May 262020
 

Welcome back to my count up list of SciFi movies. I left off with some massive ties at #18. I’ve realized my rounding to a single decimal space is problematic and causing many ties. SOooooo, I’m going to make some minor tweaks to the numbers to put one over the other in the ties.

# 28 – Young Frankenstein – Rating 7.8

What can I say about this classic laughfest? It is a riot. “Walk this way.” “What nice knockers.” “You made a yummy sound.” “Be careful of the taffeta, darling.” The entire movie is a comedy gem!

#29 – 2001 & 2010 – Rating 7.8

I probably will be abused for this but I preferred 2010 to the original Stanley Kubrick film. The original seemed too psychedelic and pointless. The second one actually went somewhere while keeping the cannons of the first movie.  Standing ovation.

#30 – Omega Man – Rating 7.8

An old movie that most reading this have not seen. It is the movie that “I am Legend” is remade from. If you watch this movie, remember its timeframe. Yes, the special effects aren’t great, but the inner turmoil of the man is much clearer in this movie than its remake.

#31 – I am Legend – Rating 7.8

OK, the difference between them is small. I loved both movies.

#32 – 28 Days Later – Rating 7.8

Looks like I’ve lumped a bucketload of zombie movies (and I HATE zombie movies) in among the better movies I have. In fact the other one on my list isn’t that far down. I don’t know why this one seems better than others, but it felt more real to me.

#33 – Outland – Rating 7.8

Sean Connery as a cop in space. What more do you need to say? The setting was incredible and I loved how he used it to his advantage.  Wonderful watch.

#34 – Super 8 – Rating 7.8

I’m normally not a kid movie kind of person. They are always doing stupid stuff and somehow saving the day from their own idiocy. This one felt different as they didn’t spawn the problem but they helped solve it with empathy.

#35 – Robocop – Rating 7.7

Badass cyberpunk from the word go. Police departments being purchased like commodities. <cough> Not at all like us buying jail space from private contractors, is it? Ok, the acting is cartoonish but really speaks to me on an instinctual level.

#36 – I, Robot – Rating 7.6

Asimov translated to modern era. I had problems with some of the science and the drama wasn’t quite there. The movie really wasn’t sure if it wanted to be a comedy or a drama. If they had taken out Will Smith (don’t get me wrong, I like him) but put in a more serious actor in his place then I think it would have been a better movie.

#37 – Apollo 13 – Rating 7.6

OK, the ONLY place this movie falls down is that you know the ending before you even see the movie. Every other category is spot on! Honestly, I didn’t know my history well enough to know the ending, so when I watched this for the first time I was glued to my seat.

#38 – Ready Player One – Rating 7.5

This movie gets and exceptional rating even after I read the book (which was fabulous)! It brought the visuals that the book lacked. It brought humanization (even in VR) to the main character that the book lacked. OK, the movie took some serious liberties with the book, but kept its essence.

#39 – Warm Bodies – Rating 7.5

Wow, a romantic comedy zombie movie. Who’da thunk it?  Loved it. While it falls down as horror, it certainly holds up everywhere else.

#40 – The Truman Show – Rating 7.5

I will say, despite Jim Carrey, I wasn’t expecting much of this movie when I saw it the first time. But it sucked me in like a vacuum cleaner on high. Couldn’t turn away. A single person as the focus of a 24/7 show just is brilliant. Reality TV at its finest.

#41 – Ender’s Game – Rating 7.5

A journeyman’s attempt at capturing the book.

#42 – John Wick – Rating 7.5

Loved the dark action scenes. Humor fell flat.

#43 – Altered States – Rating 7.5

A psychedelic attempt to find the meaning of life, and no, it’s not 42.

#44 – District 9 – Rating 7.5

Wanted to love this one more. I think the humor in it fell a bit flat.

#45 – Pixels – Rating 7.5

Again, loved the concept. Felt the execution didn’t quite make it.

#46 – War of the Worlds (Tom Cruise version) – Rating 7.5

#47 – Ex Machina – Rating 7.4

This movie tried to do too much and the horror portion of it fell flat.

#48 – Minority Report – Rating 7.4

Enjoy it as a fast action romp. Ignore anything that resembles science. Interesting twist on time travel.

#49 – Ghostbusters – Rating 7.3

Laugh your ass off with this mindless comedy!

#50 – Escape from New York (first movie only) – Rating 7.3

“Aren’t you dead?” First movie is this rating. The others all fell WAY down the board and.. frankly OFF the board.

#51 – Oblivion – Rating 7.3

Too many inconsistencies to make this a truly great movie.

#52 – Star Wars – Rating 7.2

Finally we reach one of the iconic movie franchises in the history of film making. If I rated ONLY the first movie (episode IV), it would be up around a 9, maybe even as high as a perfect 10 for its era. If I rated the first three movies (Episodes IV-VI) It would be maybe 8.5ish. But as a franchise it probably doesn’t even deserve 7.2. Consistency is a problem, as is reusing plots and plot devices. I stopped caring what happened to any of the characters.

#53 – Andromeda Strain – Rating 7.2

Bet you didn’t know there were three versions of this movie. The book is by far better than any of the three movies and they all had their good and bad points. Each of them hovered near this rating. Each different, not just a complete rehash.

#54 – Jericho – Rating 7.0

I am a sucker for post-apocalyptic fiction/movies that are done right. I found this series really close. If they had left out the g’damned government conspiracy/spy crap it would have zoomed up the charts. Which reminds me, if you are a reader and like post-nuclear war stuff, try Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank. You have to deal with the outdatedness of it, but it really works well.

#55 – Death Race and Death Race 2000 – Rating 7.0

I think I liked DR2000 a bit more for its camp value. Acting sucked, but I loved the dark humor.

#56 – Judge Dredd – Rating 7.0

#57 – Flash Gordon – Rating 7.0

Campfest!

#58 – Heavy Metal– Rating 7.0

#59 – The Last Starfighter– Rating 7.0

Everyone as a kid dreamed of this.

#60 – The Matrix– Rating 7.0

#61 – Total Recall– Rating 7.0

Still haven’t gotten to Star Trek or Dr. Who and we are down to #61. How disappointing, but I’ll describe details in a later version.

 May 26, 2020  Uncategorized No Responses »
May 132020
 

Welcome to the next installment of Tom’s greatest science fiction movies. Last week we talked about the BEST ten. Now let’s delve down a little deeper. I mean we haven’t even gotten to Star Trek or Star Wars, for goodness sake.

At #11 we have a six-way tie

#11 Children of Men – Rating 8.3

This is a dark as heck movie that creeped me out from beginning to end. It isn’t a movie I’d watch very often (despite constantly rewatching other movies) but the concept and execution on this one had me sitting on the edge of my seat.

#11 Handmaid’s Tale – Rating 8.3

NOTE: This is only about the movie, I never watched the series. This is one of the darkest, foulest movies I’ve ever had to privilege to watch. If you don’t mind the plug, I found the imagery similar to what I wrote in “Wayward School.” I did say, wrote (past tense). I wrote it long before Handmaid’s Tale but only published the book recently.
Enough about my book… This story envisions a future where women who can bear children are suborned as slaves and breeding cows for those of society who can. Definitely a movie you have to watch at least once.

#11 The Martian – Rating 8.3

I have to say I’d all but given up on HARD science fiction that was internally consistent, that wasn’t exaggerated for drama until I saw this movie. I, by temperament, find the things that don’t work rather than those that do. I find the bad, rather than the good. It is rare I see a movie and don’t find a dozen or many more errors, either technical or consistency. However, in The Martian I found only two.

#11 Sucker Punch – Rating 8.3

This visually evocative and emotional movie is both a rollercoaster action flick (with a nice anime crossover) but also a disturbing ride through the emotional troubles of anyone in such a situation. I love the nod to David Carradine as a key player in the dream sequences.  

#11 Yesterday – Rating 8.3

Many will question why I make this a science fiction movie but are talking about either alternate history or parallel universes. The basic premise (no spoiler really) is that a down on his luck musician gets injured. When he wakes he finds that the Beatles (and other things) have never existed… yet he remembers them. Great feel-good movie!

#11 Lord of the Rings – Rating 8.3

I’ll be surprised at anyone who hasn’t seen the movies. I will make a horrific admission that I’ve never read any of the books except the Hobbit. I didn’t care for the writing of Tolkein. The world he fashioned is incredible but not his prose (IMHO). The movies are a visual smorgasbord of scifi/fantasy love. The drama is over the top!  Gotta love it.

#17 The Stand – Rating 8.2

I love the combination of science, horror, and drama in this movie series. I would say that it is one of the best screen adaptations of a King original novel that I’ve seen. While not a fan of horror, this still brings it home in a way I can accept. Add the twists of the movie and you have a fan favorite!

Our next place has a ten-way tie.

#18 Predestination – Rating 8

One of the grandmasters of science fiction, Robert Heinlein wrote a short story called “All you Zombies.” This is an adaptation of that story. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that it is one of the only adaptations of his works that is worth a flying fuck. Starship Troopers was a joke. Even Puppet Masters didn’t live up to anything worthwhile. This one is a fully-integrated, mind-bending time travel movie that is internally consistent with itself (very rare).

#18 Blade Runner – Rating 8

No greatest scifi list would be complete without this epic work. I, however, will break with the pack and say that my favorite version of this is the one WITH the voice-over. It gives so much depth that the other versions leave on the cutting room floor. I will also say I enjoyed the sequel.

#18 Edge of Tomorrow (aka Live, Die, Repeat) – Rating 8

More action than a basketful of kittens. More time travel fun than a basket of puppies. This future classic just makes one warm all over. The premise is awesome and deserves your attention

#18 Groundhog Day – Rating 8

Honestly the predecessor to Edge of Tomorrow. The scifi portion is never explained, but it is delightful. And with Bill Murray as our protagonist? Drop the mic.

#18 Mad Max – Rating 8

I love (good) post-apocalyptic movies. The original Road Warrior and its sequel must have been made on a shoestring budget but they told an exceptional story of the world going to hell and one man fighting against the tide before becoming swept up in it.

#18 Men in Black – Rating 8

A surprisingly high number on my list. The camp in this movie made it a delightful romp in hilarity. It abused many of our scifi tropes into humor. I will admit I’ve not seen the third movie so I can’t comment.

#18 Resident Evil – Rating 8

I DON’T LIKE ZOMBIE MOVIES! As they are written, most zombie apocs couldn’t have gotten beyond the initial presentation, much less take over the world. That being said, I liked the RE series as an action-adventure.. kind of like the second Alien movie, Aliens, is action-adventure rather than horror. This fills in the same spot. Besides, what isn’t to like about Milla Jovovich kicking ass and taking names.

#18 The Thing (John Carpenter’s version) – Rating 8

One of three movies that actually scared the shit out of me. Granted, Kurt Russell’s acting leaves much to be desired, but the movie played to his strengths, kind of like ST:TNG’s Riker plays to Jonathan Frake’s single strength as an actor. If the movie had enough horror to scare me (the horror rock), then it works! I found the remake a trite piece of trash.

#18 Unbreakable – Rating 8

Think Sixth Sense meets the Dark Knight. A dark superhero movie that doesn’t present as a superhero movie. When I saw it originally I had no idea what it was about but had recommendations to see it. How might a superhero find out he has powers?

#18 Transcendence – Rating 8

High-tech drama with many lovely twists and some good acting by Johnny Depp. Is technology evil? Be careful what you wish for.

Come back next time when I will start from my 28th favorite and continue to dip down. I STILL haven’t gotten to Star Wars or Star Trek.

 May 13, 2020  Uncategorized No Responses »
May 082020
 

I don’t know why, but recently I Googled “Best Science Fiction Movies.” I really wondered if I’d missed something. There are many folks out there who give us their views. I guess it is my turn.

This will be a multi-part post. This one will contain choices from 1 to 11.

Instead of counting toward the best, I’m going to change up and give you my favorite movies from the best down… at some point, I’ll just trail off. Note that I’ve lumped franchises together, so if I say, Terminator, for example, I mean all of the terminator movies unless I give some specific exceptions.

Rating system: I rate all movies on Science, Action, Humor, Horror, Drama, Twists, and Consistency. I average all of the pieces that are primarily being filmed and average them. All of my ratings will be on a scale from 1-10, 10 being the best.

Drumroll… My favorite science fiction movie of all time is (4-way tie for first place):

#1 A Man from Earth – Rating 9

This movie, which you probably have never even heard of, did so poorly at the box office that I never even heard of it until I stumbled upon it on Netflix (I don’t believe it is there any longer)
It has no special effects at all. It has no action. It isn’t set in the future. The entire movie two sets, and contains nothing more than people talking.
This is the epitome of a thinking person’s science fiction.

#1 Gattaca – Rating 9

This one’s rating surprised me. I rewatch movies often and pick movies other than this. But when I honestly filled in my numbers for each of the categories, I realized how much this film meant to me. It is an uncomfortable watch, like Schindler’s List. It may be awesome, but it doesn’t mean you want to batter yourself with that discomfort often.
The prejudice that could come, and is already coming, from our DNA is incredible. Prophetic Scifi at its best.

#1 The Sixth Sense – Rating 9

Anyone who knows me will know I don’t understand the horror genre. I do understand suspense, and this movie has it in bucketloads. I’m also a sucker for a twist ending.
While Bruce Willis isn’t known for his exceptional acting range, he stretched here and came away with a winner. That isn’t to take away from his costars. Everyone made this movie work.

#1 Wall-E – Rating 9

What can I say that you almost certainly don’t already know? The humor in this movie is top-notch. There were enough twists to make my heart sing, and it made me feel hope, even out of despair. My top feel-good film.

Coming in at #5 – (I sound like Casey Kasem “And here is a beauty that stayed at #5 for ten long weeks on our charts…”)

#5 Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – Rating 8.8

Wow, another surprise rating and for a movie that isn’t pure science fiction/fantasy by any stakes. It does blur the lines.
Scott Pilgrim is a fun romp that pokes fun at video games, dating, sexual preference, vegans, and more. During the whole time, it is wrapped in this joyful wrapper of youth.
Oh, don’t expect stellar acting, in fact, that would negate most of its charm, but the film is so fun that you can’t help but enjoy it.

There is a five-way tie for #6.

#6 Battle Los Angeles – Rating 8.5

While I’ve never served in our armed forces, I do know a number of people who have. This movie spoke to me like real combat. It also felt like what an alien invasion, if it didn’t completely overwhelm us from technology that is too advanced, would feel like.
Gritty. More action than you can pack into a claymore mine, and high stakes that didn’t feel like they were utterly overwhelming. And, as it was aliens, there were a number of tasty twists in there to keep me hooked for the whole movie. Might have gotten more if it wasn’t too sappy around the father and kid.

#6 Cloverfield – Rating 8.5

Like its counterpart above, this is an alien invasion that overwhelms our ability to respond. As a kaiju movie, I like the “Blair Witch Project” filming of the entire escape of the civilians. Action galore and wrapped up the horror of those unknowns.

#6 Jurassic Park – Rating 8.5

The entire franchise is a rollercoaster ride of action. I mean, you know you are going to get dinosaurs eating people, but why are the people so stupid (read that word as GREEDY) THIS time? The special effects are incredible. The science is there to back it up. And one of the best pieces is the consistency from movie to movie – not just in actors but in not tramping on the traditions previously created.

#6 The Thirteenth Floor – Rating 8.5

Another movie many people haven’t seen. This movie lives and dies on its twists and turns, so I can’t reveal too much without giving it away. Needless to say, once you see it, you will immediately compare it to a movie I have ranked down in the 50s or 60s. This one is a vastly superior breed. Get it. You won’t be disappointed.

#6 Next – Rating 8.5

I’m probably going to catch a great deal of heat on this one. I mean Nicholas Cage?  Really? But the movie itself is a masterpiece. What would a man’s life be like if he could see two minutes in the future, or more under certain circumstances? He would have to stay under the radar screen or be put into a government cell with doctors poking him with sharp needles – forever.

That concludes my top eleven choices. I’ll post later on more great movies and how I rank them. I’ve already thrown in a couple you probably never heard of, so who knows when I’ll throw more weirdness into the mix.

 May 8, 2020  Uncategorized No Responses »
May 072020
 

by Connie J. Jasperson

This is the final post in a six-week blog tour series by members of the Northwest Independent Writers Association. Find NIWA at https://www.niwawriters.com/

The world is full of good, responsible publishers, both indie and small presses, as well as larger companies. They want to see you succeed as an author and will help you develop the tools and skills to do so. However, there are horrific presses that not only take your money, time, and sometimes even copyright of your work. You must be aware of these potential pitfalls. I’m going to share with you some of my painful learnings with the predatory presses as well as other tidbits I’ve learned through experience.

The first piece of advice I have to offer is this: while most small presses are run by honest publishers, be wary. Sharks and publishing-world charlatans lurk in the depths, preying on the naïve.

In 2010, a small-press in Indianapolis who published thirty authors approached me, offering a contract. I took the plunge and signed with them. I learned many things from that bad experience.

If someone who claims to be a publisher has NOT read your work, but they offer you a contract, RUN far away.

Certain red flags should have warned me off, but I ignored them. In April of 2012, twenty-five authors and I severed ties with that publisher and formed an indie publishing group. Thanks to the help of a lawyer in our ranks, we regained the rights to our books. Going indie has been a good choice for me as an author.

If you have any doubts regarding going with a publisher, don’t do it. Your work is precious, and the relationship you have with your publisher must be one of mutual trust.

The second piece of advice is this: you must create your own brand to sell your work. While that publisher and I parted in a messy way, I learned one crucial thing besides not trusting charming salesmen: All authors, traditionally published or indie, are responsible for creating their own public presence.

This means you must get a website and regularly update the content of your author blog and make use of free social media.

At my former publisher’s behest, I created a free WordPress blog as my personal website. I got a twitter account and made a Facebook author page. I did this reluctantly, wondering why I was bothering as I had no followers.

What I know now is this: When it comes to both Twitter and blogging, you will gain followers, just not real rapidly, if you post regularly and follow other people in your chosen field.

For Facebook, people will look you up and like your page as they become familiar with you through Facebook book-reading groups and other forums.

Your author blog will gain followers if you blog frequently. Embed links to your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages to your author blog so people can follow your social media from there.

Do you think you have nothing to tweet or blog about? Look at what other authors post. Post snippets, tell silly stories about your dog or kids, post embarrassing pictures of your cat, or talk about your favorite books. Once in a while, slip in some stuff about your books but don’t spam people.

All it takes is 10 minutes, once a day, just long enough to post a tweet or add some odd thought to your Facebook author page. If you have a sense of humor, followers will come.

I regularly publish new content on my blog. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I talk about the craft of writing and my life experiences, good and bad. On Thursdays, I often host other authors and talk about their approaches to the craft.

Fridays are my favorite day of the blogging week. I am free to talk about my secret passion: Renaissance Art on #FineArtFriday.

A feature I like about WordPress is the option to automatically send links for each new post to both Twitter and my Facebook author page. The content in both those places updates with no effort on my part, and this is how I manage my social media with minimal stress.

Be diverse in what you discuss, and you will gain many new followers.

Another thing I wish I had known (but didn’t) was how important it is to find a competent editor to work with. My first novel has been sitting unpublished since parting ways with my former publisher because it was such a mess. I have completely rewritten it, had it professionally edited, and will be republishing it this next year with a new title.

We rarely start out on this journey with friends who are qualified to edit our work, and my first editor didn’t know his behind from a hole in the ground.

 In 2012, after reading the first chapter of my second novel, my first real editor asked me for a style sheet. I didn’t know what she meant.

Bad habits developed in writing my first novel had filtered into my second book, Huw the Bard. My work was uneven, and my made-up names were written inconsistently. This happens because fundamental things sometimes change as we are going along in our first draft:

  • Character names evolve.
  • Place names evolve.
  • Distances evolve

We make these adjustments because we realize something isn’t logical, make the changes, and move on.

Once my new editor pointed this out to me, I put together a comprehensive list of how I wanted to spell the names of every person, place, and creature in my novel. Even though I spent several days doing this, the editing process for Huw the Bard was slow and agonizing because I didn’t catch half of what I should have.

What the style sheet should cover:

  • All names, created or not: Aeos, Aeolyn, Beryl, Carl, Edwin, etc.
  • Real and created animal names: alligator, stinkbear, thunder-cow, waterdemon
  • Created words that are hyphenated: fire-mage, thunder-cow
  • All place names, real or created: Seattle, Chicago, Ragat, Wister, Sevya, Arlen, Neveyah

For me, it’s a simple thing to copy and paste my words into a spreadsheet or document. I label it with the book or series title and the words “style sheet,” like this: JulianLackland-style-sheet.xls. I keep a link to that document on my desktop, so it’s easy to locate and open when I need to add to it.

Something else I didn’t know then is this—indie or not, you must pay for some services. If you can, you must plan ahead and set aside money for editing services.

Other aspects of indie publishing are expensive, so keep setting money aside for them. Indies must either do it themselves or pay for book cover design and formatting services. They must also pay for professional review services like Kirkus and advertisements on Bookbub, neither of which is cheap.

The authors I know who are successfully selling their work through Amazon and other online vendors spend the money to get their work professionally reviewed before they publish it even though there is a chance the review won’t be positive.

Reviews by professional review services mean something to the reader because they are honest. If a review is bad, you don’t have to use it, and you have some idea of what you might have done wrong. If you sent them an ARC (advance reader’s copy), you still have time to make positive changes to your work.

The last thing I wish I’d known in 2011 is this—Join a local writer’s group. Even better, take the leap and join one of your region’s professional writers’ associations. Writers need to be a part of the larger writing community because it is through conversations with other authors that we will find the opportunities to get our books in front of readers.

My choice of going indie has been a good move for me. I love what I do, and have made many wonderful friends through attending conventions, workshops, and seminars. If you are a writer, I hope you find your path a little easier than mine was in the beginning.

I regret nothing. I hope others will gain knowledge from my struggle, and their path will be easier. Regardless of the rough beginning, I’m happy in my career. Every day is a joy, offering new ideas and opportunities.

My wish is for you to be as happy in your work as I am in mine. Happy writing!

***      ***      ***

Connie J. Jasperson is a published poet and the author of nine fantasy novels. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies. A founding member of Myrddin Publishing Group and member of SFWA, she can be found blogging regularly on both the craft of writing and art history at Life in the Realm of Fantasy.

You can find her books on her Amazon author page: http://bit.ly/CJJASPauthor

Follow Connie J. Jasperson on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cjjasp

 May 7, 2020  Uncategorized No Responses »
May 012020
 

by William Cook

This is the fifth in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers Association. You can catch up with them at https://www.niwawriters.com/

How many times have you cursed the autocorrect function on your phone because it wouldn’t let you text what you wanted to? It was anticipating your next move, and it was wrong. And that’s what the brain does when it comes to self-editing. It anticipates what should be there, so we often don’t see what really is there. It deletes the repeated article or adds the missing one, corrects the misspelling or the verb tense. The brain does all this in secret—we’re none the wiser. True story: my first novel had been published for two years before I saw the typo on the back cover blurb, a page I had probably read a hundred times.

Self-editing is a perilous undertaking. Who knows what mistakes are lurking in this little blog before you now, ready to leap out to a total stranger on her first read, while they’ve remained hidden to me after three dozen reads? Only the shadow knows.

First, some clarifications. The kind of editing I’ve been talking about is copy editing, which shares some territory with proofreading. Copy editing looks at the use of language, verb tenses, sentence structure, and grammar, as well as the common proofreading things like proper use of punctuation, capitalization, typos, and repeated or missing words. Before we can plunge into copy editing, however, we have to engage in developmental editing. This means examining your novel in terms of character or plot inconsistencies, factual or temporal errors, problems with point of view, pacing, and dialogue. It answers the primary question: does this story work? Good editing, self- or otherwise, is an enormous undertaking.

Why is such a daunting enterprise important? Because before your readers get caught up in your mesmerizing plot, they’re going to see your editing. They will notice the misspellings, the incorrect homophones, the missing or repeated words, the overuse or underuse of commas, the poor grammar. Personally, I find nothing so discouraging as opening a new book by an independent author on my Kindle and finding several typos within the first twenty pages. Errors like that pull me away from the story, distract me from the nuances of plot and characterization. I start looking for more mistakes rather than allowing myself to be swept away by the narrative. Of course, I try to be forgiving. (What do they say about people who live in glass houses?) But it’s the accumulation of these small errors that takes its toll. It makes an independent author look like an amateur, somehow second-class when compared with a writer who is traditionally published. It may lead to a tepid or even nasty review on Amazon or Goodreads, before your reader has been able to appreciate your quirky plot twists, your marvelous character portrayals, your riveting action sequences. It may torpedo future sales.

Here’s a short list of little mistakes that drive an obsessive like me crazy—definitely my fingernails-down-a-blackboard kind of stuff. Of course, I make these flubs myself, and you may find several in these few paragraphs. (Oh, God, I hope not!)

  1. Using the wrong case for a personal pronoun. “He blamed you and I for the failure of his company.” Should be “you and me,” direct objects of the verb “blamed.” The easiest way to catch this one is to split the pronouns apart. We’d never say, “He blamed I for the failure of his company.”
  2. Using the wrong homophone (words that have the same pronunciation but different meanings and/or spellings. “Peek, peak, and pique; its and it’s; your and you’re; there, their, and they’re; to, two, and too.”
  3. Omitting or repeating an article or other word. “Woman left in the Uber,” instead of “The woman left in the Uber.” “She left the the tablet on the counter.”
  4. Neglecting to use the possessive when modifying a gerund (a verb form used as a noun). “Do you mind me taking the last cupcake?” Should be, “Do you mind my taking the last cupcake?”
  5. Stringing two independent clauses together without any punctuation (a run-on sentence) or with only a comma (a comma splice). “He raced to the airport, she was waiting for him at the ticket counter.” There are several correct options for this one. We can make it two separate sentences. “He raced to the airport. She was waiting for him at the ticket counter.” We can join the independent clauses with a comma and the conjunction “and.” “He raced to the airport, and she was waiting for him at the ticket counter.” We can connect them with a semicolon. “He raced to the airport; she was waiting for him at the ticket counter.” We can re-structure the sentence into an independent clause and a dependent clause. “He raced to the airport, where he found her waiting at the ticket counter.”

That’s just a small sample of a list which includes the correct use of quotation marks (which is actually different in the U.S. and the U.K.!), proper capitalization, the pesky little em dash, and on and on.

Obviously, it makes sense to hire a professional editor, if you can afford one. Short of that, there are other strategies you can employ. First, read, re-read, re-re-read, and re-re-re-read your manuscript, both digitally and on paper. NEVER neglect to order a proof copy of your paperback. Proofing it only digitally doesn’t cut it—you’ll see things on paper that you completely missed on the screen. And since our editing ability gets worse when we’re tired, try reading your book from the last chapter to the first, starting at the end while you’re still fresh, before the fatigue sets in.

The other main strategy for good self-editing is not to go it alone. Join specialty groups. The Northwest Independent Writers Association has a Facebook group that can be very helpful. On the group’s public website, Connie J. Jasperson has been writing a blog called “Making Effective Revisions.” This is the full-meal deal, a primer on good self-editing. Go to https://www.niwawriters.com/blog and study what she has to say. Your writing will improve overnight.

Another group is Willamette Writers, with branches all over the State. It meets monthly and invites guest speakers to present on various aspects of the craft. One I attended on self-editing by a professional editor was more than worth the cost of the annual dues.

I’m also a part of a weekly group known as Writers Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. We get 7-10 minutes to read our material aloud and get feedback from the other participants. As brief as that is, it’s been a goldmine for me in regard to developmental editing.

Perhaps the most important group to be a part of is a small critique group, a place where you can present drafts of your material and get thorough, in-depth analysis. If there isn’t one near you, form one yourself, inviting writer colleagues you’ve met through Willamette Writers, NIWA, or a local group. Keep it small (no more than 5 people or so) to afford plenty of time for comprehensive work. Members of the critique group to which I belong meet monthly for two hours. We provide each other with hard copies (6-8 pages) of our material, which we then read aloud for twenty minutes. Following that, we share both copy editing and developmental editing ideas.

Finally, when it’s getting down to the wire, you’re going to want beta readers. These are people who will read your manuscript and give you honest feedback. Although they will sometimes do some copy editing for you, their main task is developmental, letting you know whether or not your story is a go. Recruit two or three of them from a group you attend. Out of kindness to your beta readers, never give them a first or second draft, which will be so full of problems they may get discouraged and quit on you. Offer a third or fourth draft, one to which you’ve already devoted considerable time in clean-up. My personal preference is to make hard copies of my text at FedEx and have it spiral-bound, a quick and inexpensive process. That way my beta readers have a kind of workbook they can jot notes in as they’re reading. Make their task easier by asking them specific questions beforehand. Does the story arc flow? Are there logical inconsistencies or plot holes that need mending? Is the time line coherent? Are there factual errors? Have the characters developed naturally, and are their actions in accord with their personalities? Does their dialogue sound real, or is it stilted, pedantic, dissonant with the character speaking? Did you want to keep reading, or did you get bored? If you got bored, where did the story lose you? Is the ending satisfying? (Note: if you’re writing a series, it’s OK to leave a moderate cliff-hanger, but have this book conclude some aspects of the story, so readers aren’t left scratching their heads and wondering what just happened. They won’t necessarily go out and buy your next book if they feel they’ve been tricked.) And finally, the money question: would you buy this book?

There are other resources you can tap into. I have never personally used the free service https://www.grammarly.com/ but I have heard good things about it. A truly helpful (and funny!) volume on punctuation is Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynne Truss. Many consider The Chicago Manual of Style to be the Bible of grammar.

Some will find self-editing harder to do than actually writing their novel. Certainly, it is more tedious. But don’t get discouraged. Keep the faith! Feeling that book in your hand and seeing it on your tablet will make the effort worth it.

Write on!

Other posts in this series by this author:
https://authorwilliamcook.com/blog/   “Reading to Impact Your Writing (And Can Watching Movies be a Business Expense?)”  March 29-April 4.
www.conniejjasperson.com   “Advice for New Writers” April 5-11.
https://lecatts.wordpress.com  “My Approach to the Writing Process” April 12-18.
www.joycereynoldsward.com/blog  “The Author Community” April 19-25.

Watch for the next post in the series by this author:
https://varidapr.com “Organizing Your Mind” May 3-9.

William Cook moved to the Pacific Northwest from the East Coast in 1989, and worked for a total of 37 years as a mental health therapist until his retirement in 2011. He splits his time between writing, babysitting for his 15 grandchildren, and sneaking off to mid-week matinees (when theaters are open!). The Kindle edition of his latest book, Dungeness and Dragons: A Driftwood Mystery, was published on April 24. Find all his books at:

 May 1, 2020  Uncategorized No Responses »
Apr 232020
 

by Mollie Hunt, Cat Writer

This is the fourth in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers’ Association.  NIWA serves Pacific Northwest writers working to achieve professional standards in independent writing, publishing and marketing.

They say, “Write what you know,” and that advice is certainly valid. I write about a cat shelter volunteer. Philip Margolin writes about lawyers. Debbie De Louise writes about librarians. However, what happens if you want your cat shelter volunteer, lawyer, or librarian to go somewhere you’ve never been, such as Paris or Peru or Pluto? Should they be confined to the places you, yourself, have visited? How dull that might be if one doesn’t get out much.

That’s where research comes in. True, you can make some things up as you go along. That’s called artistic license or suspension of disbelief, and when it works, it’s wonderful. But if a reader discovers a mistake, it throws them right out of the story. If the mistake is too glaring, they may never bother to come back again. Doing research is the key to keeping your story authentic.

There are many ways to do research. You can call people or you can look things up in a library or online. Here are my favorite go-to’s for finding out things I don’t know:

1. Google: My number one research resource is Google. But I don’t just read one article; I read several. I also check dates to make sure the information is current. Note: Your browsing history may begin to look a little crazy after while.

2. YouTube: You can learn just about anything on YouTube. That’s where I first learned how to shoot a gun. (not literally)

3. Wikipedia: Since this resource is created and edited by volunteers, some facts may be skewed, but all and all, their information tends to be so vast, I always find something useful.

4. The Library: Our local library has a service where I can submit a question and have it answered by email. I also check out books on my subjects of choice, but books can be more extensive than necessary. I don’t need to read a 450-page tome to tell me how cats hunt. The “For Dummies” series is a good starting point for some information.

5. Children’s books: Children’s non-fiction books often explain a subject in smart, simple, concise terms, perfect for a lot of subjects.

6. Writers’ Groups: You should be able to ask your writers’ group anything, from what’s a good murder method in the Antarctic to where to put the comma in a complicated sentence. NIWA is such a group, and our members’ Facebook Group is always a great resource for things I’d never thought I’d need to know.

7. Professionals: Cops, nurses, firefighters, detectives, waitresses, hookers! This is my least favorite research method because it means introverted little me may have to make a phone call, leave the house, or talk to a stranger. But one can also connect with friends in the professions one requires. It’s easier to talk to friends. Do you have a favorite research source not mentioned here? I’d love to add it to the list.

Watch for my next post, #5: INFORMATION FOR NEW WRITERS, coming the week of April 26-May 2 on the Heliocentric, Suzanne Hagelin blogsite.

Check out this week’s other participating NIWA blogsites:

About Mollie Hunt: Native Oregonian Mollie Hunt has always had an affinity for cats, so it was a short step for her to become a cat writer. Mollie Hunt writes the Crazy Cat Lady cozy mystery series featuring Lynley Cannon, a sixty-something cat shelter volunteer who finds more trouble than a cat in catnip, and the Cat Seasons sci-fantasy tetralogy where cats save the world. She also pens a bit of cat poetry.

Mollie is a member of the Oregon Writers’ Colony, Sisters in Crime, the Cat Writers’ Association, and NIWA. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and a varying number of cats. Like Lynley, she is a grateful shelter volunteer.

You can find Mollie Hunt, Cat Writer on her blogsite: www.lecatts.wordpress.com

Amazon Page: www.amazon.com/author/molliehunt

Facebook Author Page: www.facebook.com/MollieHuntCatWriter/

@MollieHuntCats

 April 23, 2020  Uncategorized No Responses »
Apr 142020
 

This is the third in a six-week blog tour series for the Northwest Independent Writers’ Association.

Science fiction romance? Fantasy mystery? Western science fiction? Paranormal romance? Science fiction mystery? Gaslight fantasy? There’s a lot of ways to mix up genres within your fiction, and some writers really enjoy the possibilities as they combine genres. But there are some issues to keep in mind as you go about mixing up the genres.

Note: for the purposes of this blog, I am using “genre” in the commercial fiction sense, which means the mixing of various subsets of commercial fiction. In the literary and academic world, “genre” means the separation of types of writing such as poetry, prose, and nonfiction of various sorts. While writing a weighty philosophical tome in poetic form that hearkens back to the Greek era would fit “cross-genre” under the literary/academic definition, that is NOT what I am discussing here. Even though it could be entertaining, you’re likely to drive what readers you will have crazy.

So back to the topic.

The first caveat about crossing genres is that you must be familiar with the tropes, clichés, and accepted standards of the genres you are crossing. No excuses. Know what you are writing, down to the type of characters your readers will expect and the type of plots that are common. Some genres are more forgiving than others, but if you’re not mindful and knowledgeable about what all readers in the genres you mix will expect, you’re not going to have many readers.

Secondly, do pick genres that go together reasonably well. Christian hardcore porn, for example…well, there might be a market for it, but my suspicion is that it’s highly limited. But a comedy of manners set in space? Well, just take a look at A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold, which mixes an Austen-ish plot with political power struggles on another planet. Westerns and science fiction cross very well if you pick the right science fiction subgenre. Plausibility needs to be the primary awareness here.

Third, you’re going to need to decide which genre is going to dominate the story and drive the primary plot. In A Civil Campaign, for example, while romance is popping out all over, a power struggle which affects an empire that controls several worlds is a dominant plot while the romances and science-focused subplots are secondary but still important. They do affect how the primary plot unfolds but they’re not the dominant story. On the other hand, if you pull out the subplots, the dominant story becomes much less interesting.

All that said, though, writing cross genre can be quite fun. It’s a means for you to add depth to your work and give strength to your characters. Additionally, you might bring in more readers than you would if you hadn’t mixed up a genre or two. I explicitly market two of my best local sellers, Alien Savvy and Shadow Harvest, as a mixture of science fiction and western. Because I live in a rural ranching community, that combination of genres appeals to readers who otherwise tell me “I don’t read science fiction.” My current work in progress, The Ruby Project trilogy, is a mixture of cyberpunk, Western, and thriller. I do a lot of hand-selling around Christmas and it’s easier if I can attract a new reader by drawing them in through a familiar genre.

And that’s the consideration you really, really need to think about when writing cross-genre work. Who is your audience and what do they expect from your book? No matter what, the genres you cross need to have reader appeal. Above all else, it is the reader who is going to buy your book and, if they like it, spread the word about you and your writing.

Keep the reader in mind, and enjoy your work.

Other posts in this series by Joyce Reynolds-Ward (note: each website owner will post at some point during the week listed).

March 29-April 4th—Organizing Your Plot www.joycereynoldsward.com
April 5-11—Self-editing, grammar, and beta readers https://authorwilliamcook.com/blog/
April 12-18—Genre and cross-genre https://tanstaaflpress.com/news
April 19-25—My Approach to the writing process https://varidapr.com
April 26-May 2—Reading to Impact your writing www.conniejjasperson.com
May 3-9—Advice for new writers https://lecatts.wordpress.com

 April 14, 2020  Uncategorized No Responses »
Apr 082020
 

NIWA Blog Tour Guest Author: SUZANNE HAGELIN

Time for writing is limited.

We can’t let ourselves be distracted every few minutes with all those side tangents… questions nagging at the back of our minds. What is the word for that thing? Do they really talk like this? Are there mountains in that area? How far can a healthy person walk each day if the terrain is rough but there’s less gravity? What did I decide to call that ship… that guy… that creature…? On and on and on, sapping the vitality out of those precious hours.

But ignoring distractions within the project is smart, isn’t it?

Actually, no. There’s more to using the time wisely than just spitting out new sentences and disregarding the support work that happens alongside the storytelling.

A short story may not need much characterization or research, but problem-solving the plot and achieving a well-formed story arc takes thought. Thinking is an important part of the creative process.

A novel requires more. Characters don’t usually leap onto the page in 3D without some development to give them depth and dimension. Research is essential for painting vivid scenes, crafting plausible scenarios, and supporting facts and science. Concerted effort is needed to identify and tackle weak spots in a plot. And tracking all the names and threads to keep them straight is just common sense.

Sometimes, I accuse myself of wasting creative hours when what I’m doing is essentially valuable. In those moments, I’ve forgotten that good writing involves a number of key tasks.

After all I’ve invested in getting my mind organized (see the first post in this series), I shouldn’t clutter up the writing process with unattended side work.

Focus

The first step to organizing your time is understanding what deserves to be included. Some elements to consider giving status in your routine might be map-making, world building, naming tactics, character development, charting plot threads, outlines, research, thinking, and problem solving.

I always have a file called ‘Stats’ that’s a little different for each book. It can include anything from characterization to invented language, charts of character appearances by chapter, word counts, statistics on gases used in deep sea diving or space, gravity on various planets, nomenclature structures, and more.

Once you’ve figured out the components you plan to incorporate, you’ll be able to make better use of your time.

Writing Schedule

No matter how you fit writing into your life or how much you can do in one session or what your pace is, never doubt that it matters and it’s worth it. Some authors are able to work every day, and some can cram long hours into marathon blasts that consume all their waking hours until they’ve completed something. Some have to fit it in wherever they can and not let the slower pace discourage them. I fall mostly into the latter category with occasional bursts of intensive writing.

Organizing your mind and writing process frees you up to write full steam ahead when you have the chance. By taking the time to assemble the scaffolding that sustains your creative output, you streamline the work. Five hours of intense writing with separate slots for support tasks, is better than two days of juggling.

~ A week at a glance

One approach to scheduling your time for writing is to make an outline for the week that doesn’t specify when something will happen, but how much. If you’re focused on fitting in six quality hours, it won’t matter if that happens an hour a day or six hours on one day. This gives you flexibility to fit it in when you can and retains the weight of structure—the increasing priority of getting it done by the end of the week.

TIP: Try this for one week. Reevaluate the plan, adjust, and try it for another week. If it works, it becomes a flexible, easy to track habit.

~ Time slots

You can allocate specific blocks in the schedule to wordsmithing. Lunch break at work, commuting, waiting for a child at soccer practice or dance class, early morning, late in the evening.

Even if you can only commit to twenty minutes at a time, it will work if you always do it at the same time of day, making it a routine your body clock recognizes. There’s a decent chance that you won’t need to struggle getting back into the story because your brain will be preparing for that as the hour draws near.

~ Full time

Self-employment as a full-time author is like being the only musician playing all the instruments in an orchestra. Even working with other authors in a small press can be like that.

Someday, once I’ve mastered this process, I’ll be glad to share what I’ve learned. For now, my suggestions are pretty basic.

  • Schedule ALL your work hours, not just the creative ones.
  • Balance creative tasks with functional ones to avoid burnout.
  • Consider moving forward on more than one project at a time so when one hits a snag, you can make headway on the other.
  • Rest, nutrition, exercise—take care of yourself as seriously as an athlete would, because your mind doesn’t exist on its own apart from your body and it is your number one, most valuable asset.
  • People time. Most authors are introverts and connecting with people requires intentional effort. You need more than just readers and fans in your life.

~ Adding Incentive

Some of us are more productive under pressure. If you’re one of those, here are some suggestions for putting on the heat and squeezing more writing out of your time.

Set some deadlines:

  • Commit to an event where you’ll promote your current work in progress.
  • Pay for and schedule a promotion campaign for the finished book.
  • Enter a competition.

Or, on a more congenial level:

  • Team up with another author and update each other regularly.
  • Join NaNoWriMo or something similar.
  • Put the first chapter of your next book at the end of the one that precedes it and let the expectations of your readers motivate you.

Final thoughts

Scheduling is very individual, and it changes as the demands of our lives alter.

Authors aren’t necessarily factories that meet production quotas. We’re word artists that weave mental tapestries with images, ideas, emotion, and action. On the other hand, putting out regular, well-crafted content means training ourselves for the business of writing. The art is honed to perform at the author’s will.

This quote captures what I mean.
When I’m writing I don’t dream much;
it’s like the dreaming gets used in the writing.
Ursula K. Le Guin

Keep expectations realistic so you can find satisfaction in what you accomplish. But don’t be afraid to push yourself and train for more.

=====

The first post in this series is “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Mind”. You can read the third installment in this series, “Writing Essentials: Organizing Your Plot”, on Connie Johnson-Jasperson’s Blog when it comes out next week.

=====

USA Today bestselling author of hard science fiction, Suzanne Hagelin, lives in the Seattle area where she runs a small press, Varida P&R, and teaches language on the side.

Her Books. The Silvarian Trilogy Book 1, “Body Suit” is available for 99c in April only and the audiobook is Downpour’s current Editor’s Pick at $4.95. Book 2 “Nebulus” just released on audio, and Book 3, “The Denser Plane” is in the writing stage. The Severance begins with “Cascade” and will be followed by “Eclipse”.

LINKS—Suzannehagelin.com, Suzanne’s Blog, Newsletter, Twitter, FaceBook, Medium

 April 8, 2020  Uncategorized 1 Response »
Mar 312020
 

So, You Want to Be an Author? Prepare to Be a Parent.

So let’s talk briefly about why you want to be an author. While I’ll bet you lust after Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame, what really drives you is the images in your head. You have a story or world, unique to you, that is dying to get out. Maybe you read a similar book that got things wrong. Maybe your adventure has never been told. Or then again it may be a dream that comes back night after night. No matter your particular muse, the story in your head pesters you and nags at you like a small child wanting attention. So you have to birth it by writing it and becoming a book parent. I won’t kid you, it isn’t an easy or a short road.

Just like with a child, it will take thousands of hours of to take that first infant idea and turn it into an adult ready to face the world. The good news is the second child is easier, and the third one even easier. You grow with your offspring becoming better and more proficient. While my first publishable novel took over three years to be viable for print, I can now bring a baby from idea to ready to stand on its own in three months.

Again, like children, you will go on many play dates with your book. You need to share your work, complete or not, to get an idea of how others perceive your skills as a parent. Is your story grammatically correct? Is it entertaining? Does it have the social skills that make others want to be around it? Did you neglect some portion of its education such that they aren’t logical?  When you get these feedbacks from the others, especially those from other book parents, you must teach your child these new skills.

As with being a parent there will be ups and downs. There will days you just don’t want to write… “I just can’t adult today.” You will wince when a character has gone off on its own without your permission. And yet others where you wake up with the next scene in your head and while writing you don’t notice the time go by until your partner tells you that your dinner is cold. You will cringe every time your book brings home a one star on its report card, and beam every time a review shows you’ve touched someone.

What is the point of it all? With parenting of children, it is the survival of the species and passing on the values we hold dear. As a book parent it is about making the world a better place – positively impacting people’s lives. In spite of all the work and effort that goes into maturing your books, the reward is looking into the face of a fan who has spent all night with your child and is ready for the next step. In both cases the point is the sharing of love. If you can consistently give love, then you are ready to bring your baby into this world. If not, stay at home and write in the dark, alone and wash your hands afterward.

Founding TANSTAAFL Press in 2012, Thomas Gondolfi is the author (and book parent) of the Toy Wars series, the CorpGov Chronicles, and Wayward School along with numerous other writing and editing credits which can be found on www.tanstaaflpress.com. He is a father of three (real children), consummate gamer, and loving husband. Tom also claims to be a Renaissance man and certified flirt.

Raised as a military brat, he spent twenty years of his life moving to a new place every few years giving him a unique perspective on life and people. Working as an engineer in high tech for over thirty years, Tom has also worked as a cook, motel manager, most phases of home construction, volunteer firefighter, and the personal caregiver to a quadriplegic.

 March 31, 2020  Uncategorized No Responses »
Mar 312020
 

I am part of a group of authors who decided we need to mix up our blogs a bit. We agreed to do guest posting on each other’s social media. Once a week we will be hitting topics of writing, organization, genres, marketing, resources for authors, and what makes the writing community special.

We will be hearing from Suzanne Hagelin, William Cook, Joyce Reynolds, Molly Hunt, and Connie Jasperson, not to mention yours truly. The tour will begin with the post after this and will continue through May 9.

Come visit us on a regular basis to read shared tidbits of wisdom from writers who have been in the trenches, who have earned their title of author through success and failures.

 March 31, 2020  Uncategorized No Responses »