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I saw DOCTOR STRANGE this weekend, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The character combines two things I like–superheroes and modern-day wizards–but I’ve never really felt he was well served in the comics. Great name. Bad look. Unsatisfying stories. Part of that comes from his most popular villains: Baron Mordo and Dormammu, neither of which thrills me. I’d much rather read MGK’s imagined run of the comicsthan any of the actual comics I’ve seen so far.

So my expectation was that this would be a disappointment, and those expectations were reinforced by early reviews that went “Meh.” Or even worse “Competent Marvel Content of the Type We Have Come to Expect.”

Frankly, the film is much better than that. Not perfect, but I’d rank it in my top 5 MCU pictures, maybe top 3.

Yeah, it’s a problem that they whitewashed The Ancient One to make sure they could rake in all that sweet Chinese box office. It looks like they ran as far as they could from the possibility that some bureaucrat would decide the character was coded as Tibetan. But that casting decision is separate from Swinton’s performance, which perfect. She elevates every scene she’s in, effortlessly.

Likewise, the idea that the movie is not “about” anything or that Strange himself doesn’t change (“who shows minimal emotional growth even as he wins, convincingly, for two straight hours”) is silly on its face.

Yeah, it’s another origin story. People say they’re sick of those, but that’s not showing in the box office. It’s also a problematic origin, since it’s of the “Visiting White Guy Does Non-White Culture Best Of All” genre. The movie takes some of the sting out of that by making the wizards as diverse as possible, but it’s still in the mix.

Besides, this is an origin story that actually matters. It’s not “I grew up and took revenge” or “I am a good guy who got the power to be even better.” It’s the story of a terrible person who becomes a good one, and it’s also the story of coming to terms with a disability. Strange spends most of the movie trying to get back to where he was before the accident so he can return to (what he thinks is) his best self, but his best self was a massive shit head. He’s a doctor who won’t see patients who are very old or very sick, because he’s protecting his reputation.

The Ancient One tries to get him to understand he must surrender sometimes. He has to accept failure. He has to stop applying his brilliant mind to his own rep and start helping other people.

Strange just wants to be a fancy neurosurgeon again.

But then he needs his ex to save his life, and by that point he’s gotten kicked around enough to realize what a shit he’s been. He needs Mordo’s help. He needs Dr. West’s help. And to win the final battle he puts himself in a situation where he will lose over and over.

And the last shot, where he’s looking down at his trembling hands and straps on that broken watch, shows that he’s accepting that he has changed, and that he must now contribute to the world in a different way.

Yes, there are problems with the movie. Rachel McAdams’s role was thankless. The gorgeous visuals at the end of the movie weren’t as delightful as Strange’s first wild ride through the multiverse: cgi spectacle peaked early. The humor was welcome but sometimes fell flat. I’m not so enraptured that I thing it’s perfect. Far from it.

But that didn’t really matter, because I loved the character, loved the ending, loved the scars, loved the milieu, loved the performances, and loved the movie. After the stress of this election season and the revisions on my huge, unwieldy book, this movie made me joyful.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

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And, in the genre of NaNoWriMo advice…

It’s the beginning of November, and as a writer it’s my duty to have advice for folks doing NaNoWriMo, even though it’s been running for years and people have been giving advice about it all this time.

I suggest failing at NaNoWriMo. There are lots of other authors there, too. Check it out.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

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Kidding! There are lots of great books to grab here.

Background: Evil Hat is clearing up some warehouse space, so all of their fiction is only $2 (plus shipping) for who-knows-how-long. Plus, every paper copy you buy gets you the ebook for free.

If you haven’t read KING KHAN, my “Spirit of the Century” game tie-in novel, now is your chance. It’s pulp fiction set in the thirties about an unusual hero summoned to Hollywood by a message, written in his own handwriting, tied to a time-traveling arrow. (Also, he’s unusual because he’s a super smart gorilla.)

Also available is an anthology I appeared in, called DON’T READ THIS BOOK, featuring short fiction set in the game “Don’t Lose Your Mind” about people trapped in a nightmare reality, whose lucid dreaming can control the world around them.

But hey, why did I mention those works without including a link? Because if you only looked at my works, you’d miss the books by Chuck Wendig, C.E. Murphy, and many many other great authors.

Here’s the full list. Treat yourself to something fun.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

One of my friends said something really smart on Sunday, and I thought I’d share it.

She and her partner live in Denver, and my son (who is 14) is planning to spend two weeks with them to pick their brains about Photoshop, After Effects, and a number of other programs they use. They make their living using all sorts of fancy software that I don’t know anything about, so he has a lot to learn in those two weeks.

ANYWAY. What she said, which I have to paraphrase because it was during an extended conversation, was: “What matters is how you spend your free time.”

To which I say: Yep.

Her story is that she was in college some years ago, learning software as part of her design class. I think it was Photoshop, but there was some cross-talk. Anyway, it was relatively new, and she and her friend were so fascinated by it that they spent their free time on a deep dive into the program, learning all the things it could do. In not time, the professor realized that she and her friend were more capable of teaching the software and asked them to do so. When she graduated, they offered her a teaching position.

It wasn’t because she was so good in class; it was because she was so engaged outside of it. The same is true of any kind of challenging field. If you want to be great in the arts, you have to cut out time from your daily life to practice and improve. That’s time you could be spending watching TV, going to the gym, sleeping in, playing video games, or making money.

If you click on the Tweet below, you’ll get a thread by comics writer Gail Simone on this very subject.

[Update: she deleted the whole thread. The gist was that people determined to be writers have to make the time to practice.]

I’ve tried to explain this to my son, because he acts like his great ambition is to be the best Overwatch player ever. It’s gotten to the point that I’m tempted to take away his computer games for good, even though he and I built a gaming computer for him just this past January. (Personally, I try to avoid most games because they’re addictive, and I’m vulnerable to that.) Choosing to spend all his free time playing video games is essentially choosing to be a regular joe with a joe job, and the US culture and economy squashes people like that now. If he’s going to be squashed, he ought to have the satisfaction of making art (or something!)

And what of myself? Thinking about spending down time always makes me audit myself, and I have to confess that I’ve been obsessing over Twitter and the election these past few months. It seems like my duty as a citizen to be as informed as possible, but how much of my time and energy do I REALLY need to devote to this? How much can I push off onto other citizens?

Clearly, I need to cut back and focus more on my work. The book I’m revising is complex and I need to get it to my agent so she can sell it. But Twitter is soooo tempting, almost like a video game.

And that’s the power of tiny decisions. Not the big stuff, like Where should I go to college or Should I quit my current job for that new one? No, the really important decisions are the huge clusters of tiny ones that we all make every day. Should I work on my book, or should I watch this tv show/go to the gym/hit the pub/etc?

Obviously no one can spend every spare moment of their lives writing (nor should they) but if you never choose writing over those other things that’s a clear statement of priorities.

[Added later: See also: Twelve Years from Hobbyist to Pro]

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

Baby’s First Audio Book

Today I finished listening to my first audio book.

It was the unabridged Fellowship of the Ring, read by Rob Inglis, and I enjoyed it. A lot.

I didn’t expect to. When the audio book for Child of Fire came out, I found it impossible to listen to it. The narrator’s voice was fine–excellent, even–but it was completely different from the voice I heard in my head when I was writing it, and the dissonance was unbearable.

And the format itself seemed utterly wrong for me. I love to drive but I don’t have a car so I never do. I don’t have a phone to carry with me when I walk. My apartment is tiny, so when would I be able to listen at home? Besides, no skimming? No reading quickly through the exciting stuff?

Hmf, I said.

Then I heard a piece on NPR where a woman said she listened to Rob Inglis’s reading of LOTR every year, and I found it at the library. The first book was 19.25 hours long on 16 CDs! [1] And I just happened to get my copy of Obduction from Kickstarter.

A quiet, Myst-style game and an audio book through the headphones seemed like a perfect combination.

And I loved it.

The game was done before the audio book and I’ve been having trouble squeezing time to listen, but all the things I thought would be bugs turned out to be features. As annoyed as I was when I read Tolkien’s description of hiking through rough terrain (was this really the sort of challenge you want to devote page space to?) being forced to listen to it had the opposite effect. I could visualize the scene. I didn’t feel impatient because I couldn’t skim ahead to the next plot point. Taking away that small measure of control was surprisingly relaxing.

Anyway, I have never enjoyed Fellowship of the Ring quite so much before (although I still say Fuck Tom Bombadil) and I’m wondering how I can find 17-odd hours for the next book. I can’t. It just won’t fit into my life, but I wish it did.

Until I get a car, maybe.

[Update] I forgot to mention that the third book in my Great Way series comes out today in audio book. If you subscribe to Audible, you can listen free. If you bought the Kindle version from Amazon, the audio version is startlingly affordable. The series begins here.

[1] Don’t laugh. I’ve just had to order a new CD player online, because our old one is going wonky and my wife doesn’t want to have to fuck with a computer to play her music while she paints.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

In which I ask for your expertise

I’ve created a new page on my website for recruiting reader-resources. Basically, it’s for folks with an expertise in some field who wouldn’t mind if I asked them a question about it as part of writerly research.

Learn more here.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

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I signed with my agent in 2007, landed a publishing contract in 2008, and published my first novel, CHILD OF FIRE, in September 2009. That’s almost exactly seven years ago.

Since then, I published two more books with Del Rey, wrote and published a game tie-in novel for Evil Hat, and self-published six more novels and collections.

Yesterday, I earned my first royalty from a publisher for one of my novels.

My agent’s foreign rights division cleverly sold my self-published trilogy, The Great Way, to German publisher Blanvalet. Along with the on-signing payment for that deal (delayed due to international tax paperwork, and my struggles with same) they sent the royalty payment for The Way into Chaos — or, I should say, “Die Pforte Der Shatten“, which if translated would probably be a far more commercial title than I chose.

Not that this was my first foreign rights sale. Child of Fire and the other Twenty Palaces books have been published in Russian, German, French, Polish, and some others I’m forgetting. However I don’t recall getting any payment beyond the advance.

But wait! you ask. If I have six self-published novels, haven’t I been getting royalty payments from Amazon, et al?

Nope. No matter what terminology they prefer, Amazon takes a commission from sales, they don’t pay royalties.

Anyway, seven years to this milestone! The amount is almost but not quite enough to cover a week’s groceries, but I’ll take it.

Publishing is weird.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

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Invasive by Chuck Wendig

I keep telling people that writing reviews helps authors, then I forget to write them myself. I’m going to have to be more conscientious about that when I read living authors.

InvasiveInvasive by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Terrific. Wendig has a way with words, which is not to say that his writing is delicate and lovely, but that it’s very inventive, specific and filled with vitality.

As high-tech thrillers go, this one centers on bio-tech: someone had genetically engineered an ant that swarms people and kills them. The book never cheats on the science and isn’t afraid to go large-scale with the implications. It’s fun. I suspect I would have enjoyed it more if I thought ants are creepy or whatever but I haven’t grown up around fire ants or crazy ants.

I haven’t read the first book in the series, but that wasn’t a problem.

Buy this book.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

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