The Way of the Word

31. May 2010

Novel in Progress: Revenge of the Walking Dead

The manuscript had been at 188 pages. I deleted those chapters that involved Christopher Price, and was left with 96 pages. Which is about 1/3 of the originally intended total length.

Over the weekend, I contemplated what I had. I can replace Christopher Price’s part in this story. But… Being an outsider, he had to learn a lot of the background. Which means that I had him run around a lot during the first half, learning about Hoodoo, and introducing the reader as well. Now, I can have other characters do that, it’s not a problem. I’ll lose one of my favorite chapters — the one where the villain fools Price (and hopefully also the reader) into thinking that he’s the good guy of this story. I’m not sure how to salvage that moment. Okay, on the one hand, it was too expository anyway. But I liked trying to fool everyone, which is the part I want to keep.

In total, after looking through the chapters that survived the deletion, I realized that I have to write an almost completely new novel based on some of the ideas in the, let’s call it original work. I have to go back to outline and proceed from there. I also need to figure out how to do that while writing and drawing Made of Fail at the same time.

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28. May 2010

Novel in Progress: Revenge of the Walking Dead

What, a NiP-post about the zombie novel? Didn’t I stop working on it some weeks ago?

Yes, I did. Sadly, though, the story isn’t letting go of me. Some time after I stopped working on it, I realized the biggest problem Revenge has had: Christopher Price.

Yes, my intended series character and the novel’s supposed main character was the biggest problem. He was forced into the story, didn’t fit in naturally. I had to contort the plot to make sure he would stay around long enough to play his part in the showdown. Because he had no reason to.

When I realized that, I also realized how I could use other characters in the novel to do the things Christopher was supposed to do. I would have been content to leave it at that, except…

A few nights ago, I literally woke up realizing that there was one thing Christopher did that none of the other characters could do. Only one thing, but that was a very major problem.

It’s Christopher who finds the 50 fetish dolls and tells the Mama Loa about them, which gives her the information she needs to devise a way to stop the zombies.

That was it for that night. My mind just wouldn’t let go of that problem. The PI would have a reason to find the fetish dolls, but he wouldn’t have the opportunity or reason to seek out Mama Loa and tell her about them. The racist would have the opportunity to find the fetish dolls, but he definitely wouldn’t talk to Mama Loa. Instead, he’d destroy them. I was awake in bed for the rest of that right because I. Just. Couldn’t. Let. It. Go. The novel’s done, I’m not going to go back to it, I kept telling myself. My mind kept telling me to shut up, there’s this major plot problem to solve.

When the alarm rang, I had figured out how to fix that problem.

I don’t really want to start Revenge of the Walking Dead over again. I don’t want to waste another year of my life. Not to mention that I have a major timing problem: I only just relaunched Made of Fail. One of the reasons why I had stopped creating Made of Fail was because I couldn’t do both that and write a novel at the same time.

But the novel isn’t letting me go. It demands my attention. It seems that if I don’t get back to it, if I don’t finish it, I will go insane.

I need to figure out how to time things so that I can fix the novel (maybe, when I’ve done that, it will let go of me) and write/draw Made of Fail in parallel.

Update: I deleted all the chapters with Christopher Price, just to see where that got me. It turns out that it would cost me half the novel.

Which implies that I could keep about half of what I’ve already written and need to replace the other half. When that’s done, I’d be back where I am now — at a 2/3 finished novel.

23. May 2010

Workblog: Made of Fail Season 2 Opener

Season 2 of my webcomic Made of Fail is officially launched now. There are some things that you don’t need to know about it, but I will tell you anyway.

First, you need to remember that Made of Fail is mostly based on (or at least inspired by) real life. The five main characters are based on real people. The plan is to use this workblog to, at least sometimes, tell you the backstory of how a particular strip came to be. Some of those stories might even be funnier than the strip itself.

Okay, so: what’s the story behind the first strip? It’s not really a funny story, but it might interest you.

When I originally launched Made of Fail last year, I jumped in with both proverbial feet. I did the first strip, uploaded it, and let everyone learn about the characters by watching them. When my situation forced me to stop making the strip, I decided to post a farewell strip.

It was mostly because of that that I felt I couldn’t just jump right back in when I re-started the strip. I felt the need for a transition, something to welcome the readers back. That turned out to be more difficult than I had expected. The first three or four tries were the characters talking at the reader, welcoming them and hinting at what is about to come. Or they were standing around talking among themselves. Or, or, or. The problem was that they were all too expository without being the least bit funny. It took me seven tries (fortunately, I decided to script them before drawing them) before I had a saving idea.

I had broken the fourth wall a couple of times during season 1. There was no reason not to do it again. It was from that thought that the idea of Mefistopheles welcoming the readers back was born. And since Mefistopheles was welcoming the reader back, there had to be something evil behind it.

The result is the strip that I uploaded today. I will update Made of Fail every Wednesday and Sunday.

18. May 2010

Review: Castle Season 2 Finale

Filed under: general,review,TV — jensaltmann @ 10:57
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Alexis is off to Princeton for the summer. That means Castle has to spend the summer in Hampton all by himself. Which is a good thing, in theory, because his new Nikki Heat novel (Naked Heat) is late. James Patterson, during their poker game, asks the question that Castle needs to answer: is Beckett really his muse, or a distraction?

While he thinks about this, Beckett and Castle are on a new case: a man was murdered in the park. Everything indicates that the victim was a spy, and that the murder was a professional hit.

Castle: “This is officially the best case ever.”

He also tries to use this chance to talk Beckett into joining him for the Hamptons. The problem is that Beckett has other plans, said plans involving Detective Demming. Since Beckett is getting more and more involved with Demming, and since his hanging around the police station is negatively impacting his work, Castle begins to wonder if perhaps he should just quit his “research.”

I won’t spoil the mystery — there are so many enjoyable twists and turns, it would be unfair. Suffice it to say that, as it should be in a spy story, nothing is as it seems. I also won’t spoil the developments between the various characters. Let’s just say that the relationship between Beckett and Demming is coming to a decision (one season early, in my opinion), and Castle responds accordingly. There are credible developments for all the characters and their relationships, which leaves us with something of a cliffhanger ending towards the next season.

“See you in the fall,” are the last words said in this episode. The second season was much stronger than the first, so I’m sad to see it go. But I look forward to season 3.

Verdict: very recommended

8. May 2010

Review: Solomon Kane

Solomon Kane

F/CR/UK 2009. Directed by Michael J. Bassett. Starring James Purefoy, Pete Postlethwaite, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Max von Sydow. Runtime 105 minutes

It’s ironic, in a way: less than a week after re-reading the original Solomon Kane stories by Robert E. Howard, I get the opportunity to see the movie. So bear in mind that the following is tinted with a very fresh memory of the original tales.

It’s the early 17th century. Solomon Kane, an English mercenary, discovers that the Devil is after his soul, and that his evil and violent ways mean the Devil will get his wish. Kane hides out in a monastery, but he is eventually sent away. On the road, Kane meets the Crowthorn family and befriends them. This doesn’t end well:  the men are slain by the minions of the evil sorcerer Malachi. When the dying father tells Kane that saving the girl Meredith will redeem his soul, Kane takes up arms again. He discovers that his own family is involved with the sorcerer. And that Malachi is ready for him and has prepared to deliver Kane’s soul to the Devil.

When this movie was made in 2008, it was intended as the first in a trilogy of movies. Considering that Solomon Kane is going straight to DVD (a few film festival and con screenings notwithstanding), it’s not likely that the other two movies will be made.

The movie’s major problem is that it gives Howard’s Puritan adventurer an origin story, as a once evil and wicked man (“I am the only devil here!”) who seeks and finds redemption and decides to take on the evildoers in the world. And indeed, the Solomon Kane in this film is so different from the original that it seems as if Bassett took an original (if a bit generic) sword & sorcery script and tacked the Solomon Kane trappings on.

The Solomon Kane in this movie is wicked, brutal and selfish. At least half of the reason for why he decides to save the girl and kill the evil sorcerer are selfish: he believes it will redeem his soul. This is difficult to reconcile with the Puritan wanderer of the stories, who frequently got involved in adventures because of an overdeveloped sense of honor and justice.

Ignoring that, how does the movie work as a fantasy epic? It starts out strong, establishing characters and tone. Said tone being dirty and gritty. The coloring of the movie is cold throughout, even the red glare of frequent fires seems cold and harsh. The actors must have been thoroughly miserable; they look cold and wet throughout. Any misgivings that I had regarding James Purefoy as Kane vanished quickly; the man vanishes into the role. The action is expertly and convincingly staged. The movie’s weakest point is the showdown, when Kane has to take on an oversized, fiery CGI-monster that completely destroys the gloomy atmosphere the movie had so successfully built up. Until then, Solomon Kane manages to build a spooky and even somewhat frightening atmosphere, an accomplishment that is rare in fantasy.

In total, Solomon Kane is a mostly entertaining but standard sword & sorcery movie. Don’t expect anything that resembles the original, and you will not regret spending your time with this one.

Verdict: mildly recommended

4. May 2010

Review: Iron Man 2

Filed under: general,movies,review — jensaltmann @ 18:59
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

USA 2010. Directed by Jon Favreau. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell. Runtime 124 minutes

Tony Stark has a lot of problems. The energy source that keeps him alive is killing him. The US government wants his Iron Man armor. His competitor Justin Hammer wants to humiliate Stark and get a government contract for his armor. And Ivan Vanko wants him dead. Things become even trickier when Hammer and Vanko join forces in order to bring Stark down. And manage to remote control the Mark II armor, which Stark’s friend Rhodey stole for his own purposes.

To get this over with: I like Iron Man 2. Not as much as I like Iron Man 1, but still. The movie has a good story, good characters and good character development. It has one or two surprises, and Scarlett Johanssen in a catsuit. All good things.

It does, however, suffer from trying too hard. While it seamlessly combines the several character arcs to make a cohesive whole, there are still too many characters to spotlight, which harms the whole. (Maybe, if they had dropped the pointless plot of Tony being poisoned by his energy source — you know he simply builds a new one, dropping that part would have saved time that was sorely needed for other parts that were neglected.) Since the movie needs to service too many name actors, it disservices them all. Frankly, the only one who gets to shine is Sam Rockwell, who really chews up the scenery.

The action sequences work nicely, but seem rather hurried. It’s generally a good thing if an action sequence doesn’t overstay its welcome, but in this case it would have been nice to develop them a bit better.

In total, my impression of Iron Man 2 is that in trying to cram in too much, the movie fails to accomplish half of what it wants. It’s still very enjoyable, though, and one of this summer’s must-sees. Just… don’t expect it to be as good as Iron Man 1. It falls a bit short of that mark.

Verdict: recommended

RIP Peter O’Donnell

Filed under: books,comics,general,RIP — jensaltmann @ 14:32
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Peter O’Donnell died last night, less than a month after his 90th birthday.

O’Donnell is best known for his female superspy Modesty Blaise, a character he created in 1963 with artist Jim Holdaway and which, in her own way, is at least as iconic as James Bond.  He continued to write the character’s adventures in both comic strip and prose format until 2001, when he retired the strip. Since he had been disappointed with other writers’ attempts at writing Modesty Blaise, he had expressed the wish that nobody else but him should ever write any more Modesty Blaise comics.

O’Donnell started his professional writing career at the age of 16. After WWII, he began to script comic strips (including the adaptation of the James Bond novel Dr. No).

Under the pen name of Madeleine Brent, he also wrote several historical romances, alternating them with his Modesty Blaise work.

Peter O’Donnell was a terrific writer with a very dry wit. The world is richer for his having been in it.

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