I need your help

Posted on December 19, 2013 at 9:23 PM
 38 Comments »
Dec 192013
 

This is–in terms of both personal and professional pride–one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write. That it comes in the middle of the holidays just makes it even worse.

As many of my fans and friends already know, I suffer from a number of health issues, both physical and emotional. For a large chunk of this year, the dosages on my depression meds were wrong, leading to a long period where I was far less functional than I should have been. One of the results of that was that I got less work done this year than I should have.

Well, on top of that, I have several payments that are past-due to me that have not yet arrived, and I’ve just had several months straight of unexpected expenses (personal, health-wise, pet-health-wise, and other).

Bottom line, we’re deep in the red and I’m not sure about basic expenses or rent next month.

hate talking about this in public. I’ve stopped myself from deleting this blog entry several times already. Embarrassed doesn’t begin to cover it. But I need help, not just for me, but so I don’t let my wife–who’s always been overly supportive of me and my career–down.

If you want to help… Well, my preferred method, because I have some pride left, would be for you to purchase a copy of Strange New Words. Because it’s self-published, I get a larger portion of the purchase price than I do on any of my other books, and I get said royalties much sooner as well. I know a lot of you gave to the Kickstarter and thus have a copy already, but if you’re thinking of a holiday gift for the fantasy fans in your life, this would be one good option. You can find the book here, on Amazon, or here, on Smashwords, or here, on DriveThruFiction.

If you’d really prefer to just donate directly, my Paypal e-mail is amarmell@austin.rr.com. Every tiny bit is certainly appreciated. But please do give some thought to picking up the book instead. It feels a little less like I’ve got my hat in my hand.

Thank you, all of you, for everything you’ve done. I hope my work has brought you–or will, in the future, bring you–enough enjoyment to make up for me asking this of you.

Yours in gratitude,

Ari Marmell

aka

Mouseferatu

–Rodent of the Dark

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Some Agents of SHIELD speculation

Posted on December 5, 2013 at 10:32 PM
 3 Comments »
Dec 052013
 

Spoilers if you aren’t caught up through episode 7 or so. Click through for geeky rambling.

Continue reading »

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What price continuity?

Posted on November 5, 2013 at 2:13 AM
 1 Comment »
Nov 052013
 

I’ve been on a bit of a comics kick, lately. Here’s more.

One of the problems Marvel is currently looking at (there are a few articles on the topic making their way around the net) is that people who watch their movies and then try to go read the comics are likely to be lost.

Hell, people who have been reading the comics are likely to be lost.

Continuity has become a Gordian Knot, if the knot was also a bear that mauled you before tossing you into a convoluted death trap from the old 60s Batman TV show.

Hell, DC’s recent reboot–the “New 52″–was meant, in part, to resent continuity so new readers could climb aboard. Of course, they muddied that up by keeping some ongoing plotlines from before the reboot, and then launching into multiple cross-title mega-stories that threw up different barriers to entry, but still, that was part of the intent.

Ditto Marvel’s Ultimates line, but that swiftly grew as convoluted as anything else.

How many characters have died and come back? How many times? How many different characters have used the same names? Try reading the Wikipedia articles on some of these characters. The “summaries” take up thousands upon thousands of words, and are still often impossible for an outsider to follow.

People talk about superheroes as “modern mythology,” but they have a problem to deal with that mythology doesn’t. They’re ongoing. Heracles’ body of myths is fixed. People may tell new stories about him, but they’re not–if you’ll pardon the use of the term–canonical. Heracles can get married, have kids, then lose his family; he can kill his foes without them coming back from the dead; because these aren’t characters that need to be available for new stories down the road.

Now try killing off, say, Lois Lane. Good luck with that.

And the thing is, there is no possible fix that leaves continuity intact. There’s no way to tell a story for decades, and yet still have a new reader able to hop aboard at any time without some amount of confusion.

So here’s a thought. Don’t try.

What I’m about to suggest will be heresy to many comic book fans, but…

I’ve come to believe that DC and Marvel should reboot/reset their universes regularly. Maybe every ten years or so.

It’d be a “soft” reboot, in some respects. No dramatic changes to the character. Their origins may be tweaked or updated, but not changed. Peter’s bitten by a genetically altered spider instead  of a radioactive one. Frank Castle’s a veteran of Desert Storm rather than Vietnam. Whatever.

But the plotlines reset. Not so the writers can do the same thing all over again (some repetition is inevitable, but there’s already some repetition), but so new readers never have to go back too far. Continuity is limited in terms of how ludicrously complex it can get.

It also means you can try out different directions, make “real” changes. Don’t like the fact that two characters have gotten married? Well, wait for the next reboot. Tired of characters coming back from the dead? You can kill them off “permanently,” because that just means it’s permanent in this cycle.

Obviously, if a change is amazingly popular, you can keep it, writing it into the character “core” that remains from cycle to cycle. But that’d be a rare thing.

It also means you can tell a complete story. Maybe the editor/writers have a fantastic plotline in mind that culminates in the death of the entire Justice League. Under this system, as long as it’s at the end of a “cycle,” you can do that. And you don’t have to magically bring them back, because in “that universe,” it was permanent. You just then have the new/slightly altered versions for the next cycle.

(I’m talking about a meta-level reboot, here. Not “Flash goes back in time and changes things so we have a new universe.” That’s a story-level/in-character reboot. I’m talking about DC saying “We’ve told all the stories we’re going to from that version of our mythology, here’s the new reset version, and we’re treating this new continuity as though it’s always been the only continuity.”)

Ten years is not a limitation, not really. There are very few stories you can’t tell in that length, or with that amount of continuity.

Oh, and something else this would do? This would allow superheroes–who are supposed to be embodiments of justice–to actually deliver some. Because the way things are now, “justice” as a concept doesn’t exist in mainstream comic books. But that’s a future blog entry.

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Warning: Serious Comic Book Geekery ahead

Posted on November 2, 2013 at 9:57 PM
 3 Comments »
Nov 022013
 

I’ve been watching a lot of cartoons in my spare time recently. Because I am (ostensibly) an adult, and therefore I can choose to fill my hours this way. :-P

Now, we all know that there are almost no superhero powers that stand up to close examination. And normally, I just accept that. I don’t worry about what actually propels Superman when he flies, or the precise mechanism by which Spider-man sticks to walls (except when it’s handled stupidly).

But… There’s one that I cannot stop nitpicking in my mind.

Let’s talk super-speed.

Both Superman and the Flash have, in various incarnations, been given different maximum speeds, but even when they’re not breaking the speed of light, they’re still fast enough to circle the world in a matter of minutes.

Let’s leave aside, for the moment, the fact that Flash would have to be just as invulnerable as Superman to even survive that. I’m nitpicking at more of a story level.

Flash has to be able to react at that speed, too.

So… There is zero–literally zero–way that any human could pose a threat. None.

Lots of fight scenes between Flash and people with mechanical gimmicks involve him running just out of reach of lasers or freeze rays or whatever, until he works his way closer. Or a villain catching him by surprise and shooting him with something from behind.

Thing is, a fight between Flash and anyone who doesn’t have equivalent speed should basically look like a quick flash of light, followed by a smear on the wall.

We’re talking about someone whose reaction time is such that, if you did shoot him from ambush, he can move out of the way between the time the bullet hits his skin and the time it actually starts to penetrate. Let alone between the time the trigger’s pulled and the hammer falls, or travel time after the bullet leaves the gun.

You can’t hold someone hostage. You can’t hold down a dead man’s switch and threaten to blow up a building. None of that matters, because Flash or Superman can have the device out of your hand not only before you can use it, but before the signal that says “Hey, he moved!” has traveled from your eyes to your brain.

I know, this is pure nerd-ranting. But it bugs me in a way that other power discrepancies don’t, because it’s so clearly plot-specific. It’s not even that Flash’s or Superman’s speed (for example) varies from story to story, it varies in the midst of a story. And it varies this way because otherwise it’d be damn near impossible for writers to threaten these characters.

So here’s an idea. Why the hell make them that inhuman?

Isn’t it enough that Superman can lift an oil tanker? Does he really need to be able to push the moon out of orbit? (Again, leaving aside the whole “He’d go through it before it moved” issue.) In Marvel comics–IIRC–Quicksilver can run at several hundred miles an hour. Isn’t that–or even several thousand–enough? Does the Flash have to be able to reach a good portion of the speed of light?

I know, I know. I’m ranting. It’s “just comic books.” (And for those who can’t read my tone over the internet, this is a tongue-in-cheek rant. It’s something I’m poking at because I’m a geek who loves this stuff, not because I’m genuinely pissed or anything.)

But even in “just comic books,” I prefer well-told stories to poorly told ones. And when your main character’s abilities are determined by what s/he’s facing–by the needs of the plot, not what’s been established–that doesn’t lead to well-told stories.

You may now proceed to throw tomatoes at me and tell me to lighten up.  :-P

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An Open Letter to Marvel Studios

Posted on November 1, 2013 at 9:39 PM
 3 Comments »
Nov 012013
 

(As if there were a chance in hell of them seeing it.) ;-)

I’ve seen, in a couple of different interviews now, Kevin Feige make comments to the effect of “It’s great to have Daredevil and the Punisher back in our hands, but we’re sitting on them for now, because we’re not sure yet what to do with them.”

We have also been told that you guys are getting into TV in a big way, in the near future.

And we know that one of the most common complaints leveled at Agents of SHIELD is that it doesn’t have enough crossover with actual known characters.

Surely I cannot be the only one seeing the opportunity here.

Daredevil is a costumed superhero. He has name recognition. He’s flashy. He’s action-oriented. And–this is important–both his own superpowers, and the superpowers of most characters associated with him, are special effects-lite. In other words, cheap.

The character has some amazing story arcs, tales that absolutely cannot be done justice in a single two-hour movie. I have two words for you: “Born Again.”

Daredevil is not such a big name that you’re risking anything by putting him on TV rather than in a movie. Especially after the reception of Fox’s earlier attempt at the character, the odds of making a truly successful Daredevil movie are not nearly as big as other characters–but that could change if the character first establishes a fanbase on TV.

And because it would be on TV, you can cast to the character without worrying one tiny bit about star power. If you want to do a movie later, and the series is successful, you’ll have made your own.

And hey, who would make a great recurring guest star, sometimes ally, sometimes enemy? With potential for his own spinoff if this version of the character proves popular? Why, one Frank “The Punisher” Castle. He’s tough to do on network TV, but not impossible.

And crossover episodes with Agents of SHIELD would be viable, because DD isn’t beyond the power range of a “normal” human; you can threaten him and Coulson’s team with the same adversary in the right storyline.

Seriously, guys. I’m not an expert, but from the PoV of both an author (including one who has worked with licensed characters) and a fan, I’m really not seeing a downside to this. Why is this not happening?

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A Moment of Your Time, Please

Posted on October 7, 2013 at 7:08 PM
 No Comments »
Oct 072013
 

Folks, this doesn’t actually have any direct bearing on my work at all. It’s just something about which I’m reaching out to everyone I can, and you guys are part of “everyone I can.”

Eugie Foster is an amazing writer–and an amazing person. She’s a dear friend. And she’s just been diagnosed with cancer. Please consider buying something to help her out, in this time of great financial (among other) stress. It’d mean a lot to her, and to me. You can about it–her situation, and which books/stories of hers are most helpful, financially–here: http://www.eugiefoster.com/a-little-help-from-my-friends.htm

Thank you so much, for anything you can do.

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Lucky 13

Posted on September 7, 2013 at 8:47 PM
 4 Comments »
Sep 072013
 

I have now read through the bulk of the 13th Age core rulebook, with only portions of the default setting and the magic items rules yet to go. I feel that’s enough to give an overall assessment, and while not a one of you asked for it, I’m going to anyway. :-P

I’d rather get the negatives out of the way first. I feel like there are a number of spots where the rules could have used clarification/editing/further examples. It took me a while to grok just how the ritual system works, for instance. I also feel like there’s an unfortunate lack of variety in some of the class’s spell selections, class selections, and the monsters, but those can, at least, be addressed in future books.

What do I like about 13th Age, then?

Damn near everything else.  :-D

Narrative focus. Unique character plots. Flavorful uses for spells and rituals (and a game that encourages creative spell use, rather than a rigid “This is the only way the spell can work!” attitude). Simpler character options and combat than 3E or 4E, but not so much so that they’re uninteresting. Dramatic/descriptive rather than tactical combat. (Yes, for some players, that’s a bug. For me, it’s a feature. A gold-plated one, even.)

I love the free-form rulings. I love the “escalation die” mechanic. (No, really. Love.) I love triggered/flexible powers. I love some of the icons, and the concept of icons. I love the Overworld. I love the flexibility of the wizard’s non-combat spells (even if, as I said above, I’d like more variety in all manner of spells). I love “one unique thing.” I love the incremental leveling. I love the lack of XP. I love the emphasis on describing/entertaining the table when casting spells or otherwise using an effect, as opposed to just “I cast [blah].” I love a game that admits to the fact that balance is an art, not a science, and cannot be exact, and thus doesn’t try to pretend that it can. I love how resurrection works–and how it doesn’t.  :twisted: I love the fact that, from the moment of character creation, the characters are influencing the campaign plot/world, even if only in small ways.

Is everything perfect? Of course not. There are definitely mechanical elements/aspects I wished worked differently here, or had been included there. A very few that I was unimpressed with.

But said imperfections are minimal, AFAIAC, compared to everything else.

I don’t know what D&D Next is going to look like, so I have no idea what I’ll think about it when it’s out. But for now, at least? If I was running a campaign starting next week, 13th Age–not 3E or 4E–would very likely be my “D&D” of choice.

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Yes, I Still Believe a Man Can Fly

Posted on June 16, 2013 at 12:34 AM
 4 Comments »
Jun 162013
 

So… Man of Steel.

I liked it. I didn’t love it, but I liked it a lot.

First, the non-spoilery stuff:

I liked pretty much every casting choice. I think a few people were wasted, but hopefully they’ll have bigger parts in future movies. Henry Caville is Superman, AFAIAC. Nobody’ll ever replace Christopher Reeve for me, but I’m happy to have Caville do any number of these.

I disagree, strongly, with the people who say it’s soulless. It lacks the whimsy of the Reeve movies, but then, it also lacks the problematic slapstick. There are several scenes of joy/excitement, however. Maybe not as many as there could/should have been, but the movie is hardly dreary through and through.

I felt that some of the action sequences went too far. There’s only so much destruction you can wreak on a city before–even in a comic book movie–it becomes unbelievable. The Avengers pushed up against that line. Man of Steel… Well, leapt across it in a single bound.

And I do think it was lacking in terms of seeing Superman, well, protect people. There seemed very little effort made to acknowledge the bystanders in any of the massive throwdowns.

But in the final analysis, it felt like a Superman movie. I bought Caville as Clark, Amy Adams as Lois, etc. Wasn’t quite as happy with Zod, but that’s just because I have a fixed image of Zod in my head, and this wasn’t quite it. It didn’t not work for me.

The other stuff I want to discuss requires spoilers, so…

Continue reading »

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Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3

Posted on May 31, 2013 at 2:27 PM
 1 Comment »
May 312013
 

Testing of new plug-ins. Move along, nothing to see.

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Feb 132013
 

1) Every piece of writing advice you will ever read, no matter who wrote it, is wrong.

Oh, it may not be wrong for you. But it’s wrong for someone. There’s not a path, a rule, a method, or a technique out there that’s universally applicable. If you follow anyone’s writing advice slavishly, you’re not going to succeed.

2) You’re not special. You have to work to become a good writer. Maybe a little, maybe a lot; natural talent enters into it, certainly. But you’re not going to start off at a professional level. You’re just not.

3) You will be wrong. Sometimes suggestions and revisions and so-called “mistakes” are purely matters of taste. Sometimes they’re not, and the suggestion is flat-out incorrect. But sometimes, the problem is yours. An editor or a fan or a reader or a friend will point out a problem with your book that actually has merit, and no matter how much you argue, or love the way you wrote it, it will still have merit. Your book is not perfect as you envisioned it.

4) You need an editor. Always. Whoever you are. No matter how precise or attentive you are. No matter how long you give yourself between writing and rewriting. You will always, always, always miss things that a new pair of eyes would spot.

5) Publishing a book, even e-publishing one, isn’t free. If you’re publishing traditionally, the publisher pays those costs. If you’re self-publishing, you’re going to have to. But they must be paid. You must have editors, both content and copy. You must have a halfway decent cover. You must have non-eye-bleeding layout and formatting.

If you can’t afford to acquire an editor and the other necessary professionals, you cannot afford to self-publish, no matter how long you’ve been working on your book or how good you’re certain it is. Save. Work extra. Do what you must, until you can afford to do it right. Or don’t do it.

6) Every rule has exceptions. Including, but not limited to, these. You will always be able to find an outlier. Someone who produced a fantastic book without an editor. Someone who made a zillion dollars on their first book. Someone did work for “exposure” that actually got exposure. These are all serious long-shots, but they do happen.

These exceptions don’t make the rules invalid. They’re still rules. They’re still necessary. They’re still true 99.99999999repeating % of the time. Choosing not to follow them because exceptions exist is like choosing not to look before running across the freeway. It’s possible you’ll make it, but the odds are not in your favor.

There are exceptions. You are not going to be one of them. Suck it up and work.

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