My (Brief) Career as a Paid Film Critic

Last month I was a paid film critic. I wrote my opinions on films both old and new and received capital for my opinions. It gave me an outlet to vent my frustrations, and sing praises to the things I loved. And it was a job. Not a hobby, but a job. Unexpectedly last month, that job ended.

This was honestly why I haven’t been producing content on this site very much. Between re-writes for my book, my part time job and the magazine, it was hard to make time. So while I am happy to return here, it has come at a cost.

It wasn’t exactly something I was getting a lot of money for. I perhaps earned around one hundred and ten dollars since being hired in December of last year. Still, it was something that made me feel more on the professional side when it came to writing, and the circumstances around it ending were both sudden and beyond my control.

Last year I wrote an article here on tonal shifts in stories, commenting on how to do such a thing right and what mistakes to avoid. That article was noticed by someone from Creators.Co, a fan run writing website where people would write content for online magazines to be read by the masses. They offered me a job. It was hardly a big magazine, but it was still about as fairy tale a story as you could expect.

I wrote on a variety of topics, from retrospectives of established classics to commentaries on current films. My most successful were still the articles on the Alien films. Between half of and a third of my earnings were based on that series alone. People ask what was the point of me hating Alien: Covenant so much? I got paid to share my opinion.

Then unexpectedly at work I got a message. It wasn’t about being fired or dissatisfaction with my content. At least those were things I would have had some control over. No. The message I got was that MoviePilot was closing its doors.

It came at a bad time. I was at work having a bad day, and on top of all that was this one additional bad thing. I wasn’t at all stressed with the money. I can survive without that extra ten bucks a month. What bothered me was what those ten dollars represented. I was being paid for my writing. My actual content and it was earning me money. That measly one hundred dollars is more than most writers see in a lifetime, and I knew it was a sign of things to come.

That it ended so unexpectedly was a major blow, as I wondered if perhaps maybe my position would climb at this modest little online venue. Sad to say, it wasn’t to be.

I must have spent three hours going through all fifty five of my articles and saving them, hoping that even when the magazine was going under I could find other places for this content to survive. I’ve already found a place run by a close friend of mine that will gladly be hosting my content dealing with monster movies. I won’t be paid, but I will be read. It’s at least a way to start over.

If there’s one thing I take away from this, it’s that I now have an actual publishing credit to showcase to potential buyers of this book. Here’s hoping that will be enough to turn another head or two.

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The Dialogue Problem

Every writer has a shortcoming of some sort. It’s not something they can’t overcome, but damn if it isn’t a difficult thing to do. In working on my first book, I’ve found my biggest issue is my dialogue.

It seems like the easiest thing in the world. You are after-all just writing a conversation. We’ve all had those so how hard could it be? I think it may be a similar problem to all of us remembering the precise look of a minted coin. We’ve see it so many times that when you’re shown a picture it looks right, but sometimes it’s hard to remember precisely where the date is on the coin, what direction the person on the coin is facing, etc.

Conversations are the same way. Since we’ve had them so often and seen them so often, sometimes you go into one with a little more confidence than you should have and the dialogue comes across as forced or stilted.

As someone on the autism spectrum, I have my work cut out for me. When it comes to my writing, description is where I flourish. Dialogue on the other hand has been a constant struggle.

One of the characters from my book, the intended comic relief, was marred by their dialogue. While speaking with an editor, the comment I received where the character’s actions were of someone courageous and loyal, but the dialogue made them into just about the most annoying character imaginable.

“I shouldn’t hate this guy because their actions are good. But the dialogue kills them,” my editor said.

Ouch. But hey. If it’s flawed what can you do? Do you give up or try to fix it?

My portrayal of the art of conversation is getting better, but it has been a struggle. But for all the bad lines of dialogue I’ve written that really are cringeworthy, nothing compares to the feeling when you look at a line and know it’s a good one.

So What Next?

As the time approaches to once more submit my book for publication, things have gotten pretty exciting. I have found several publishers that are willing to take manuscripts without the need to work through an agent, and couldn’t be more enthusiastic about that. It’s just a matter of waiting for the deadlines while we send out queries like usual.

Of course, then comes another big question. What next?

It’s been a mixed bag of a month. The magazine I was writing reviews for suddenly folded, ending my brief career as a paid film critic. But I’ve also been working on a number of other projects, including a novella with my roommate, and two scripts with friends. Still, while the writing itself has improved and remained prolific, there’s still the feeling that things are moving still.

I’m the sort of guy that likes to feel like things are moving. I just feel like there’s something more I could be doing in order to get this writing career going. I’m a person of faith, but I don’t believe getting on my knees and asking for success is a way to get it. I also don’t think staying in my apartment and writing all the time is a way to get it either. I don’t believe in networking events as the people there will be just as desperate as I, and I’m not sure what jobs I could apply for where these kills would come in handy.

There has to be something, and it’s something I’ve been mulling over a lot.

My Hatred of the Alien Prequels

It’s a really ugly thing to hate a work of fiction. It’s an unpleasant and tedious endeavor that stirs negative emotions, causes much undue stress, and overall just plain sucks. But sometimes there’s a work out there that really gets under your skin. No matter how hard you try to move past it, it’s sometimes hard to let go. I never considered myself a person who dwelled on such things, but the last few months have proven me wrong.

I hate the Alien prequels. I mean really, REALLY hate the Alien prequels.

It took me a while to find out precisely why these ones were so special. I’ve been exposed to bad movies before, including many bad Alien films, but something about the release of Alien: Covenant stirred a reaction on me that’s best described as rabid. My anger is completely overblown, absolutely uncalled for, but all around inalienable. With the news that a third film is in the works, that anger seems to have resurfaced. I suppose I’m writing this hoping it will be therapeutic.

Alien-1979-Poster

Alien was more than a movie to me. It was a life changing experience. I first saw the film at 12 years old when my mother caved and let me watch my first stack of hard R VHS tapes back in 1999. It was a revelation. I’d never known how far a movie could go, but that movie gave the twelve year old me a pretty good idea. But more than that, Alien was the first movie with a monster I fell in love with.  Time and again I found myself looking forward to the arrival of the beast. Like a femme fatale from one of those old pulp detective magazines, there was something about it both alluring and dangerous.

Aliens-vs.-predator-2-game

For the next 17 years the series became a major driving force in my life. I not only saw all the other films, but delved into the expanded universe with various comics, novels and video games. It was a place I’d never want to live, but definitely one I loved visiting. Learning about the Alien itself, its culture, and seeing that it was not a wild animal but a capable and sentient thing, made me love it even more, even identify with it in a strange way.

So you can imagine how elated I was when Ridley Scott announced his return to the series. The man who directed the original classic was coming back? It seemed the series couldn’t have been in better hands. Then Prometheus started.

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Prometheus attempted to give a backstory to the mysterious Space Jockey from the original movie, and featured a new cast of characters. Most prominent among them was Michael Fassbender’s David, an android and predecessor to all the other AI characters in the series. I wanted to love the movie, but something about it left me feeling strangely empty. The characters didn’t capture me, the atmosphere wasn’t frightening or provocative, and worst of all it attempted to explain some of the mysteries I found so appealing about the original movie.

I’ve compared Prometheus to the Halloween sequels. The original Halloween is a minimalist classic that explains nothing about its antagonist. When the sequels tried to explain the killer and his motivations, things quickly descended into mediocrity. Sometimes less is more, and mystery often holds an allure that answers can never provide. I didn’t like the movie too much in case you couldn’t tell.

Still, I figured it was a fluke. There was going to be another movie soon and perhaps it would be better. Whatever the case, there was no way it could be worse. Then along came Covenant. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t expect a masterpiece. I expected it to be okay at best but I was gung ho for it. You can do a lot worse than okay. All that changed one day when I read a single plot detail. The android David, played by Michael Fassbender, was revealed to be the creator of the Alien creature.

Covenant David

Everybody remember when Phantom Menace came out? This was my midichlorians moment. Something about that revelation hit me where I lived. I was genuinely furious, furious to the point I knew it was an overreaction, but I couldn’t pull it back. It’s just a movie, and the Alien series has undoubtedly produced far worse. What made this one special?

One of the things I enjoyed about the creature was that it was a pioneer. The original film and some of the expanded universe didn’t provide much backstory, but the brief glimpses you got were intriguing. The creature was taken from its home to be exploited by a technologically superior Space Jockeys, but somehow they conquered their encroachers to the point of eradication. Now humanity was trying to exploit them in that same way, our hubris threatening us with the same fate as the Jockeys. History repeats itself unless you learn to respect this thing and leave it alone, the lesson the Ripley character consistently tries to the other characters.

Covenant disregarded that. The creature was no longer ancient, but a product of an android’s experiments that only dated back a few years. Worse yet, this untamable thing had now been subjugated, born subservient to the character of David when previously it had no master. Even in Alien vs. Predator and Alien Resurrection, those ideas were left untouched. It would be like if someone did a Jaws sequel where you found out the shark was under the control of Amity’s corrupt mayor the entire time.

But it goes deeper than that. Scott said that he felt there was nothing left to do with the creature before doing Prometheus, which is why he wanted to move in a new direction. And honestly, I was fine with that as long as the foundations remained undisturbed, because those foundations were central to me as a fan. Scott and the studio believed the mixed reception to Prometheus was due to the creature’s absence (which it wasn’t) so they put it in the last film. But the movie wasn’t about the Alien. Scott merely used it to package a passion project with little regard to the original source material. At best the famous director seemed indifferent towards it, and at worse he seemed to outright hate it.

I think that’s what hurt most about CovenantAlien vs. Predator wasn’t a good movie, but there was still affection for its source material. Covenant almost seemed ashamed of its roots, and in that respect, seemed ashamed of its own target audience. Maybe that’s why I took it so personally, because no Alien movie, no matter how bad, ever gave me the impression that the director didn’t want me there.

To call these feelings an overreaction would be the understatement of the century. Be that as it may, that feeling is here, and it’s a hard one to shake. Will I move on in time? Yes. Are there worse things in the world than a disappointing sequel? Of course. Is a mediocre movie really worth my time? Hell no. Still, sometimes a piece of media really does get to you, in particular when one is passionate about the medium. When it involves something that meant a lot to you and helped you discover who you are, its kind of inevitable that you take it personally. I’ll move on in time to the world’s more pressing matters, but there’s still a lot of negativity to flush from my system. Hopefully I can find a creative outlet for it.

Anybody Have A Work of Fiction You Really, REALLY Hate?

When we all come across a work of fiction, no one ever goes in wanting to hate it. Be it a movie, book or video game, everyone wants to take something positive away from the experience because that’s what art should do. Even stories that are otherwise downbeat may carry come important lessons to apply out in the world. But what about when that doesn’t happen? What about when a story gets to you in such a way that it becomes very hard to let go?

I think we all have at least one that whenever we hear about it our blood comes to a boil. This is especially true of sequels or installments in a series that had a large impact on us. Why is this? Honestly, I think it’s a little bit more complicated than being unsatisfied with the story. It may be something far more personal.

I think foundations have a lot to do with it. Most can handle a bad sequel as long as the fundamental nature of a favorite story is unaltered. After all, it’s that nature that appeals to someone in the first place, so if another installment comes along and says ‘Yeah, that thing you liked about the series? Turns out it’s not true’, most people might not be so willing to jump on board. If you open a book looking forward to a story about the ocean and suddenly find out you’ve been reading about the desert the entire time, that might get under your skin.

But the most important reason I think this happens is there comes about when certain stories become more than stories. Good art has a more profound impact on someone than providing a few hours of entertainment. It changes people, leading them down new directions and pathways in life. Great art is more than entertainment. It’s a teacher.

 

People don’t like to see a teacher change.

Tornadoes & Werewolves, Oh My! Upcoming Works

With my fantasy book finally finished and me suffering a bad case of post creative depression, now seems a good time to start thinking of what I’ll be doing next in the way of word-smithing.

Funnily enough, fantasy isn’t my best genre. My best story is in fantasy, but it’s pretty much the only good one I’ve got. My first love in writing was actually horror. Horror is a genre I’ve always admired for its imagination and ability to send someone to the store to replace a pair of soiled boxers. There’s something very noble about scaring your audience. It takes the audience into a darker place so the horrors of the real world seem comparatively tame. It would be a nice departure, and allow me a much needed recharge before the next book in the fantasy series.

So what will the next projects be? Well, they’ve already begun. One has a completed draft and the other we’re working on the first draft right now.

The first project is one you all may be familiar with, the horror story Scarlet Gate, or as it was formerly known, Manhunters. That one is about a pack of werewolves who team up with a detective to find a serial killer. I posted the first act of my last draft here. Problem is it’s not very good and needs change in a big way. Still, I think the story has some potential, so I aim to work on it extensively over the next several months, perhaps even turning that into a book itself. So that will be going through some major changes. In the meantime, all of you can feel free to read the current draft in all it’s glory, or lack thereof.

The next project is a horror screenplay about a tornado striking Kansas City. Doesn’t sound like horror, but my writing partner and I thought we’d try to write it as one. There are no supernatural elements in the story. It is a straight natural disaster. After reading some nonfiction books dealing with survivor accounts, in particular F5 by Mark Levine, I was surprised at just how frightening the stories they told were, and wondered why anybody hadn’t tried to do this in a more frightening way. So that’s what we’re doing now. We’ve already written 18 pages of the first draft and are very happy with it so far.

Not sure how much of those we’ll be posting, though you can be certain to get a glimpse of some of our material. Will keep you posted.

 

Post Writing Depression

After finishing my first book, I expected a feeling of excitement and relief. Instead, the next day, I found myself incredibly depressed.

I’d heard several writers mention this feeling. Characters sometimes become such a big part of your life that finishing a book is like saying goodbye to a group of very close friends. I’d been working on this story for three years as a book, even more if you count it’s earliest fetal stages back in high school.

It’s a very lonely feeling. The characters I’ve been working with were so much more colorful and interesting than I ever could have imagined, and my stay in Los Angeles is more exhausting than I could have ever dreamed. I never went for more than a month without working on the book and having these characters keep me company. I suppose I didn’t realize just how therapeutic the writing really was.

After all, when you’re working on a piece of writing, you’re working towards something with a definite goal in sight. Then the book is done, you know it’s as good as you’re ever going to get it, and you’re left wondering ‘what now?’

And of course there’s that dreadful feeling that you may never see the characters again. I plan to round out this series as a trilogy and already have plans for the next two books, as well as a couple of spinoffs following my supporting cast. But will the magic be able to come back, or will they have changed from the characters I fell in love with as I change growing older?

If there’s one positive I can take away from this, it’s that this is just about as good an indicator as any that the book is truly finished. Not once during any of the previous drafts did I crash so hard afterward. I suppose that’s what being a writer is. Like life, it’s a combination of pain and pleasure.

I hope I’ll be bumping into Red and his cohorts again very soon. In the meantime, we’re on to the next project that needs my attention. Got something involving werewolves on the back burner.

End To A Three Year Journey: Completion of My Book

There’s a reason I’ve been off WordPress for a month. I’ve been very busy working on my book. I wanted to get it done before I came back here. As of yesterday, it is done. My novel of dragons and high adventure has gone through its latest, and hopefully final iteration.

Now this is probably the 6th or 7th time I’ve said that since starting this blog, the first time dating all the way back to March 2015, so maybe my word on this subject doesn’t have the credibility it used to. But after the last run through I made it my mission to crawl through this manuscript paragraph by paragraph until it was so squeaky clean of anything I could nitpick that I couldn’t think of anything else to do with it.

This latest edit began before the start of the summer. I started sending our queries for a book that seemed finished. It ran roughly 150k words, a little over the recommended maximum for first time authors. Most of the agents I contacted offered what I expected, more ‘no’s, ‘sorry’s’ and ‘not what we’re looking for’s’ than you could shake a stick at. But one query said something different. They thought the idea was interesting, but the manuscript seemed a little long. They asked if I could cut it down to about 100k.

Cutting out a third of the book didn’t seem possible. I figured maybe I could cut out about 30k words, which would still improve the pacing probably, but a full third of it? I didn’t think it could happen. By the end of that run through of edits however, I’d managed to edit my manuscript down to about 105k. It was a better result than I ever could have hoped for, but it made me wonder. If I could cut out 45k, could I cut out 5k more?

Back in July I decided to go through the book one last time, with a greater attention to detail than ever before. Not only would I try to get down to or below 100k, I’d go through the manuscript paragraph by paragraph, fixing it line by line every time I came across something I had a problem with. It wasn’t going to be easy, and it would highlight the biggest flaws in the manuscript to date, but that was the only way to make things better.

In the process I learned my book was better than I’d given it credit for, but also a lot worse. Little pockets of inspiration were buried between paragraphs of mediocrity. Maybe I’m being a little harsh on it, but you have to be satisfied with your work as an artist. I wasn’t.

What began was a process of archeology, unearthing all those ideas and character themes I’d touched on in the previous drafts, as well as rearranging crucial scenes to maximize their emotional impact. My action scenes became more exciting, and the character moments became more pronounced. This even resulted in the writing of my new favorite scene, a nice little moment between the hero and the secondary protagonist.

Chapter 17 in particular required a lot of work. I slaved over my final action set piece AND emotional resolution for two days, making sure my final battle didn’t get stale, and that my characters pulled all the right heart strings before THE END popped up. But in the end I finished it. Here we are at 100k words, and all of them a hell of a lot better than the 150k before them.

This entire ordeal has basically been a lesson in the art of creative fiction, and it has been more educational than the entirety of my college career. Looking back on the disastrous first draft and what the story is now, I can’t help but feel a modest sense of accomplishment.

Of course my journey with these characters isn’t done yet. We still have illustrations to complete, I have at least two more books in this series to write in order to finish the story, though there may be anywhere from one to three spinoff titles. I’ll be involved with this world for many years to come.

Now comes an equally difficult part of this journey, finding this book a publisher and beginning my career as a writer. Hopefully the improvements will be enough to turn a few more heads. Regardless, if we keep at it, I think this book has a chance.

I only have one request of all of you. If I start another edit, please shoot me. Love this book to death, but I don’t think I can manage another edit.

My Writing Has Changed, & I Like It

As i plow through the final run through of my first novel, editing down and polishing each chapter and scene, something has become pretty clear. A lot has changed about my writing style these last three years of writing.

I came out to LA thinking I already knew it all. It happens a lot to artists. You go through your college courses and suddenly think that makes you a hot item. If you ask me, vanity is what does the most damage to art, when people are so full of themselves they think there’s nothing more to learn about their chosen craft. It’s why you see some artists who never get off the ground, and others that fall from their throne.

The ass beating I got out here over the next three years was good for me I think, because it only made me dive deeper into the work which meant the most to me. Since then, I’ve dug stuff out of my book I never thought myself capable of doing.

This was most obvious during my run through of my latest chapter. Chapter 8 of my novel was largely intended as a pace holder, with a little exposition to set up my villain and some world building. Hardly what you’d call a significant moment, but a necessary one. In this last draft however, some kind of magic happened, that kind you feel when your fingers start tearing through the keyboard like someone on the disco floor.

I wrote a two page scene that ended up becoming perhaps the most significant moment in the entire book. It’s been happening more and more, moments of clarity when the true purpose of a story or scene comes out. You don’t have time to feel stupid for missing it before it has already been written down.

Sometime’s it’s hard to not gush over your work. They’re like your children, and whenever they learn to walk or speak, you want to tell the world. Well, my kid seems to be doing very well, almost ready to run a marathon.

Getting over myself seems to have been a big part of the change, because it’s not and never has been about me. It’s always about the story. Realizing that has been liberating.

Never Heroes Chapter 3: New Version Uploaded

Well it’s been a long week of edits, but chapter 3 of our novel Never Heroes is now available for viewing, bringing to an end our special sneak preview. 

Never-Heroes-Dragon-Size-Chart

Chapter 3 finds our high in stature and hot in lungs hero as he continues to track the two thieves that plundered his favorite treasure, right to a well known city where warriors and soldiers are known to retire. While there he finds several key clues to the thieves’ whereabouts, and begins to form a subtle but noticeable bond with the mysterious orphan accompanying him on his travels.

This chapter went through some big changes. We lost a few small scenes from it, helping the overall pace. Also this chapter used to contain an action sequence when the dragon first enters the town, but this was also cut in favor of a more casual entrance, one that hopefully plays to humorous effect.

So without further delay, please sit back and enjoy Never Heroes Chapter 3: A Ganbury Stroll. If you haven’t yet, feel free to read both Chapter 1 and Chapter 2.

We hope you enjoy, and be sure to let us know what you think in the comments. Don’t hesitate the alert us to any of those pesky typos that no doubt have managed to sneak through.