whoa.

Biggest shocker of the series:
Aside from realizing we wouldn't find out what happened to Zuko's mother? j/k
Azula's break down. I can't even begin to describe my reaction to that. All the signs were there, but somehow I didn't see it coming. In a way, I'm glad. I loved that moment of shock and disbelief when Azula started to crack.

Biggest disappointment:
Not finding out what happened to Zuko's mother and not seeing how and if ever Toph repaired her relationship with her parents. I considered both of these huge, gaping holes in their character arcs, and I nursed those wounds for quite awhile. (I actually wrote a whole story just to resolve these loose ends, as so many other fans did.) Luckily for us, the comics 'The Search' and 'The Rift', respectively, deal with both of these issues.

Favorite minor character:
Lee, from Zuko Alone. I always wanted he and Zuko to meet again later in life. *sigh*

Favorite thing about the show:
I love how real and individual the characters are. This show taught me so much about character arcs and brilliant storytelling. No story to that point hit me quite as hard or made me cheer quite as loud as this one did. I also enjoyed the epic worldbuilding done here, and how it was entirely based on Eastern culture and therefore almost completely new to me. It opened my eyes to the fact that the world is full with interesting and delicious fodder for storytelling, if you only go and look for it.

If I could bend an element, it would be:
Water. I love swimming, and I wouldn't make a very good monk, so I'd have to go with water.

Random Bits 
My nickname -'Wordbender'- is derived from my love of writing and my obsession with this show, where characters can 'bend' elements.
I wrote 'Air', an epic-sized fanfiction to deal with the passing of the show and had way too much fun with it.

Okay, okay, enough jabbering! I love Avatar, you get it. I'll sign off now, but not before sharing some of the videos that helped me survive the unbearably long wait between seasons 2 and 3:

Friday, August 8, 2014

Marvel's Bad Boy: Thoughts on 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

Let me start with: I pretty much love all things Marvel. I haven't seen a Marvel movie yet that I haven't liked.
I'm also big into action movies, preferably laden with comedy.
Finally, I'm a sucker for the bad-guys-become-the-good-guys storyline.

Suffice to say, I have been looking forward to Guardians of the Galaxy for awhile.

I saw it this week and enjoyed it. However, I've got Opinions.

Generally, my family is just as much into the Marvel movies as me. (Okay, not just as much, but definitely fans.) They may not see it until the film hits the $2 theater, but at some point there's usually a Marvel movie outing with our happy foursome.

They had no desire whatsoever to see this film.

While my dad thought it looked dumb, and my mom disliked all the characters from the previews, the biggest issue was the one reason my sister refuses to even consider seeing it: Guardians of the Galaxy has stepped down from the kid-friendly overtones that has made this franchise so universal.

Before seeing the movie, I'd had this hope that it wasn't really as 'un-kid-friendly' as my sister feared, that the few moments of vulgarity just happened to be featured in the previews. I hated the idea that there was a Marvel film she wouldn't watch, because we're kind of superhero freaks. (Well, she likes superheros, and I'm a superhero fangirl.)

Unfortunately this wasn't the case.

I'm not saying the movie was wrought with the 'f' word and sexual innuendo -compared to many action films the content was the low end of middle ground- but Guardians is still a part of the Marvel cinematic universe. It still has to hold its ground with the other films.

Did the amount of swearing ruin the film for me?

It lowered my estimation of it, it will make me wary of other Marvel films in the future, and it put a chink in my faith of Marvel's understanding that movies can be epic and kid-friendly.

I understand shaking this up a little and catering to a slightly different crowd, but I noticed. I noticed much more swearing and the several crude references in this film. While I still liked the movie, these additions put a damper on my adoration. I don't enjoy vulgarity or swearing so yes, the addition of these did lower my estimation of it.

I know this has been an ongoing issue. Just from the first preview's release I saw scores of complaints from people about the middle finger gesture featured. Some people are up in arms about it, and some people are up in arms against the people up in arms about it. I'm somewhere in between. As a writer, I understand the need for accommodating character personalities, etc, but as a stickler for more conservative views, I also understand there are ways to work around it, too.

What kills me is that it was such a fun film. I wanted to go see it with my sister, because I think she might have enjoyed it. But she refuses to see it, because of the extra swearing. That is the only reason she won't watch it. And I know there are more people like that out there.

The extra swearing was unnecessary, I don't think it made the movie better, and it was not worth alienating a part of Marvel's audience.

I give GotG a 3 1/2 out of 5. I will watch it again. I will continue to like it. I will never get over Starlord's opening dance number scene or Drax's insistent literalism or the idolization of the great hero Kevin Bacon or the honest-to-goodness DANCE BATTLE in the climactic finale or that ridiculous ending cameo.

I just wish my sister could enjoy it all with me.

To sum up:

Guardians of the Galaxy was a good movie, but with just a little less swearing, it would have been Great. 


Also, seeing Kirk from Gilmore Girls was a bonus. I couldn't help laughing every time he came on screen and I'm pretty sure the guy next to me thought I was crazy. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Legend of Korra: Stakeout Reaction

I said it when I saw the first trailer for Book 3: Change and my opinion has only strengthened in nine episodes.

This is the freaking best season of Legend of Korra.

I've been trying to pinpoint exactly what makes this season so great, but for now I'll just stick with my thoughts on this latest episode.

Stakeout, Episode 9

1. The Spirits

We finally, FINALLY get to see some casual interaction with the spirits this episode.

This had been the only disappointment in Change for me. Up to now, the only spirit concentration has been in Republic City and the Air Temple. There was no evidence of these pesky new neighbors in Ba Sing Se or Zaofu. I was beginning to worry that the spirits weren't actually inhabiting the whole of the physical realm, just these select spots which, let's face it, wouldn't be quite as earth-shattering.

'Stakeout' gave us a taste of what this new world-of-two-worlds is like, with random spirits floating about their business. My favorite was seeing the barkeeper shooing spirits out of his establishment with a broom. "Only human customers!"

You've got the spirits who are merely pests, the ones trying to help that are treated as pests (really, Asami? I knew they were going to be important), and then ones like the angry hedgehog back in Republic City.

I can't wait to see how this relationship between humans and spirits progress. I have a hope that a specific spirit or just spirits in general will become key to the storyline. Worldbuilding with this new development is great, but when will we see some serious differences now that the worlds are combined?

I'll be patient, though, and this season's storyline is so interesting it's easy to be.

2. Zaheer and the Red Lotus

Zaheer and his Red Lotus clan may be my favorite villain yet of the Avatar franchise. (Except for Zuko who, yes, I do technically count as a villain the first two seasons, even though everyone knew he'd turn into a good guy. Because he didn't. Forever. And it broke my heart. Which is totally why I love it so much.)

What I love is how close to good Zaheer is. The origin of the Red Lotus as a counterbalance to the failings of the White Lotus is such an intriguing story! In answering Korra's questions, he makes some very good points. The basis for his beliefs is sound reasoning, even if the execution of those beliefs isn't. Plus, it's all based on the words of an airbending guru. And airbenders are never the bad guys, right?

Zaheer is by far the most compelling villain yet. He's like a misguided Iroh with Long Feng's silver tongue, Aang's airbending guru-ness, Jeong-Jeong's intolerance for fools. It would be so easy for Korra to be sucked into his seductive reasoning, even if she disagrees with his methods, and that's what makes the watching so incredibly riveting.

In the past, most of the other villains have been acutely aware that they are villains. 
Ozai -though his platform for the Hundred Year War was to bring the perfection and civilized culture of the Fire Nation to the rest of the world- was a power hungry maniac when it came down to it.
Ammon may have believed in his platform of equality, but he was a lying snake who ran when things started to go south. He openly terrorized people.
Unalaq may have considered his goal of opening the Spirit World portals pure, but he wound up joining with the spirit of chaos and became a Dark Avatar. Before that, he got his brother banished to steal his birthright.

See? All villainous and nefarious.

But Zaheer is different. He believes he's good. He doesn't even think he's doing anything wrong for the right reasons, everything he's doing is in the right.

I've learned as a writer that the best kind of villain is one who doesn't know he's a villain, and Zaheer has this in spades, especially with his airbending as the supposed proof he's on the right path.

Plus, he's using the open portals between the Spirit and the real worlds to their fullest, and I love that.

3. The Ending

In discussing the show with some friends, we all had some concerns that any confrontation between Team Avatar and the Red Lotus would end unrealistically. Seeing how the four Red Lotus members defeated Zuko, Tonraq, Eska, Desna, and Zuko's dragon (still flipping out about the REAL LIVE DRAGON, fyi) without breaking a sweat, we knew they would have to prove a huge challenge to Korra and her friends. It's nice to see that Team Avatar isn't endowed with some kind of unbeatable gene. The confrontations between the two groups have been kept very realistic, considering all the skill sets. It does make me curious how Korra will wind up defeating them. Or if.

*dun dun DUN*

So seeing Mako and Bolin defeated by 'Water Arms' and 'Lava Guy' was a relief and a welcome plot complication. I can hear the announcer's voice now: "Team Avatar is in dire straights! Mako and Bolin have been captured by the Red Lotus while Asami and Korra await the justice of the Earth Queen! What else could possibly go wrong?!"

Personally, I feel a little insulted on Asami's part. Korra is locked up in chains, a straightjacket, a face mask, and an immobile frame, while Asami is only suspended by her wrists. I mean, I get it. Korra is the Avatar and an awesome fighter, while Asami is a non-bender. But you remember my girl can fight, right?

For this reason I at least want to see Asami try to take out anyone who approaches their cell with some well-placed kicks. That would teach them not to underestimate her.

4. Reasons

There was so much of my lovable Bolin in this episode -from his undercover identity to the incognito yellow rain ponchos to the Pai Sho tournament with Asami- how can it not be a favorite? I laughed more in this episode than any other, I think.
I loved, loved, LOVED Bolin's rough and tumble fans. I laughed so hard! And I thought the timing was perfect, the creators having just endured another bout of Comic-Con.
The short scene with Lin just reaffirms how much I lover her character. 

Where will it go from here?

I'm not sure, and I love the unpredictability of this season so far. After discussing with a friend, I hope there's a confrontation between the Red Lotus and the Earth Queen's Dai Li coming soon. And yeah, we hope the Red Lotus win. ;)