sorry, tswift: joan jett had the original “bad reputation”

No disrespect directed at Taylor Swift (of whom my daughter Ally is a huge fan) or her latest album, but if we’re talking about “reputations,” I have to bring it back to She Who Didn’t Give A Damn About Her Bad Reputation, Joan Jett, who has a documentary coming out this fall:

I saw Joan Jett perform as the opening act for Robert Plant several years ago, and when she did “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” it was volcanically hot.

Would it surprise you, then, to know that Alyx, the Feisty Teenage Heroine of my upcoming dark fantasy novel This Wasted Land, is not only a fan of Joan Jett (and 80s metal)?  As evidenced by this scene where she and her date Sam are dressed accordingly as they head out to an 80s-themed school dance:

“Mom, this is Alyx!”

“I didn’t know I was going to be meeting your mom,” I muttered, but then she swept in from the kitchen, a big woman, but not too fat, dark hair cut short, arms out for a hug.

“So nice to meet you!” she said, squeezing me. I’m not a huggy person at all. “I’m Brenda.” She pulled back. “Look at you! You look just like Joan Jett!”

“That was the idea, yeah.” And easy to come up with. My motorcycle boots, ripped up old jeans, a red t-shirt, black vinyl jacket. The front of my hair dyed red to match—it took a few tries to get the shade close enough. Lots of mascara and eyeliner.

“I was such a big fan! I saw her about five or six times in concert.”

“Yeah, she’s pretty cool.”

Matter of fact, the chapter that scene appears in is titled, “Do You Wanna Touch Me,” my favorite Joan Jett song:

This Wasted Land will be released October 15, and it’s gonna rock.  Don’t miss it.

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Kenton Kilgore writes YA SF/F that will make you think and feel.  He is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. He also wrote Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for frequent posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction.  You can also catch him on Instagram.

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bad things happen on august 2

“Bad things come in threes,” the saying goes, and they also come on August 2.  Don’t believe me?  Consider this, from my upcoming young adult dark fantasy novel, This Wasted Land:

FernandezGhastly, eh?  But there’s worse.  Here’s a snippet from my young adult fantasy novel, Dragontamer’s Daughters (like Little House on the Prairie, with dragons) where the old native woman To-Ho-Ne tells the young heroines, Isabella and Alijandra, of the Conflagration of Cuidad de Agustin, capital of the Ysparrian Empire:

dtdquoteAnd if that weren’t enough, the world–one world very much like our own, anyway–comes to an end on August 2, as witnessed by a German Shepherd named Buddy in my novel Lost Dogs:

ldquoteCoincidence?  Of course not.  Rather, it’s an example of how all three of my novels–DTD, Lost Dogs, and This Wasted Land (coming October 15)–intersect, even though the stories are vastly different from each other, and are set in different universes.  As you’ll see in TWL, characters and references from other novels–even some I have yet to publish–cross over, though not always in expected ways.

It ties in to what Ōth (pronounced like the word for a vow or promise), a major villain in TWL, calls, “the nine realities.”  I hope you’ll come along and explore them with me when TWL arrives this fall.

cover

 

Kenton Kilgore writes YA SF/F that will make you think and feel.  He is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. He also wrote Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for frequent posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction.  You can also catch him on Instagram.

Don’t miss the latest! Sign up for my mailing list, and you’ll know about blog posts, sneak peeks, upcoming releases, sales, special offers, and more as soon as they appear. I will honor your privacy and never spam you or sell your information. And you can, of course, unsubscribe any time. 

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headed toward “this wasted land”

This Wasted Land is in sight:

cover

This Wasted Land will be my third published novel (after Dragontamer’s Daughters and Lost Dogs), a young adult dark fantasy work that I currently plan to release through Amazon on October 15 of this year.  What’s it about?

Well, I could tell you that it’s a modern day, gender-swapped version of the ancient Hindu epic poem Ramayana, partially inspired by T.S. Eliot’s masterpiece The Waste Land, (which, of course, means that it is infused with and informed by the Fisher King legend), all permeated by a metaphorical  “soundtrack” of 1980’s hair metal (yeah, really).

But it’s more fun, and much closer to the truth–not to mean easier to get a handle on–to tell you that instead, it’s your typical teenage love story:

Boy meets Girl

Evil Witch takes Boy

Girl goes to get Boy back

More specifically:

Alexandra “Alyx” Williams is a misfit: a 17-year Korean-American high school senior, new to Kent Island, MD, who doesn’t like school (except Art class), doesn’t like her family (except for the uncle she’s staying with), and doesn’t like being told what to do (Anger issues? You could say so).

But Alyx does like motorcycles, vintage hard rock, Vanilla Coke, and her boyfriend Sam, who’s a misfit in his own way.  So when a silver-eyed, shape-shifting witch attacks them and snatches Sam onto a ghostly train, Alyx follows, only to find herself in a nightmare world: an endless gray desert of lost things, places, and people, prowled by monsters never imagined by her—or you.

Struggling to survive, find Sam, and return home, Alyx endures horrors and heartbreak as she learns that the witch is but the slave of the ancient, inhuman being who rules this wasted land—and who craves to take Alyx and Sam for himself.

I first started drafting TWL 30 years ago, when I was in college.  I struggled with it for several years, then dropped it for a long time, picking it up again a couple years ago when I felt like I could finally tell the story properly (along the way, it’s gone through many changes).

You can learn more about TWL here, and I hope you’ll check it out when it’s published this October.  I’m wrapping up work on it, and soon enough, I’ll be back with more about it.  Stay tuned!

 

Kenton Kilgore writes YA SF/F you’ll feel.  He is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. He also wrote Dragontamer’s Daughters, (like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons) based on Navajo culture and belief. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction.

Don’t miss the latest! Sign up for my mailing list, and you’ll know about blog posts, sneak peeks, upcoming releases, sales, special offers, and more as soon as they appear. I will honor your privacy and never spam you or sell your information. And you can, of course, unsubscribe any time. 

 

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“infinity war” is hell

*mild spoilers ahead*

If you’re looking for a light-hearted superhero romp, I suggest you hold out for Deadpool 2, debuting in May, or–for more family-friendly fun–Ant-Man and the Wasp, coming later this summer.

Avengers: Infinity War is not “light-hearted.”  It is not “fun.”  It’s The Empire Strikes Back of superhero films, but even then, it’s more like, The Empire Curb-Stomps the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Continue reading

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the best thing ‘bout BTO…

…had nothing to do with the two seminars I conducted.

But let me back up a smidge.  Bay to Ocean is a one-day writers conference held by the Eastern Shore Writers Association every March.  BTO has been going strong for 21 years, and somewhere north of 150 people show up for it each time.

bto2018cPhoto by Bill Cecil.  Used with permission.

After attending several times and getting to know some of the usual presenters and volunteers, I was invited to give not one, but two hour-long seminars.

“Tenets of Technical Writing”

Despite having last taught tech writing 20 years ago, when I thought I wanted to be a college professor, I was confident about putting together a presentation in it.  After all, it was my first job when I started with the federal government, and though my position titles have changed, tech writing’s still a big part of my duties.

Not to mention, I was sure that I had kept all my lesson plans and materials from the mid ‘90’s.  All I had to do, I thought, was update them here and there as I transcribed them into PowerPoint, and I’d be rockin’ in the USA.

Yeah…except that somewhere along the line, I apparently thought that I would never again need said lesson plans and materials, and they had Gone The Way Of All Things.  Did I mention that I discovered this about a week before the conference?

Nothing to do but grit my teeth and create a seminar from scratch.  In addition to condensing a semester-long course into an hour, I had to look up current labor rates, employment trends, etc. for tech writers.  Thank the gods we have this Information Superhighway thing to help, not like when I first started teaching back during the Clinton administration….

After spending many, many hours putting together my presentation, I recorded myself rehearsing it, and it was wretched.  Fumbling for words, way too many “umm’s” and “uhh’s,” repeating myself, lame attempts at humor, not nailing the crucial points—listening to that was worse than eating a mop bucket of slugs.  I wrote a script for it, all 40+ slides of it, and rehearsed it again.  Much better.

Putting On a Show, Take 1

The tech writing seminar was the first one I presented that day.  I told what tech writing is, what it isn’t, why someone would want to get into it (TL/DR answer: $), and how much it pays (anywhere from $45K to $100K+ in the Washington, DC area).Tenets of Tech WritingThe heart of the presentation was the eight core tenets that I believe are the key to success in tech writing:

  1. Put your readers first
  2. Show readers where you’re taking them
  3. Make it easy to read and understand
  4. Put the important information first
  5. Tell the truth—don’t mislead
  6. Use active voice, not passive
  7. Use graphics
  8. Manage time [deadlines/other assignments], space [for print publications], and people [editors/approvers]

I ended the seminar with a tech writing exercise.  I gave the attendees five minutes to draft the instructions for making a peanut butter sandwich.  Then I asked one brave soul to read aloud their instructions step by step while I attempted to follow them.  Fortunately, the lady who volunteered to share hers had been paying attention and had put some effort into it, so I was able to make the sandwich without making a mess or anyone getting hurt.

bto2018aPhoto by Bill Cecil.  Used with permission.

I was a little nervous at the beginning of the presentation, but once I warmed up, it went along well.  The only bummer was that a mere seven people show up, but I was told there were some very popular seminars going on at the same time, so my presentation was like one of those TV shows other stations run during the Super Bowl.

Putting On a Show, Take 2

I had thought that my tech writing seminar would be the more attended of the two I was doing, but the inverse was true.  Twenty people came to my presentation on hand-selling books, almost filling the room.Latest Hand-Selling Books

This seminar expounds on what I’ve discussed here and here, and I’ve presented it live before, so I was very familiar with it and comfortable giving it. 

The highlights of the presentation were: 1) the section for introverts/the shy; and 2) my “one-spoonful-at-a-time” soft-sell approach.

For the former, I energize and empower writers who feel like they can’t interact for hours with the public.  One of the tidbits I give them is to think of their writing as a gift to others, which award-winning author John C. Wright asserts so beautifully:

wright

For the latter, about my technique for selling books, I suggest to my students that rather than give a scripted hard sell, which sounds artificial and turns off many people (myself included), that they engage potential buyers in a directed conversation. 

“Directed,” in that, yes, you steer them, if you can, into buying books, but that’s not where the emphasis is.  The emphasis is on establishing a relationship and selling one’s self as an author, so as to build, person by person, a loyal and fervent fan base, which will produce lasting interest and sales.

bto2018bPhoto by Bill Cecil.  Used with permission.


But the Best Thing ‘Bout BTO…

…was what I learned from master writer Robert Bidinotto in his seminar on “Targeting Your Readers to Maximize Sales.” In the presentation (which you can find here), Robert discusses “positioning” and “branding.” 

robertPhoto by Bill Cecil.  Used with permission.

Positioning is about getting your books into the appropriate categories of genres and sub-genres, so that fans of those can find your books.  Branding is about attracting and keeping readers by being authentic to one’s self, and thus being different from other authors.  Or, as Robert puts it:

True fans don’t love your books because they fit some demographic profile of age, race, sex, location, education, etc.  True fans buy and read your books because they identify with you, your “voice,” what you believe.

Robert asked each of us at the seminar:

What is your purpose, belief, cause—the reason why you are motivated to write what you write? That is your “why.”  Your goal is not to target everyone.  Your goal is to target those readers who already believe what you believe. 

Your target readers are those who connect emotionally with your worldview and values, like what you like, believe what you believe.  To reach them, you must communicate your “why.”

When Robert said this, something went off in my head.  Since I started publishing, I had prided myself on writing fiction that was different from the typical young adult sci-fi/ fantasy you find in the chain bookstores.  Something other than Harry Potter and Hunger Games and Twilight, and all their many, many copycats. 

And while it has been and is still true that my books aren’t like anyone else’s, I’ve realized that it’s not novelty of characters and plot that inspires me.  Despite what I may have been telling myself for a long time, I don’t stay up late tapping on a keyboard because I’m trying to come up with something no one else has (an impossible task, anyway).

smallFinalcover

No, come to find out, what motivates me is expressing emotions through my fiction—and it’s that emotion that, for most of my reviewers and fans, has been the element that’s hooked them.  I haven’t had many people tell me they enjoyed Lost Dogs because of its premise (dogs struggling to survive after humans have vanished from Earth).  But they have told me they enjoyed Lost Dogs because of how it made them feel: 

I loved all the characters

I felt that this must be what it’s like to be a dog

This book made me laugh

This book made me cry    

After hearing Robert’s presentation and coming to my epiphany, I know I need to change a few things about how I present my books to readers.  I don’t know exactly what shape those efforts will take, but I hope you’ll stick around to see. 

I’ll publish my next novel, This Wasted Land, this year (hopefully sooner rather than later), and if you’re looking for a YA fantasy story that will make you feel, TWL is definitely it.     

 

Kenton Kilgore is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. He also wrote Dragontamer’s Daughters, (like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons) based on Navajo culture and belief. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction.

Don’t miss the latest! Sign up for my mailing list, and you’ll know about blog posts, sneak peeks, upcoming releases, sales, special offers, and more as soon as they appear. I will honor your privacy and never spam you or sell your information. And you can, of course, unsubscribe any time. 

 

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yes, i do give a @#&%

I didn’t mean for her to say it.  It’s not my style.  Nevertheless, toward the end of This Wasted Land, the young adult dark fantasy novel I’m writing, Our Feisty Teenage Heroine Alyx drops the “f-bomb” for the first time.  Then she immediately doubles down on it. 

swear2

To be sure, it’s not as though previously in the story, her language had been demure and ladylike.  The abandoned child of a former military man, Alyx has grown up poor and lived under, shall we say, not the best of circumstances.  She feels like a misfit, she doesn’t make friends easily, and she has anger issues.     

So, while it’s in character for Alyx to use a lot of profanity, I purposefully stayed away from the “f-word.”  Unlike a lot of authors–even a surprising number of authors of young adult fiction–I’m very careful with what and how many “bad words” appear in my books. 

swear4

My caution is not because I’m a prude or because I don’t use profanity in my own speech, or because my audience is little old church ladies.  Nor is it because I have an unrealistic idea of how kids these days talk (I’ve raised two teenagers and spent plenty of time around their friends and classmates).

Rather, I try to avoid such language–or at least tone it down–precisely because it’s used so often, especially the “f-word.”  Profanity is like anything else: if you’re exposed to it often enough, you get numb to it.  It’s meant to shock, but if it’s ubiquitous, it loses that ability. 

swear3

By not using “f**k” at all until that point in the book–20 chapters, 240+ pages, and 99,000 words in–I’m hoping (perhaps naively) that it will jolt readers, and convey just how much hurt and pain and distress Alyx is suffering at that moment.  Before that part of the story, she’d been in some scary/sticky/rough spots, but none quite like what prompts her to go off the way she does.  

swear0One of Alyx’s favorite old-school bands has a potty mouth….

It may sound quaint, but I didn’t detonate the “f-bomb” in either of my two previously-published novels, Lost Dogs, or Dragontamer’s Daughtersand I’m for-real concerned how it’s going to go over with people who have been following my writing. 

Actually, it’s just one of several concerns I have with this novel: when I say it’s dark fantasy, I mean it.  In addition to having lots of profanity, it’s scary, it’s violent, parts of it are disturbingly “icky,” and the theme it explores is the many aspects of S-E-X.

I’m guessing that several folks who enjoyed my dog book or Little House on the Prairie, With Dragonsare not going to like this one, but we’ll see.  I was surprised a few weeks ago when my wife, who definitely is not into horror stories, or books that are “oogy” or have lots of cursing, told me that she would read this one.

How about you?  How much of a tolerance for profanity do you have?  Let me know in the comments.  I’ll have more about This Wasted Land as I get closer to publishing it.

A fake key for the function of swearing.

 

Kenton Kilgore writes YA SF/F you’ll feel.  His latest work-in-progress, This Wasted Land, a dark fantasy novel, will be published in 2018.

Kenton is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. He also wrote Dragontamer’s Daughters, (like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons) based on Navajo culture and belief. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction.

Don’t miss the latest! Sign up for my mailing list, and you’ll know about blog posts, sneak peeks, upcoming releases, sales, special offers, and more as soon as they appear. I will honor your privacy and never spam you or sell your information. And you can, of course, unsubscribe any time. 

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actually, “kids these days” can be awesome

People sometimes talk crap about today’s teenagers.  You ask your typical Baby Boomer (my folks’ generation) or typical Gen Xer (mine) what they think about “kids these days,” and you might get something like:

“They don’t know how easy they have it” 

or

“They can’t think for themselves”

or

“They’re whiners who want participation trophies”

or

“All they do all day is look at their phones.”

But even though lots of people my age and older wring their hands about what a bunch of “iPhone idiots” today’s teenagers look like to them, I know better.  Because I’ve seen with my own eyes, up close and personal, how awesome some of these kids can be.

Last Friday, February 9, was the 4th Annual Night to Shine, hosted by the Tim Tebow Foundation.  The premise is simple: Night to Shine is a prom for people 14 years and older who have special needs.  It’s a huge party (90,000 guests this year) thrown by volunteers (175,000) held in churches (540) in the U.S. (all 50 states) and around the world (16 countries).

When our church, St. Christopher’s, was selected to be one of the host sites, word went out asking for volunteers.  The people at St. Christopher’s who were coordinating with the Tim Tebow Foundation to pull this off thought that maybe they’d get 20 or 30 folks who’d pitch it.  They scheduled a 2-hour training session and grossed their fingers, hoping that most of them would show.

Instead, what they got was about 200 volunteers, and at least half of them were high school students.  Our church had never seen this level of enthusiasm, especially from young people.  They had actual lines out the door of kids waiting to register to help.

Not only did they sign up, they showed up.  Weeks before the dance, they donated gowns and shoes and jackets.  In the hours before, they helped set up and decorate the hall where the dance would be held.  They dressed up and did their hair, and were there early to be ready when everything started.  

nightshine4

When the guests–about 100 teenagers and adults with intellectual and/or physical disabilities–arrived, the student volunteers waited outside in the cold to welcome and cheer them.  They served as “buddies” to the guests, hanging out with them, talking with them, eating with them, dancing with them, taking selfies with them, going for limo rides around the block with them, and having fun with them. 

nightshine7

To be sure, all of the kids that were there will report what they did to their guidance counselors to count as part of their hours of community service that they need to graduate.  But none of them seemed like being there was a chore.  None of them rolled their eyes or complained.  None of them seemed to be bored or unhappy or “weirded out” by guests who were, very often, quite different from them or what they were used to.  All of them seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves, and were glad to spend their evening with their new friends.

nightshine3
As for the guests–well, I know they loved it.  There’s no faking the amount and depth of joy they showed.  Not even Oscar-winning Hollywood actors and actresses could pull that off.  I could tell that for some of them, this sincerely was the best night of their lives.  

nightshine1

And after the party was over–after the guests had all been crowned kings and queens of the prom and had left with their caretakers and parents–then kids kicked off their fancy shoes and changed out of outfits and got to work cleaning up and taking down decorations.  And after that, they started posting photos online of them and their guests, having fun.  That’s how you know they liked it, too.

nightshine9

Consider this: all of the kids who volunteered that night go to “typical” schools, public or private.  The vast majority of them have no physical or intellectual challenges.  All of them expect, in a few years, to be living on their own, taking care of themselves, making their own decisions.  Most, if not all of them, will have jobs and careers.  Many of them will go on to colleges and universities.  Many of them will get married.  Many of them will have children and grandchildren.

Most of the guests they partied with do not–or will not–have most–or any–of those things.  Two sets of kids, very different from each other, coming from two very different worlds that do not often intersect.  But for one night, they did, magnificently and movingly so.  

nightshine2

For one night, hundreds (indeed thousands, when you consider the other 539 churches involved) of today’s teenagers–the ones sneered at for their “participation trophies” and their “cell phones” and their “social media”–rose above the low expectations some older people might have of them.  They reached out to those whose lives and pasts and futures are very different from their own, and together, for one night, they shined.

nightshine6   

Photos from St. Christopher’s Catholic Church Facebook page

 

Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. His latest work-in-progress, This Wasted Land, a dark fantasy novel, will be published in 2018.

Kenton is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. He also wrote Dragontamer’s Daughters, (like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons) based on Navajo culture and belief. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction.

Don’t miss the latest! Sign up for my mailing list, and you’ll know about blog posts, sneak peeks, upcoming releases, sales, special offers, and more as soon as they appear. I will honor your privacy and never spam you or sell your information. And you can, of course, unsubscribe any time. 

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“justice league” vs. “thor”–who wins?

This past weekend, I saw Justice League and Thor: Ragnarok back-to-back.  So how did they compare?  Let’s take a look at several elements and see which movie did them better.  

***Some spoilers ahead***

JL

StoryJL is the DC Extended Universe’s version of 2012’s The Avengers: Super-powered bad guy from another dimension arrives on Earth with army of creepy aliens, forcing squabbling heroes to band together.  Thor takes almost everything you’ve known about the son of Odin and breaks it, with the God of Thunder losing his hammer, his hair, and his home when the evil Hela comes to claim her birthright.  Advantage: THOR

thor

Characters/Acting.  JL has the aforementioned Wonder Woman (ably portrayed by Gal Gadot), who continues to be as awesome as she was in her stand-alone film.  I’ve never understood the fanboy hatred for Ben Affleck as either Batman or Bruce Wayne: he’s not Christian Bale, but he’s not George Clooney, either.  Henry Cavill finally gets to play Superman as less angsty, more like Christopher Reeve’s charming version from the 1978 film.  Ezra Miller makes The Flash interesting by doing him as a pre-skeevy Woody Allen: a nervous, neurotic newbie in waaaay over his head.  Jason Momoa does the impossible and makes Aquaman cool: a taciturn, tattooed loner badass who, if he wasn’t the protector of the oceans, would be found riding a Harley somewhere on an empty road.  The others (including Ray Fisher as Cyborg, and Amy Adams as Lois Lane) are just…there.

In Thor, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston return as the Avenger and his shady stepbrother Loki.  They have such rapport, I’d watch a whole movie of them doing nothing more than talking while sharing pizza and beer.  Cate Blanchett’s Hela is more interesting than Ciarán Hinds’ motion-captured villain Steppenwolf from JL, but her character is seemingly evil for evil’s sake, and doesn’t give a clue as to what she would actually do with Asgard (or its people) after conquering them (in contrast to Loki, who would throw parties).  As the more loquacious Hulk, champion of the gladiator pits of Sakarr, Mark Ruffalo is not so much a mountain of rage as he is a childlike simpleton.  Jeff Goldblum doesn’t disappoint as the flaky Grandmaster, but Tessa Thompson (as Valkyrie) and Karl Urban (as Skurge) don’t do much for me.  Advantage: TIE.

Dialogue.  Both films have stuck most of their memorable lines in the trailers, which you may have seen more times than you cared to.  Superman mentions believing in “truth” and “justice,” but doesn’t get around to adding “the American way” (a bummer, because we all could probably use a bit of old-fashioned patriotism these days).

The elevator scene is the most poignant in T:R, and not long after, Thor tells Loki that he could become more than just the God of Mischief.  Though the comedy’s a bit overdone for my taste, Thor: Ragnarok throws so many quips against the wall that it wins on sheer volume.  Advantage: THOR.       

ToneJL takes itself seriously (about as serious as you take a superhero movie), with some moments of levity here and there.  It’s not as grim (thankfully) as Man of Steel or Batman v Superman, but not as engaging as Wonder Woman.

One would think that with “Ragnarok” in the title, Thor would be doom-and-gloom, but it’s riddled with humor–too much so, actually.  Like the guy at a party who keeps interrupting conversations to toss out one-liners, it’s funny the first few times, but after an hour or so, you’d wish he’d knock it off so the person you’re listening to can finish their story.  It’s especially irritating in the middle of high-stakes action scenes.  Advantage:  JUSTICE LEAGUE

Pace.  Both films move fairly quickly, though JL‘s exposition scene on who Steppenwolf is, what he wants, and why we should care feels longer than it actually is.  T:R rarely slows down.  Advantage: THOR       

Settings.  It’s hard to get excited about any place you’re looking at when you know that about 90% of it is CGI.  Both films have scenes where it seemed very obvious that the actors were staring at a blank wall while their characters were supposedly looking into the distance.  Props to JL for a sequence shot on location in Iceland (probably my favorite place on Earth), but the planet of Sakaar is very cool (and reminds me in a few ways of “Lonelylands,” from my upcoming novel This Wasted Land).  Advantage: TIE. 

Effects.  Best effects in Justice League: The Flash tries to sprint to aid his fellows fighting a newly-resurrected and momentarily confused Superman, only to discover that the Man of Steel can not only clearly see him, but can attack him, albeit just slowly enough that the Flash can narrowly elude his punches.  Worst effects: Steppenwolf looks like he stepped out a video game, and his Parademons don’t scare or impress.

Best effects in Thor: the God of Thunder becomes a whirlwind of ass-kicking as he lays the smack down on scores of fire demons in the depths of Muspelheim.  A similar scene occurs later against hordes of zombies.  Worst effects: A major character dissolves into golden glitter and scatters in the wind.  Seriously.  Advantage: THOR.       

Costumes.  The suits worn by the Justice League members look cool and functional.  The Internet’s been griping about the “bikini armor” worn by the Amazons, but hasn’t said squat about Aquaman, Thor, and the Hulk parading around half-dressed in some scenes.  I’m giving the nod to the movie that updated Aquaman’s look.  Advantage: JUSTICE LEAGUE.

MusicJL plays snippets of Danny Elfman’s Batman theme from the 1989 film, and from John William’s Superman theme from the 1978 movie.  A modern rendition of The Beatles’ “Come Together” plays in the credits.

Thor rocks out to Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song” during the opening and ending battles.  No contest.  Advantage: THOR

Post-credit scenes (Mondo spoilers!)Justice League calls back to the comics with a mid-credit scene where The Flash and Superman have a race to the Pacific Ocean to see who actually is The Fastest Man Alive.  A post-credit scene has Lex Luthor, recently escaped from confinement, recruits Deathstroke to form “a league of our own.”  

In the mid-credit scene from Ragnarok, Thor is on a spaceship bound for Earth, when it is intercepted by a large spaceship (maybe the flagship of the arch-villain Thanos?).  In the post-credit scene, the Grandmaster is seemingly oblivious to the unfriendly demeanor of some of his former citizens.  Advantage: JUSTICE LEAGUE    


Thor: Ragnarok takes 5 of 10 categories, to 3 for Justice League (with 2 ties).  I’d put T:R in my top 5 Marvel movies, behind Avengers 1, and Civil War, with Deadpool and Guardians 1 tied for third, but ahead of Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Justice League is my second-favorite DC film, but that’s damning with faint praise, as Wonder Woman is the only excellent one.  Here’s hoping that other entries in the series (WW2, JL2, and stand-alone films for Batman, Aquaman, and Flash) are better.     

 

Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. His latest work-in-progress, This Wasted Land, a dark fantasy novel, will be published in 2018.

Kenton is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. He also wrote Dragontamer’s Daughters, (like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons) based on Navajo culture and belief. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction.

Don’t miss the latest! Sign up for my mailing list, and you’ll know about blog posts, sneak peeks, upcoming releases, sales, special offers, and more as soon as they appear. I will honor your privacy and never spam you or sell your information. And you can, of course, unsubscribe any time. 

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“have you heard how she talks? she’s a real character”

One of the challenges in creating characters for stories is developing a “voice” (or way of speaking) for each of them.  In real life, people don’t all sound the same, and neither should well-crafted characters: they ought to be distinctive, so that a reader can usually be able to tell who’s saying what, even if the author doesn’t identify them.

As an example, if you’re familiar with the first Star Wars movie, you don’t need to see onscreen who’s speaking—or even need to actually hear them speak—to recognize which of these characters would most likely say:

“I want to come with you to with you to Alderaan.  There’s nothing for me here now.  I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi, like my father.”

“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.”

“I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

“Somebody has to save our skins.  Into the garbage chute, flyboy!”

“We’re doomed.”

“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
     

(Then there’s this)

Developing those voices is, of course, easier said, than done. 

I’ve been writing fiction since I was in the 4th grade, creating lots of characters along the way.  I started running games and campaigns of Dungeons & Dragons (and other role-playing games) when I was in high school, which gave me the opportunity to make hundreds of characters, most of them non-player characters (NPCs) that interacted with the players.  In either situation—written stories or interactive gaming—getting the “voices” right—not just what they sounded like, but what they said, and how they said it— was crucial.  I used two methods to come up with character “voices.” 

The quicker, easier one is what I call the “casting” method, and I used it all the time for gaming.  When creating the character, I imagined what actor/actress (or rarely, a person I knew in real life) I would cast to play that part, and then I would act out him/her accordingly. 

For example, one NPC I came up with was a laconic innkeeper with a violent past that he had moved on from.  His inn was located in a rough part of the city, and he carried himself with a reserve that made it clear—to player characters and other NPCs—that he was not to be trifled with.  When portraying him live during games, I took my inspiration from Javier Bardem’s assassin Anton Chigurh from this scene in No Country for Old Men:

My innkeeper did not flip any coins to decide if he would kill someone, nor did he badger player- characters with antagonistic questions, but he had the same standoffish manner.  Like Chigurh, my innkeeper didn’t care for unnecessary conversation, and responded brusquely—if at all—to any personal questions (such as why he had seven tally marks tattooed onto his arm).  

The other way for creating characters, which I use for novels and other long pieces of writing, I call the “discovery” method, and it requires more patience.  To start, I come up with and write down some facts (usually two or three paragraphs) about who the character is, including the following:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Nationality/ethnicity
  • Appearance
  • Education level
  • Occupation

I write down what has happened to them in the past, and what is their most important goal that they want to accomplish as the story unfolds.  Sometimes, I know one before the other.  Sometimes, what I think they want doesn’t make sense given what’s happened to them before, or vice versa.  Hopefully, I can nail those down before I’ve written too much and have to undertake lengthy revisions.  

As I’m writing, I put myself inside their head and “speak” as I imagine they might, sort of like method acting.  I don’t decide ahead of time what diction they’ll use: instead, as I progress through the novel, I “discover” who this character is, almost as if I’m getting to know a real person. 

Invariably, their “voice” becomes more and more distinct, and often, it changes quite a bit from when I first started writing them.  In that case, I have to go back and tweak their earlier dialogue to make it sound like it’s the same person.

This is not to say that I let the characters evolve any old way: like a gardener that winds a vine up a trellis, I’ll point them in certain directions, or establish what they *wouldn’t* say. 

For example, Juanita, the mother to the titular girls of my novel Dragontamer’s Daughters, is educated and of noble birth: she has an extensive vocabulary, and rarely, if ever, uses contractions in her speech. 

dtdfinalfront

The Rottweiler Jake in Lost Dogs has had his tail docked, which limits his ability to “speak” (the dogs in my novel mostly communicate non-verbally), so when he does “talk” (which isn’t often), it’s in simple words and short sentences.

jake

Also, these two methods I use are not mutually exclusive.  Sometimes I’ll start off with an idea of what actor I would cast to play a character, and over time, that character’s voice changes.  Sometimes, I’ll “cast” a voice that’s already evolving to give it some guidance.  

For my latest book, This Wasted Land (to be published in 2018), my feisty teenage heroine Alyx is prone to using lots of slang, foul language, and starting sentences and questions with “So” (as in, “So, what’s the deal with that douchebag?”).

She’ll arbitrarily drop verbs, nouns, or articles.  Sometimes, she speaks in very short sentences, sometimes in run-ons, especially when she’s under extreme stress.  I didn’t set out having Alyx speak in a particular way: her “voice” just flows out of me like that.  Here’s a scene early in the book, when she’s riding her motorcycle with her boyfriend Sam, and they come upon a traffic jam.

A semi lying on its side across both lanes.  Blue and red lights: cops, fire trucks, EMT ambulance.  Cars backed up in front of us.  I go through the gears, slow down, drift onto the shoulder.  Maryland state trooper up there by the wreck sees me, shakes his head, waves for me to get back onto the road.  I brake, stop, shrug, point past the truck.  He shakes his head again, mouths No, waves me back, more insistent this time.  Another asshole, just like all the Maryland state troopers.  I give him the finger, then pull back in behind a black Dodge Avenger.

Soon after, Sam is snatched by a witch, who carries him off to another world, a cold, gray wasteland.  Alyx follows, and meets Mike Fernandez.  With his sarcastic tone and “me-first” attitude, he starts off a lot like Sawyer from the TV show Lost.  Underneath Mike’s gruff, abrasive exterior was a cold, prickly interior:

As he comes to know Alyx, he takes on more a protective, parental tone, similar to Logan as portrayed by Hugh Jackman.  His exterior hasn’t changed, but his interior isn’t so cold in later chapters.  He’s still a jerk, though.

In the scene below, Alyx has recently met Mike, and is asking him about the strange world she’s found herself in.

The wind comes by, softer this time, a low huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurrrrrhhhh that only swirls the dust.  But it’s cold and makes me shiver.  “Does where we are—this world, whatever it is—have a name?”

“Not that I know of.”

“How’d you get here?”

“Has your boyfriend ever told you that you run your mouth a lot?”

“No.  Usually he talks more than me.”

“Christ on a stick.  You two must be quite the couple.”

“He’s nice.”

“That’s nice.”

“And he’s smart.”

“I can’t possibly care any less.”

“Then why are you helping me find him?”

“I’m not.  I’m letting you tag along so that when the next monster tries to eat me, I can push you in front of it and run like hell the other way.”

“Ha ha.”

“What makes you think I’m joking?”

“You wouldn’t really do that.”

“Yeah, I would.”

“Then why did you tell me?  Now I know what your plan is.”

“I told you so that you’d think I wouldn’t do it, because I told you I would.”

“You are the most obnoxious person I have ever met in my life.”

“You need to get out more.  Meet some people.”  He stops, stares ahead.  “Hmmm.”  I try to see what he’s looking at.

“What?”  I keep walking.

He looks around—left, right, behind us, left again, right again.  Points to something ahead.  “Hurry.”  Starts running that way.

Later on, they meet Paddoch, who has multiple deformities and doesn’t speak English well (it’s not even his second, third, or fourth language), so he struggles with vocabulary and grammar.  As his “voice” evolved, I decided that he always puts nouns at the beginning of sentences, direct objects right after them, and verbs at the end.  He can’t conjugate verbs in English, so he uses them in the infinitive (“Alyx food to want?”). 

His dialogue can be difficult to write so that the reader understands him, and I try very hard not to make him sound like Yoda:     

 

“Paddoch,” I say.  It sounds kinda like pad and dock, but at the end, it rhymes with loch, like that lake in Scotland that supposedly has a monster.

He looks up.

“The scary woman….” I say.

“Freydis,” he answers.

“You said she’s with Ōth.”  He nods.  “She’s…what?  His girlfriend or something?”

“His bitch,” Mike says.

“She Ōth to belong.”

“What do you mean?”

“She Ōth’s threll.”

“‘Threll?’”

“‘Thrall’ is the word I think he’s going for,” Mike says.  “A slave.”  He holds his hands up, tries to pull his wrists apart but can’t, like there’s chains on them.

Paddoch nods.  “Freydis Ōth’s slave to be.”

“And who is Ōth?” I ask.

Ōth (pronounced like the word for a vow or promise) is a major antagonist who appears toward the end of This Wasted Land, and I’m still developing him.  One inspiration for his voice is the character of Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem again—can you tell I’m a fan?) from this scene in Skyfall.  Like Silva, Ōth has a patrician bearing, and when he speaks, it’s as if he’s a cat toying with a mouse in his paws. 

While I’m writing dialogue for characters, sometimes I’ll throw in expressions and verbal mannerisms I’ve picked up from people I know.  Like my late father-in-law, the dragontamer in my first novel has the habit of muttering, “I’ll tell the world”—another way of saying, “Can you believe this?” when something incredible happens. 

Cynthia, Sam’s sister in TWL, will sometimes reply with, “Fact,” which I got from my brother-in-law Drew:  

It was just like a Kent Island football game, only bigger.  All the guys took off their hats. Lots of people put their hands over their hearts.  I just stood there.  The girl started singing, and her voice was like a princess from those Disney movies.

Everyone but me sang along with her, and when it got to the O, say does that star-spangled banner still wave part, everyone shouted “O!” real loud, just like they did at the Kent Island games.  Sam and Cynthia and his mom did, too.

After that Christina chick was done and everyone clapped and we sat down, I asked Sam, “What the hell is that ‘O’ thing you all do?”

“It’s for the Orioles.”

“Who?”

“The baseball team,” Cynthia said.  “Tell me that you can’t be more stupid than my brother.  Even he knows that.” 

“I know we’re at a football game,” I told her.  “Apparently, none of the rest of you do.”

“It’s a Baltimore thing,” Sam said.

“It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Fact,” Cynthia said.

More about TWL some other time….

 

Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. His latest work-in-progress, This Wasted Land, a dark fantasy novel, will be published in 2018.

Kenton is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. He also wrote Dragontamer’s Daughters, (like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons) based on Navajo culture and belief. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction.

Don’t miss the latest! Sign up for my mailing list, and you’ll know about blog posts, sneak peeks, upcoming releases, sales, special offers, and more as soon as they appear. I will honor your privacy and never spam you or sell your information. And you can, of course, unsubscribe any time.  

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getting “wasted” to led zeppelin

The latest in a series about influences from my earlier days

Many–probably most–writers listen to music as they work, but for me, it’s more than background noise. Some musicians, some songs inspire me when I’m writing, and that’s especially true for my latest project, This Wasted Land, a young adult dark fantasy novel that will be published in early 2018.

My favorite band is Led Zeppelin, the premier group of the 1970’s. With guitarist Jimmy Page, vocalist Robert Plant, bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham, Zeppelin was a perfect example of the whole being more than the sum of its parts, so much so that when Bonham died in 1980, the group disbanded rather than attempt to replace him.

zeplogo

Even if you’re not a fan of classic hard rock, you have surely heard–perhaps more times than you’ve cared to–their magnum opus “Stairway to Heaven,” which Rolling Stone magazine listed as #31 on its list of “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” (not bad for a band that RS hated during Zep’s heyday).

But while people may automatically think of the over-played “Stairway” when they hear the name of the band, it doesn’t epitomize what Zeppelin was. Led Zep’s music evolved from their early years of blues-rock (the albums LZ I and II), to quasi-folk music (LZ III and the untitled fourth album); to what I call their “epic” sound of the albums Houses of the Holy, Physical Graffiti, the challenging but underappreciated Presence, and In Through The Out Door.

It’s those “epic” albums that I most favor. To be sure, not every song has inspired me–“The Crunge” and “Hot Dog” are just goofy fun–but many of the others have. There’s a grandeur to them, a vastness of scale, a dizzying intricacy, and a permeating “light and shade,” as Jimmy Page referred to it.

There’s also a tremendous intensity of emotions–love, joy, hope, pain, anger, remorse–that the music and vocals convey and evoke, that reach deeply into me even as I listen to these songs for what seems to be the thousandth time. I flip past “Whole Lotta Love” when its comes on my car radio; I am riveted by “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.”

I hope to harness and bring that emotional firepower to This Wasted Land. Almost 30 years ago, when I first conceived of the story, Zeppelin’s music was the soundtrack in my head:

All I see turns to brown

As the sun burns the ground

And my eyes fill with sand

As I scan this wasted land

“Kashmir” provides the title for my next novel, but it’s not the first time I’ve gone to that well.  “Traveller of both time and space” is part of another line from the song, and it’s the title of a piece of fan fiction I wrote for my Warhammer 40K gaming website, the Jungle.

Listening to “Kashmir,” I imagine Alyx, my feisty teenage heroine of TWL, crossing endless gray wastes, evading or battling monsters, as she pursues the shapeshifting witch Freydis, who has abducted her boyfriend, Sam, and brought him to the nightmare realm of Lonelylands, ruled by Oth, Freydis’ merciless master.

And it’s another Zeppelin song that makes me think of Freydis in all her cruelty, and pain, and want:

In the evening

When the day is done

I’m looking for my woman

Oh, but the girl won’t come

So don’t let her

Play you for no fool

She don’t show no pity, baby

She don’t make no rules

“In the Evening,” with its unearthly intro, phantasmal guitar solo, and Plant’s wrenching wails, is my favorite Zeppelin song. It’s especially relevant to This Wasted Land (I can say no more lest I give too much away), but I like it so much that a chapter in each of my other novels–Dragontamer’s Daughters, and Lost Dogs,–is named after it.

Oh, I need your love

Oh, I need your love

Ooh, yeah, I need your love

I’ve got to have

I’ve got to have

After the band broke up, Robert Plant embarked on a distinguished solo career that continues to this day (his latest album, Carry Fire, will debut on October 13, 2017). I became a huge fan, and like with Zeppelin, his solo work inspired me as well. More on that–and on TWL–some other time.

 


 

Lest I am misconstrued, I do think highly of Zep’s earlier work, particularly:

…and, of course, “Immigrant Song,” most recently–and appropriately–used for the teaser trailer to the upcoming film Thor: Ragnarok.  As a huge fan of Zep and Thor, you can bet your last dollar that I’ll be there on opening night.

 

 

Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. His latest work-in-progress, This Wasted Land, a dark fantasy novel, will be published in 2018.

Kenton is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. He also wrote Dragontamer’s Daughters, (like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons) based on Navajo culture and belief. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction.

Don’t miss the latest! Sign up for my mailing list, and you’ll know about blog posts, sneak peeks, upcoming releases, sales, special offers, and more as soon as they appear. I will honor your privacy and never spam you or sell your information. And you can, of course, unsubscribe any time.  

 

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