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[Movie] Brooklyn

This movie was pretty good. You should support Act For Change and make me watch a bad movie instead so you can feast upon my sarcastic rage.

I’ve been trying to catch up on as many best picture nominees as possible for special podcast-related reasons, so I jumped at the chance of seeing this one at the Alamo Drafthouse last weekend. (I am also trying to find a showing of Creed I can watch, for potential talking shit about the nominees purposes.) Like most of the other nominees, this Isn’t My Kind Of Movie, which means it’s the sort of movie I should still watch anyway in the interest of expanding my horizons out of the genre dungeon.

Brooklyn is about an Irish immigrant with a name that’s completely unspellable without referring to IMDB (Eilis, played by Saoirse Ronan) who comes to the titular city in the 1950s, looking to make a future for herself after she can’t find decent work in Ireland. She meets and falls in love with an Italian plumber who is regrettably not named Mario or Luigi (Emory Cohen) and eventually has to decide if her home will be in America or Ireland. There’s not that much plot to it; this is more a character study built on scenes of fairly ordinary days that add up to a life.

It’s a very pretty movie, with a softness to the way everything is shot that reminds me of old photographs. I think there’s a lot of that sort of nostalgia filtering going on throughout the film; everything looks exceedingly clean, society is startlingly polite. Maybe 1950s Brooklyn had a Leave-It-to-Beaver air to it, I don’t know my history granularly enough to say. On one hand, that gives room for Eilis’s conflict to be entirely a choice between old and new lives, without any outer social distraction. (And Time magazine seems to feel it was pretty accurate in some ways.) But I felt entirely unmoored, since I didn’t find any distinct sense of history beyond the costuming to really remind me where we were.

One thing I did love about the movie, which was highlighted in my mind perhaps because I’d seen Lazer Team less then twelve hours earlier, was just how many women there were in it. It was about mothers and daughters and women helping each other make it in a new place or occasionally trying to destroy each other. Men mostly exist in the film as arm candy for the supporting characters, and while one of Eilis’s conflicts is choosing between two equally nice men, it’s secondary to her choosing if she will go back to her life in America generally, or stay in Ireland with her mother. I also loved that some female characters I expected to be quite nasty thanks to common film tropes ended up being immensely supportive of each other.

Ultimately, it’s like eating cotton candy; it fades away almost immediately but for that lingering memory of sweetness. I didn’t find it to be terribly substantial, and while I can’t say I regret watching it, not by a long shot, I’m really not sure what it’s doing up against movies like Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, or even The Martian.

(Still to go: Spotlight and Room. And Creed because I’ve heard it sure as hell deserved a nod.)

Like what I do? Want to see the notes? There’s a Patreon for that.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

No Shit, There I Was at the Rejectopocalypse

So no shit, there I was, poised to send a flood (118) emails to writers who submitted to my anthology.

I’ve got a lot of mixed feelings right now, let me tell you. Part of me is excited because this is one step in a long process of putting an anthology together, and it also means that my slush readers and I have managed to go through the entire beautiful, terrifying pile. But I also feel no small bit of guilt, because I’ve been there, man. I’ve gotten plenty of rejections. And now it’s my turn to give other writers one more piece of paper to pin to their wall.

As I joked with the Skiffy and Fanty crew earlier, I have become the enemy. Paul quoted, “I have become death, destroyer of worlds.” To which I answered, “I have become editor, destroyer of dreams!”

It’s a weird feeling.

The No Shit Anthology has a pretty modest slush pile, as slush piles go; when the dust settled, we were at 176 stories. Not bad for a particularly themed anthology, nothing at all like what people who run magazines get. But that alone has given me an appreciation for how much time and work slush readers and editors put in. It ain’t easy. And it’s honest to say that my readers and I have enjoyed the vast majority of what was sent to us, which I think means we hit the jackpot.

I’ve got 118 emails queued up now, to say thanks for letting me read this, but it’s not going to work out. And really, thank you for letting us look at all these stories. We mean it. The remaining 58 stories, we’re holding on to for use in building the ToC, which is the part where I hear blood is going to be both sweated and cried, so here goes. If you don’t receive a rejection today (and you did get an acknowledgment of receipt when you submitted) you are in that second round. My hope and intention is to have the ToC mostly decided before ConDFW in a couple weeks (this may or may not be to avoid any awkward conversations about the state of the slush at barcon) so expect the rest of the rejections and the smaller number of acceptances to trickle through soonish.

I’ll make another post here once everything is decided so you’ll know.

And for now, I take a deep breath and hit send.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

Gods of Suffering. I Mean Egypt.

And lo, in the year of our Lord 2016, Hollywood is giving us an Egypt so white it almost looks like the Oscars. Just kidding. One of the Egyptian gods (Thoth) actually is played by an African-American actor, which makes this movie significantly more diverse than the 2016 Academy Awards and let’s just contemplate that for a minute.


I have been making fun of this movie from the first moment I saw the trailer, because even if you ignore Gerard Butler gnawing on the scenery, it just looks terrible. My Clash of the Titans senses are all a-tingle; I spent endless hours (at least twenty-seven) of my life trapped in a theater with that movie while my will to live withered away. You could not pay me enough to go watch this train wreck of white people with faintly British “fantasy” accents and CGI.

But guess what? You CAN pay a charity enough to make me watch it so you don’t have to, if you’re feeling simultaneously sadistic and giving. And considering the absolutely blinding whitewashing of this film, I feel a charity theme coming on.

MEET THE CHARITIES

Act For Change is a British charity devoted to promoting not just actors of colour, but LGBT, disabled, and female artists as well. I have created a fundraising page with them, please donate there for ease of tracking. Monetary amounts are in GBP, but I’ve done a test donation and they take American credit cards just fine. (Alternatively, if you’re still having problems, you can contact me via email and we’ll work something out.) Americans, right now 1 GBP is running around $1.50, calibrate your giving accordingly.

The African-American Shakespeare Company hails out of San Francisco and has a mission of bringing classical theater to a diverse audience.

Classics in Color is a NYC-based theater company devoted to classics as well, focused on ethnic, gender, age, and physically challenged inclusivity.

So this is the deal:

Donate to Act For Change at my page, and I’ll get told how much and your work is done. If you donate to the other two charities (or don’t use the Act For Change page) I’ll need you to inform me via tweet, blog comment, email, or smoke signal that you gave and how much. We use the honor system here; if you tell me you gave someone money, I’ll believe you.

Either way you decide to go about it, if you, my tormenters blog readers and friends, donate $500 to the above charities by February 26, I will see this movie the next day, Saturday February 27, and then I will write about it once I’m sober enough to type. I will also scan my notes for you as soon as I’m able.

And bonus: If you beat the amount you raised for 50 Shades of Grey ($843), I will record a video of myself attempting to drunkenly explain the plot.  Is that a bonus? I think that’s a bonus.

CURRENTLY AT: £55.51/£350 ($79.11/$500)

Offer your gratitude to these monsters people who love both my suffering and diversity in the arts:

  1. Anarin (£10)
  2. D (£8.51)
  3. My parents (£35.00) [Mom and Dad WHY]

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

Box Office Flop for 13 Hours?

Saw this piece from the Hill crowing about the Benghazi film flopping at the box office. A Michael Bay movie about an annoying conspiracy theory not doing well? Doesn’t break my heart.

Though of course there’s arguments going on (generally drawn along political lines, unsurprisingly) about if it actually is a flop, because hey, $19.6 million is not an amount of money to sneeze at. So I got curious and decided to look a little more into the context. What exactly does constitute a flop?

To begin with, the operational definition of a “flop” seems to be: a movie that fails to make back its production budget. This is actually fairly generous, considering that advertising/distribution/marketing isn’t included in that number and would make the bar notably higher. For 13 Hours, the production budget is $50 million. So on opening weekend, it got back about 40% of its production budget, which is… not great.

It means that in the following weeks (and with whatever [unlikely] international success the movie might enjoy) 13 Hours could conceivably make back its budget, though this is by no means assured. It’s been getting middling reviews at 58% on Rotten Tomatoes, but audiences have it at 88% and word of mouth is a thing. And it’s not like good reviews are required for a movie to make money, just look at Ride Along 2 at 13%. Oof.

Now, if you look at the biggest opening weekend flops of 2015, which made less than $4 million their first weekend, it could have been a lot worse, yes, though I’m not sure “it had an opening weekend five times better than Victor Frankenstein” is really that much of a comfort. But it is fair to say that burying 13 Hours next to Jem and the Holograms might be a tad premature. It could still hobble to the finish line!

On the other hand, consider that American Sniper ($58.8 million production budget), which presumably had a similar target audience, scored $105.3 million on the same opening weekend in 2015. And 13 Hours is a film by Michael Bay who, love him or hate him like I do, normally brings in the money. That cinematic effluvia that almost destroyed my liver, Transformers 4, made $100 million domestic its first weekend on a film with a $210 million budget. While that might sound comfortingly closer, percentage-of-production-budget-wise (47% versus 39%) to what’s going on with 13 Hours, keep in mind that Transformers 4 was an international powerhouse. Almost 80% of its money got made internationally, which is highly unlikely for 13 Hours. Domestically, Transformers 4 only made $35 million over its budget. (See Box Office Mojo for where I’m getting my numbers.)

Anyway, there’s some serious mental gymnastics (and a deep desire to see one’s favorite conspiracy theory on the big screen, I suppose) required to see $19.6 million as anything other than highly disappointing.

Another thing to consider: the movie that blew 13 Hours out of the water this weekend, Ride Along 2, made $48.6 million upon opening, on a movie that had a $40 million production budget. (And I’d be curious what its advertising budget looked like in comparison to 13 Hours as well.) See, that’s what success looks like.

(Just for funsies, I looked up the opening domestic weekend for The Force Awakens. $248 million on a film with a $200 million budget.)

So anyway, is it fair to crow about 13 Hours being the floppingest flop that ever flopped, take that Benghazi conspiracy theorists? Eh, it could have been much worse, and it’s not inconceivable that it’ll at least recover its production budget, which is more than a lot of other movies with bigger budgets (ahem, 47 Ronin) ever manage. But you’ve got to be kidding yourself if you think $19.6 million is “good.” Maybe in the same universe where 13 Hours isn’t conspiracy fanfiction.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

[Movie] 400 Days

400 Days is the first theatrical release film from a company (SyFy) that’s been cranking mediocre to howlingly (we hope intentionally) funny terribad movies out onto its cable station for years. Getting in to movie theaters is a big deal, a major investment, but doesn’t necessarily guarantee a movie’s actually good, right? Let me tell you, I’d rather watch a SyFy offering any day than Transformers 4. But is this Syfy going legit, so to speak?

Imagine the wiggly hand gesture here. Yes and no. I’ll be the first to admit I’m a tough sell when we’re talking relatively small/low budget independent scifi, because we’ve seen some amazing shit in the genre recently, mostly dominated by the UK. So I’m probably a harsher judge than I could be. On the other hand, I really, really want SyFy to succeed, because I want to see more small, weird, good genre films. And SyFy’s generally got the weird part down at least. I went in to 400 Days wanting very much to like it and wanting it to succeed.

Spoiler: I was disappointed.

The movie’s got a pretty straightforward plot: A sleazy corporate dude in a suit, representing a private company that’s breaking in to space exploration, puts four astronauts in an underground bunker for a 400 day experiment to simulate a long term space voyage and ascertain the psychological effects. The simulation astronauts are named Bug (Ben Feldman), Neil (Brandon Routh), Dudebro (Dane Cook), and Emily (Caity Lotz).

(Okay, actually, according to IMDB they’re Bug, Theo, Dvorak, and Emily, but I swear to god for the first half of the film everyone sounded like they were saying Neil instead of Theo.)

Not long into the experiment, the crew loses contact with their corporate, simulated ground control. They assume it’s part of the simulation and keep going, at which point things get increasingly weird in a way that indicates the film really wants to be a psychological thriller.

The sets (and filming style) all have that faintly unreal, cardboard-y look to them that seems endemic of SyFy movies, but in this case it actually works for the film, since the crew isn’t actually in a space ship–just an underground bunker that’s been tarted up to look like one. We’re always supposed to be in doubt about what is actually real, so everything looking a bit fake does lend itself well to that. Nothing too remarkable in the filming style, standard teal and orange color grading. Sound was… all right, though I had a hard time understanding the actors now and then, which is why I was convinced for about half an hour that Theo was actually named Neil. I thought the actors turned in decent performances, though Tom Cavanagh (playing Zell, creepy survivor guy and possible cannibal) was over the top in a way that really clashed with the rest of the film leading up to him. I also had a hell of a time telling Brandon Routh (Theo) and Ben Feldman (Bug) apart.

What let 400 Days down wasn’t the acting or the direction or even the fact that Evil Co apparently buys their space ship trash cans at Target, but the script. The characters (except for Bug) were cyphers with no past and no real internal emotional life to feed what they were doing or make their decisions sensical. This could have been forgiven in scifi/horror fare where you just sit back and watch the blood spray and CGI aliens gorge themselves on livers or pituitary glands or what have you, but not when we’re supposed to actually care about the struggle of these supposed “ordinary” characters against the unseen forces that seem to manipulate them. Worse, what starts as a decently solid plot unravels completely by the end. I’d recommend not bothering with this one until you can just watch it on the Syfy channel.

Spoilers as I get a bit more detailed into the plot.

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

[Movie] The Revenant

The Revenant is one of those movies where the trailer tells you everything you need to know about the fairly simple plot while still leaving you woefully unprepared for the actual film. Spoilers below, I suppose, though the plot is really not what moves any of this.

Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) have been hired by Captain Hot Ginger (Domhnall Gleeson) to guide a party of trappers from a local fort. After escaping a raid by a party of angry Arikara tribesman, the men who remain try to make it overland back to the fort. Not long into the journey, Glass gets mauled by a mother grizzly bear in the first of many downright harrowing scenes. He survives somehow, but Captain Hot Ginger is forced to leave him behind in the care of Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and Bridger (Will Poulter) after the promise of monetary compensation. Fitzgerald attempts to kill Glass, murders Hawk when he tries to intercede, and throws Glass into a shallow grave–which Glass promptly crawls back out of. After that, it’s Glass surviving against increasingly squirm-inducing situations, moved by the promise of revenge.

That’s really it. There’s a parallel plot thread not revealed by the trailer, in which we find out the Arikara are pursuing Glass’s party because one of the men’s daughter, Powaqa, has been abducted by a group of white men. It turns out that she was actually taken by a group of French trappers, but one can see how the groups of incredibly racist, murderous white trappers start to blend together after a while. Glass ultimately saves Powaqa while on the path of vengeance, but this doesn’t  provide him with any sort of redemption or peace. If you want either of those things, this is not the film for you.

This isn’t a movie about the plot, though. It’s not even really a character study as such; Glass and Fitzgerald expand a little upon their pasts, but it’s a bare framework that supports their chase across the wild and a provision of basic motivation, not a deep dive into what makes either man tick. This is all about watching a man struggle and survive against impossible odds, and then…

I still don’t know how I feel about this movie, to be honest. I came out of it feeling like a small piece of my soul had died, but not in the Michael Bay sort of way. The same way after I finished watching There Will Be Blood I needed a hug from one of my cats and a large amaretto sour.

The Revenant is simultaneously sublimely beautiful and viscerally repulsive. When dirty, bleeding men aren’t trying to murder each other on screen, it could be a tourism brochure for Alberta, Canada, showcasing breathtaking natural landscapes. We get sweeping mountains and pristine snowscapes in wide and continuous shots, marred only by one man in complete isolation struggling through them. The absolute savagery with which those landscapes attempt to murder Glass is only surpassed by the brutality of the humans trying to kill each other. Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu has made certain that there is nothing artful or beautiful about the violence and blood; he’s put as much work into the realism of that as the costume designer did for the accuracy of the clothing and Loren Yellowbird Sr, the Arikara tribe member who consulted for the film, put into the accuracy of the spoken Pawnee and Arikara. There is nothing glamorous about watching Glass and Fitzgerald clash with hunting knife versus hatchet; violence and survival are both depicted as uncompromisingly ugly. And if there’s any kind of relief from the horror of survival, it’s in the existence of family and the kindness of strangers, which with one exception are swiftly and wrenchingly torn away.

The sound design is fantastic and often focuses on highlighting the sound of nature, whether it’s the distinct sound of clumps of snow falling through tree branches moving water. The score is mostly low strings, sound like wind, or drums that blend in with what is happening on screen. During some of the most uncompromising scenes there’s nothing but the sound of harsh breathing; maybe it’s because in the real world we don’t get a soundtrack when mother nature or our fellow man tries to kill us.

The acting is fabulous. I don’t know what well of blood and energy Leonardo DiCaprio keeps digging in to, but despite large stretches in the middle of the film being nearly silent except for his ragged breathing, he never stops communicating forcefully just how much it sucks to be Hugh Glass. Tom Hardy makes a disturbingly banal villain motivated entirely by self interest and happy to show the audience just how he talks himself into nearly everything. Forrest Goodluck succeeds, with very few lines and a lot of emotion, in showing the complex relationship between a mixed boy and his white father and how deeply important the two are to each other.

The film is over two and a half hours long and doesn’t drag. Rather, scenes go on far longer than you would wish because Iñárritu doesn’t have any mercy for his audience. The scene in which Glass gets mauled by the grizzly bear felt like it was approximately 45 minutes long, not because it was bad or boring, but because there is only so much Leonardo DiCaprio getting shaken like a bloody ragdoll a body can handle.

I’m not sorry I saw The Revenant, but I can’t think of any circumstances under which I’d watch it again. The fact that this movie made me use “tauntaun” as a verb in my notes is not something I think I’ll ever forgive it for. But for the love of god, please give Leonardo DiCaprio an Oscar before someone gets hurt.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

Today in “big media company attempting to exploit writers,” Entertainment Weekly has really outdone itself with a for-exposure-only-as-prize contest for… fanfiction? Here’s a tumblr summary of this terrible BS, but I wanted to dig into the awful terms and conditions a little more.

All bolding is mine for emphasis.

From section 1, “How to Enter.”

Entries become sole property of Sponsor and none will be acknowledged or returned.

Well, that is a giant screaming warning flag that says WRITER BEWARE. WRITER DO NOT PASS GO, DO NOT COLLET $200. WRITER RUN THE FUCK AWAY. Things get more than a little weird because we’re talking fanfic (more about that in a minute), but in general if you EVER see anything that says anyone other than you becomes the sole owner of your writing, unless it comes with a fucking enormous check (and it better be HUGE), you say NO.

In non-abusive contracts, it’s all about the assignment of extremely specific rights (eg: first world electronic rights) with rights not negotiated still remaining with the writer. The writer still retains copyright. You as the writer still own the story; you are negotiating with the publisher for their use of it. Ownership will change hands if you’re, say, writing on spec for a company or doing tie-in work, but that comes with the expectation of some significant pay because you are giving up your ownership.

By entering, Entrant warrants that his or her entry (1) is original and does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any third party, (2) has not been published in any medium or (3) has not won an award.

This is the part that has me just scratching my head. As far as I can tell, whoever had this ugly brain baby at Entertainment Weekly doesn’t actually understand what fanfiction is or how it works. The entire fucking point of fanfic is that it technically does infringe on the intellectual property rights of someone else. You are using someone else’s intellectual property without their permission. Literally. If you weren’t, it wouldn’t be fanfic! But generally it squeaks by under fair use (though this is a topic an entire book can and has been written upon) because there is no profit on the part of the fanfic writer–and I’d argue a lot of big IP holders realize that fanworks add value to the property as a way to encourage fan participation, loyalty, and recruitment. But really, the point here is that what EW is asking for in their own rules is by definition NOT fanfiction. If you owned all the IP on your story, it wouldn’t be fanfic, and you should still definitely not be giving it to Entertainment Weekly for FREE.

Also? Point #2 is basically them demanding first world rights to the work. Considering how egregious the “becomes sole property of Sponsor” is already, this is a footnote, but it’s insult to injury. (By the way, if you want to see what an actual non-predatory contract looks like, SFWA did a model magazine contract that’s really good.)

From section 5 “Conditions of Participation.”

By entering, Entrant represents that any fan fiction submission and other materials submitted as part of Entrant’s Contest entry are original and will not constitute defamation an invasion of privacy or otherwise infringe upon the rights of any third party, and that the Entrant owns or has the rights to convey any and all right and title in such video and other materials.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY DO U EVEN FANFIC

In addition, by entering, Entrant grants to Sponsor a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free license to edit, publish, promote, republish at any time in the future and otherwise use Entrant’s submitted fan fiction, along with Entrant’s name, likeness, biographical information, and any other information provided by Entrant, in any and all media for possible editorial, promotional or advertising purposes, without further permission, notice or compensation (except where prohibited by law).

Translation: if we pick your fanfic, which we have now said we instantly own upon submission, we can then do whatever we want with it and use you as a promotional tool however and whenever we want. Without even having to tell you when we do it. Or ever give you any kind of monetary compensation for it.

THIS IS BAD ON SO MANY LEVELS.

As a note, regular publishing contracts can and do allow for minor copyediting of the work without the author’s approval. That’s standard. Anything beyond copyediting? In my experience this is NOT something you ever want to agree to unless you trust the editor completely to just fix your grammatical screw ups and not fuck with your story. Considering how gross this has been already, how trustworthy do you think Entertainment Weekly would be with your work?

Acceptance of the prize constitutes permission for Sponsor and its agencies to use Winner’s name and/or likeness, biographical information, fan fiction, other materials submitted for advertising and promotional purposes without additional compensation, unless prohibited by law.

What prize? ALL THAT EXPOSURE? SO MUCH EXPOSURE. LET THEM EAT EXPOSURE. But really, second verse, same as the first. They get to flog you and your work for advertisement and promotion without any compensation to you.

By entering and/or accepting prize, Entrants and Winners agree to hold Sponsor and its promotional partners, its directors, officers, employees and assigns harmless for liability, damages or claims for injury or loss to any person or property relating to, in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, participation in this Contest, the acceptance and/or subsequent use or misuse, or condition of any of the prizes awarded, or claims based on publicity rights, defamation, or invasion or privacy.

This is a “hold harmless” clause, which can be anything but harmless to the person tacitly accepting this contract. On one hand, some of this is butt covering in the case of you not liking your “prize” (SO MUCH EXPOSURE) and wiggling out of ay fuss you could kick up if, say, a future employer doesn’t like how EW is using your likeness and fanfiction to promote… whatever it is they’re promoting. But does this also leave the writer holding the bag if an intellectual property holder goes after EW and the writer if they decide this violates fair use, despite the fact that EW has grabbed all possible rights? To be honest, I’m not good enough at this to say yes or no one way or the other, but I wouldn’t fucking trust it.

Any time someone tries to fuck over writers with for-exposure, rights grabby bullshit, I get mad. Those scams are almost always aimed at young writers who are hungry for even acknowledgment, and it’s gross and dishonest–but at least there are resources out there aimed at educating beginning writers about people who want to prey on them. This makes me even angrier because it’s tacitly aimed at a population that has no real reason to even require familiarity with like publishing rights.

Shame on you, Entertainment Weekly. Shame on your house, shame on your publicists, shame on your legal department, shame on your editors.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

2015 Writing Year in Review

Written This Year

Novels: None completed. Edited Fire in the Belly again, edited King’s Hand. Both of them are out at a couple places now. Put some more words on Wrath: a Love Story but got badly sidelined by other projects.

Novellas: 1

Novellettes:  3

Short Stories: 4

Flash: 1

Paid Film Reviews: 6

Treatments: 4

This is probably the fewest stories I’ve ever written in a single year. Part of this is due to the fact that I was taking screenwriting classes all year, and a lot of my writing time got eaten up by homework. I’ve also got several longer pieces in progress, which means they don’t show up on the tally but I spent a lot of time on them.

Also excited because this is the first time I’ve gotten paid to review films!

Consigned to the trunk of awfulness, never to return: Only one, a shameful “stories that writers who aren’t trans write about trans people” effort.

Best/Favorite story of the year: Favorite is the novelette I just finished writing, Glamazon Versus Deus Ex Machina Man. Best is probably Vaca Muerta and the Hounds of Heck, neither of which I’ve sold yet. But here’s hoping you’ll get to read both of them in the not too distant future.

Magic Spreadsheet wordcount: I have been tracking on the spreadsheet since June 24, 2013.

  • Total words written: 967,047; this puts me at 405,000 words written this year. See, I told you I wrote a shitload even if it didn’t translate out to actual finished stories.
  • Average words per day: 1,110 (better than last year)
  • Days in a row written: 920, so that means for the last two entire years, I have not missed a single day of writing at least 250 words.

Publishing

Queries sent: 40
Rejections received: 25
Pending: 9
Most rejections received: Empty Hallways in Need of Feet has 9 rejections currently, 3 from this year; the former champion, The Long Game, finally got bought by someone! Sometimes I think I should give up on this story, but I just like it too much.
Total earned: $1,133.70, with ~$500 outstanding from various sales at this time. Not nearly as well as I did last year, since I didn’t find another gig like the one I had with Six to Start in 2014.

Published this year:

  1. Superhero, With Crooked Nails in Protectors 2: Heroes
  2. A Brief Memo From Your Amygdala, Re: the Horror Movie We Have Just Seen from Daily Science Fiction (8/4/15)
  3. Only a Crack in a Black Glass Wall in Welcome to the Future
  4. Turbo Kid: Why this BMX Blood Sparkle Unicorn Apocalypse Will Blow Your Mind (review of Turbo Kid) in Mothership Zeta issue 1
  5. Ex Machina Review for Strange Horizons
  6. Avengers: Age of Ultron Review for Strange Horizons
  7. Jupiter Ascending Review for Strange Horizons
  8. Zero Theorem Review for Strange Horizons
  9. [REDACTED]
  10. [REDACTED]

Slated for 2016:

  1. A New Hope (review of The Force Awakens) in Mothership Zeta
  2. Comfort Food in Haunted Futures
  3. .subroutine///end from Shimmer
  4. Fire in the Belly from Mothership Zeta
  5. Silver Fish from Lakeside Circus
  6. The Long Game from Kaleidotrope

Goals for 2016

  1. Be as awesome as Poe Dameron.
  2. Shut up and write
  3. Do the scary thing ASAP oh shit oh shit
  4. Edit together an amazeballs anthology from the glorious, jackalope-infested No Shit Anthology slushpile, seriously I love everyone in this bar and there’s still a little less than a week to get your submission in.
  5. Finish 2 feature length screenplays: Stormcrows and The Heist
  6. Finish writing Wrath: a Love Story
  7. Get your screenwriting certificate from UCLA
  8. Finish up [REDACTED]
  9. Look for a more regular movie review gig; I’d really like to do more of this
  10. Still dreaming of having an agent. Forever dreaming. Though at this point I’d be just as happy to cut out the middle man and go directly to a publisher. Maybe I’ll start bothering smaller presses this year.
  11. Birthday story for TH, got it figured out already and it’s going to be difficult because I’m awful at writing horror.
  12. Do a couple movie torture fundraisers. Maybe Gods of Egypt? That looks terrible.

Other Stuff

  1. Went on my first business trip this year for day job. That was interesting. West Virginia is very pretty and I would not want to live there.
  2. Started playing a first person shooter for the first time ever; Destiny has kind of changed my life.
  3. Went to my first ever professional writer conference. Still mulling over if I think it was worth the cost outlay. It might just be that I’m total shit at networking.
  4. Was crew on a short film. It was… sure something. Stressful and difficult and cool. Still miss all of the wonderful people I worked with on that.
  5. I’ve started running again. I’ve kind of fallen off on the biking just because the roads in Houston scare me way too badly and I have a difficult time waking up early enough to make it for 7AM group ride starts. But running plus the extra walking I’ve been doing thanks to playing Ingress seems to have gone a long way toward fixing my incipient back problems.
  6. The Force Awakens, man. Talk about changing your life. It’s been a long, long time since I was this excited about a movie.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

Luke vs Rey, a point-by-point comparison

Since there’s been shit talked about the comparison between Rey and Luke (and how “realistic” Rey is as a character in a universe where there is sound in the vacuum of space and magic exists but okay) I wanted to actually sit down and granularly compare the two characters. Rey’s information comes in after my fourth viewing of The Force Awakens. I filled out the Luke column last night and tonight, while rewatching A New Hope. Note that I suffered through the CGI-ed up version with the incredibly stupid, added Jabba the Hutt scene in there, so you should send me pity donuts.

I decided since Rey’s arc in The Force Awakens basically takes her from zero to dropping her in front of a Jedi Master, who had better be training her in the next film or Luke and I are going to have words, I should pick a similar point for Luke for comparison. That basically gets him through the battle on Hoth (beginning of The Empire Strikes Back), when he goes off to find Yoda and get himself some proper training too.

EDITED TO CORRECT: Apparently time elapsed between Yavin and Hoth is three years? I got pointed toward a better timeline. Damn, Luke. Obi-Wan took his fucking ghostly time telling you where to find a teacher, didn’t he.

This does make my inclusion of Luke’s lightsaber grabbing a little more ehhhh (imagine me wiggling my hand here), though I’m still of the opinion that if it would have been of narrative use in A New Hope, he could have done it just fine. But your milage my vary there and I’m really not looking to argue this particular point.

Of course this contains spoilers for The Force Awakens, gosh. And A New Hope, if you have managed to avoid that for all these years.

Luke Rey
2
Background Moisture farmer; actually Anakin Skywalker and Queen Amidala’s kid, adopted by a family on Tattooine, a desert planet, for his own protection. He’s a secret prince! Abandoned by her family at 5 years old on Jakku, a desert planet. Became scavenger to survive. Other background as yet unknown.
3
Age at the start of the adventure 19-ish 19-ish
4
Major character flaw at start Immature (whiney, unworldly) Unable to move on from past abandonment, a little too fiercely into the self-reliant loner thing
5
Develops past character flaw? Yes (definitely no longer whiney, goes from unworldly to otherworldly by the time he hits RotJ thanks to a stop at the dramatic cloak store) Yes (stops trying to return to Planet Bumfuck, comes to trust her friends will come through for her thanks to Finn)
6
Has boobs*** No Yes
7
Skills going in to film Good at fixing droids and other machines</p>

Good enough pilot to be considering the Imperial Academy; later compares the Death Star trench run to doing a canyon run back home. (Getting the impression that he’s only flown on-planet, but he doesn’t specifically say that.)

Proficient at fighters and freighters via flight sim; has flown actual freighters on planet only**.

Repaired a wrecked light freighter (Ghtroc Industries 690) and made it space worthy**

Has survived on her own as a scavenger since early childhood, capable of repairing and refurbishing components in order to sell them.

8
Good with blasters? He can sure bullseye some Womp Rats! Not bad with the Millenium Falcon’s turret guns either. Not at all going in, mediocre coming out
9
Melee? Manages to wave around the lightsaber immediately without hurting himself or alarming Ben, decent with it by the time he hits Hoth in Empire Strikes Back Expert with staff, basically wields a lightsaber like it’s a half staff
10
Non-Force skills they show off during the course of the film Talks Han into rescuing Leia like a canny little shit

Swings Leia across a chasm-ish thing in swashbuckling style while being shot at by Stormtroopers

Apparently went to the Han Solo school of door repair

Unveiled as the best X-wing pilot EVAR, hotdogging it all around the Death Star. (Leia later compares Poe Dameron, the “best/most daring pilot of the Resistance,” favorably to Luke**.)

Does some darn good repair work on the Millenium Falcon, earns Han’s respect

Navigates around Starkiller base very cannily while rescuing herself

Good enough pilot that Chewie doesn’t mind flying with her on the Falcon

Beats up a group of thugs on her own to protect BB-8; manages to get the drop on Finn, who was a squad leader before he left the First Order**

11
Major in-film mistakes His plan to rescue Leia isn’t exactly A+, though a lot of that can be blamed on the influence of actual human disaster Han Solo Accidentaly releases the Rathtars in Han Solo’s freighter by resetting the wrong fuses. Almost gets Han, Chewie, and Finn killed in the process.

Runs off into the woods and gets captured by Kylo Ren. Finn, Han, and Chewie come rescue her, and Han gets killed by Kylo Ren while there.

12
Does Han Solo offer them a job? Yep, right before the attack on the Death Star Yep, right before introducing her to Maz
13
Do they speak droid? Yes. Yes.
14
Nemesis Sith Lord Darth Vader, who was supposed to be Jedi Jesus before Palpatine got his hooks into him, fully trained and badass for the last twenty years

(Darth Vader blocks multiple blaster bolts with his fucking hands in the Empire Strikes Back)

Kylo Ren, who has lots of raw power but is not well trained (Snoke says his training isn’t complete, Han implies Snoke isn’t training him properly because he’s just using him), and has temper tantrums because his self control sucks that bad. Also, his lightsaber is literally called “the junk saber” in the script because it’s badly made, unstable shit.

(Kylo Ren stops a blaster bolt mid air)

15
Do they fight their nemesis? Sort of? Darth Vader chases him down the trench in the Death Star while flying a TIE Fighter. Yes. Toe to toe lightsaber battle.
16
Advisor Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, who gives Luke the Force 101 before fucking off into ghosthood; Luke gets like a day worth of lightsaber training while flying on the Millenium Falcon, followed by some noncorporeal coaching Maz Kanata, self-described as someone who isn’t a Jedi but “knows the Force,” who tells Rey she needs to close her eyes and feel the Force
17
Is their advice useful? Luke trusts in his feelings and blows up the Death Star Rey closes her eyes and feels the Force, then defeats Kylo Ren
18
Force powers utilized prior to proper training Uses the Force to make the torpedo shot no one else can make and blow up the Death Star right before it destroys the Rebel Base at Yavin, when failure is really not an option.

Doesn’t get his ass killed by Darth Vader, who is in a TIE fighter at the time and chasing him. Presumably partially due to using the Force, since Vader even remarks on strong he is before Han comes swooping in.

Force grabs lightsaber (beginning of Empire Strikes Back); my presumption is he could have done this at the end of A New Hope if the script had called for it. It’s not like Ben trained him how to do this particular trick before getting evaporated by Vader.

Jedi mind trick on Stormtrooper James Bond to get him to release her from Kylo Ren’s villain chair and leave the cell door open, getting it right on the third try when failure is really not an option.

Stands up to Kylo Ren’s telepathic attack on the second go round, turns the tables on him.

Force grabs Luke’s lightsaber away from Kylo Ren in the most epic scene of the entire movie

Manages to “trust in her feelings” enough to beat Kylo Ren in a lightsaber duel, notably after he’s been shot by Chewbacca and poked in the right arm with a lightsaber by Finn

19
Blows up the Empire’s/First Order’s giant super weapon? Yep. No, that was accomplished by Poe Dameron, after Han and Chewie blew an X-wing-sized hole in the Scientifish Jargon Generator Housing
20
Gets a medal? Yep. No, but General Organa hugs her.
21
Leia hugged Luke too, you know. Sure did! :D Yeah but his was a creepy potential incest hug!

** – Information from the Before the Awakening stories.

*** – This should not actually be relevant, yet somehow is to some people.

In conclusion, Rey and Luke are each shining, precious space babies in their own way. She gets more badass Force tricks and beats the snot out of disgruntled Mini Snape. He gets to single-handedly blow up the most pants-shittingly terrifying megaweapon the galaxy had seen at that point, by using the Force. Please stop undermining Luke’s enormous, medal-earning accomplishment just because Rey has boobs and made Stormtrooper James Bond drop his blaster.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

Wish Fulfillment

I already had words about this asinine Mary Sue bullshit yesterday. Charlie Jean Anders wrote a good piece about it at io9 today and mentioned something that was on my mind as I went to bed last night: wish fulfillment.

The “Mary Sue” is a very specific wish-fulfillment fantasy, in other words. It’s about getting to hang out with Harry, Ron and Hermione, and having them admire you. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of fantasy—we’ve all had it, when we get especially invested in a particular universe—but the term acquired a pejorative meaning because people felt it made for bad stories.

I think the thing that made Mary Sue (and Gary Stu, because yes Virginia they do exist) characters so mortally offensive in fandom that they needed their own name was because it was wish fulfillment run completely amok.

These books and shows, practically anything that doesn’t combine classic everyperson-struggles-with-the-greatest-enemy-which-is-themselves drama with scifi and fantasy, are all about wish fulfillment. It’s wish fulfillment that legions of us can participate in by identifying with the hero. And in fact, there are plenty of successful and decent works of fanfiction out there in which original characters aren’t Mary Sues and manage to continue that delightful line of wish fulfillment by welcoming the reading audience in. Original characters in fanfiction are not automatically Mary Sues. This is a battle I had many times in the fanfiction trenches, and I’ll stand by it.

I’d argue that actually, the two problems with the Mary Sue characters (beyond generally shitty writing) that make them so basically offensive are:

  1. The wish being fulfilled is so specific to the writer that no one else is welcomed in.
  2. The needs of the fantasy being played out by the wish fulfillment character act without regard for the canon that fans hold in common and in fact warps the canon in the service of the Mary Sue.

These two factors combine into a reading experience that is nothing short of infuriating, because you’re seeing a canon that you love get twisted out of shape to serve a character with whom no one but the writer can identify.

This is, by the way, why I deny the existence of canon Sues/Stus. You might not like what the writer of the property is doing with the canon, but you’re not the authority on it. They are. Sorry, suck it up and deal. If it pisses you off that much, stop reading or watching. But you don’t get to decide that, say, what JK Rowling wrote isn’t canon because it’s a ship you don’t like. That’s not how it works, cupcake.

So obviously, I’m in the camp that says Rey is a canon character, she cannot possibly even be a Mary Sue, so we don’t even need to discuss this further. Kindly weep into this tea cup so I can drink your tears. But that’s not the point of this post. This is about why so many people are attempting to cover their chapped little asses with a banner that read “But she’s a Mary Sue!”

Rey is a character that does not fulfill their wishes. They don’t identify with her. They don’t understand her. They don’t want to be her. They believe their beloved canon has been twisted in order to serve her character. And they assume that their experience is or should be universal. I imagine this is the feeling behind a lot of female main characters who don’t shit the bed in the third act getting smeared with the dreaded “Mary Sue” label. And to a certain extent, I sympathize, because I’ve sure watched a lot of movies where I thought the male wish fulfillment character was quite terrible.

But this is the thing:

Just because you do not like a character does not mean she is a bad character.

There are more wishes to be fulfilled in the world than yours.

Get the fuck over it.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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