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What kind of fantasy novel are you writing? August 26, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Fantasy, Novel, On Writing.
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Source: readingbookinfo.com

It’s been an exciting few weeks around here for an assortment of reasons I won’t go into, which means my catatonic fantasy novel is being pushed even further back in my list of ‘things I must work on soon’.

I started this novel about 10 years ago as a bored student who had read little fantasy and had zero idea what made a good fantasy novel and even less of an idea on how to write one.  And yet I wrote slabs here and there, developed character biographies, planned, planned and planned some more.  Most of the writing took place over the space of two years, but it’s been one of those projects that can get neglected for years at a time — and it has been.  I guess I am one of those millions of people out there who would love to reach their goal but haven’t yet been willing to (or developed the discipline to) put in the hard work necessary to get there.

My dreams of becoming a fantasy novelist are still very much alive, but the expectations are no longer the same.  Having now read more fantasy and with a better understanding of what makes a good book and how to produce one, it has actually gotten much harder to write.  I also know now what a difficult industry it is, how poorly the industry is performing right now, and how bleak the future is looking for the majority of aspiring novelists.   Not to say it can’t be done, but hard work alone won’t be enough.

Simply being a good writer and writing a great book isn’t going to cut it.  These days, it’s all about the market — and the marketing.  You really have to identify your target market and write specifically for that market.  Sometimes you get lucky and the book has cross-market potential (say Harry Potter), but if you don’t have a clear target market you’ll find it difficult to find a publisher willing to take you on (especially if you are not an established writer).

I find it’s a catch-22 situation: you want to write something that is different to what is already out there at the moment to distinguish yourself from the pack, but publishers are seldom willing to take on books that they can’t comfortably squeeze into a particular genre.

And that’s just to get published.  What about sales?  Of course, paranormal romance has been big since Twilight, and I suppose that’s not really fantasy any more because it kind of become a standalone genre.  It seems every second book on the shelf involves vampires, werewolves or other mythological creatures these days.

More recently, thanks to the HBO series Game of Thrones, epic fantasy is starting to really pick up again, especially those with dark plots that feature demented themes and characters.

When I was in writing workshops, the general consensus was that if you want to sell these days, you ought to target the ‘young adult’ market.  According to Wikipedia, that’s roughly the ages of 14 to 21.  But apart from the Harry Potter clones (ie teenagers playing around with magic and magical worlds) and Twilight clones (ie teenagers falling in love with magical creatures), I can’t really think of any young adult fantasy sub-genres that have been hugely successful in recent years.

Every week I am coming across more and more people who are writing fantasy novels, and the majority of them either doing something generic or one of the above.  And that got me wondering — where the heck does my fantasy novel fit into all of this, and should I be doing anything to change it?

Back before I knew anything about anything, my intention was just to write a good fantasy yarn.  I thought I had a good story, a few interesting characters, and didn’t think about much else.  I suppose if I had a particular slant, it was to make the novel less like the sprawling fantasy epics that give me headaches just trying to decipher the blurb on the back cover.  I wanted to write something lighter, more straightforward and action-packed, like a thriller with a fantasy setting.  I wanted to appeal to the RPG geeks who like the idea the these fantasy worlds but are either too lazy or find it too tedious to read 1000+ pages for a good story.

I still want to keep that idea in tact, but I’m wondering whether I need to rewrite the damn thing so that it fits more into a particular category.  Because right now, it’s not really anything.  On the one hand, I could go ‘George RR Martin’ and make it a more ‘adult’ fantasy with more violence, gore, treachery and sex (and let’s face it, the geeks love that kind of stuff).  On the other hand, I could go the ‘young adult’ path and make my protagonists younger, make the story slightly more sanitised, and maybe even throw in a little more romance.

They would make completely different books, but I can’t figure out which one would be more appealing to the wider market.

Anyway, that’s my aimless rant for the day.  If you too are writing a fantasy novel, what kind of fantasy is it?  Does it follow the trodden path of those before you, or is it something drastically different?  Are you writing with a specific target market in mind or do you not care?  And what makes you think your novel is special enough to be published or potentially become a bestseller?

10 Movies That Make Men Want to Work Out June 18, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Entertainment, Exercise, Misc, Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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I say this with an unblemished record of heterosexuality (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Have you ever watched a movie that made you want to go work out afterwards?

I have.  Well, I’ve never actually gone out and done it, but real men would have.

What I have noticed is that these films usually feature men who were either previously unknown to mainstream audiences and/or have undergone amazing physical transformations.  For example, Arnie or Stallone films rarely have that ‘Wow’ factor because they’ve always looked that way, and in any case from my research it seems looking ‘cut’ is generally preferred to looking ‘buffed’.  Anyway, it’s no surprise that the Internets is filled with guides on how to transform your body to replicate the following movie stars.

Without further ado, these are what I think are the 10 films that have inspired more meatheads than any other.

(click on ‘more’ to read on)

(more…)

Movie Review: Water for Elephants (2011) June 14, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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Here’s a surprise.  I not only watched Water for Elephants, I actually enjoyed it a lot.  I remember last month when R-Patz and Reese Witherspoon were here for the Australian premiere and I just happened to be passing by, hoping to catch a glimpse of the elephant.  Unfortunately, the screams of teenage girls forced me to retreat before I saw anything.

But to make this film all about R-Patz is unfair.  Water For Elephants, based on the bestselling novel by Sara Gruen (who amazingly started it as a part of NaNoWriMo!), is a very good movie about an educated young man (Pattinson) who finds himself working for the Benzini Brothers Circus during the Great Depression and the Prohibition era.  The owner of the circus is August (Christoph Waltz), a charming but cruel man, and his wife and star performer is Marlena (Reese Witherspoon).  Oh, and of course there is an elephant.

It’s one of those classic coming-of-age stories, and if you have any interest in circuses or animals or R-Patz, then chances are you’ll find Water for Elephants a pretty enjoyable ride.  This was a shock to me, considering don’t particularly like Pattinson or Witherspoon, though I am a massive fan of Christoph Waltz (and have been since Inglourious Basterds).

Having interviewed circus performers last year, I do have a bit of a thing for the circus (despite my fear of clowns), but I think I would have enjoyed Water For Elephants in any case.  It’s a lovely film, beautifully shot and oozing a nostalgic old school feel.  The progression of the plot is painfully predictable but I still had a good time with it.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: After playing a character called Jacob in this film, it looks like R-Patz is now both Team Edward and Team Jacob!

Movie Review: Red Riding Hood (2011) April 1, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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No, this is no April Fools Day joke.  Of course I was warned, but I had a free ticket and I had to use it before expiry, so I went and watched one of the only films currently screening that I hadn’t yet seen — Red Riding Hood.

Directed by Twilight‘s Catherine Hardwicke, Red Riding Hood is a very very loose adaptation of the fairytale everyone knows about.  And in the tradition of that vampire film, Red Riding Hood is full of wistful glances, sexual tension and horrible dialogue between attractive young people — in this case Amanda Seyfried, Shiloh Fernandez (who reminds me of Chuck Bass) and Max Irons.  Other common factors include werewolves and Billy Burke as the protagonist’s dad.

Anyway, I wouldn’t necessarily say it was complete trash, but Red Riding Hood just wasn’t very good.  It’s always interesting to see a ‘revisioning’ of an old tale, especially such a pretty one visually (nice little town and mixture of colours), but this one was uninspiring and lacked intelligence and creativity. 

In essence, this was a teen fantasy horror flick that was not very scary.  A werewolf is terrorising a small town and everyone is a suspect.  The mystery is what keeps the film afloat, but because all the characters (apart from Gary Oldman’s werewolf-slaying priest) are so bland and the love triangle so uninteresting, I found myself switching off.

Ultimately, Red Riding Hood was all style and little substance.  It looked pretty, with pretty people, pretty sets and pretty shots, resulting in a visually impressive film, but there wasn’t much else going for it.  I have a feeling they might have made a mistake by trying to make this a Twilight clone rather than utilise the fairytale premise for something more clever, something with more imagination, and something that didn’t take itself so seriously.

2 stars out of 5

Start of Year DVD Blitz: Part I January 6, 2011

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As promised, here is my first set of DVD reviews for the start of 2011!

Centurion (2010)

Here’s another one that when I first saw the trailer thought was going to be a hit — but strangely, it either never screened or screened for such a short time that nobody noticed, then went straight to DVD.

Centurion is based on the Roman conquest of the Picts, told from the perspective of the ill-fated Ninth Legion.  It’s dark, moody, gritty, extremely violent and gory, and a surprisingly enjoyable ride.  Even though we get the story from the side of the Romans, there are really no good guys or villains in this one.  

Excellent performances from a great cast, including Michael Fassbender, Olga Kurylenko and Dominic West, even though the script and characters probably don’t do the performances justice.

Centurion certainly doesn’t have the depth or wide appeal of Gladiator, but hardcore battle fans (like myself) might get a kick out of it because it does have some wonderful battle and fight scenes.

3.5 stars out of 5

Cop Out (2010)

This buddy cop comedy starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan (from 30 Rock) and directed by Kevin Smith has been on many of the ‘Worst Film of the Year’ lists, so I decided to check it out for myself.

And well…I didn’t personally hate the film, but it was pretty awful, especially when you factor in the director (Smith has been a favourite of mine, even though this is the first time he didn’t direct his own material) and the all-star cast (which also includes Rashida Jones, Jason Lee, Sean William Scott, Adam Brody and Kevin Pollack).

My problem with Cop Out was that it wasn’t as funny or clever as it thought it was.  I haven’t seen much of 30 Rock, but Tracy Morgan was extremely annoying.  He just wouldn’t stop shouting and screaming all the time.  It was exhausting to watch and listen to him go on like a lunatic for the overlong 107-minute running time.

There were a couple of amusing scenes but most of it was pretty stock standard stuff that you’d see in any B-grade comedy.

1.75 stars out of 5

Remember Me (2010)

Enter the non-Twilight star vehicle for Rob Patz to showcase his acting chops as Tyler Hawkins, an American college student who has a dead brother, a neglected younger sister and a father (Pierce Brosnan) who is too absorbed in his work to care.  He meets and befriends Ally Craig (Emilie de Ravin), a girl with a dead mother and an overprotective cop father.  Sad, tragic, melodramatic love story.

Remember Me is depressing and tries too hard to tug at the heart strings through numerous ‘please feel sorry for me’ sequences.  At its core it’s not a horrible film, but there’s not a whole lot going for it.  It had a strong introductory sequence but went downhill from there, and even though I expected things to pick up and the various plot threads to be tied together, it never really happened.

The ending, which I’m sure gets discussed a lot, came out of nowhere, and I believe some might even find it offensive to pull a stunt like that.

Watchable for Rob Patz fans, but everyone else won’t be missing much by skipping this one.

2 stars out of 5

Knight and Day (2010)

Knight and Day is acomedy action film about an ordinary girl caught up in the world of CIA operatives and dangerous/revolutionary inventions.  It’s fast paced, outrageous, over-the-top, and quite fun if you don’t take it seriously.

However, I didn’t really like it much.  To be honest, it’s probably because the film stars Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.  I used to really like Cruise, but ever since he lost the plot there’s just something off about him, even on screen.  Maybe he’s getting too old, but the suave routine he got used to pulling on Top Gun and Mission: Impossible doesn’t work for me anymore.  As for Diaz, sorry if this offends anyone, but I really dislike her face.  I know she’s considered one of the most attractive women in the world, but I simply don’t get it.  It became a distraction to the detriment of the viewing experience.

Knight and Day is a film that runs on the charm and chemistry of the two main characters, so fans of Cruise/Diaz might enjoy it a lot more than I did.  But unfortunately for me, I let my prejudices get the better of my objective judgment.

2.5 stars out of 5

Me and Orson Welles (2009)

A coming-of-age/character study film by Richard Linklater about a 17-year-old kid (Zac Efron) who got to spend a few months with Orson Welles (Christian McKay), the man credited with making Citizen Kane, a film widely regarded as the best of all time.  However, this film takes place in 1937 (4 years before Citizen Kane), and it was about a stage production of Julius Caesar.

It’s pretty light-hearted, harmless stuff, but to me, it was more like ‘Meh’ and Orson Welles.  Perhaps lovers of period pieces and those who appreciate meticulously designed sets and the threatre might enjoy it more than I did.  I don’t deny that the film is well-made, though I can’t help it if it didn’t get my juices flowing.

Efron is adequate and McKay is actually brilliant as Welles, the egotistical, narcissistic genius, but neither the technical attributes nor the performances made me enjoy this film as much as I wanted to.

3 stars out of 5

I still have a few more left — Part II should be coming soon.

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