So, necromancy is a thing.

Huh. Well, it’s been awhile. If you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering what the hell happened to me. Stay awhile and listen. Hopefully over the course of reading this, you might learn some things out of my mistakes.

After completing Blood In The Machine, I took a break. This was one of the worst decisions I could have made. It went on longer and longer, each time telling myself I would return to work soon. Changes in my day job also impacted this, adding stress that held me back. At least, that’s what I kept telling myself.

Soon came a year later, when I returned to work on Project: Embers. This was an effort that would ultimately be doomed, but it taught me a lot. For me to elaborate, I need to tell you how I worked on projects before and what I learned from Embers.

When I would first start thinking up projects to work on, I would take mental notes. I have a very good memory for things like this, so I had assumed it would be good enough to draw from. Then I would get to work and start writing down the rough scenes as they came to me. I would have an extremely rough idea of what scenes I would write and when, but I would also wing it the majority of times.

The ultimate result would be that I would have very little planned scenes outweighed by essentially freeform work. This worked for short stories, even Blood In The Machine, but when it came to a full-length novel…

Short summary? I did an insufficient amount of planning before a project and I took down little to no notes both before and during the writing process. It was quick, sloppy, and while it worked for short stories, it crumbled under the weight of a full-length novel.

Well, when I got back to editing the 1st draft of Embers, I saw all of those bad deeds come back to haunt me. Giant details were jumbled, timelines were jumbled, city names were mismatched, characters were left feeling incredibly uneven, etc. Nothing was right, everything demanding a full re-write.

Looking at the big picture, I saw only one real course of actions. I sat back, took time, and started taking notes. Not notes on a new project mind you, but notes on all of my failings with Embers. I mothballed the project and used it, instead, as a study piece for the hows and whys of failure. That version of Embers would never be something I could release, so at the very least, I could learn all I could from where it went wrong.

“The only mistake is not learning from failure.” I heard that quote a long time ago and it stuck with me. I thought it simply sounded poetic back then, but as I’ve mired myself in both my day job and in writing, it became less poetic and more sage advice.

To add to that, I wrote a couple short stories that gained no traction when I sent them out for submission, so that hurt the ego as well.

Now, I’ve started a new project from the ground up, Project: Echo. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because it belonged to an older project I mothballed as well. I’ll talk about the project later, because for right now, I want to talk about how I turned my failures from Embers into strengths for Echo. So, let’s break down my four main keynotes…

1: Plan your entire story.

Some writers are able to plot everything out in their heads and write from there. I used to think I was one of these types, able to draw everything I needed from memory and able to go back and pull details from previous text blocks when memory failed. Turns out I am not.

Looking back at Embers, the story shifted as I wrote the first draft. I had my original idea and slowly but surely deviated away from it until soon enough, it didn’t look anything like what I had started with. An idea here, a revelation there until eventually, it all adds up to a mess.

Going into Echo, I took the basic idea and took it to my timeline software (Aeon Timeline 2, a now completely invaluable piece of my toolbox) and started mapping it out from start to finish. This approach lets me see where pacing problems might arise, where new side-story arcs needed to be added, where new and important characters needed to be added, and get a feel for a proper ending.

This story is also taking place in my Scifi universe, Dark Stars, which I’ve been adding to the codex for a while now. When plotting this all out, would you like to know how much I added to the codex and timeline software for continuity?

*inhale*

Three new planets, one new station, one new named ship, fifteen new people, three new types of technology, and two new corporations. These are in addition to the fact that there are roughly thirty-nine primary scenes to the story. In the old method, none of this would really have been figured out before starting. Instead, it’s all concrete before the first word goes down.

So yeah, PLAN YOUR STORIES.

2: Take notes.

In Embers, when I had an idea or a character said a choice phrase? Yeah, I basically never took down notes. Want to know how it played out? I’d spend half my time trying to recall if a character ever addressed a topic, if a scene had happened on the page or just in my head, a wound was sustained, etc.

It. Was. A. Mess.

Instead, I’ve got a pile of notes already plugged into both Aeon Timeline and my mind-mapping software (XMind). Character involvement, ranks and positions, skills acquired, personalities and habits, etc. Both pieces of software will also be updated as the story goes on, making it so that one could simply pull up their file just to be refreshed on if something happened or when it occurred.

So yeah, +10 points for consistency.

3: Seriously, take your damn notes.

Mentioning a city or planet? Note it. The character picks up a new habit or trait? Note it. The antagonist takes a non-lethal wound to the shoulder that might mess with his range of motion? Note it! The time you take to make notes in your story as you write pales in comparison to the time you’ll spend going back to fix it because you messed up and had no notes to save you.

4: Take the time to explore your tools and get to know their features.

Seriously, if you’re going to dedicate yourself to the tools you have, at least know what they can do besides the obvious surface features. I use three particular tools: Scrivener for writing, Aeon Timeline 2 for timelines (character interactions, births, deaths, story-arc tracking, etc), and XMind for a codex (notes on characters, tech, places, etc).

I’ve been using Scrivener for years but I only recently learned it even had a name generator in it. I struggle with names, always have, so I was rather ashamed I didn’t ever take the time to learn that I already had the tool to help me.

Don’t hesitate to adapt your tools beyond the intended function either. For XMind, a piece of mind-mapping software, I use a second map to act as a makeshift star-map to show what systems are where and connected to which neighboring systems. It wasn’t intended to be used like that at all, but it suffices.

So yes, there were most definitely some common sense and easily avoidable problems I could have skipped if my head wasn’t wedged up my own backside. They were obvious in hindsight, but up until that point, my old methods had worked well enough for me. It wasn’t until Embers that I really saw how they were messing me up.

I suppose scale can help reveal some of the smallest mistakes.

The biggest mistake I made out of the entire ordeal? Complacency. Instead of continuing to trudge on and work more, I sat back and told myself “Any day now.” Procrastination, kids, it’ll kill you. It nearly did me.

With those lessons taken to heart, Project: Echo is now starting to be written. Every scene has been mapped, every character has been created and taken into account, the whole thing has been nailed down like a blueprint. It’s simply a matter of building it according to plan.

It took me a long while to come back from the “studying break”, due in part to questions over if I had any right to get back into the field. Regardless, the urge to write has muted my doubt.

So yes, I’ll add some details to what Project: Echo is in the days ahead. Until then, the show must go on.

My thoughts on: Deadpool (film)

I am not a comic book fan.

For the better part of my life – and even to this day – I’ve found comics a difficult thing to get into due to all the stories running alongside each other, weaving in and out of each other, and just keeping up with it all.

To that end, comic book movies have been spectacular for me. Easy to follow (release dates), the library is small (handful of movies vs. stacks upon stacks of issues), and they don’t really weave in and out unless you are watching the team-movies (Avengers).

One of the things that comics contain that I’ve always been envious of, however, are strong characters that don’t make it to the big screen. Worse yet, characters that get brought to the big screen in a way that is a horrible disservice.

Deadpool is one of those characters.

Originally brought to movies during Wolverine Origins, the version of Deadpool that we received was horribly wrong. There was a taste of who he was, but that’s all it was; a taste of the character drowned in a pile of “wrong”.

Fast forward a few years, we had the leaked test render of a Deadpool movie with Ryan Reynolds as the titular character. It nailed the sense of style and insanity of the character so well that fans of DP (like me) were clambering for more like it was going out of style.

Now, we have that “more”.

Deadpool is a faithful and very well done origin story that introduces us to “Deadpool-proper”, even going so far as to ret-con Origins to strike away the bad.

For those uninformed, Deadpool is smart-mouth mercenary Wade Wilson. He is diagnosed with terminal cancer and joins a project to not only cure him of his cancer, but also give him mutant abilities. He winds up with a healing factor that Wolverine would be envious of, but it doesn’t cure the cancer – it accelerates it while his body is also healing from it.

The end result? The pain and disfigurement he goes through are enough to cause his sanity to snap, while his powers cause him to become – essentially – immortal. He understands that he is a comic (or in this case, movie) character, breaks the fourth wall like it’s going out of style, is offensive to an unbelievable degree, and will not shut up.

He’s known as the “Merc with a mouth,” for that very reason. Sure, he’s highly skilled with tons of weapons, but some characters consider his rampant jabbering and smart-ass demeanor his ultimate tool.

One of the best descriptions I’ve heard is Deadpool is to heroes what South Park is to cartoons. He breaks the stereotypes, is horribly offensive and violent, yet also has some character and soul underneath.

The problem though is that the character is considered a running punch-line in recent comic runs and video games. Before, in the earlier comic runs, we saw that he actually had a lot of personality and some soul buried beneath the disfigured skin and trigger-happy tendencies.

This movie, however, understands older Deadpool. He’s not a running punch-line in the film, showing some of the character that hasn’t been seen in awhile.

Don’t take that to mean he’s lacking in the smart-ass department though. He’s lobbing snarky remarks, condescending one liners, fourth-wall breakers, and everything else all the time while cutting off heads and filling people with holes.

Oh, and trust me, this film earns it’s R-rating. The same rating fans of the character have been praying for. PG-13 Deadpool is like a lobotomy.

The story is simple but well played out, the villains are awesome in their own ways, the sidekicks and friends are great to have around, and Reynolds absolutely nails the titular “hero”. It’s fairly condensed at 100’ish minutes, but it doesn’t waste any time. The opening cast-roll alone had the theater crying in laughter.

One of the things that the film actually does extremely well to offset Deadpool’s “nature,” is the pacing. The romance really works and you feel his horror after he is operated on. They work well to offset all the other times he is telling henchmen that he is low on ammo so they all need to share or ramming a sword through their brains.

If you want something “else” from your hero movies, are a fan of the character, or just want a good action-comedy to watch, Deadpool is right up your alley. For me, this movie has been worth the wait and development hell it’s been through.

Solid and awesome, great way to spend some time this weekend. Hell, I’ll even be going back for more.

Oh, and stick through the credits. You should know this by now, but it still amazes me when people up and leave during the credits at these movies.

Tough news on the YouTube front.

Well, fuck.

For all of those you might not know, I have been a longtime viewer of popular YouTuber “TotalBiscuit” and his content, even dating way back to the WoW Radio days.

In April of last year, he dropped the news that he was suffering from colon cancer and would be undergoing treatment. Fast-forward through chemo-therapy and other forms of treatment where, in May of this year, he was declared cancer free.

Much rejoicing and cause for celebration, right? Until now, yes.

This week, he went back in for a routine CT scan to check on his condition. Today, he has announced that while the cancer hasn’t returned to his colon or bowels, he has spots on his liver. Doctors are saying they are inoperable and are giving him an average of 2-3 years life expectancy.

He has vowed to keep fighting, saying, “Fuck this stupid disease. The average is going up after I’m done with it.”

This is bitter news for me, since cancer has claimed two relatives and two pets from my family in the past five years. That said, I am holding out hope that TotalBiscuit will stay strong and fight on for as long as he draws breath. The man is nothing if not incredibly stubborn and resilient.

Advancements in medical science are continuing rapidly, hopefully opening up some options for TB’s treatment.

In times like this, I am reminded of a poem by Dylan Thomas that many are familiar with.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Source: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/do-not-go-gentle-good-night

My continued support will remain with John “TotalBiscuit” Bain, aged 31. My best wishes also go out to him and his family.

My thoughts on: Penny Dreadful, Season 2.

Well … this has been awhile. I think to say, “A bit too long,” would be rather inappropriate given the time that has passed. Regardless, the show is going on, so what better time than the present.

The short and skinny first: I thought season one was better. Not by much, but I think it was.

To talk about more, I will be talking about Penny Dreadful’s second season. In doing so, there will be spoilers for season one and slight spoilers for season two. If you’ve not seen any of the show but wish to while free from spoilers, turn back now.

All gone? Okay!

I went into season one unsure of what I was getting myself into, having only seen one or two cryptic trailers. I stumbled around with the first couple of episodes, but quickly became enamored with it as I went. By the time the season ended, I was desperately wanting more.

Season one walked a tight-rope between a monstrous horror story and a drama of human cruelty. Between seeing examples of the dark creature lurking behind the scenes in season one, we saw the light being shed onto the dark and twisted hearts of our protagonists.

Note I use the word “protagonists,” rather than “heroes.” In Penny Dreadful, there are no heroes and sometimes the worst monsters are the ones wearing human skin.

With season two, things felt different and … ‘off’.

The dark force working against our protagonists wasn’t some unholy creature, but a coven of witches. The threat is more human, less alien and unknown. The antagonists are far more characterized than in season one, and are portrayed excellently by their respective actresses.

Even still, I couldn’t help but long for the uncertainty of what inhuman force lurked in the dark like I did with season one.

With the protagonists as well, much of the mystery is gone. The episode from season one where we go through Vanessa Ives’ life until the present has stuck with me, standing as a testament to the show’s themes of otherworldly horror and mankind’s own inhumanity. There was also the seance in S1E2 which, once you understood with Vanessa was saying, sent a chill down your spine.

Season two, for me, didn’t really have that kind of episode. Sure, we see that each character is still haunted by their own demons and demonstrates that none of them are truly good or heroic, but no moment seemed to strike the same chord.

The character of Dorian Grey, as well, felt underused. His time in season one was very subtle, pushing Vanessa further and further into temptation and her own dark side. This time, it felt like he was only included to use one important scene and a setup for season three. The same also goes for Caliban.

Do not get me wrong, season two was still very well put together. It still demonstrates great use of dark themes and twists any perception of good or evil as you may know them, and I still eagerly look forward to season three. It only feels as though season two stumbled a slight bit from the greatness that was its predecessor.

State of the Mind: March, 2015

So, what does a couple months of progress look like in editing Project: Embers with my schedule?

A few chapters that have nearly been re-written from top to bottom. I’m not joking, the amount of scenes I have simply deleted and re-written from the ground up is either saddening or staggering.

Perhaps it’s both.

What prompted such a large amount of re-writing? I changed how the protagonist was introduced. In doing so, it set off a chain of events that radically reshaped how the story opens.

The intro starts closer to the main events, it’s got more tension, some characters were cut and rolled into others, etc. All of this simply from changing the protagonist’s intro.

Then there’s the pre-chapter articles, some story threads being removed or altered, building on the personalities of the existing characters, and more.

Editing Blood in the Machine took me some time to do, but Embers is an entirely different beast.

But what about things outside of Project: Embers?

Well, since the re-writes have mostly come to a stop, I am now beginning work on a new project to fill the gap. While I can’t say much about it yet, it is something a bit different with less emphasis on action and more on emotion.

It’s work-in-progress name is Project: Binary.

This project is currently in the planning phase, so nothing has been set in stone yet. However, it has been something that I’ve been dwelling on for some time while I’ve been editing Embers. Thus, I figure it’s time to start jotting down some details and start shaping it up.

I’ve also made a slight addition to the website. In the upper-right hand corner, you will find a small text section detailing my current status on open projects of note. For now, this lists my editing progress with Embers and my planning status with Binary.

Figured it should help keep is visible that I am actually working on things, yeah?

For now, however, the work continues. Embers trudges further along to completion, while Binary starts taking some form. I am eager to see the final state of the former, all while looking forward to crafting the latter.

Until next time, however, have fun.

~ James.