The other day I was chatting with my agent recently, going over our strategy of which publishers to contact for my new book, and she mentioned Disney Hyperion. This of course led us down the trail of how Disney has been buying up a lot of IPs recently and our fears of what may happen to Star Wars. Of course, as I pointed out to her, I’m not sure they can do anymore damage than what Lucas has already done.
Now, let’s step back for a moment and consider how weird that thought really is. Lucas, in the eyes of the fans, damaged the Star Wars brand. How can that be? It’s his creation and we’re all along for the ride. Who are we to dictate to him what is and is not good for Star Wars? Certainly we have the right to not like it and we can disagree with his creative choice, but in the end it’s all his vision.
But is it really?
In the writing community there is a concept of the Shared Universe. It is where several authors get together and co-develop a universe and then go off to write individual stories within it. They’ll confer with one another to make sure things stay consistent — character names, dates, and the like. It is my belief that Star Wars, after RotJ ballooned into such a massive force (ha!) that it became a shared universe without Lucas’s realizing.
There is so much in the Expanded Universe. So much in fact a close friend of mine has several bookshelves dedicated to just Star Wars novels. And within those novels is The Thrawn Trilogy. Which many consider to be episodes 7, 8, and 9. Think on that for a moment. A book series written by another author is elevated to the point of being on par with the original films. That’s saying a lot. In my opinion, that series was the tipping point, moving Star Wars from being George Lucas’s world, to being a shared universe among the fans themselves. It grew bigger than him, and unfortunately people forgot to tell him.
Of course that movement started well before the books with The Empire Strikes Back. Don’t believe me? Hit up IMDB and take a gander at the writer/director for A New Hope. Yeah, as we would expect it’s George Lucas. Now jump over to The Empire Strikes Back and you get a very different picture. There, in the late seventies it had already begun — the transference from a single man’s vision to a shared universe. A new director, new writers, and a sense of co-development between them all.
Which ultimately brings me to the bigger question, what’s a creator to do when their creation becomes bigger than themselves? It’s your work, something you’ve spent years and potentially decades developing, and now a mass of people are telling you what it all means and how it should go. The collective fan base will stamp their feet and yell foul if you take a direction they don’t feel is right. But who are they to dictate that to you, the creator?
It’s a sticky question. Because what is art — in this case Star Wars — without an audience? Without them, it doesn’t mean a thing. So we could argue that the audience does have some amount of ownership. And with that comes a sense that they should have a say in it’s direction. After all, it’s their experience and they want the most out of it.
I wish I had an answer to all of this. With luck, my own series will reach a tenth of Star War’s success. What artist wouldn’t want their work enjoyed on that kind of level?
As for Lucas, well all I know is that he came back to the Star Wars franchise in the 90s and made some terrible fanfiction. So come on Disney, we’re all in this shared universe together, let’s bring back the magic … er … Force.
There are classics that require reading. And I have gone too long without reading them. Recently Barnes & Noble have been putting out these great hard backed copies of a ton of classics for fairly cheap. So for the past birthdays and Christmases I’ve been getting them as presents. As it stands I now own the works of Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe, The Grimm’s Fairytales, and finally Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”
I had built up quite a backlog of books, but decided to jump into the classic Science Fiction Horror novel.
Man, I can see why this has stayed the test of time. Mary Shelley weaves a fantastic story where she explores the nature of man. In both Frankenstein and his creature, we both sympathize with their plight and shake our heads at their misfortune. Each man fights for what they believe to be true and just, only to find themselves at odds with one another. And you can understand both their points of view. If only the creature had not resorted to vengeance and murder, he would have had his ultimate desire of companionship. If only Frankenstein had stayed true to his word and given the creature a companion, then perhaps he would have lived a happy life.
As I read through her masterful prose, I couldn’t help but become incensed by how Hollywood has twisted her story. They miss the point entirely. Yes, there is a theme that man should not attempt to play god. But there is so much more to this story. Frankenstein’s monster is a vastly intelligent and eloquently spoken being. His tale of despair and longing haunt you. Shunned by the world, he fights to fit in, to find acceptance. but his ghastly appearance sends people fleeing in terror. Who of us has not felt out of place and judged before having the chance to show who we really are?
Please, please read this book if you haven’t. Don’t let the idea of when it was written distract you.
And if any screenwriter in Hollywood happens to read this, let’s get together and write a real script based on the novel. None of this Igor, Bride of Frankenstein, and “It’s alive!” nonsense. Let’s write a script based on real life horrors, of being cast aside by society with no companionship. Of losing your soul and everything you love in the pursuit of a dream, that haunts you for the rest of your days.
At the recommendation of my agent Meredith Brown I picked up a copy of “The Way of Shadows” by Brent Weeks. Like most fantasy books these days it’s a fat book, pushing up to 600 pages. So I got cozy and settled into another realm, ready to see the world of assassin’s as envisioned by the author.
The world Brent Weeks presented was a lot of fun to get to know. It was at once a familiar fantasy setting, but different enough that I didn’t dismiss it or grow bored. He drew me into the world of wetboys, the term for elite assassins. Wetboys are almost more than human as they blend their skills of stealth, traps, and magic to become feared killers in the dark. And it’s how Brent Weeks handles introducing us to this world that I really enjoyed. Azoth, an eleven year old orphan of the Warrens, sees that life as his only way out of the filth and grime of his life.
Cutting to the chase, Azoth apprentices with the best wetboy in the city — Durzo Blint. In my opinion, Durzo shines in this book. You can tell Brent Weeks had a grand time writing this character. There are times that Durzo drifts toward Mary Sue-dom, but Weeks does a masterful job of keeping this character on his toes and giving him a hard time. It’s a load of fun reading about a master assassin — excuse me, wetboy — who tests his young apprentice to the limits. I enjoyed how Brent Weeks used Durzo’s personality and training methods to show us Azoth’s growth as a character.
In the first two-thirds of the book we get these great characters and personal struggles. And then, the rest of the book happens.
Once Brent Weeks kicks into gear with the political intrigue of the book, everything goes off the rails. It’s a twisting mess of gotchas and — gasp! — big reveals that feel shallow. Many chapters toward the end I found myself skimming through the battles to just find out who lived and who died as I’d lost interest. As I read through the final 100 pages I saw the influence of George R. R. Martin in the gutters. It’s whole-sale slaughter chapter after chapter. Unlike Martin, however, I didn’t care. Most of the character deaths were of people that had barely a scene or two. Characters, I came to realize, that Brent Weeks considered major, despite having little impact or presence in the book.
After finishing the book I read the little questionnaire in the back. Sure enough Brent Weeks mentioned Martin as an influence, stating that he learned from Martin that if you maim or kill a major character then any character is up for grabs. Unfortunately I feel Brent Weeks missed a crucial element to make it work. You have to make the reader care about the characters first. What Martin did over three books, Weeks crammed into 200 pages.
[SPOILER] I believe I was supposed to feel dismayed at the slaughter of Lord Regnus Gyre and the Queen. But when Regnus only has three to four small scenes with little character development and the Queen having been introduced in the last several hundred pages with — at most — a few paragraphs, I found it hard to care. [/SPOILER]
For me, the strength of the story was more about the relationship between Durzo and Azoth, master and apprentice, killer and savior. What should have been a climactic final conflict between the two, was mired in a twisting, bloated siege of a city.
But, in the end, the series is a New York Times best seller and you can’t argue with that. So I tip my hat to you Brent Weeks. May I have half as much success as you.
Like many of you I went to see “The Desolation of Smaug” this weekend. My reaction to “An Unexpected Journey” was luke warm. I felt several scenes could have been cut to have a tighter film overall. But for the most part I felt that it captured the sense of adventure and wonder that was “The Hobbit.”
For this film, I was mostly there to see Smaug. We’ve reached an era in CG that finally we could do dragons justice. Not that movies like “Dragon Heart” were bad — I remember being blown away by how awesome it was back then — but this is Smaug. He is THE dragon. And man did they nail it. I can agree with Martin Freeman, he was Smaug the Stupendous.
I wish I could say as much for other parts of the film. Sure, the Barrel Ride was a lot of fun. I’d say it captured the perfect essence of adventure. A bit ridiculous? Sure. But I laughed with mirth and enjoyed every moment of it. If only Legolas and the completely-made-up Tauriel could have been left in Mirkwood.
What a dreadful inclusion to the story. I can understand showing Legolas. He lives there, it makes sense he’d show up, and I enjoyed the little moment between him and Gloin. A little wink to fans of the series. But why invent a brand new character and insert a love triangle? If we’re looking for relationships, why are we not focusing on the growing bond and eventual betrayal between Thorin and Bilbo. Is it because Hollywood believes American audiences can’t handle platonic male relationships? Probably. And I can see where that fear comes from. Just look at all the jokes/memes between Sam and Frodo being lovers. On some level, was Jackson trying to head that off?
Ultimately, the inclusion of Legolas and Tauriel robbed the dwarves of their agency. What were moments for the dwarves to shine and demonstrate their martial prowess, are robbed by elven ninjary. Back to the Barrel Ride, we do get some great moments with the dwarves. We get to see how well they work together to overcome their foe — tossing weapons around and chopping down tree trunk bridges. Jackson even gave us one of the most spectacular moments of Barrel Bowling and Dwarven Beserker Barrage! I loved it so much that I’ll forgive the magically empty barrel out of nowhere.
But in the third act it all falls apart. Orcs descend upon Lake Town, Kili lay dying from an orcish arrow, while those that stayed behind fight to save his life. Instead of giving us a scene where the dwarves win against all odds, using their surroundings to defeat their foe AND save the life of their friend, we have to be saved by the elves. Jackson even set us up for that moment. Bard gives them “weapons” of smith hammers and fishing hooks that the dwarves scoff at. What a great gun on the wall moment! In the fight to save their lives, the dwarves pick up the make-shift weapons and go to town!
It’s sad to see the dwarves pushed aside in their own story. What should be their moment to shine, turns into the Legolas Action Hour. The dwarves should not be looking to Smaug as their ultimate enemy, but Peter Jackson.
This is a very exciting guest post I have for everyone. For those that have followed my blog for a while you’ll know that I have recently signed a contract with the Sullivan Maxx Literary Agency. My esteemed agent is Meredith Brown and she’s been great, helping me get my first book ready to shop around.
To celebrate all of this, Meredith has agreed — after much prodding and gnashing of teeth — to write a guest post for me. She touches on what she looks for in a manuscript, what she’s currently looking to represent, and of course her email if you have anything you’d like to submit.
Without making you all wait any longer, here is Meredith.
Hey y’all! My name’s Meredith Brown, and I’m your friendly neighborhood agent, here to talk about agent-ing and also give you guys a little bit of info about who I am and such. So, I suppose I’ll start with the basics. I graduated with a degree in Creative Writing and immediately knew I wanted to go into the publishing world. I spent my college career as a copy editor for my school paper and have been editing my mother’s stories and so it just seemed very natural for me to continue doing that, but for people I didn’t know personally.
Anyway, I lucked out in the way I got my job as literary agent; I’ve known Holly McClure since I was a toddler and she knew I would be great as her employee. I’m also the only person at her agency who reads fantasy and science fiction, so that’s an addition to her company (Sullivan Maxx Literary Agency) that I was able to bring. Also, now y’all know what sort of things I accept! I honestly don’t care if it’s aimed at the adult, YA, or children’s category. I only care if it’s well-written and hooks me in! I also definitely enjoy reading other genres, especially anything YA (I have a love affair with David Levithan and John Green, to name a few), so you can also feel free to just send me a pitch and I’ll look it over and let you know what I think.
On that note, you may be wondering what I look for in a manuscript. As I said, it definitely helps to be well-written and to have a great hook. Well-written, by the way, does not mean perfectly written. No one’s perfect, not even me, and I’m a grammar-obsessed copy editor-cum-writer-cum-lit agent. Basically, it’s totally fine if you have some typos and maybe muddle up some grammatical stuff. But! That doesn’t mean it should be sloppy. I’m not saying it can’t be your first draft, because I don’t know how y’all work. For me, my first draft is actually pretty edited, because I tend to over-analyse and go back and make sure everything flows as I’m writing. Some people don’t do that because they just need to get it out of them in one fell swoop and then go back in and edit. That’s totally fine! I hear the latter is actually how Neil Gaiman works, so you’re definitely in good company. Anwyay! Point being, just make sure that it’s fairly clean and is a good representation of your work. Honestly, as long as the story’s there and the beginning has a good hook, I’m willing to forgive a lot more.
Oh, and one last thing, please please please don’t have your main character waking up as the beginning. It’s clichéd and just kind of lazy. But, you already knew that, right? If you need a bit more guidance than that, here’s something I’ve learned. Write your beginning the way it first comes out of you. Now, most people will talk their way into a great beginning, but it won’t be the first thing you write. So, read it over and find that crazy-good first line. Usually it’s in the middle of when the action starts, not the actual beginning. I hope that made sense! It makes more sense once you do it, I promise. Oh, and do try not to start off with an expletive, either. You need to gain the reader’s trust before doing that, even if your character is a potty mouth (trust me, I made this mistake A LOT in my creative writing classes).
I’m definitely currently open to submissions. My work email is email@example.com. It might take me a few days to respond, but I do read every submission I receive.
I’d like to thank Meredith for giving us some insight and — of course — picking my manuscript up and seeing in it the chance to go to the very top. Thanks, Meredith.
Apparently Benedict Cumberbatch’s name has been tossed around for Star Wars. And while I know this will never happen, I still can’t help but feel this is the only character he can play.
You all know I’m right. Putting aside the argument of whether or not he should have played Khan, he showed that he can play a great villain. And for my money, Admiral Thrawn is one of the best villains out there. Too bad we’ll never get to see this on screen.
A boy can dream though.