What will help you reach the next level as a writer? What is that thing you can’t quite put your finger on that would take your stories to the next level? Come to my workshop on May 21 and I will walk through the stages I see most writers grow through, from beginning writer to published pro, and some of the common challenges and lessons found at each stage. The workshop will include handouts and a number of exercises. No matter where you are at in your writer’s journey, the goal is for you to walk away with a clear idea of what you can do to “level up” as a writer.
There are limited seats available, so sign up now!
I have run fast enough from the theater in the future to break the time barrier and return here to give you my review of the movie.
There was a lot about the JLA movie that was sheer awesome! A lot of cool, snapshot poses, a lot of awesome uses of superpowers.
But by the end I felt disappointed, and even a bit bored.
The first problem was the character intros.
As expected, we spend a good chunk of the movie meeting the new heroes, and getting bits of their backstory. Flash. Aquaman. Cyborg. This was the first big challenge of the movie, to make us care about these characters, so that later when they are fighting and in danger, we actually care whether or not they win, whether or not they are hurt. Care whether or not they achieve some kind of happiness, or peace, as a result of the choices and changes they make through the course of the movie.
But we simply did not get enough time with each character to feel connected to them, to care. I rooted for the Flash just because he was funny and likeable. But what Pixar did in five minutes at the beginning of Up, JLA did not manage to do in the roughly ten minutes of character establishment per character.
Even Batman did not move me much, because we haven’t really spent much time with Affleck’s Batman except in his ragey conflict with Superman, so all his pain and the tragic experiences of his past that would make forming a team and being responsible for others a fear to overcome for him (e.g. the loss of a Robin to the Joker) has not really been established here.
Wonder Woman, at least, we understand a little after her LONG overdue solo movie. Which is probably one reason she was the most relatable hero beside Flash.
Heroes aside, though, I think the biggest problem was the enemy.
Steppenwolf and his MacGuffincubes
Basically, our heroes did not have an interesting villain with goals and motivations that we could relate to on some level. I never felt the villain had personal stakes that I cared about yet knew would be bad for our world and our heroes. Instead, we had a CGI Alien Armor Big Bad who wants some evil boxes, and a bunch of CGI aliens and robots to help him get them, and that would be bad. Because it is bad.
Yes, the battle scenes were epic and full of superpowered awesome. But I never felt that Steppenwolf forced a hero to confront their deepest fear or flaw and overcome it. I never felt that Steppenwolf presented a personal challenge to any of the heroes, that he was the worst possible enemy the hero could have had to face at this time because of what they had been through, or what they were struggling with.
Steppenwolf is a master strategist, yet I never really felt there was a clever cat and mouse game going on between him and Batman that made Batman question his own brilliance or ability or willingness to lead others into danger and death. Steppenwolf never really made me feel he had pushed Batman to the edge and the Bats might lose it if anyone died on his watch. They just were racing each other to get the boxes, a simple set of escalating challenges.
Steppenwolf is a badass, but I never felt that in his conflict with Wonder Woman or Aquaman that any of them were forced to question their own strength, the responsibility or consequences of strength, or who they were without it.
Part of the reason the Avengers worked well by comparison is that they faced off against Loki, a villain we had come to know already, a person filled with pain and anger and tragic, twisted need that drove him, a guy who really just wanted to be loved above all others (is that so wrong?). And because Loki played on each hero’s insecurities and flaws and fears, and turned friend against friend. Likewise, in Civil War, the enemy plays the heroes own flaws and pain against each other, turning friend against friend. And in Avengers 2, Scarlet Witch does something similar.
Steppenwolf did not really achieve that. He was not an enemy of the Justice League, of the heroes individually or as a team. He was just big badass enemy, a threat.
And as demonstrated by the Phantom Menace, simply destroying an army of enemy robots in an epic battle can in fact be extremely boring.
Finally, I understood why of course they had to keep Superman out of it for most of the movie, for much the same reason that Hulk wasn’t in Civil War (he would have just smashed anyone on the opposing team, etc). But his moping/angst over the events in Batman vs Superman was a bit of a lame reason for the delay.
In summary, I of course went and saw this movie, and overall it was a fun popcorn flick. How could I not go to see the JLA on the big screen? Not to mention Jason Momoa and Gal Gadot kicking ass and looking hot doing it. But if you are going to have all the grimdark and Pew Pew, you need to balance it with a tad more humor, and a lot more heart, than JLA delivered.
I grew up reading trilogies. I grew up watching trilogies. I lived in trilogies, walked the lands of trilogies until I knew them better than my own neighborhood, lived many lives through trilogies, fought evil and triumphed in trilogies. I dreamed of writing a trilogy. It is surreal to have actually done so. And wonderful. But really, it doesn’t feel real. Yet there it is. Three books. That I can hold in my hands. With my name on them. It’s like I’m living in some bizarro alternate universe. And it is pretty dang cool.
And I love the UK versions from Titan as well!
Book 3 comes out in the US on March 7th, and I can’t wait for people to read it!
I thought I’d once again offer a bit of new year’s encouragement and advice to help with the coming year. While this is aimed primarily at my fellow writers, the same advice can also, I think, be applied to most any goal or creative pursuit, and to life in general, so just replace “writer” or “write” with whatever your passion is.
This weekend, I encourage you to sit down and do three things:
2017 will also certainly be a particularly important year to be active in supporting and fighting for what is important to you, without giving in to despair or in to anger that harms yourself. Here is a starting point for that: http://www.randy-henderson.com/2016/11/what-now/
I found myself in a number of conversations at WorldCon where persons were seeking my advice or thoughts on their writing, or seeking advice of a group in which I sat, and would say some variation on:
“People seem to have a problem with me calling it Warrior Wanda the Space Slut. But I mean slut in a positive or ironic way, because she is a powerful woman so she can have sex with whoever she likes.”
“I have a pretty graphic rape scene in my novel, but if I didn’t have it she wouldn’t have that motivation to get stronger from it and learn to fight that is so important in my story.”
These persons were clearly seeking someone to say, yes, that is okay.
And I engaged in these conversations in a calm, friendly, positive way.
Because I have the privilege to do so.
By this, I do not mean the honor, though really it is an honor to be asked my opinion on anything. Rather, I mean that had such questions been asked of someone who identifies as female, for example, such questions would have been understandably offensive and anger-inducing, and made the person feel unsafe, along with a host of other reactions.
I’m not saying I found the questions pleasant and encouraging, but I recognize that my con experience as a cis white male who presents as het is entirely different from that of anyone who is other than that.
So while I cringed internally, I did not walk away, or mock these persons then, or later with my friends. I gave them a clear but disgust-free expression of “Oooooo, I wouldn’t do that,” and proceeded to lay out in positive terms how they could improve their stories, and their chances of reaching a broader audience.
Here is an example of the types of thing I try to say in these cases, with the goal not being to score points or put him in his place, but to help guide the writer in the right direction where they will hopefully learn for themselves in time what cannot be forced into their understanding in a single argument (And to be clear, I am not in any way saying there are not other approaches, or that outright anger is in any way not a valid response for others to have):
Want to know how to get published? Well, there’s lots of ways, actually 🙂
And writer/ editor Shannon Page has put together a pretty neat collection of essays called The Usual Path to Publication by 27 published authors (including yours truly) on HOW they got published. Check it out!
Two big bits of news for book 3, Smells Like Finn Spirit:
First off, revised Finn 3 has been officially delivered to my editor! And I am so proud of it. Of course, I’m biased, but honestly there are just so many parts I can’t wait for people to read — funny moments, emotional moments, fantastical moments, moments that made me tear up or laugh on my own re-read — and I think that’s a pretty good sign. It has more of the humor of Finn Fancy Necromancy, and expands on the world building of Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free, with some deep character moments I think reflect all I’ve learned as a writer while working on these books, and it completes a nice three book arc (with seeds for future books of course should Tor buy more). Not trying to sound braggy, or like I think so much of my skill or anything, I just am proud of what I created, and feeling pretty happy about being a writer right now.
And second, COVER REVEAL! Thanks to the awesome Peter Lutjen!
I see two major conversation streams in my world converging here: Diversity in fiction, and our current political circus.
Diversity in fiction is about many things, but one of those is that it allows us to experience lives unlike our own, and through that experience gain a deeper understanding of people who are different from ourselves, and the ability to empathize with other experiences. This applies across all media.
Perhaps if we had more popular media that shared an honest view of the Mexican immigrant experience, for example, we might not have a demagogue winning votes by promising to build a giant wall and kick people out of the country, or playing on other racial and religious fears.
Not saying diversity in fiction is THE solution to any problem, but this is just one example of why I feel diversity in media is actually important not just for any specific group who see themselves continuously ignored or badly stereotyped in media, not just for those who are marginalized or persecuted in society, but for everyone. Because we are all in this together — at least until we find a way to teleport to our own planet where we can mess it up however we want without affecting others.
Bigfootloose and Finn Fancy Free comes out February 16th. This is a really critical and exciting time for the series! I hope you’ll join in the fun.
“So, this is your apartment? Nice. Where can I slip into something more comfortable?”
“Right over there, in the door past that copy of Finn Fancy Necromancy. Oh my gosh, have you read it? It’s REALLY exciting and funny an — uh, like you. I’ll get the wine.”
Why do I give this fine example of Finn Fancy love? Well, if you think it might be cool for the series to continue past book 3, continue reading.
This IS the book you’re looking for!
The Finn Fancy series is not in trouble, but it has reached its first critical test. Whether or not Tor wants to publish more Finn Fancy books will likely be based on sales of book 1 and pre-sales/ sales of book 2 (Bigfootloose) over the next couple of weeks. Just because that’s how the industry works.
What this is: Me asking you to take a few minutes to support Finn Fancy if you’ve read and enjoyed it, OR if dark and quirky contemporary fantasy is something that interests you and you MIGHT read it someday. Or if you are just feeling generous toward me and want to support my dream, I suppose.
So if you DO want to help guarantee more Finn Fancy books, here’s what you can do, in rough order from most impact to least. I’ve tried to make it easy:
In my social media feed, a lot of people were sharing this post about City on Fire, a book with sentences so bad they are funny (much like entries into the Bulwer-Lytton “Dark and Stormy Night” contest but not intentionally so).
I laughed. Then I learned about the author, and the history of the book.
I think we can learn a lot from this example, but not just about bad sentences.
WHEN I FIRST READ THE HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE SENTENCES:
First, yes, these sentences are pretty bad. As in, this is a master class in bad sentences. I think an annotated version of this list that breaks down just why each is so bad would be very helpful for writers.
The examples range from pretty common writer errors like:
“But that was where the drawing ended. Below was just white space.” The problem here is stating something so redundant and obvious that it becomes ridiculous. So we can take this, and learn from it to make sure, for example, you don’t write something like “His heart beat in his chest,” because if you are human, where else would it be beating?
To a wide range of other issues as in these examples:
“Just then, a horripilating Scaramouche appeared at her elbow.”
“Breasts like bronzed mangoes.”
In fact, there appears to be a lot of bad breast descriptions in the book.
In this sequel to Randy Henderson's acclaimed debut novel, Finn Fancy Necromancy, Randy Henderson spins another tale full of adventure, magic, and laughs, exploring in more depth the magical world and characters introduced in the first book. More info →
“… it’s an urban fantasy, one that takes place in and around present-day Seattle. But even though it deals with sinister magic and family tragedy, it counterbalances that darkness with something that’s become increasingly rare in fantasy fiction: laughs, laughs, and more laughs.” -- NPR More info →