Movie Cheats: A Perfect Getaway (Spoilers Included)

A Perfect Getaway is a 2009 movie starring Milla Jovovich, Chris Hemsworth, and Timothy Olyphant. I was also promised Gerard Butler.

The storyline reads:

For their honeymoon, newlyweds Cliff and Cydney head to the tropical islands of Hawaii. While journeying through the paradisaical countryside the couple encounters Kale and Cleo, two disgruntled hitchhikers and Nick and Gina, two wild but well-meaning spirits who help guide them through the lush jungles. The picturesque waterfalls and scenic mountainsides quickly give way to terror when Cliff and Cydney learn of a grisly murder that occurred nearby and realize that they’re being followed by chance acquaintances that suspiciously fit the description of the killers. (Source: IMDB)

It took $14M to make and grossed $15M in the USA. Despite the eye candy (there is some breathtaking scenery, and yes, I mean both kinds) and a lot of potential, it is a mediocre movie at best.

It’s been out like nine years. Why bother?

Well, someone suggested that I watch it and just before I got around to watching it, some of us were having a discussion on Facebook about how it’s easy to spot writers that are NOT prolific readers, but rather prolific movie watchers. So it seemed apropos to take this mediocre film and demonstrate what that means, i.e. when a writer is first and foremost, a movie watcher, rather than a reader.

Continue Reading

My favorite FenCon panel

“Researching the Science in Science Fiction” was probably my favorite panel at FenCon this year. The panel was moderated by William Ledbetter and included Science GoH Marianne Dyson, fellow authors Kristi Hudson (not pictured) and Patrice Sarath (not pictured). Photo credit: C. Stuart Hardwick.

While all the panels were great, I really enjoy discussing the craft of writing. For a sci-fi writer, that often means research. Sometimes it means going down the research rabbit-hole and getting lost. We discussed our own experiences, i.e. how we approach it, as well as the best methods.

Doing research may sound easy. Google is your friend, right? Problem is that everything correct is on the internet; along with everything that is incorrect. The search for facts can be as muddied as the search for truth.

As a writer one must know when to stop. Research is a great way to procrastinate and still pretend that you’re “writing.” Research can also be the death-knell for your premise, your idea, and your story. So how do you handle the story-slayer? Do you write around it? Do you pull out your handwavium and unobtainium? Do you just ignore it? (Think about the sounds that spaceships in Star Wars make in the vacuum of space where sound cannot travel).

Lots of factors come into play, depending on what kind of story you’re writing. There is more rigor in a hard SF story than a soft SF one. Consistency becomes a challenge, as well as knowing how much of your research to include. After all, you did all that work. Hours and hours. Weeks and months and years. The longer you spent toiling away in the research salt-mines, the more you want to include. But that’s not necessarily the best thing for your story.

Only about 10% of what I learn via research makes its way into my stories, even the hard SF ones. It has to be absolutely vital to the story, but more importantly, it has to be something that the viewpoint character knows. I think that including things the viewpoint character cannot possibly know is one of the worst mistakes I see consistently across all genres, not just sci-fi.

Number two would be the dreaded, tension-less, “As you know, Bob” exposition via dialogue. Number three is straight up exposition, usually via author voice. We hashed out some of the best strategies for avoiding not just research pitfalls, but best practices when it comes to incorporating that research into our stories.

I’m hoping FenCon will continue to offer this panel at upcoming conventions, and if you’re an aspiring writer, I hope you’ll attend. I certainly learned a lot from my fellow panelists.

How to Write Best Selling Fiction: Entry Four

Continuing with Dean Koontz’s, How to Write Best Selling Fiction…

While Koontz’s discussion of viewpoint takes up only part of his chapter on style, I realized I could not give the subject adequate treatment except via a dedicated post. It’s because of the way that he defines omniscient viewpoint. Nothing he says is wrong, but the way the terms are used has changed and I wanted to do a more in-depth exploration of the subject. If you’re not a writer, this may not be helpful to you in terms of craft, but it may help you understand why that book that someone was so keen on didn’t resonate with you even though it had all the markings of being your thing.

I’ve written about viewpoint before, and at length, not only because I find the subject itself facsinating, but because I think it’s a key component of immersion and a difficult subject to master. It is one of the reasons I dread reading slush or first drafts. It is the number one reason I set a book down and walk away from it, never to pick it up again. Perhaps a scant two percent of books with viewpoint flaws (meaning the mixing and misuse of them) engage me enough on other levels to keep me reading to the end. They are the exception to the rule. Remember, just because [Insert Famous Writer of Your Choice] can get away with it, doesn’t mean your unproven behind can.

I’ve observed, and others have confirmed, that narrative styles/techniques have changed in the last four decades, and certainly since the golden age of science fiction. Some genres are more hospitable to newer narrative viewpoint choices, such as multiple first person present tense, i.e. erotica or YA (young adult) or NA (new adult). “Literary” is definitely more open to choices such as second person and/or future tense. And if you’re writing how-to books or blog posts, then second person is a deliberate and appropriate choice.

I think a lot of confusion about viewpoint stems from the fact that there is no standard terminology. Unlike physics where “work” has a standard definition (work equals force times distance), viewpoint terminology seems to be rather fluid. In more discussions than I care to count, it’s been obvious that when one person uses the term “third person limited” they mean something completely different than another person using the same term.

Koontz starts out by discussing modified omniscient, which is explained as a technique where the author may write one scene from the protagonist’s viewpoint and another from the antagonist’s and another from a third character’s. These multiple viewpoints may be used in whatever order the plot requires. Today, this would be called “multiple third person” not modified omniscient. And the reason I can say that with a high degree of confidence is because Koontz emphatically  (and correctly) states:

It is never permissible to switch points of view from one character to another within a single scene. (p. 204)

Today, many writers would argue that omniscient viewpoint allows them to switch point-of-view multiple times within a scene, sometimes from paragraph to paragraph. In fact, when challenged they can present you with reams of works that do just that. They are not wrong. Many stories are written in that manner and when the author’s presence is strong and present throughout, the technique works. But when done badly, it doesn’t. And when it’s done poorly, you have this…

Dropping into the minds of both characters in a single scene is jarring and it shatters the illusion of reality [of the story]. (p. 205)

…when the author dances through several points of view in a single scene, the result is confusion and chaos. (p. 205)

Koontz’s section on “modified omniscient” is a worthwhile read because it goes into the many advantages of it. It has been so successful that at the time he wrote this (1981) it comprised three-quarters of all successful mainstream stories. And he’ll tell you why that is. I’m not sure where that number stands today, but I have read similar statements, i.e. that the most used narrative choice is multiple third-person (what Koontz calls modified omniscient.)

Next, he delves into “pure” omniscient, a narrative style where the writer addresses his comments to the reader. We would call this, breaking the fourth wall. On page 203, he states:

Ninety-nine percent of the novelists who use the pure omniscient viewpoint have passed into total obscurity; their work is now unreadable.

How unreadable? Well, apparently, if they exist at all, modern versions of their work are edited or abridged to eliminate this “stylistic ineptitude.”

Next, Koontz tackles third person limited, where the word “limited” refers to the use of ONE third-person narrator throughout the story (limited in this case does not refer to the other way it’s used, i.e. narrative distance). The main advantage of this choice is that it focuses attention on the protagonist at all times. Koontz sees it as suitable for genre/category fiction, but NOT for a mainstream audience.

First person is defined as a narrative where the hero tells his own story and is deemed as the best choice only if your lead is “fresh, unstereotyped, and individual.” If your intent is to color the story with the hero’s opinion of the events then this is an ideal choice.

Speaking for myself, I think this is where many first person novels fail: they are devoid of opinion and the needed color. And I think there are two reasons why first person fails. Number one is because writers either don’t understand what makes first person a good choice, but use it by some default or for the wrong reason. Number two is that they are afraid to inject color and opinion because of political correctness. Better to have a hollow husk of a character than be accused of any “-ism” because we live in a world where far too many idiots (and that is exactly what they are) attribute the opinions and attitudes of a character to the author himself.

While the discussions of third- and first-person narrative technique are good, they are very brief. If you are interested in better supplements specific to that subject, I highly recommend Orson Scott Card’s Characters & Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing) and Nancy Kress’s Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint: Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Dynamic Characters and Effective Viewpoints (Write Great Fiction). Both of these references uses different definitions of omniscient, so if this is your first exposure to the technicalities of narrative viewpoint, please make sure you understand which definition is being used.

This highly relevant chapter on style closes with a very memorable quote that I hope all of you will take to heart.

The only thing you really have to sell is your style. All the stories have been told. There are no new plots. (p.207)

My writing life: August 2018

August turned out to be a busy month. Far busier than I had expected.

On August 17th, I found out that my story for Tom Kratman‘s upcoming Carreraverse anthology (Terra Nova: The Wars of Liberation) made the cover. Call me whacky, but the donkeys are my favorite. When I was researching mule trains for “Bellona’s Gift” (my story) I learned that mule trains actually consist of a bell mare (who leads the train, because all mules have a horse as a mother and will instinctively follow her), the mules, and a donkey. Unlike mules, donkeys stand and fight. They are the equine version of a guard dog and I just couldn’t resist having one, not just for the sake of realism, but because any animal with strong protective instincts has a special place in my heart.

Also on the cover, several elements from the Carreraverse–a trixie chasing a moonbat, and progressivines. What a fun universe to play in. It was such a great honor to be included.

It was an even greater honor–and shock–to find out that I will be making my Baen debut with my name on the cover. I found this out at the Baen Roadshow at DragonCon. Even with a photographic evidence (snapped in haste) it’s still hard to believe. Terra Nova: The Wars of Liberation is set for release in August 2019.

On August 20th, I released my first self-published work of fiction, my hard SF novella, Promethea Invicta. It’s available not just on Amazon, but on Kobo, iBooks, Scribd, Nook, and Smashwords.

Shortly after releasing Promethea Invicta I got a request for an audiobook version of it. One of my writer friends (and a great sci-fi author), Karl K. Gallagher, who had recorded his own audiobooks, was kind enough to point me in the right direction. I devoured Making Tracks: A Writer’s Guide to Audiobooks (and How to Produce Them): Second Edition in a day and started experimenting with Audacity (software) via some YouTube tutorials. I found out that the best place to read was my closet.

And you guys thoughts that writers just wrote, didn’t you? I wish that were true. We wear many hats. Thinking back, I had to learn how to do layouts for my manuscripts, write ad copy, sales copy, blurbs, and use several platforms to sell my books. So there are definitely times when marketing eats up a lot of your precious writing time. Then there’s self-promotion and the introvert’s kryptonite–networking.

On August 28th, a wonderful writer’s milestone happened: I got another rejection for my novelette-length female space samurai story, called Featherlight. The reason this is a milestone is because I didn’t even blink. In fact, I’d even forgotten I’d sent it out or where. Rather than feel disappointed, I was looking at it as an opportunity to expand it past the constraints of most pro-rate magazines which tend to limit the word count to between 15K and 17K words.

Then as I was preparing for DragonCon I found out that eight outfits was nowhere near enough and packed another. Or two. This was my very first DragonCon and while I had a vague idea for what it was, it turned out to be far more intense. Only 80K people. No problem. My goal for next year is to attend as a pro.

Several other wonderful things happened at DragonCon, but I can’t yet tell you what they were. Not yet.

Which brings me back to why you might want to subscribe to my newsletter. First, I won’t flood your inbox with a ton of useless stuff, just relevant updates, maybe 2-3 times a month. Second, the social media platform I’m most active on, Facebook, suppresses content. Just because you’ve liked my author page on Facebook, doesn’t mean that you’ll see the latest updates in a timely manner or at all, since Facebook makes its money selling ads. If you only occasionally use Facebook, chances are you’ll miss my posts. So, opt-in to my newsletter (it’s really easy; just fill in the newsletter opt-in in the upper left hand corner). To quote a memorable movie line, “It’s the only way to be sure.”

If you use Twitter, follow me @HouseDobromil. It’s the Twitter version of my author page. The newsletter is better, trust me.

 

 

SSTOs and the law

Esteemed space lawyer and fellow sci-fi writer, Laura Montgomery, reverse-lawyers (i.e. reverse engineers) the realities and legalities of launching vehicles into space on her blog.

Her excellent review of Promethea Invicta looks at the real world path set up by Congress. A path that, like so many Congressional acts, delegates the actual rule-making and regulation to other entities, such as the Secretary of Transportation. Ultimately, it’s the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that issues the needed licenses and permits.

Her Ground Based Space Matters Blog is an excellent resource for anyone that wants to learn more about private space activity, the FAA, NASA, and associated agencies.

The multi-talented Ms. Montgomery also writes excellent sci-fi. Her latest release, called Like A Continental Soldier, (Book 3 of the Waking Late series) just came out. Take a look at her author page and check out her other works.

 

FenCon XV

Well, it’s official. I’m very excited to announce that I will be attending FenCon XV. Schedule forthcoming, and many thanks to William Ledbetter, the science track director, for the invitation. I’m also working on getting a new publication out in early September just in time for this event.

What is FenCon? Who’ll be there? Why should I go?

Answers below. Hope to see you there!

It’s Alive!


Join us September 21-23, 2018 at the Westin DFW Airpport. See the hotel link for reservations and directions.

2018 marks 200 years since the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. Join us as we celebrate 200 years of classic and modern SF! Of course, we’ll have panel programming, concerts, hands-on workshops, and more! All the good stuff that makes FenCon theTexas destination convention!

Oh, and did we mention SCIENCE? You can’t put the “S” in “SF” without it! Oh you could try, but would it be as much fun as FenCon?

Advance memberships are on sale now!

FenCon XV Guests of Honor


 

Guest of Honor: Larry Niven
Music Guest of Honor: Marian Call
Fen Guests of Honor: Aislinn Burrows and Carmen Bryan
Artist Guest of Honor: Travis Lewis
Science Guest of Honor: Marianne Dyson
Special Workshop Guest: Martha Wells
Toastmaster: Timothy Griffin

 

Happy Father’s Day!

1

As promised, in honor of Father’s Day, To Be Men: Stories Celebrating Masculinity is live. If you pre-ordered, your eBook is available for download now.

Whether you like science fiction, fantasy, military sci-fi, historical, or contemporary, adventure, humor, interesting characters, or even thought pieces, this anthology has a story for you.

My story, “Cooper” is a tribute to Jeff Cooper, one of the iconic, real-life figures associated with the M1911 and the 45ACP. This story was inspired not just by the idea of a sentient/sapient gun. I also found inspiration in The Wizard of Oz, in the fact that the Tin Man had in him, what he was so desperately seeking–a heart. Like the Tin Man, my protagonist is in search of something he thinks he’s lost.

Scott Bell‘s gritty cop story, “Earning It” explores the meaning of valor and honor. A writer with a unique voice, Scott balances out the grittiness with his trademark humor.

J Trevor Robinson‘s “Let the Chips Fall Where They May” doesn’t give us the “gentlemen thieves” of the typical pop-culture casino heist story. Inspired by his own father, it is instead the story of a commander, a role model, and a father responsible for the lives of so many others.

William C. Burns answers the question “So, what are wizards doing in the 21st century?” in his fantasy, “The Heaven Beasts.”

Karina L. Fabian serves up a noir-style detective story complete with dragons and fae. If you’re a fan of the movie, Bright, this one is definitely for you.

Michael W. Herbert, a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam, wrote two stories for this anthology, both based on real life events–one about dealing with rape, and another about defending a gay shipmate. I’m particularly fond of the way he handled both of these controversial subjects. As Michael says, “A mature man does not always know what to do, but he will do what he can to help.”

Richard Paolinelli gives us a dystopian story, “The Last Hunt.” Unlike so many other zombie stories, this one is about one man’s devotion to his duty and his country.

If you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan, I think you’ll really enjoy Ann Margaret Lewis‘s “The Affair of Miss Finney.” Holmes pursued many dark crimes, but Doyle never addressed the crime of rape. So, how would Holmes deal with the worst crime a woman can suffer?

In “For Man or Beast,” award-winning science fiction author Brad R. Torgersen, plunges us into a story about a future, untamed frontier where we discover that it is about being men and women that makes us essential not just to each other, but to civilization.

“Street Fox” by C. J. Brightley is set in her Erdemen Honor universe. Children need to believe in heroes. And not just in this fantasy, but in the real world.

In “Bring the Pain,” veteran and writer T. L. “Tom” Knighton, delights and entertains us with a story about a guy who is, quite literally, a tank.

In “The Messenger” Lloyd Behm II makes us cheer for an aging green beret who keeps his oaths, even in a post-apocalyptic world where the US no longer exists.

Marina Fontaine‘s “Picture Imperfect” is set in the near-future dystopia of her Chasing Freedom novel. Her hero is forced to choose between protecting his family and complying with a system that provides him with comfort and power.

Jon Del Arroz‘s military sci-fi adventure, “Compassion,” shows us that we must continue to fight the good fight, to fight for what is right.

Newcomer Jamie Ibson‘s story, “Priorities” takes us into the world of the school resource officer, the cops that investigate offenses involving students and schools.

No speculative fiction anthology would be complete a werewolf story, right? Julie Frost‘s “Man-Made Hell” mixes science-fiction and the supernatural, giving us a character who embodies virtus (the manly virtues) no matter his form.

 

Story before identity–then, now, and forever

I’ve been a reader for far longer than I’ve been a writer. Not once, during my most voracious phase as a reader, during those summers spent at the library, did I go, “Hmm, I want to read a book by a/an [insert identity group] writer.”

What I was looking for, was escapism, entertainment. A good story, well told. Interesting characters. Interesting milieu. Romance. Adventure.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. I spent a lot of time discussing books with my fellow geeks–and to be honest, if you want to get all PC about it, they were a diverse lot. When it came to reading, they wanted the same things I did.

I didn’t need to have a woman as the protagonist in order to identify with a character. I didn’t need that character to be of the same national origin or race either. Why? Because well-crafted characters (and stories) transcend all those things.

I don’t have to be bisexual for Friday Jones to be one of my favorite of Heinlein’s characters. I don’t have to be a gay sadist to love Augustus (one of the minor characters in R. M. Meluch’s wonderful space opera series, Tour of the Merrimack (6 Book Series)).

Believe it or not, I didn’t pick up my first Honor Harrington novel because it had a woman on the cover–shocker, I know!

I don’t go out seeking stories with protagonists of Romanian, or Hungarian, or Greek, or Italian descent. I don’t seek out stories written by immigrants. Or women. Or any of the “identities” or associations some people would love to pin on me.

That’s one of the reasons I am proud that my short story “Cooper” is part of To Be Men: Stories Celebrating Masculinity. You see, there was no requirement that you be a man to submit a story. Or that the story even be from a man’s perspective.

Marina Fontaine, one of my co-authors, put it best, when she wrote:

We were going to give them good stories.

Stories about men as heroes and role models, fathers and mentors, hardened warriors and even fantastic creatures. Men who are interesting, capable and worthy. Characters whom you’d want to meet, to spend time with, to learn from, and whose stories will stay with you after the reading is over.

And just like that, the authors’ gender became irrelevant.

The rest of her excellent article on how this anthology came to be can be read here. Give it a look. And buy the book. See what can happen, when stories are about Story [rather than the author’s identity].

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A rejection is an opinion, not a death sentence (part five)

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Mar. 1st, 2018

The fifth story was an exploration of dragons.

The first thing the buying editor admitted to was the fact that she did not articulate what she wanted as well as she thought she had. Unfortunately, that wasn’t apparent until she got the stories and it was too late to do anything about it. This brought up another important point about things that influence editorial decision-making. When they get a lot of stories that aren’t quite right (for whatever reason) the pressure on their time increases. They need to keep an eye on these time pressures, so they are more likely to buy stories that don’t need work.

Read the rest here: Rejection 101: A Writer’s Guide

Part Six