2015/02/27

John C. Wright on Geek Gab


Attention geeks! Superversive author John C. Wright will be joining the hosts of Geek Gab on Friday, March 27 at 9 PM EST for an hour of no-holds-barred nerdery.

The show will stream live on YouTube, and we'll be taking questions from the audience comments.
Hope to see you there!


Update: COUNT TO A TRILLION, the first installment in Mr. Wright's epic space opera COUNT TO ESCHATON is on sale now for $2.99!

2015/02/25

Short Fiction Book Bomb

Larry Correia's Book Bomb for novellas on the Sad Puppy slate was a smashing success. Help the Mountain that Writes replicate last week's success; this time with novelettes and short stories.

I'm a little late to the party this week, but Amazon seems to have implemented a delay in their ranking updates that gives us more time.

2015/02/20

If there Were an Oscar for Best Hollywood Revenge Fantasy


I recently saw--no, make that had the misfortune of being sucker punched by--an initially promising film that squandered its competent storytelling with a superfluous, jarring and gratuitous jab at a thinly veiled parody of a hate group painted with such broad strokes as to crudely slander millions within is own audience.

The perpetrator of this hamfisted bait and switch is Kingsman: The Secret Service. Directed by Matthew Vaughn and written by Jane Goldman, Kingsman is loosely based on the comic by Mark Millar. The trailer promised a tongue in cheek spy romp intent on parodying and updating classics of the genre like Bond, Flint, and the Avengers. Its provenance under the proven craftsmanship of Vaughn and Goldman, who previously teamed up on brilliant projects like Stardust and X-Men First Class, gave every reason to expect that Kingsman would at least be competent.

For the most part, the film is competent--a serviceable take on the Hero's Journey, workmanlike performances all around, thrilling if cartoonish action--which makes its ultimate betrayal of the audience's trust all the more tragic. It's like being served one of the lobsters that Tyler Durden peed on while the urine is billed as clarified butter.

Perhaps you haven't seen the film and the director/writers' resumes make you skeptical of my objections. Or you may have even seen Kingsman and honestly found nothing objectionable about it. If so, I have three words for you: church massacre scene.

What follows may spoil certain plot points, but I'd have been grateful if someone had spoiled them for me prior to shelling out money for a ticket.

Main antagonist Richmond Valentine (whimsically played by Samuel L. Jackson), has decided that his efforts to combat global warming by funneling huge amounts of his tech fortune into green charities have been wasted. Numbers don't lie, and the numbers say that no amount of activism or carbon regulation will reverse the deadly warming trend.

Insert odious cliche identifying mankind as a virus infecting the earth and global warming as a fever triggered to rid the host of the infection. But that's another rant.

However dubious his reasoning, Valentine is consistently portrayed as a man confronting the terrible choice between standing by while knowing that humanity marches toward its inevitable end, or sacrificing most of the world's populace to save a tiny remnant. He chooses the latter, but maintains a clear aversion to violence (while rationalizing his mass slaughter via a Naked Gun style hypno-device that compels people to murder each other).

So the main conflict is a race to stop a radical environmentalist from killing most of the world in his quest to save it. This detail is significant.

We watch as Valentine's dastardly plot takes shape, while a young street punk trains to become the archetypal gentleman spy. We know that these two characters will be tested against each other before the end.

But near the middle of the film there's a scene where a church's entire congregation is brutally massacred during a Sunday service.

But it's OK. The church is a hate group--because a couple of characters tell us so. Sure, the congregation is never shown protesting a veteran's funeral, throwing eggs at a gay wedding, or even kicking a puppy, but the pastor uses the n-word in his sermon. That alone makes him fair game for impalement on a flagpole, right?

And besides, the sermon condemns acts like abortion and sodomy, which orthodox Christians (whom the straw hate group is in no way meant to represent) accept as fundamental human rights, or at least haven't always regarded as inherently disordered--haven't they?

Since the pastor's guilt is self-evident, the audience is excused from feeling vicious glee at his barbaric execution. But what about the score or more of congregants? Fear not! We can safely assume that they shared all of the pastor's bigoted sentiments since they happened to occupy the same room as him, and voiced hearty Amens to his awkwardly written, prefabricated claptrap. Therefore, it's perfectly acceptable to cheer on these Modernity blasphemers' consignment to the lions' den.

So Valentine gets a successful field test of his mind-control device, a bunch of bigots who won't be missed anyway are culled in the bargain, and we get the vicarious thrill of seeing them slaughtered. Everybody wins.

Especially the writers and the director, who have shared an unambiguous vision of the revenge fantasies that they nurse against their ideological enemies--or rather the crude stereotypes they imagine their enemies to be.

Think I'm exaggerating? Possibly. If I were, the film's narrative would justify depicting a church massacre. Let's see if the scene passes the internal plot consistency test.

Film is primarily a visual storytelling form, so in a competently made film everything you see on the screen was put there deliberately. Consequently, every scene in a movie needs a reason to exist, and that reason must serve the story in order to maintain the narrative.

So let's see...we have a megalomaniac using a sonic hypno-ray to make a church full of bigots murder each other. Superficially, this scene serves the purpose of establishing the villain as a threat and hinting at the stakes if he succeeds. Seems reasonable.

Except the villain is clearly and repeatedly established as a radical environmentalist. Shouldn't he be conducting his field test on a boardroom full of oil company executives (or Chinese bureaucrats)?

But the preacher is a racist, and Valentine is black. Those could be factors in the choice of test site, but to avoid feeling forced, that kind of superficial connection needs a scene establishing why Valentine chose these particular racists instead of, say, the KKK or a neo-Nazi group. Instead, it's left unexplained. Sure, the congregation is depicted as execrable, but they'll die with the rest of the unwashed masses anyway. Why single them out for special punishment?

Lacking a reason established in the story and integral to the plot, the unavoidable answer is that the film's creators shoehorned in a detestable bunch of cardboard cutouts that typify Hollywood's view of what Christians are really like--solely for the pleasure of butchering them on screen. The clumsy dialogue casting these straw Christians as bigots is just a fig leaf added to justify the bloodshed. What the authors of this ignorant, tone-deaf revenge fantasy failed to account for is that Christians are among the most persecuted groups on earth.

Under even glancing scrutiny, the environmental and racial justifications for slaughtering a church full of straw men ring false. The film's creators meant to jab their fingers in the eyes of a broad segment of their audience, and they weren't above sacrificing artistic integrity to do it. Consider that Colin Firth's hiring was contingent upon him performing the church scene. So vital is the scene in Vaughn's estimation that the whole film is practically a vehicle for it.

To Christian moviegoers and everyone of good will, take warning that Kingsman is an insult hurled at a persecuted demographic by bigots who project their own hatred onto their targets. This is what your self-styled betters in the entertainment industry think of you. Remember to thank Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman for teaching us this lesson. It's one we shouldn't soon forget.

2015/02/18

Novella Book Bomb

Today only, Larry Correia is hosting a Book Bomb for novellas on the Sad Puppies 3 Hugo slate.

The idea behind a Book Bomb is to sell as many copies as possible in one day to maximize the book's Amazon ranking. Today's featured titles include One Bright Star to Guide Them by John C. Wright and Big Boys Don't Cry by Col. Tom Kratman. Plus, Arlan Andrews will just give you a copy of his novella for free if you ask him via arlan@thingsto.com.

This is a chance to support some fantastic authors and get free stuff. I shouldn't have to say any more.

2015/02/03

The Life Cycle of a Manuscript

On a recent episode of Geek Gab, a listener asked me an excellent question: when is a manuscript ready for an editor? That questions got me thinking about my own writing and editing process, because to my knowledge no two writers follow exactly the same steps.

Honestly, my approach to preparing works for submission has varied depending on the length, market, and even genre of the piece; and my system continues to evolve as I learn more from experience and research. (NB: I highly recommend On Writing by Stephen King, especially for newcomers to the craft.)

Nevertheless, I thought I'd give a rundown of my current favored method for writing and revising manuscripts. Who knows? Someone may find it useful.

Outline: most fiction authors create outlines of their novels before the writing actually starts. There's no set format or length for outlines; they can range in size from scene-by-scene summaries of the book to one or two page sketches. Some authors (like King) don't outline at all. Trial and error have shown me that I am not one of them. My novel outlines generally run 5-10 pages; for short stories it's usually 1 or 2--enough to set the bounds of the story and chart the narrative structure.

By way of explanation, I tend to structure each of my novels as a succession of multiple three act or seven point narratives within an overarching frame. So I make sure to note every hook, complication, climax, and resolution in the outline.

First Draft: when I start writing, I more or less follow the outline, filling in the blanks while giving myself enough flexibility to draw outside the lines if it serves the story. I estimate that I stick to the outline about 60 percent of the time, and about 40 percent is improvised.

Only I ever see my first draft. It's not for anyone else.

Second Draft: after letting the first draft ferment a while--sometimes a few weeks--I'll go back for a second pass. This part always involves trimming tons of unnecessary words; sometimes cutting whole scenes to improve pacing. I'll also double check spelling and grammar.

Beta Readers: a lot of writers I talk to swear by writing groups. I wholeheartedly agree in principle; I've even made more than one failed attempt to assemble a writing group in my area. Luckily I'm blessed with a cadre of far-flung but hardcore (and brutally honest) beta readers. They read draft 2 and send me feedback.

Third Draft: I read my beta readers' feedback and make any changes that 1) I immediately agree with or 2) two or three of them independently suggest. Draft 3 includes another spelling/grammar/pacing/continuity check.

Submission: if I've written a short story, it now gets submitted to my chosen market. If it's a novel, Draft 3 goes to...

Editing: so far, I've had one novel-length manuscript professionally edited. I was so impressed with the results, provided by the brilliantly superversive L. Jagi Lamplighter, that I plan on hiring a knowledgeable, experienced freelancer to edit every novel that I intend to publish independently.

Final Draft: finally (for a novel), I write a final draft based on the editor's suggestions. I can honestly say that I used pretty much all of her advice last time. Since editors specialize in fixing stories, I don't see my policy changing any time soon.

So that's how I do things, at least for the time being. Hopefully someone will find it helpful. Suggestions for improvement are always welcome.