Revenge of the Awkward Author Photo Contest – I GOT 3rd PLACE! WOOO!

Awkward author D.R.Sylvester

Awkward author D.R.Sylvester

So you might remember a previous post where I mentioned that I was entering a competition for awkward author photos, and that the other entries for it were positively exploding with gaiety and hilarity…

Well it seems I must give thanks to the voters of this illustrious event, because  I CAME THIRD! (which in a 3-way would make me the winner)

Thank you so much for voting, well done to all the other brilliant contestants, congratulations to the 1st and 2nd place winners (61 – yours was excellent) and thank you to Chuck for running such a fun competition.

*swishes Miss Beardy-Author sash*

*picks bikini out of butt-crack*

*takes a bow*

 

D.R.Sylvester

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Posted in Thoughts, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

REVIEW: TERMINATOR GENISYS. HELL YES. ALLCAPS

http://www.theterminatorfans.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Terminator-Genisys-T-800.pngSo I went to see an early screening of Terminator Genisys. I don’t normally get to the movies on a Monday night, but as an afficionado of ballsy Austrian folklores and a devoted Arnocorps rescue team member (fan), I thought why the hell not.

BEST. DECISION.

This movie is the sequel that Terminator II: Judgement Day deserves. It’s the third film. NO ARGUMENTS. There were not another two terminator sequels.*

Why am I gushing lyrical about what should, to any reasonable expectation, be another Arnie revival vehicle / hollywood-juggernaut cash-in on an old franchise? Well, because (full disclosure) 1. Tee-two is one of the first films I ever got excited about, back in my booger-picking, BMXing days, and 2. because they appear to have consulted a REAL WRITER to handle the script.

You know, as opposed to letting some trained monkeys throw alternating fistfuls of poop and regurgitated terminator two scenes at a storyboard, and seeing what sticks (HINT: the answer is “poop”)

Things that I loved about it (and I’ll stay vague to avoid spoilers, but you might be smart enough to work things out. You’ve been warned):

  • Sarah Connor. She’s got agency in spades. In fact, her getting to make decisions, to push back on the story in spite of all the time-travel predestination stuff, is central to the narrative of the story.
  • Lovable characters. You want these people to win. Not just scared for them, not just wanting the baddie to get beat, but actually, I want to hang out with these characters. I want to have a beer with them.
  • The lines. Nothing trite, nothing half baked, no over-saturation of witty banter, nor is there any heart-stringy mush (okay, a little bit, but nothing puke provoking). Any jokes that are there, they ring true, they have context, and they speak to the characters. Arnie’s one liners are utilised here to full effect, not in an Expendable way (see what I did there?) but always with a fresh twist, and plenty of respect for the original films.
  • And respect these films have. The (alleged) third Terminator film felt like Michael Bay had sent a kid to watch the first two movies, take notes in crayon, and then he’d done his best to produce a script from the results. Genisys on the other hand nods to the source material, and flows so seamlessly from them that you could almost imagine it being acted out with the original cast…
  • There’s purpose, and direction, and conflict, and disaster, followed by reactions, and dilemmas, then decisions get made, and the cycle repeats. It’s just good storytelling, because:
    • we get what’s happening
    • we see it going wrong
    • we relate to the trauma and distress
    • we cheer for their resolve
      Nothing keeps you on the edge of your seat quite like this rise-and-fall, dunking-and-oxygen, disaster-and-struggle style of writing

So if you’re wondering whether this is just another re-boot, no. It certainly is not. This is a return to form, like Metallica’s Death Magnetic, or the USA’s Barrack Obama.

Arnie’s finally back. Trust me.

Hasta la vista, baby.

D.R.Sylvester

 

*I don’t know about the Sarah Connor Chronicles, but I’ll be sure to watch them someday, Arnie or no.

Posted in Film, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Awkward Author Photo Contest, and oh the fun we had…

Awkward author D.R.Sylvester
So, Chuck Wendig put out the call for people to compete with their awkwardest “Author Photos,” – those ever-so-slightly iffy examples of the vanity photographer’s art that adorn the inside covers of all your favourite novels… the tilted hat, the half-smile-smirk, the black and white with arms crossed and a pile of books in the background… you get the idea. The competition required that this author photo had to be of yourself, as if you were a bona-fide legit’ published writer.

Well I had to have a crack at that, didn’t I?

My wife and I threw together a few daggy props, some over the top expressions, and our baby daughter, because this is pretty much a hyperbolic depiction of the “writer’s life” when you’re a new parent.Awkward author D.R.Sylvester

If you want to check out the hilarity (there are over seventy entries), go here. Some of them are amazing(ly awkward), make sure you check out 17, 53, and 61.

My own entry is number 38 if you want to vote for me (and win my eternal gratitude, which is redeemable for beer / beard-rubs if you’re ever passing through Sydney)

Best regards,

D.R.Sylvester

 

 

Awkward D.R.Sylvester montage

 

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Pickled Zombies and Skull-splatting Madness. NOVELLA REVIEW: The Last Safe Place, by Rob Hart

I’m a simple guy. I like beer, explosions and zombies. There are other predictable predilections: bacon, beards, fantasy novels of sufficient girth to club an unsuspecting librarian into submission… Unless said librarian is a red-head with a one word, three letter vocabulary, because the last thing I want to see in this world is not teeth, but I digress.

Or do I? Because this short post is about a zombie novella I read recently, and enjoyed immensely (nice segue, D.)

The Last Safe Place: A Zombie NovellaThe Last Safe Place: A Zombie Novella by Rob Hart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A unique take on the zombie apocalypse, with special pickled zombies, a few cheap bus-‘sploding thrills, a human element for our protagonist to negotiate (with one “Woohoo! In. your. face!” moment), along with all the skull splatting madness that you’d expect from the genre.

As with any book that I love, it has to have good strong characters, and there’s plenty of that going on. I’d have enjoyed seeing a few of them branch out and develop further, but unfortunately with a novella there’s little time and scope to do so. It also doesn’t help that the genre is notorious for throwing its characters to the wolves… or to the flesh nibbling rotbags. You get the idea.

It stands alone as a novella in a well developed alternate New York (seemingly the same New York universe as the one in ‘New Yorked’ by the same author[?]), but there’s enough happening at the end to suggest that sequels could potentially follow.

View all my reviews

So yeah. Zambies. Awesomeness. Go read things and report back.

Best regards,
D.R.Sylvester

Ook?

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I Have no Aversion to Good Novellas. REVIEW: Aversion, by Ernie Luis

I suddenly remembered that today is the day a particularly rad novella is released, and so here’s my review of same. I’m particularly keen to see more of this author’s work (my reviews for the first two novellas in this series are here and here), and this latest offering has only bolstered that feeling.

If reading earlier reviews is a pain, just know that this series is about a spy agency that utilises time machines to guard the course of the future, with plenty of assassinations, and a lot more going on than our heroes know… It has a Dollhouse kind of vibe, but grittier and with less cheesy banter than anything by the Whedon.

So without further ado…



Aversion coverAversion by Ernie Luis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Part three, and here come the big reveals. Gripping characters. Short and powerful read. What’s not to love?

I read this one with the first two novellas in the series, Alternate and Backwards, still fresh in my mind. It didn’t disappoint. The story continues to get bigger in scope, tying everything and the characters together, making you hate the bad guys even more, and bringing our hero to the boil…

The thing that this author does really well is the character interactions… the characters are great, and there’re no wasted or half thought out scenes. Everything that happens has purpose and impact.

This is the third part in what I’m guessing will be a four part story, so there’s a lot of set up going on here. Despite this, each chunk stands alone quite well, with its own narrative arc and conclusion.

And dammnnnnnn! That ending… I want to read the next one now.

View all my reviews


 

As I mentioned, it’s a short read (as novellas tend to be), and it’s currently on sale for LESS THAN A FREAKING DOLLAR. Get onto it people. Amazon link is here.

Hmm, so what authors should I be reading next… let me know, aye?

Best regards,

D.R.Sylvester

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Priorities, and Mucking About with my Inherited Fourbie’

SO, I haven’t blogged in donkey’s years, and this is almost entirely down to the advice of my mum. I know, strange right? That a person’s own mother would advise them NOT to blog.

Weeeell, this was actually some pretty stellar advice, in the sense that I’d been spending way too much time doing other things (including blogging) as opposed to actually finishing edits on my book…

I went “oh yeah,” and then proceeded to start editing one scene per day, instead of looking at social media and blogs. Now it’s going-great-guns, and I have plenty of finished scenes to show for it. So that’s the plan: less blogging for a little while, and more writing.

That said, I have been doing some other stuff. For one, I’ve been farting around buying hardware to make a drawer system / cargo shelf / bed platform in the back of my Jackaroo (it’s basically an Isuzu Trooper with a Holden badge on it).

4X4 shelf / bed plans

4X4 shelf / bed plans

The way I see it, this gives me:

– A convenient camper (no tent pegs[!!!!])

– A couple of long-ass drawers to stick useful bits/shopping in the back, without anything banging around

– A flat surface for laying down priceless paintings* (covered wheel arches!)

– Somewhere to sleep if I have a big night out

*Note: I am not currently a cat burglar, nor do I have any intentions of pursuing a leatherclad career across the rooftops of Gotham, or any other city.

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The only cost is $120 worth of plywood, fasteners, and circular saw (I have everything else I’m going to need already). I imagine it will take up most of Saturday to make, so here’s hoping I don’t get too busy…

Anyways, that’s me. What outlandish DIY rubbish have you guys and gals attempted recently? Trips to IKEA to buy REKTUM storage units totally count.

Best Regards,

D.R.Sylvester

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Mad Max: Fury Road – what a lovely film…

Like many people, I had my socks rocked by the epicosity that is Mad Max: Fury Road. This post will be mainly about my thoughts on the film, so I’ll put all the non- Mad Max, nonspoiler stuff at the beginning, followed by a spoiler warning.

So here I am, having mostly finished my last day of relative freedom in Korea. I’m heading back tomorrow, and starting work on Monday. This is not good.

Although, something that is good - TINY TINY BEERS

Although, something that is good – TINY TINY BEERS

I have had an epic time though, and met some awesome people along the way. I’ve also had a few inspirations for scenes in book two, including a temple-top swashbuckle through the lanterns of Buddha’s birthday celebrations.

Buddha's birthday lanterns. LOTS OF THEM

Buddha’s birthday lanterns. LOTS OF THEM

I’ve walked up a mountain pushing a baby stroller on a hot day (the beer at the top tasted amazing).

Streets of Seoul

Streets of Seoul

I even got a Korean traditional hanbok for my little daughter to wear.

Seven month old in a hanbok

Seven month old in a hanbok

But anyway, that was then, and this is now. It’s time to head back to reality, and on that note, I’ll now be sharing a few thoughts about the writing of Mad Max: Fury Road (because nothing is more based in reality than the fact that we’re barrelling towards a fiery apocalypse, and for the un/lucky an even fiery-er post-apocalyptic world with feature-length chase scenes).


 

SPOILERS AHOY! READ ON AT YE PERIL!

Ahem.

So many things I could say just as a review… my purpose here is not to review the film though, but rather to ask: what can we learn from this writer, George Miller? Because without a doubt, there is so much we can learn from this film.

It’s been pared back.

This film is cut to the bone, with every scene serving a multitude of purposes. I’ll use the opener as an example: Max, standing on a bluff, looking out over the Australian outback, a desert panorama. A two headed lizard scuttled into frame, runs forward, and Max stomps on it. He picks up the crushed creature, eats it, and gets back in his car. He starts the car, wheels hurling sand everywhere, and hurtles down into the desert. Seconds later a war party of smoke spewing buggies chase after him, and open fire…

They could have raved about what happened to the world for ten minutes (they do for about one). They could have told us all kinds of expositiony stuff to make sense of what was the come. Instead, everything is shown:

  •  The two headed lizard: the world is irradiated, dead. This is not our time.
  • Max eating it: this world is harsh, and you do what you must to survive.
  • The heavily-laden, suped-up old vehicle: people here move fast, and the story is a chase.
  • Max’s disheveled appearance: he is insane, a loner, on the run

There’s no wasted space or breath in the rest of the film either, with very sparse dialogue. It works beautifully, because it focuses you on what’s happening, and drags you headlong into the world.

Theme.

Fury Road absolutely nails its core themes, without strangling you with them, and these are clearly: – redemption > survival, and PEOPLE ARE NOT THINGS. These get repeated again and again, but you’re never beaten over the head with them. There’s no wasted focus that would come from trying to touch on a dozen smaller issues, but rather every character is battling with these same themes, bad guys included.

Stylistic Motifs.

When we’re talking about the strength of the film’s stylistic motifs, the War Boys are a case in point. If you’ve seen the film I don’t need to explain further, you’ll remember their first impression (and their lasting impression) for the rest of your fiction consuming days. For the rest of you, know that it was mainly due to the combination of strong impressions; not a mish mash of film-set post-apocalyptica, but deliberate stylistic motifs repeated again and again. Each war boy is a fanatic, worshipping their leader, Immortan Joe, and this shows in everything:

  • dialogue (they refer to him with such reverence in the sparse dialogue that it’s immediately apparent how they view him)
  • actions (they’re happy to die for him, and not in a hollywood negligent henchman way – in a PLEASE LET ME DIE IN BATTLE RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIS MULLETEDTERMINATOR FACE, SO THAT HE MIGHT BE PLEASED AND SEND ME TO VALHALLA kind of way.
  • they’ve shaved themselves down and painted their bodies white, in a kind of death-cult uniform emulating their leader’s own appearance (whilst utterly imposing and physically strong, Immortan Joe is not a healthy man, with a kind of sprayed-on white protective skin and overlaying wearable iron-lung [at least that’s what I assume it was, the film is blissfully free of pointless exposition], numerous obvious tumors, and a respirator in the form of a fighter-pilot / Predator breathing mask. He’s like a mix of Rob Zombie and Darth Vader)

The overall effect is one of HOLY FREAKING WHOAH, these guys are scary. And that’s why it’s so fantastically subversive when !!!!!MASSIVE SPOILER!!!!! one of the War Boys comes across to fight for the good guys. The lesson for us writers might be – when designing your big set pieces (factions, etc.) work on the few very strong stylistic details that will stick in the reader’s mind.

A critique of Fury Road’s writing wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the gender relations (and sweet jeebus, how good this hath been done), and so I’ll give my thoughts here as well.

The Ladies Are Treated Like People

GASP! SHOCK! WHAT? REALLY? It couldn’t be possible that a film could actually steer headlong, pedal to the floor, straight into issues of rape, sexually slavery, and women’s disparity of power, and somehow come out stronger for it? Game of Thrones (the TV series, not ASOIAF) is always screwing this up, and even Joss Whedon has fallen foul of these issues in certain discussions (I can dig up the references if you like, it only goes to show that awesome dudes who genuinely love women and harbour zero misogynistic tendencies can still sometimes fall foul of this quagmire simply because of the woeful way that we’ve been conditioned to think).

Well this film goes about it with great artistry, and while I’m sure there are a thousand existing articles explaining how this is so (just google feminism fury road), here are the things I liked:

  • the girls don’t need rescuing by a dude. They can accept help from him, but he often needs them just as much (HEY, LIKE REAL LIFE!).
  • the ladies have agency. As in, they want something, and they act on the story to make it happen. Even the ones that (unlike Furiosa, who is BAD ASS) are simpering princesses certainly find their spines and get stuff done by the end, and they don’t have to go all man-butch and physically beat-down everyone to accomplish it. Yes, highly feminine people can still get stuff done in this story world. It’s invigorating. It’s awesome. It’s… even kinda sexy
  • Young hotties don’t have a monopoly on being awesome (certainly bucking the Hollywood norm). There are ladies in their thirties, forties and fifties, even what appears to be sixties plus, utterly being amazing. Seed collector grandma is the bomb. Watch and see what I mean.
  • The rapey stuff isn’t actually invited to the party. I mean there is zero titilation value here. The plot is heavily tied up with the escape of five beautiful wives (women raised for breeding) from the harem of Immortan Joe, a rapey sounding plot if ever there was one. Despite this, nothing happens on screen, it isn’t an attempt at fridging anyone (hurting ladies just to make males sadfaced and motivated), and it isn’t even a dude who rescues them (it’s a combination of crazy tattooed nursery grandma, Furiosa, and the wives themselves WHO AREN’T EVEN VICTIM-BLAMED! WHAT IS THIS SORCERY?).The bad guy isn’t a mustache twirling caricature of evil, like all rapists must surely be: Immortan genuinely believes the women are his property, and he expresses a kind of perverse love for them. He’s like a post apocalyptic Menelaus of Sparta, launching a thousand buggies after his Helens of Troy…

But All This Takes Away Precisely NOTHING from the Men

It has been a long time since I’ve seen a film that was at once so fair to women, and so loving to the men it portrayed. Oh boy, that claim is going to need a metric-fuff-tonne of clarification, so here we go…

  • Having some people to respect (and later care about) makes Max MORE awesome. He has to show us his amazing survival quick-thinking, because Furiosa will kill him if he doesn’t. Splendid getting a thumbs-up shows that Max sees her as an equal once she proves she too can aid their survival (in this case getting Immortan’s men to hold fire, because she’s standing up front and heavy with his child)
  • Max isn’t keeping score. Nobody is throwing themselves at the male lead (and he doesn’t have his phallic catching mitt extended anyway) because why the hell should they? Sure, he spends the movie being awesome, but he certainly isn’t chasing tail. He’s haunted by his past, and trying to survive. Besides, this isn’t Bond, where a simple “hello” can substitute for relationship development.The chemistry that does develop !!!SPOILER ALERT!!! between Furiosa and Max isn’t sexually requited. Hell, it’s never spoken of aloud or acted on at all… This doesn’t make him less of a man, but rather more of one: he’s led by his own will, not by his wang. Max never acts like a douche – he knows, as we do, that life isn’t some kind of BS competition. A man isn’t defined by the amount of action he gets.In the end he leaves rather than try make a life for himself there, and his walking away without glory or lady-action is one of the most awesome manly things a dude could do in film, like Bogart in Casablanca (oh crap, Extremely old movie spoiler alert!!)
  • Max gets to contribute, AND HOW. At one point their war-rig (an armored big-rig) is overheating, and they can’t risk blowing the engine, but there’s a mob of War Boys on their tail. Furiosa is contemplating leaving the truck and fighting them off, but Max steps up.He doesn’t need to do this for his own survival, he does so because he’s best suited for the role (although Furiosa is the better shot, and Nux the better driver/mechanic), he’s the most expendable, and finally because he’s begun to care about the others. Furiosa stays with the truck, because she and Nux have the best chance of getting it moving again. Max goes to slow the War Boys down, alone, having told the others to drive off without him if he’s not back by the time the truck engine has cooled.A few minutes later he comes back, drenched in blood, not his own, with a duffel chock-full of scavenged ammo. It’s glorious. He does it so they can all survive. It’s such a ballsy, MANLY MAN thing to do, I don’t know what all the MRA “bros” were even complaining about this film for…
  • The main story arc is actually Max’s. What’s that? I thought we’d already established this was a feminist flick about girls escaping sexual tyranny? Well yeah, but the main character development arc is still Max’s.Furiosa is on a journey, yes, but she is already a complete character by the start of the tale – she knows what she wants, and she heads after it. Her arc is shallower, in that whilst she struggles through adversity, and eventually finds her redemption, her realisations are of lesser magnitude. She needs to realise that redemption is not in running away but in fighting back, and she needs to learn to trust, to accept (and even ask for) help, but these are small character developments in an already exemplary human bad-ass. Something tells us that she’d make it on her own, as she is.Max on the other hand is, as the name would suggest, mad. He’s so lost that we know he’s not headed anywhere good, and the only thing left to him is explicitly stated at the start of the film: to survive. Hope begins to ensnare him, and he pushes back to save whatever’s left of his sanity. At the films climactic turning point, it’s Max who makes the choice to go back on everything he’s stood by and dare to hope. To dare to chase redemption.The saddest part of him walking away at the end (rather than staying to embrace their victory) is that it shows us he’s still not quite there yet. That his tragic past can’t be escaped quite so easily…

So like I said, the ladies in Fury Road don’t take anything from the men. They stand together, as equals, and everyone is uplifted in the process. Everyone shines. It’s freaking rad.

If you haven’t seen it yet (WHY DID YOU READ THIS!?) go immediately, and take your significant other of either gender. My wife loved it, and she isn’t even an action movie kind of girl.

Best regards,

D.R.Sylvester

Posted in Film, holidays, Outings, Thoughts, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Writing Over the Seas

I’ve always loved flicks like the Mummy, or Indiana Jones, that step well outside the western world and off the beaten track. Reading has taken me through myriad exotic locales, especially in books by Matthew Riley (that launched me on imaginary journeys to South America and the Antarctic, to name a few). For me, this is just where it’s at: The great unknown of our planet Earth is just as beautiful and vast as the most vivid creations of the human imagination, or might as well be when you consider the limited hours we have to explore it…

It should come as no surprise then, that I set my writing in what are essentially imaginary versions of real-life far-away places. There’s something about the everyday novelties experienced whilst travelling that I just can’t get enough of.

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Home cooked birthday lunch, with obligatory (yet tasty) seaweed soup

Maybe one day I’ll do a big “Sydney post-apocalypse / outback zombie Mad Max thing”, but for now I’m writing Far-East stuff (if you haven’t seen Fury Road yet, just know that it’s the ballsiest, most amazing film in recent memory, and it’s ‘STRALYAN to boot!). Next I might be setting a story in a sci-fi analogue of Northern Europe, or the sub-continent, or who knows where… I’m excited to think about it.

image

Kinda french toast with garlic, cheese, and dduk (rice cake). Amazing

So anyway, how do we go about writing a tale that’s set in far away places?

1. Go there.

I hope you’ve got your passport handy, because all the really cool stuff you want to put in your book? You really need to experience it first hand. You’d never know that marketplace you saw on TV is a veritable beach-landing of smell bombardment. You can’t imagine the shirt-sticking squelchyness of the heat and humidity. You didn’t know your skin could sweat, burn, and bronze simultaneously like this, despite your slathering of suncream. The TV version will never show you the motorised hand-carts or huge ceramic jars that the locals use to transport their produce. You might not see all the grinning, charming, middle-aged ladies with hands that absolutely know what the hell they’re doing, bagging seafood or pressing mini-donut pieces. They’re not photogenic or stereotypical enough to make the cut. You’re going to have to actually go there.

2. (Get to) know some people.

The best way to experience a culture is from the inside, so if you know anybody who lives over there, try to wrangle at least a short stay with them in their home. If you can’t for whatever reason, at least try to book something like a traditional homestead, or a bed & breakfast. A room in a Korean traditional home in Anguk, with a tiny low roof, heated floor, and central garden courtyard covered in snow is going to be hard to beat, especially when the price is factored in. Your western hotel room clone, built on a template copied the world over, is about as far as you can get from fascinating concrete communal village structures in rural Guangzhou (with automatic mahjong tables!) or the tatami-matted splendour of a ryokan (hot springs, people. Get naked and start relaxing already).

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Some solid advice from the Korean fast rail network…

Even if the only option is a standard hotel room, you can still try to make a local friend. They might not take you to places you couldn’t find on your own, but they can sure as hell tell you more about what you’re seeing, which brings everything to life.

Sit at a bar that locals frequent at least one night per trip, as a kind of minimum (and that’s AT THE BAR, not in a corner. Pro-tip: often the bar-tender is the most interesting person in the room, and they’re almost always happy to talk).

3. Notice the little things.

The way food-stands in Taiwan have little motors spinning above them, dangling threads over the top of the dried fish to ward off flies (the dried fish there is often sold as a snack, like jerky: it’s full of salty sweet flavours). The mildly alarming chemical-smelling glue that’s sold as a children’s toy in Hong Kong markets, because you can blow through it to make plastic bubbles. The bins full of grit-bags on the streets of Sapporo in winter, so you can spread your own non-slip surface on the icy kerbs (while you stagger between hour-and-a-half long all-you-can-eat-and-drink restaurants). The freedom to park anywhere you damn well please in Korea, and just leave your phone number in the car window. The incessant sirens of London. The honking as you drive past pedestrians in China, as a courtesy to warn them that you’re passing. Getting handed a cookie in EVERY SINGLE PLACE YOU GO while travelling in The States (slightly hyperbolic, but not too far from my actual experience during a trip I took to San Diego and Chicago for work).

Farms in Korea seem to have a lot of plastic greenhouses. Note the busy highway and the uniform apartment buildings within a stone's throw

Farms in Korea seem to have a lot of plastic greenhouses. Note the busy highway and the uniform apartment buildings within a stone’s throw

These little details are novel, they are fun, and they simultaneously lend a sense of wonder and of believability to your story world. If you’re writing outlandish fantasy or sci-fi you might not reproduce the little things that you’ve seen on your travels, but you could certainly use them as inspiration. A servant in your space-station that hands out fresh wafers of soylent green to arriving guests, or a swamp dragon that loves the sewers below a specific marketplace for the rich smells drifting down from above. Use your observations and twist them.

A NORTH KOREAN spirit, something like rocket fuel and a mongoose having a fiery baby in your throat. Not sure how we even ended up with this.
A NORTH KOREAN spirit, something like rocket fuel and a mongoose having a fiery baby in your throat. Not sure how we even ended up with this.

 

A note about cultural appropriation (and what I like to think of as cultural misappropriation): you are weaving things from your travels into the tapestry of your work. You are NOT demonising or exaggerating these things. A writer that shows “the way locals do”, is not likely to offend. A writer that portrays these things in a negative light, or a hyperbolic, stereotypical way, is going to piss a lot of folks off. Let’s look at one example:

  • In Hong Kong you are likely to see flocks of mainland Chinese tourists smoking by the duty-free carton, with their plastic cigarette holders, following flag-wielding guides, and scoffing bags of dried foods and snacks. What you’re less likely to notice is the businessman who pays for a friend’s son to live in their holiday apartment in Shenzen, just so that the kid can get into a better school, or the mother who spends twelve hours preparing food for the celebrations at Lunar New Year. You’re not seeing the restauranteur who is open and serving dumplings and congee at 4am because that’s when a lot of people are heading to work. Generous, intelligent people can easily get short-shrift simply because of what we’re conditioned to look for.

SO! What is a better way to write about this kind of thing? I think balance is key. It might be better for one of your main characters to have some of these traits, rather than using a set-piece extra, because you can then balance it against some of their positive aspects (they’re an amazing linguist, or a cool dude, or a renowned astrophysicist, whatever). You don’t have to avoid stereotypes altogether, as long as you debunk them as just that: stereotypes, they don’t define the entirety of who that person is. They also don’t define every member of a racial or cultural group: there’s always nuance, and there are always exceptions, often even total contradictions. These things certainly shouldn’t reduce a character’s agency (their ability to push back on the story).

The Han river in Seoul, viewed from one of the mountainside parks that many apartment complexes maintain

 

 

At the moment I’m actually in Korea, catching up with my in-laws, my wife, and my little daughter that I haven’t seen for the past two months. I’m also taking notes, not doing a lot of writing, but taking buckets of notes, and some of the best bits will end up in book two. Have you been taking notes based on your travel experiences? Get anything really good out of it?

Best regards,

D.R.Sylvester

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Series Review: Heartland, books 1 and 2, by Chuck Wendig

Under the Empyrean Sky.
Blightborn.

Now, WHERE THE HELL IS THE THIRD BOOK GADDAMMIT!?

Ahem. I’m being silly, because I already know the date that the third and final installment The Harvest is due, as it was announced in a cover reveal blog post:  it’s due out on the 14th of July, 2015.

So with that wonderful thought gyrating on the horizon, here are my reviews of the first two books in the trilogy:

Under the Empyrean Sky (The Heartland Trilogy, #1)Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I described this book in a blog post I did last July, when I’d just started reading it:

“It’s about corn, floating sky cities, desperate bad luck, ships that sail on corn, competitive scavenging, the mayor’s bully-boy son, and punching back at an unfair world, right in the kernels.”

Nope, it’s about so much more than all that. It’s also about forbidden love, broken hearts, hope, loss, drinking fixy, railroad maglev sleds…

When you start reading, keep in mind that the story is on a kind of exponential curve: it builds gradually at first, following the everyday struggles of corn-sailing scavenger captain – Cael McAvoy (great kid – reminds me of Marty McFly). There are a lot of secrets still being kept from the reader at this point, and SO MUCH STUFF that you probably won’t see coming. Just keep riding the story through the build up. When you get to the steep climby bit of the curve, don’t plan on being able to put it down, and get ready to buy book two.

Oh, and warning: the climax will melt your face off. Melt. Your face. Get ready.

Blightborn (The Heartland Trilogy #2)Blightborn by Chuck Wendig

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So you’ve read Under the Empyrean Sky, and it was quite amazeballs towards the end – pedal to the metal stuff.

Then you get to book 2, Blightborn, and the gas pedal gets swapped out for a single big red button. There’s decadence, and pride for sale, corruption and power and madness and defiance. You get epic dystopian empires and plummeting sky cities, and a mechanical pegasus rocket. I FREAKING LOVE MECHANICAL PEGASI.

Now I know that can be a thing at least.

So in summary, these are some excellent books. If you don’t read YA, I’d still suggest giving these a shot: we’re talking about some brilliant corn-punk, sci-fi, dystopian stuff; the only YA hallmarks are the scarcity of swearing and some teenage protagonists. Nothing wrong with either of those things to my mind.

I give it five-out-of-five rocket-bottomed pegasi

View all my reviews

For some annoying reason Amazon feels the need to review my reviews (for extra reviewy-ness?), so I can’t leave those links here, but if you want to find these books on the ‘Zon, here’re the links to the kindle versions:
Under the Empyrean Sky
Blightborn

What has everyone else been reading lately? Anything I should have a go at?

Best regards,

D.R.Sylvester

Posted in Books | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Why to Write In the Moment, and Learning from My Hang Over

You’ve done things in your life, you champion, you. You might have had a fight, or given birth, maybe crashed a car. You’ve maybe even done a gig in a chicken-burger suit outside a McBurger-Joint.

The memories fade pretty quickly as we move further away from the event through time (well, maybe not the chicken suit one), with the exception of over-arching feelings and the high points. If you’re wired that way, you might keenly remember the lows too (and you have all of my hugs if this is you).

When it comes time to start writing about these experiences, how hard is it to dredge up the juicier details? The smell of burning wood? The feel of the axe in one hand and the hair in your other… Actually bad example *cough*

Look, my point is that these very real and visceral things can slip away over time, and leave your writing less flavorsome. What you need is a flavour-saver, and for once I’m not talking about beards.

What I’m suggesting is this: next time something big is happening in your life, and you’re probably about as far away from thinking about your writing as you can be, try to take some notes. Get to a computer if you can, but if that’s not an option at least jot down a few scribbles on that beer coaster or flossy undergarment. Your future self will thank you when they need to write that particular scenario.

So my example of this? I’ve got a character who drinks, but I’ve been struggling to write a good hang over. Today I have some first-hand experience.

I still don’t know if I’ve got the scene down perfectly (Terry Pratchett’s Commander Vimes scene at the beginning of Guards, Guards! is the greatest of all time in my mind, perhaps closely followed by one from Joe Abercrombie in his fantasy western Red Country) but I think it’s a lot closer than my previous attempts.

I include it below for your interest, please note that there’s a bit of TMI, so skip past if that’s not-your-cup-of-tea.


Nothing hurt until I woke up.

Taste of warm lime-ade, a combination of last night and eight hours mouth-breathing. Nose stuffed with cotton wool, and hawking a sample into half-empty glass brings no closer to identifying.

Movement sends discomfort radiating from head. No analgesics in vicinity, getting up not an option. Sleep.

Wake up later. Bathroom. Interesting getting there, clothes scattered across carpet. Standing initially fine, moments later blood pools in feet. Sweat. Legs shaky. Glad I’d grabbed wastepaper bin on the way.

After, put on wife’s onesie; anything else too much effort. Eat pie, because easiest to cook. To prevent reappearances, climb back into bed. Watch youtube. Anything more challenging than Dr Horrible’s Singalong Blog would be bad idea.

It was a good night, from the bits that I remember. Happy 30th Birthday, me.

a good night


Two questions to finish up:

  1. What’s your all time favourite (most amusing) hang-over scene in a book?
  2. Have you written an intense scene (any kind) drawing from your personal experience?

Bonus question if you answered that second one – how hard was it to dredge up the memories in your case?

Best regards,

D.R.Sylvester

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments