Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Movie Night: Battleship

I saw Battleship last night. It wasn't a good movie. It was fun in places, but even when it was fun it had horrible storytelling. For example:

  • It has an opening crawl of unnecessary exposition, followed by a prologue that tells us exactly what the opening crawl just told us, and adds some more unnecessary exposition. This is then followed by a second prologue which introduces the protagonist as a loser and an idiot. Which is fine, except that by the time to title sequence is over, we've jumped ahead six years and he's an entirely different breed of loser idiot. Basically everything before the title is frivolous and pointless.
  • A significant amount of time is spent on a subplot about the protagonist's girlfriend that only barely relates to the main plot.
  • The protagonist's girlfriend herself is almost irrelevant, serving no purpose other than some early fanservice.
  • Several interesting setups have no payoffs. At one point, the protagonist mind-melds with one of the aliens and sees some stuff, but this is never brought up again. In another, an alien confronts a minor character in the process of stealing a high-tech device, but escapes unscathed for reasons that aren't shown on-screen and never explained.
  • The war room sequences are frivolous, as is nearly all of Liam Nesson's role.
  • The dialog is serviceable, but never rises above that level.
I could go on if I wanted. The thing is, though, these problems are familiar to me. They show up in my own books when they're first written. And then I go into revisions, and I weed out stuff. I yank out what's irrelevant or doesn't work, and I play up what does. When I'm done, the book is better for it. Sometimes I have to go through several revisions, each taking me further and further away from the first draft.

Battleship is a first draft. It's a promising idea that never went into revisions, and as a result it's crammed to the gills with stuff that doesn't matter. It's half-baked. It isn't ready for primetime.

And this isn't the only time I've seen this problem, either. It's all over the place: movies, published novels, self-published novels; stuff that could have been awesome and amazing, but didn't because the writer just took his first effort and said "well, that's the best I can do." No, it isn't. You can do better. We all know you can. I may have to write a full blog post on this sometime.

I feel for Taylor Kitsch, though. Poor guy has been in two flops in one year, (one of which, despite it's imperfections, deserved better) and he's got to be worried over the state of his future career. Guy's a pretty solid performer, and I hope I'll be able to see more from him.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Review Roundup

Light week this week, with only two new reviews:

Additionally, I was approved for the Smashwords Premium Catalog last week, which means Bonds of Fenris Is now available at Kobo, Diesel, and iBooks. That's in addition to existing listings on Amazon and Smashwords itself. Get 'em while they're hot!

Oh yeah, I'm also on Twitter now. Better late than never, yes? ^_^

Friday, May 18, 2012

Blog Hopping 5/18/2012

Welcome, fellow bloghoppers! You're looking at the personal blog of S.J. Bell, independent author. My first book, Bonds of Fenris, is currently available at Smashwords and Amazon. Link on the sidebar, get 'em while their hot! It's been making a big splash on the internet, check out the review on Goodreads.

I was absent from the blog hop last week (busy, busy, busy), but I made up for it with some substantial postings about the hoopla over Fifty Shades of Grey, and the Indies With Attitude and their net-drama. Additionally, check the Review Roundups from this week and last week.

In addition to this blog, I also have a separate blog for reviews, Lupines and Lunatics. Latest review is Bloodrose. Check it out!

Happy hopping!

This week's ice-breaker for Feature & Follow:

"Summer Break is upon us! What would be the perfect vacation spot for you to catch up on your reading & relax?"

Is it just me, or are we getting this question a lot lately? Well, no need for drama. My answer is the same as last time: right here where I am now. You don't need to spend thousands of dollars to take a trip elsewhere to read, when just the act of reading itself transports you far away into imagination. It's wasted effort. Besides that, at any given point in the world, there's at least as much fun to be had as any vacation destination you could come up with. You just have to know how to look for it is all.

This week's ice-breaker for TGIF @ GReads:

"What made you decide to start your very own book blog?"

Well, I decided to book blog when I started writing. I was doing a lot of reading, because reading is the best way to learn how to write. I wanted an excuse to do write-ups of the books I was reading, so as to get them straight in my head. At the same time, I knew I'd eventually have to have some kind of cachet, either to attract the attention of a publisher or to publicize myself if I self-published. Book blogging presented itself as a natural solution.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Indies With Attitude

The above video is three years old and from an entirely different fandom, but it feels more relevant to independent publishing with every passing day.

I've mentioned the Indies With Attitude twice before, first in a guest post for another blog and again right here. You probably know the type, even if you never read either post: people who hang out on the blogosphere, jumping on every comment thread they find and preaching the downfall of "legacy" publishing and the rise of the glorious self-publishing revolution. Do they annoy you? Because they annoy me. I mean, Jesus dude, you don't get it? Nobody gives a crap what you think, and everything you've said has been said before, and better, by people who don't insist on jumping in and injecting your opinions into a discussion that was perfectly constructive before you showed up.

Let me back up a minute...

Getting published is hard. I know this because I've tried. A recession makes it harder because A) less-prosperous publishers mean less space for new authors, and B) unemployment means a lot of people who are likely to say "screw it, I'm gonna write for a living." This means a lot of new writers getting a lot of rejections. It gets frustrating. I know this from experience. And it's very easy to blame the publishers. It's very easy to pick up some book off the shelves, be disgusted by its quality, and then rail about how the publishing industry doesn't know what it's doing. I get all this. I don't necessarily agree with it, but I respect the viewpoint. What I don't respect is the creation of pointless 'net drama over it. It's all too common for blog comment threads to be completely derailed by people who want to drag the audience aside and tell them what they think.

For example, take Joe Konrath. I used to follow his blog. Used to. I unsubscribed after about a month because I couldn't stand the guy. I haven't read his books, and they might be very good. His attitude, however, is most certainly intolerable. He's got a chip on his shoulder the size of Gibraltar, and doesn't hesitate to shove it in everyone's face. I can't read more than two paragraphs of a Konrath post before closing the tab in disgust, what with the amount of vitriol he spews.

I'm not saying that authors can't have opinions on the state of the industry. I'm saying that they have better things to do with their time than shout their opinions constantly. Writers should focus on writing good stories, not on sticking it to the man or tearing down the system. And I'd be curious to know how many of these blog-lurking ponces have actually produced a self-published novel. I, with a whopping one book to my credit, have probably released more than half of them. But the Indies With Attitude are more interested in waving their flags around than acting like writers. Yes, maybe a revolution is coming, or in progress, but when that revolution is done, what will your contribution have been? Books people read, or a morass of repetitive blog posts filed away in the massive cabinets of the internet and forgotten?

I end, as I began, with a YouTube embed:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review Roundup 5/15/2012

Review of Bonds of Fenris continue to pour in, or trickle in at least. There was a much lighter load today then last week, but that's to be expected. Check out the following:

  • Rea's Reading and Reviews calls the book "captivating" and gives it four stars. Rea also interviewed me
  • The owner of Cat's Thoughts reviewed me on Goodreads, though for some reason the review is not on her blog. But she liked the book and gave it four stars
  • Reading in the Mountains actually reviewed the book nearly two weeks ago, but I missed it. Sorry!
  • Last but far from least, You're Killing Me gave a solid three-star review. Cyna and Kayla are good friends of mine and produce awesome reviews, insightful and entertaining. You should definitely go follow them. Like now! Go!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Three chords and Fifty Shades

Talking about books you haven't read is always a dicey proposition, but when a respected industry blogger brought up Fifty Shades of Grey recently, I felt I had to say something. The long and the short of it was that this blogger has been telling writers for years to improve their writing, their grammar, their grasp of the English language. Now along comes this book which is, by all accounts, horribly written and an affront to everything she's been championing all these years. And it's a massive hit. So now she's worried that people will start ignoring her advice, and we'll be subjected to a wave of terribly, horribly written fiction.

As they are want to do, the comments section took the idea and ran with it, each individual taking their turn on the soapbox to throw off their "hell yeah!" or "hell no!" or their theories on what was really going on. Some floated the idea that Fifty Shades popularity was driven by it's origins as a Twilight fanfic. Others theorized that it was the result of it's reputation as a train-wreck of a book that had to be read to be believed. One especially popular analogy was that it was a Twinkie: a piece of literary junk food devoured as a guilty pleasure.

My own response went in a different direction: Beat on the Brat. With a baseball bat.

No, no, no, I don't mean to go around assaulting people with blunt objects! >_< Jesus, internet, you take everything so seriously. I meant this:

That song is from The Ramones, godfathers of punk rock. And when you think about it, the analogy from punk rock to Fifty Shades is pretty apt. While they didn't coin the term, punk rock embraced the ethos of "Three chords and the truth." It was an explicit response to rock acts of the 70's, which were often bombastic, pretentious, and/or overproduced. And frequently, all this stuff was in the service of a message which was vapid, incomprehensible, or just not there. Punk rock put forth the idea that you didn't need any of it. You didn't need talent, you didn't need training, you didn't need thousands of dollars of recording equipment. What you needed was authenticity. What you needed was a message that your audience understood, one that they heard and said "Yeah, right on!" to.

Listen to that song again, and note two things: One, how little is actually in there. The song is one riff repeated endlessly. The lyrics are two verses and a chorus. The two verses are each two identical stanzas of four lines, of which three lines are identical. A grade-schooler could write this song. Two, it's still awesome. You can head-bang to it, or just tap your foot if that's your thing, and either way it'll be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. It's about as stripped-down and minimalist as you can get, and that's all it needs to be to connect with you.

E.L. James, the author of Fifty Shades of Grey, doesn't have talent. She doesn't need talent, because she has something much better: an idea that resonates with her audience. That's the first consideration, and probably the only one that really matters: speaking to your audience. And if James can do it, then who are we to object? What gives us the right to stand in judgement of good literature or good taste? Should not the reader have the final say as to whether or not the book he paid for was worth his money?

If we are to take a lesson from the success that Fifty Shades has enjoyed, it should be this: the only people that have to be pleased by a work are the author and the reader. If the audience doesn't have a problem with a book's poor writing, why should anyone else? It is less important for us to write lyrical prose or have perfect grammar than it is to tell an interesting story. All the rest is mere technicalities.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Release day! + Review Roundup

After a long and hard journey -- over two years, in fact -- release day has come! Bonds of Fenris is now available for sale at Amazon and Smashwords. It will be available at other outlets, including B&N, Kobo, and Apple's iBookstore, as soon as Smashwords gets their act together. An author, especially a new one, always worries that his work isn't good enough. But the response at Goodreads has been overwhelmingly positive, with most readers voting the book four out of five stars.

There's been a huge outpouring of reviews over the past week:

Whew, that's a lot! Anyone who I missed, just drop an e-mail and I'll correct that oversight next week. And thank you, everyone! I'm glad I can entertain you, and hope to continue to do so in the future.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Blog Hopping 5/04/2012

Welcome, fellow bloghoppers! You're looking at the personal blog of S.J. Bell, independent author. My first book, Bonds of Fenris, is officially releasing May 7th, but copies are available at Smashwords right now. Link is to the left, get 'em while their hot! Reviews have been coming in from all over the 'net, and I'm running a solid four stars on Goodreads. Woo!

Also woo: the Avengers movie is out! Who's psyched?

I also have a review blog, Lupines and Lunatics. Latest review is Promise of the Wolves, but Bloodrose will probably be up sometime today. [EDIT: And so it is. Check it out!]

Happy hopping!

This week's ice-breaker for Feature & Follow:

"What is one thing you wish you could tell your favorite author?"

"My best ideas were stolen from you." It's true for a number of authors, actually, but I don't feel like naming names right now. ~_^ Writing, I suppose, is the expression of your ideas through ideas stolen from other people.

This week's ice-breaker for TGIF @ GReads:

"If you could take a trip this summer to any place within a fictional book, where would you go? Tell us about your summer dream vacation!"

Eh, I dunno. The books I read always take place in areas rife with conflict and violence. Too much drama for me. While it won't make a complete trip, one place I'd like to stop by on a vacation is that totally and utterly awesome candy shop from that one chapter of Shiver. Apparently, that shop is based on a real place, and when word got out their business increased substantially. I can see why. Stiefvater's descriptions made me hungry.