The Liberating Feeling Of Accepting Setbacks

The trick is not minding that it hurts.

As an aspiring writer, I can tell you wholeheartedly, that there is no thing we fear more than criticism. Even constructive criticism. For all writers will tell you about wanting criticism and reviews, so they may learn from it, we actually don’t. Best case scenario? We want you to go on Amazon or our website, find our books, rate them highly, share the link to your Facebook timeline and tell your friends about how brilliant we are. That’s all we really aspire to deep down in our hearts. Or maybe that’s just me, but I doubt it. The fear of not being liked after we poured our hearts and minds into a work of fiction to receive negative feedback, is the worst thing that can happen to an artist. I’m not just speaking about writers anymore, it’s anyone. We all want to be loved, have achieved something meaningful with our invested time, our work of art.

I talked about writer’s block a couple of weeks ago and how overcoming it comes down to accepting certain realities about both your work and yourself. An important element of that is accepting setbacks. Once you accept setbacks, both in terms of your writing and the critique of your writing, you will be able to move on with your career and your life. It’s something applicable even to other areas of your daily routine, from working out, to losing weight, to your experience at work, even homework and school. Setbacks will always happen, it’s inevitable. There are too many variables in our daily lives and in what we put into our art for nothing to ever go wrong with it. Even if you are on a winning streak, there is always something that may happen to end your running series.

The trick comes in when you realize this is only temporary and it cannot stop you for your own strength and willpower and insistence to carry on. As long as you can cling to this, you will have the ability to bounce back, be it from failure at school, or a negative critique to your work, or because you need to throw out your first draft completely and start again. I was reminded of Peter O’Toole’s performance as T.E. Lawrence in this regard:

“The trick, Mr Potter, is not minding that it hurts.”

Our creative and day-to-day struggles are exactly what they are, struggles, but they don’t need to rule over our process of creating art or moving forward with our life. Once you realize this, you will be able to let go of your self-doubts, you will regain the self-confidence any creative person needs to put their work forward to the public. In the end, once the die is cast, it’s on.

P.S: Sorry for butchering Caesar at the end there.

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The Expanse: Adaptation & Do-Over

When you make changes to an adaptation do it right.

Last week saw the premiere of the second season of The Expanse, one of my current obsessions. In the time since the first season aired, I managed to read all six of the novels currently released and read up on the universe extensively. It was, however, the first season that got me interested in the books in the first place. Just like with A Song of Ice and Fire, better known as Game of Thrones.

This puts me in an interesting position, in where I am already seeing more similarities between Game of Thrones and The Expanse. Both based on popular, post-modern(ish) book series, one fantasy, one sci-fi, both adapted before the series have ended. For the record, I prefer The Expanse at this point, though that is mainly because Game of Thrones is starting to wane on me a bit as it hits its inevitable conclusion. Maybe it’s been too popular and I’m just a contentious bastard. Who knows.

But following The Expanse in both book and tv form, both in the primary text and the secondary interviews with cast, crew, and authors, I have found The Expanse to be the exact way I want an adaptation to handle it’s story. The season two premiere has only deepened that conviction.

What is, in the end, always the problem with adaptations? Either they are too faithful or too far away from the source material. Fans of the source material thus have no reason to actually watch it. Why bother twice? Straying too far from the source material on the other hand, however, leads to the opposite problem of alienation and being the series-in-name-only, or at least too different to bring enjoyment to the people who fell in love with it for different reasons. But I always believed there to be a happy medium.

The Expanse is that perfect sweet spot. The Walking Dead might have been so if it wasn’t completely unwatchable for its padded paddedness (hint: clearly an amateur wordsmith). The Expanse has the benefit of being created by people deeply in love with the source material, and having the two writers on board as producers as well. This leads to them getting to do a “do-over” of sorts on the series itself. Little things, like inserting the novellas and short stories back into the main narrative, or re-working the admittedly janky first novel. For example, in this season they introduce Bobbie Draper into the series, a book early, just as they did Avasarala last year. Both characters didn’t appear until Caliban’s War where they shared a storyline of being “awesome cop, cranky cop”. It makes sense in context. Introducing Avasarala last year meant that the first story/book finally gained the political subplot it originally was missing and all the other books had. It also lead to more characterization and humanization, and the purportedly “greyness” of the character. Season 2 will attempt something similar with Bobbie Draper, the Martian Gunnery Sergeant from hell.

This is where we hit the adaptation problem of casting a 22 year old (ish? There was no official age but I extrapolated from previous roles) in the role that called for a 40 year old Brazillian Gwendoline Christie crossed with 1970s Clint Eastwood, but I understand the limitations of the medium. And to be fair, the actress does really well and as a book reader I recognize Bobbie Draper right there. Which is damn impressive. It’s the only place where the adaptation really suffers: the medium-related limitations. The Belters are supposed to be all really tall and lanky, the Martians are (mainly) supposed to have Texan accents and look Polynesian and Indian, a lot of scenes in zero g barely feel like it. Expenses and casting in Canada being what it is, they did an amazing job nonetheless.

As a writer, seeing the two novelists that make up James S.A. Corey have some creative control and an advisory position for their adaptation is just fascinating to watch as well. Unlike Game of Thrones, The Expanse immediately learned that you needed to make changes to the adaptation and decided to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. Ultimately, this was Game of Thrones’ downfall for more than two seasons after the first three seasons were mostly as straight an adaptation as you can get. But instead of knowing beforehand that the books wouldn’t be finished in time, they decided to keep on adapting as straight as they could. It’s a credit to the showrunners, but ended up being a disadvantage after they had to make the awkward transition from literary adaptation to HBO tv show.

Overall, I’m happy the show is back, and I look forward to appreciating the series once again from the beginning from a new angle. Check it out once it hits Netflix or right now on Syfy or your digital store of your choice.

 

What Arrow Can Still Teach Us About Serialized Storytelling

Rule No.1 of Writing Fiction: Have a Back-up for when you are writing crap.

You all know that feeling. That feeling when you watch a certain episode of a tv show and you are truly wondering why you are sticking with something. It happens in TV shows, comics, books, anything that is a long running series. There comes the moment when you are finally fed up with a certain program and look at your hands and ask: “Why am I doing this to myself?”

When it comes to the tv show arrow, that feeling has come to me multiple times over the past three years. All the moments when the show has jumped the shark, all the moments that were just too dumb to believe. Arrow isn’t the only one, of course, it happened to book series, comics I’ve been following, but I always come back to Arrow. And then I realized that this is something I can learn from the show if I ever decide to write a serialized story, and that is to have some live rings to spare whenever one of my plot lines goes south. I’ve watched a lot of tv shows over the past few years, most of which I have decided to quit, but the most enduring show, I have ever followed in its original airing that I still tune into watching, is and remains Arrow. The show knows when to break out of its mold and try something new. More often than not it doesn’t succeed anymore for a bunch of reasons, but the solid foundation it laid four, five years ago at this point, is still strong enough, with enough side plots and one-off ideas that it keeps me invested in at least finding out how that concludes. Continue reading “What Arrow Can Still Teach Us About Serialized Storytelling”

How To Overcome Writer’s Block

How To Overcome Writers Block in some easy snake oil salesmen-esque steps. Promised.

I thought I might as well get back to writing on the blog more often, if only to keep the fire stoked until the book hits, but also in some way to be my own private little therapy session once a week, so here goes:

If you’re a writer, you probably spend your time in one of three stages 1.) writing 2.) not writing and 3.)thinking about maybe getting back to writing on Tuesday in three weeks fingers crossed. I find myself, more often than not, in stage 2 and 3. I think this is why 2015 is such a blur to me, I have honest to god no memory of that year, it went by way too quickly.

If you’re in any way like me, then you know that writing isn’t the hard part. That’s easy. The Historian’s Crusade was written over the course of seven weeks and edited over the course of another five. The big problem will be overcoming the periods where you are in-between stories and in-between ideas. Maybe something else is going on in your life, maybe you have a new job, or school obligations. What you need to understand right then and there, if you ever want to get back to writing, is to forgive yourself and not martyr yourself on the altar of the writing gods. It happens, learn to move on from it. Just because you are a writer and want to publish your stories, or not, doesn’t mean you have to think about it 24/7. I guarantee you that the people who do hit burnout by 45. I wanna be popular and adored like Hemingway,  sure, but I don’t wanna go out in an alcohol binge or with a bullet in my brain either, so learn to relax. The more you fight your writer’s block, the worse it will get. Once you are in a state of mental ease, your confidence will return.

Continue reading “How To Overcome Writer’s Block”

What I Learned from Writing A Serialized Novel And What’s Next

It’s been eleven weeks but today I published the final chapter of the serialized novel (or novella, I suppose, thanks arbitrary length limits…). I learned a lot of things over the past three months and I’d just like to ramble about that for a while so bear with me please.

First of all: Pick a title beforehand that isn’t a mouth-full. I mean, “The Very Model of a Modern Starship Captain” is a nice little homage to Gilbert and Sullivan, sure, but once you’re done writing it, the entire tweet will already be done and it makes for one lousy hashtag. Also, it doesn’t really tell you anything. So I have since decided that I will rename the book to “The Historian’s Crusade”, though I’m sure it will probably be “A Historian’s Crusade” at some point next week and then “Crusading Historian” once this is picked up as a limited superhero book by Darkhorse or some bullshit like this… yeah, self-publishing is truly a backbreaking job.

All joking aside though, the past three months have taught me more about writing than the previous ten years combined, I believe. Back in 2014 I took a creative writing class during my undergraduate phase that tried to teach you how to write for NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month. The goal? Write 50.000 words in four weeks. This has ruined writing for me for two years. As hard as it may sound, but I just can’t bring myself to ever vomit up 50.000 words in a month. In the end, you will not be left with a halfway decent first draft on which to build a successful book, you will be left with just that: alphabet diarrhea. What is the point of wasting four weeks on a novel when you will have to completely throw it away afterwards. And that’s exactly what I did, I threw that script away in mid-2015 and only kept a basic premise tangentially related to “What if Archer from Enterprise was a tragic character?” and instead went with: “what if there was a Star Trek history book?”I mean, John Scalzi can do brilliant post-modern Star Trek pastiches and he is only one of the most gifted writers of the last decade so I might as well give it the old college try.

Continue reading “What I Learned from Writing A Serialized Novel And What’s Next”

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review

NON SPOILER REVIEW

Ah, Rogue One. I’m all prepared. Read Rogue One Catalyst, the prequel book, rewatched A New Hope, stayed away from spoilers. Here we go:

Well, that was… something. I just saw the 6th best Star Wars film.

Rogue One, like its protagonist, is a movie seriously in need of a purpose. It’s a film that wants to be the first anthology film and tell a new story in the Star Wars universe, yet beats you over the head with cameos and characters from A New Hope we didn’t need to see, while completely ignoring its new characters and failing to give them any sort of meaningful depth. It’s almost amazing.

People complained at the “war movie stuff” was the problem, but I thought the war movie stuff wasn’t a problem at all, the real issue is that the movie wasted my time until about 80 minutes in when the actual plot started. It does some stuff to fill plot holes for A New Hope, but then it meanders around in so much unnecessary fluff. The only bits that got a rise out of me where the cameos, callbacks, and the last five minutes of the film, again: ironic for an anthology. But the part where I was bored until the third act is my main problem. It did establish mood in a way, but didn’t earn it. I was hoping for moments of oppression, a reason for these people to make sacrifices for freedom, but it was the same old, same old. Maybe it also didn’t help that I read the book, because they wasted both Krennic and Galen Erso, it’s almost incredible. They spend so much time on the set-up that the pay off comes too abrupt.

Maybe my assessment of it being the 6th best was a bit harsh. With all the problems I had with Force Awakens, and Revenge of the Sith, I was always engaged and the plot was moving forward. I don’t except much from a SW movie outside of being entertained. This wasn’t interesting to me.
And before someone said that it’s because I know too much: I saw it with Mr Casual fan number 1 aka my dad: he turned to me when the credits rolled and said, translated from German: “What was that supposed to be? I already knew all of this.”
There is pathos in the movie, but its all the third act. The trailer was good because it cut out the first 80 minutes or so.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’s main problem is that it isn’t a Star Wars story, it’s THE Star Wars story, it’s A New Hope’s prequel, with all that would make this exciting excised to the end. As the servant of two masters it eventually succumbed under its own weight.

 

Online Novel: The Historian’s Crusade

There are no happy endings to stories, only bad research.
Find out more in the new fictional history book written by … someone who exists.

Foreword

This is the first draft of my novel Historian’s Crusade. An updated version can be found on Amazon for 0.99$. The first chapter will remain here on this site though as a sample. 

Changes to the story include different dates, new characterization, continuity clean-up, as well as annotations and a brand new bibliography of all fake future history books. The story on Amazon is also updated to work better with the sequel Disalienation and is the official version of the “Müllerverse” if you will, should I decide to write more.

Thank you very much.
Alexander Reineke, October 2017

 

Continue reading “Online Novel: The Historian’s Crusade”