The Road to Dorian Delmontez: Excerpt 1

The lianas shifted though, this time not to present a new path, but to coalesce into something else. Stems and sticks solidified into legs and arms, moss collected to form a body and neck, and the flowers danced around one another, shedding petals and merging stems to create a head and all its features. It was a female entity that was manifesting, indeed the Lady of the Jungle was about to show herself.

“I am the jungle,” the lips moved, the words flowing on flecks of perfume and pollen. “The jungle is me. This is not a world for a man, but a paradise for women. And here you have brought two men and a young boy, a present for our feast I assume?”

This wasn’t going well from the start.

— excerpt from Dorian Delmontez’ 10th Birthday, a young adult novel, coming Winter 2013

The Best and Worst of Summer 2012 Films

The Best


The Avengers – Since the late 2000’s we’ve been bombarded with superhero comic film after superhero comic film, including a ton of remakes and reboots (read: Spiderman, Batman, X-Men). The Avengers did something surprising, it made a superhero movie that wasn’t stale. Although the plot, concept and character interactions are very familiar, the manner in which it was put together was truly above average, making it probably the best big budget film of the summer.

The Dark Knight Rises – Christopher Nolan concludes his alternate Batman universe with a action filled, drama filled third chapter. Bruce Wayne is presented in a way which we’ve rarely seen, we get hints of what may be to come, and are treated to an loud, thrilling ride that takes the world of Nolan’s Gotham City to the brink of death, only to see an inspiring rise.

Men In Black III – This was surprisingly NOT horrible, which may account for why it’s on the best category. Honestly, most people would have thought this was going to be a pointless way to cash in on an old franchise, but it actually has a story worth telling, and it’s interesting how the cast has aged in the years since MIB II.

The Hunger Games – No where near as strong as the novel, but a good start to what’s going to be a juggernaut of a franchise. If you haven’t seen the Hunger Games yet, where the heck have you been?

Beast of the Southern Wild – A Sundance favorite that many of you haven’t heard of. Trust me, it well worth the time to watch this inspiring, imaginative and iconic tale of the bravest little girl this side of the Gulf Coast.

Honorable Mention – Brave, Ted, The Watch

The Worst


The Amazing Spiderman – Not only is it a bit early to reboot Spiderman (the Toby McGuire franchise ended less than six years ago), but this film is anything but “amazing”. It’s a retread of what was done before, and not a very good one. With an annoying Peter Parker and a loosely held together narrative, this one might be the Superman Returns for Spiderman fans.

Madea’s Witness Protection – Now, I’m a huge Tyler Perry fan, and have loved most of the Madea movies, but I do believe that we’ve officially jumped the shark with this character. This film does nothing new, and feels a bit stale and empty in the end. Before, the Madea films had something unspoken under the surface that touched the middle to lower-middle class. Now, it seems just to be done for cheap laughs. Tyler, you can do better.

Step Up Revolution – Um, why does this even exist? Talk about jumped the shark. This franchise only exists for people whose only concern in life is their outer appearance and what’s happening this week on pick-your-trashy-VH1-reality-show.

Snow White and The Huntsmen – A visually stunning film that lacks any coherent core of a story. The first disappointment of the summer. I dare say I’d rather watch a Twilight film over this … nah.

Dishonorable Mention – Prometheus, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Campaign

Gems in Cyberspace: DeviantArt

If you don’t know about DeviantArt, where have you been?

For those who don’t know, it’s a social website for artists, particularly those of edgy material. The site operates as both a resource for finding artists, a community board for painters, writers, and illustrators, as well as being a great place to learn techniques.

You’ll find a lot of youngsters on this site posting their artwork in varying degrees of professionalism and skill. Although there is work on the site that is, shall we say, not-so-great, there majority of what you’ll find on DeviantArt is quality.

We’ll leave it up to you to find your favorite artists as the scope of work here is wide. However, if you look hard enough you’ll certainly find a few celebrities here and there displaying their work online.

Movie Review: Prometheus

Prometheus Movie Poster

Movie magician Ridley Scott made the long-awaited return to the Alien franchise after decades of sub-par sequels to bring us, naturally, a prequel titled Prometheus.

Once the general public figured out this was an Alien-related film made by the originator, buzz started building about what we would see. What was this film about? What would we recognize?

The film is set in the late 21st century where two young paleo-biologists, Elizabeth (Noomi Rapance) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green), find a series of wall paintings on Earth that all share the same star configuration. That configuration pointed (literally) to a reachable star system where it is theorized the creators of mankind existed, and by leaving these images behind on Earth, wanted to be found.

Prometheus relies on several cliches such as the diverse crew of the overly friendly geek, the not-friendly-at-all guy with a bad haircut and worse tattoos, a wise-cracking captain (played by Idris Elba famously of The Wire), and a mysterious and obviously amoral “employee” of the corporation played by Charlize Theron … mmm … okay, I’m back.

This motley crew head off into space to seek out an inhabitable moon in the star system described in the wall paintings, being in stasis for over two years while their android (yup, another android) David played by Michael Fassbender, rides around on a bike shooting hoops, watches movies to adopt lines as his own, and of course creepily watches the dreams of his sleeping shipmates. Fassender plays this android character rather well. You know what he’s about from the outset, yet he keeps you guessing what his real motives and most of the scenes you see him in you’re not wondering if he did something more than you are asking yourself why he’s doing it.

Prometheus is the name of the massive ship that takes this crew to their destination and while en route, we get some short explanations of what the plot is about. Dr. Elizabeth Shaw has a heavy belief in God but her partner, and lover, theorizes that on the planet they’re traveling to, they’ll find the creators of mankind. Sounds like an episode of Ancient Aliens on History Channel doesn’t it? The trip is sponsored for $1 trillion by your prototypical evil corporation that is run by an old white man who is obsessed with beating death (and a bad makeup job).

Most of the story you’ve seen before if you’ve watched any survival horror science fiction film, including the original Alien and it’s sequel Aliens. People do things they shouldn’t, creepy stuff starts happening, crew turn on one another, you’re wondering who is bad and who is good outside of our main heroine, and eventually people start dying.

If you’re expecting to see aliens kill people in this film, you’ll be disappointed. This isn’t another Alien film, this movie attempts to be more cerebral and offer a weird balance between sci-fi metaphysical pontification and shock-horror. It doesn’t quite achieve either unfortunately.

There are a few scenes that will make you really want to use condoms, feel bad for anyone whose had a Caesarean, recoil from crunching sounds, and further your distaste for worms. The ending is almost predictable but it does have a few twists here and there.

The best part of the movie is clearly the art direction and the special effects. Some really creative and imaginative people worked on the look of this movie and the futuristic gadgets that are used. A scene with David in the alien map room is so intricate, complex and spellbinding that it’s like watching digital jazz. Seeing this film in IMAX really brings the details and design elements to life. Some truly stunning visuals are to be seen in this film.

Unfortunately, as much as many of us wanted to love this film, it kind of leaves the audience a bit flat. You’ve seen something cool, but it wasn’t mind blowing. You’ve seen something visually appealing, but the heart of it is rather shallow. You can’t be too down on Ridley Scott though, it’s his first science fiction film in 33 years so cut the guy a break!

3 out of 5

How To Begin a Story

As a writer, it’s often hard to just get started. We usually have so many things in our heads that we want to get down on paper (or these days, the computer) and it’s tough to know where to start.

Sure, we know the story we want to tell, the plot twists we want to insert, the feeling we want our audience to get, the characters who will populate the world, but when that blank screen is staring at you and you’ve only written the title and perhaps “Chapter 1”, the next part is sometimes the toughest.

For anyone who is having a hard time actually writing those first few paragraphs, my biggest suggestion is just to start writing. Keep in mind, this is a first draft. It’s not concrete, it’s not written in stone, it’s you getting the process going.

For instance, if you have a main character, just simply start talking about them. If it’s a story about a couple, describe a scene that illustrates their relationship. Basically, pick something interesting about your story and start there. Just write it out. Don’t worry about sentence structure or punctuation or anything else, just write.

After a while, you’ll get into the rhythm of the story and it’ll start to flow naturally. As you’re writing, you’re going to be thinking about where the story naturally is going to go, instead of following bullet points on what you want to tell and in what order.

Starting to write a story can be the most challenging part of the book. Perhaps not as challenging as the ending and the numerous rewrites you’ll make there, but that’s another blog post!

 

Book Review: The New Weird

The New Weird Review

So what really is The New Weird? In short, it’s an anthology edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer featuring a collection of authors whose works can best be described as — well — strange.

The attempt was to loosely define the genre which itself cannot be readily designed. Fiction dubbed “new weird” ranges from political fiction, weird creature stories, metaphysical journeys, twisting established cliches and so on.

Starting with an essay written by Jeff VanderMeer, you are quickly brought into what this world of fiction is all about. In a sense, the term “new weird” is used to sell books as much as it is to define a genre. It’s not quite horror, it’s not quite fantasy, it’s not quite social-political – it’s a combination of all these things and them sometimes none at all.

What this book isn’t is a manifesto of an alternative to cyberbunk or horror fiction. The VanderMeer’s, along with many of the authors who contribute to this work, scoff at the notion of being confined to a new niche. Yet, after reading the short stories here, you’ll have a clear understand that there is a new sensibility in fiction.

That sensibility has it’s roots in Cthulhu, on through the Books of Blood and into the writings of China Mieville. What might at first strike readers as being a bit too weird actually, by the end, comes across as a refreshing romp through new possibilities and new themes that weren’t quite there in the mind before.

Stand out works in this novel (which has stories included that date back to the late 70s up through today) include Watson’s Boy by Brian Evenson, which features a unique style of prose from the first-person perspective of a boy named Brey who sees the world in simplistic fashion, given that world is nothing but his parents, corridors, keys and an infestation of (possibly) imaginary rats. The Gutter Sees the Light That Never Shines by Alistair Rennie is completely different, being a humorously grotesque tale of supernatural revenge, murder and a strange outlook on men and women. You also have In The Hills, The Cities: a short tale by Clive Barker from the original Books of Blood (yes, the story with the line Trent Reznor borrowed for his 1989 single Sin – “stale incense, old sweat, and lies”), which is one of the first works of fantasy fiction to feature – quite graphically at times – two gay men as the main protagonists.

If you’re interested in unique fiction, horror fiction, supernatural fiction that doesn’t follow the conventional norms of Rowlings, Meyers or any of the more mainstream authors, this is certainly a great introduction into the world of fantastic fiction from another dimension. If you’re easily scared or disturbed, this is certainly not for you as many of the stories are graphic in nature.

 

4 out of 5 stars

Painting Away

So, recently I’ve been adding more paintings to the collection for the first Dorian Delmontez book. It’s taking a long time (started last October) but is quite a fulfilling process in making the paintings and deciding which characters, environments, situations to convey through oils.

At some point, I hope to do a “behind-the-scenes” video.

As for the book itself, I’m in the second draft phase so hopefully it’ll come out before the end of the year. I’m quite busy with all these projects and living life but it is a goal of mine to get this book done right.

Movie Review: The Avengers

The Avengers Movie Post

For a few years the superhero movies have burned me out. With the re-re-imagining of Spiderman coming out, a re-imagining of X-Men last year and the finale to a very well done Batman re-imagining trilogy, I haven’t payed much attention to the Iron Man, Thor, Green Lantern films lately.

The trailer for The Avengers did spark my interest so after hearing some good reviews I decided to check it out.

Boy, am I glad I did.

For non-comic book fans, The Avengers are a team of superheroes, much like X-Men and Justice League, that combat a greater evil than any one of them could withstand alone. It is based on the Marvel Comic series of the same name.

The film version features Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, Hawkeye, Black Widow and Captain America. Stars of previous Marvel Comics films such as Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Chris Evans (Captain America) reprise their roles from those films in the first Avengers story. You almost get the feeling that all those films (some of them bad ie. Thor and others not as successful ie. Captain America) were just appetizers for this, the main course.

The story is a amped up version of the original Avengers comic with the core theme of Loki (Thor’s half brother) seeking revenge. The film version amps it up to a plot for Loki to take over the Earth, leading an invasion of alien creatures in the service of beings superior to him (watch after the ending credits btw!).

Nick Fury, played by Samuel L. Jackson, immediately seeks out the “Avengers protocol” which was an idea to gather several extraordinary people into a team to combat foes when the world needs it.

The team comes together, has several internal squabbles, but ultimately come together to defend the planet against Loki and his alien army.

The very first thing that sets this film apart is the action sequences, which feel fresh and are in service to the story – as well as the comedy. There are plenty of funny one-liners and set-ups which will make you genuinely laugh. Downey is particularly funny and there is a unique chemistry with him and Evans‘ Capt. America which feels unique.

Social commentary is heavy through this and after my last review of another Joss Whedon film – The Cabin In The Woods – it was refreshing to see a more optimistic, positive message in this story. Themes of selfishness vs. a greater cause, love, the greater good, hidden agendas and more add texture to the storytelling. Captain America even questions wearing the old “stars and stripes” because it might seem old fashion. He is encouraged to wear it because people might need a little old fashioned for what’s coming to the world. I did note a slight pro-Americana moment there, which is rare in a film industry which took “the American way” out of Superman’s lexicon some years past.

Some of the best scenes come halfway through the film as the Avengers start to bicker amongst each other about motives and how valid each of their powers are. Iron Man is nothing without his suit, Capt. America got all his powers from a bottle, Fury is a manipulator, Banner is hiding his true self, Thor is out-of-touch and so on make up an entertaining argument that distracts our heroes from the incoming attack of Loki and his forces.

Tom Hiddleston (Loki) must be given special mention here for the scene with Black Widow (the nod to Silence of the Lambs is duly noted). In the scene, the subtle game of verbal and mental chess between him and Black Widow is expertly done. The verbal tirade where he says some of the most vicious things you could imagine in such a commanding way makes him one of the best villains I’ve seen in a while.

This is of course a popcorn movie. For what it is, it’s excellent. Enjoy the special effects, enjoy the witty humor, enjoy the sheer fun of watching a well made comic book film with good actors and well-paced writing. It’s currently ranked as the 3rd highest grossing opening weekend film (after two Harry Potter films) so look for a sequel to come in the next few years.

I’m going to have to go back and watch the two Iron Man movies I avoided, and possibly watch Thor 2 … possibly.

5 out of 5 stars.

Gems In Cyberspace: Vash12349

Video games are entertaining on their own. Watching people play video games isn’t usually so entertaining.

Enter Vash12349.

For years now, Vash has been playing video games and recording his experiences, giving his own commentary as he does. The result is a surprisingly entertaining series of playlists of popular, and some unknown, video games where he adds his commentary to what’s going on.

There are many now who do this, and Vash wasn’t the first, but he’s perhaps the funniest. He cracks on himself, he cracks on his viewers, he cracks on gameplay, he cracks on storylines. The kid has an uncanny knack for comedic timing that would suggest he’d probably be a superstar comedian if he wanted to.

Vash usually selects a game he chooses to play and over a few weeks will upload numerous videos of him going through a game from start to finish. You can’t really call these “walkthroughs” as Vash doesn’t seem to be too concerned with getting every secret item or solving every in-game puzzle, but he does love to show you humorous glitches and unusual ways to play games.

Some of the things you need to know about Vash:

  • Vash loves juice
  • His cousin, I think, broke his foot
  • He’s mixed
  • Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil are among his favorite franchises
  • He loves “teabagging” in-game
  • “Bootleg” is a cherished term
  • Often, he screams when getting “gay’ed up” (losing) in a game

Not meant for small children, Vash’s videos are filled with profanity. For those over sixteen, this is fine material for laughing while seeing your favorite video games played in a way you’d never suspect.

If you choose to subscribe to Vash’s playlists, please be respectful of him. He does not hesitate to boot people who are rude to him or to other viewers. He’s also fairly secretive, not wanting to give out a lot of information about himself (have yet to ever see a photo of the guy).

So, if you’re into video games, like comedy, have enough pop culture savvy to get all the references, definitely check out his YouTube channel or watch some of the samples below.

 

Indie Publishing in the year 2012

For every person you hear say that literature is dying, you’ll find another who says it’s thriving. It’s hard to really point to anything beyond book sales to gauge this, but it’s more likely that the industry is shifting more than anything else.

Today, it’s easier than ever to publish. It’s not so easy to get noticed. With a lot of publishing houses only going for guaranteed ROI (return on investment), fewer new authors are getting a push. This, however has given rise to the self-made author. This is basically a person who is a writer, a marketing exec, a distributor, a printer all wrapped up into one. It’s not easy work, but it can be done.

The names John Locke and Amanda Hocking come to mind when you talk about successful self-publishers.

Locke very famously sold over 1 million eBooks on Kindle within five months, making him a millionaire. He was the first self-published author to ever make #1 on the best sellers list. His strategy is rather common sense, but as with everything, it requires dedication and hard work.

The internet contributed greatly to Loche’s success. His web blog was, and still is, a simple site designed to give you the goods without a lot of fluff. Readers can download samples easily and get into the story without forking over a lot of cash. He gained readers as well by smartly pricing his works at 99 cents, which is the lowest you can set for Amazon’s Kindle network.

You can learn more about him at his website.

Amanda Hocking's short stories

Amanda Hocking’s story is a bit less about marketing and more about persistence. She was writing as a hobby and started self publishing in 2010. Since then, she’s made over $2million in sales of her pop culture, quirky girl, action filled stories that are available for the Amazon Kindle. After her huge success on her own, she signed a deal with a publisher to put out four more books.

At first, her sales were modest. But she worked with what she had and learned how to promote her work and gain an audience on the web. After a while, she went viral and her sales skyrocketed.

Her sales jumped to 6,000 units a week on Amazon. She’s settled herself into the niche of paranormal romance ala Twilight. Readers caught on and began devouring her series of books online, which she sold for relatively low prices. Hocking claimed that to be one of the reasons she’s done so well, citing that many authors – especially new authors – price their books too high.

There are tons of stories like these out there, and we’ll be highlighting independent authors and small press publishers over the next few months. There are a lot of great stories out there to read. There are stories out their to inspire authors. If you are a writer, and think you can’t do it, look to others for inspiration and then look to yourself for what makes you unique. There’s nothing keeping you from being the next Hocking, Locke or Meyers.

 

Youth Reading Still Going Strong

Many years after the last line was written in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the youth literature movement seems no signs of letting up.

Back in the early 2000s, Harry Potter was seen as a unique – and rather curious – phenomena. At the time, the literary world had gone decades without anything really motivating the younger audience to read. It was often thought that fiction would perhaps die out one day and be replaced by YouTube, blogging, and of course television.

Something interesting happened though when J.K. Rowlings‘ tales of a young wizard gained record-breaking appeal amongst a new generation of young people. It sparked a renewed interest in reading, and in storytelling. What some may have thought was a fluke, a one-trick pony, an aberration in the natural decline of more sophisticated entertainment, quite the opposite has happened.

Before Harry Potter ended, Twilight came into pop culture and established another niche in the young reader world. His Dark Materials, Abarat, The Hunger Games, Vampire Academy, Percy Jackson, The Immortals and about another dozen or so series have captured the imagination of the younger audience.

That audience is has grown up by ten years now, and are starting to read more. No, they didn’t stop when Voldermort was finally defeated or when Bella finally turned into a vampire, they continued reading older novels, more adult novels, and of course the latest popular teen lit series.

This is promising for the future of entertainment as far as writing and reading are concerned. Books on the other hand, may still be doomed. Even with the rise in reading, the traditional book may be going the way of the cassette tape pretty soon.

Books will probably never go away completely. There is a core audience of readers who relish paper over pixels, but as many big chain book stores are closing, it may be only a matter of time when the actual physical book becomes a rare (and expensive) indulgence.

Whatever form literature takes, it’s good to know it’s not dying any time soon. Nor should anyone have thought it would. Storytelling, in all its forms, has an audience – and most other forms of storytelling often have their roots in fiction. Musicians cite authors or lines from novels, television and movies notoriously adapt the printed word into the visual world.

The only call now would be to originality. We don’t need anymore vampire love stories. Let’s get a bit more creative and perhaps make new monsters, new love stories, new ideas, and keep the art of storytelling vibrant and healthy.

Movie Review: The Cabin In The Woods

Oh horror fans, and comedy fans, come together and enjoy this tongue-in-cheek fresh take on an old idea. As many may know, The Cabin In The Woods is a film that starts out like a typical 80s horror film about young beautiful people going into the woods, stay in a cabin and get slaughtered by some monster.

The Cabin In The Woods Movie Review

Cabin does start out like this, but as anyone who has seen the trailer knows, that’s not what this movie is about. The first scene of the movie lets you know that there’s more to this story as there is an overseeing, “big brother” organization that is controlling the action here. Their motives are a mystery but you know it means nothing good for our five youngsters.

The movie is fresh and original in it’s idea, which is the main appeal of this film. Joss Whedon pulls out his usual creative flair by crafting a story that changes perspective and has you guessing “what’s the real motive here?” all the way through. You will be confused at moments, shocked at others, laugh in the most awkward places, and provided with enough genuine horror scares that most people who see this film will be thoroughly entertained.

I must mention however the subtext, which may contain SPOILERS so don’t read any further if you don’t want to know.

 

The moral, if you can call it that, of this horror/dark comedy is not for everyone. Very early on you can get the sense of the world view the filmmakers have. Wrapped in blood and jokes, it can be overlooked, but there’s a certain level of preaching going on here.

Everything from marijuana legalization (the pothead sees things clearly, and also by smoking it is immune to the poisons Big Brother is pumping into their controlled environment – yeah, a bit preachy), to anti-business sentiments, to classic stereotypes, to a very “people suck, I’m in love with my own genius” attitude permeate through the story. At times, I almost felt like the filmmakers were grinning at me from behind the film, saying “we’re smarter than you, we know what’s best, you are all sheep and humanity should end” – which essentially is the moral of the story.

Yes, it’s done in the old fallback for social commentary: jokes and tongue-in-cheek wink-winks as mentioned earlier. Ironically enough, the social commentary is the LEAST original part of the movie.

The ending is good in that it isn’t how this kind of movie would usually end, but it also had me cringing at the viewpoint being suggested here. Stories are a way for storytellers to shape the world as they see it or as they wish it, and I left the film wondering why I was just told by this story that my family, friends and loved ones are worth less than my ability to be anti-whatever.

On the flip side, there are a lot of great nods in this film to other horror icons, and a wonderful cameo at the end of this Ridley’s Believe It or Not carnival ride we go on through the second half of Cabin. Those who are film junkies will see the nods to Hellraiser and The Ring amongst a lot of other stories of the last few decades.

 

Cabin is a great film to see. It’s inventive, fun, scary, quirky and original. The subtext will appeal to the artsy, liberal, anti-everything crowd, the rest of us can forgive it for the slightly preachy philosophy on humanity. Either way, this is a film you should see just for the uniqueness of its story and cinematic craftsmanship.

4 out of 5