The Next Big Thing

I was quite honored to be tagged by Jackie Hames at The Spidereen Frigate for a blog chain called “The Next Big Thing,” which gives readers a snapshot of your own work-in-progress.

I’ll give it my best shot. Hope you enjoy!

What is the Working Title of Your Book?

The Wolfglen Legacy: Revived

Where Did Your Idea for the Book Come From?

I started drawing maps in 2004 of a fantasy world I wanted to create, and that eventually morphed into a couple of projects, including The Wolfglen Legacy. After watching a lot of movies like the Star Wars prequels, Lord of the Rings, and Pirates of the Caribbean, I wanted to tell a big, adventurous, save-the-world kind of story. Plus, I wanted to try giving new(ish) versions of various fantasy cliches like elves, dragons, wizards, dark lords, and see if I could set them up in a somewhat original framework.

What Genre Does Your Book Fall Under?

Primarily epic fantasy, with some tones of dark fantasy, adventure fantasy, and a dash of science fiction.

If Your Book Became a Movie, Which Actors Would You Pick?

I have a large cast in mind for this

Ben Barnes (Prince Caspian) as Morent Wolfglen. He’d do a good job of looking ferocious and desperate, playing the conflicted wizard who is trying to save his family while keeping his conscience intact.

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Jennifer Lawrence would be terrific to play Princess Sathra Wolfglen. She excelled as Mystique and Katniss Everdeen, and I’d like to see her play the role of a vulnerable young woman who learns how to become stronger and more in control.

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Andrew Garfield really impressed me with his interpretation of Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man, so I wouldn’t mind seeing him in the role of Josh Kingston, a young man from another time who is awakened from stasis into a distant future ruled by magic and wars, and is catapulted into one of the most dangerous conflicts Earth has ever faced, all while trying to learn his new surroundings and run from mistakes and tragedy in his past.

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Those are the three main characters. But I did have a couple of others in mind. I tend to dream big.

Christian Bale as King Rishtal Wolfglen, brother to Morent and father to Sathra.

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Rachel Weisz as Empress Kilfira Lundill, an ally of the Wolfglen family.

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Sam Neill as General Streynel Halthrin, and David Tennant as Myrickin Schtahl, both of them people who have different goals than everyone thinks they do.

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Okay, I could go on, but I think that’s enough of my pipe dream. For now. 🙂

What is Your Book’s One-Sentence Synopsis?

A young man outrunning his past, a princess trying to go on after her mother’s death, and a wizard desperate to save his family all find themselves caught up in a secret war against their country, driven by an ancient supernatural enemy.

Will Your Book be Self-Published or Represented By an Agency?

I’m definitely going to try traditional publishing first. More than that, I want to see how high I can go with this series. If Random House or Tor or HarperCollins picks it up, terrific! If not, that’s perfectly okay. I still want to try it because I don’t want to spend my days wondering how far up the publishing ladder it could have gone.

How Long Did it Take You to Write the First Draft?

After writing off and on while trying to balance school and work with my writing goals, it took me about five years to finally have a complete first draft. Now that I’m graduated, though, it won’t take nearly as long to write the series’s next book (there will be four Wolfglen books in total).

What Other Books in Your Genre Would You Compare Your Novel To?

Hmm. Kind of stumped on this one. Maybe it would be a good fit for readers of Brandon Sanderson (Elantris, Mistborn, the latest Wheel of Time books), James Gurney (Dinotopia), Christopher Paolini (The Inheritance Cycle), George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones), and Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game).

Who or What Inspired You To Write This Book?

In December 2003, as I left the theater after watching Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, I was blown away by the story I had just witnessed. Given the staggering quality of Peter Jackson’s trilogy and how it affected my emotions and imagination, I knew one thing for certain stepping out of that theater: I wanted to be a fantasy writer.

From there I pieced together bits of worldbuilding, character development, and the clockwork of a plot, and the most developed result is The Wolfglen Legacy.

What Else Might Pique a Reader’s Interest in Your Book?

Possibly the ways I have revamped given fantasy cliches (elves with flintlocks instead of bows, a villain driven by his conscience instead of evil for its own sake, etc.).

Moral complexity is one of the big goals I have in mind for this series. I am striving to get a good balance between the black-and-white conflict in Harry Potter, and the frustrating ambiguity in Game of Thrones.

Dinosaurs join the book’s dragons to give my world plenty of big scaly beasties. When was the last time you saw a Triceratops in a fantasy novel? Seriously, they could instantly improve a lot of books.

And I am working hard to make the story satisfying on all fronts, not only attractive for its worldbuilding or characters or descriptions.

Tagging

To keep this chain going, I’d like to tag four of the coolest writers I know: Janden Daniel HaleRob “The Brain Hamster” Killam, Aaron Ritchey, and Courtney Schafer. All are terrific storytellers, and I recommend you check them out right away.

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“The Hunger Games” and Understated Violence

…In which I rant some more about academic/critical theories being applied to popular stories. Proceed at your own risk.
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This is a continuation from a previous post, discussing the importance of social commentary in The Hunger Games, both book and movie. Here, I’d like to focus on the role violence played in the cinematic version.
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The violence was considerably toned down in the film, and still that wasn’t enough for the people who apparently think children should never be told the world is often a cruel, violent place. During the saddest death scene in the whole story I had tears in my eyes, but that incredible moment was almost ruined for me. All because some grandma was sitting with her family right in front of me, and she just had to say, “Tsk. That’s barbaric!” You don’t say? Didn’t anyone tell her Hunger Games has quite the body count? This also reinforces Shepherd Book’s observation in Firefly that there is a special circle of Hell reserved for child molesters and people who talk at the theater.
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But I’m not addressing the people who balk at “too much” violence in the movie. This is for those who don’t think there was enough. For that all-important social commentary, you understand. Some of the film’s reviewers, including the person I was responding to earlier, seem to regard the movie as not being violent enough to have any lasting impact or to communicate the horror of the novel’s story and get a point across.
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I’ve said it before and I will say it again: a movie doesn’t need to rely on social commentary to be excellent, important, or memorable. In fact, that commentary, rather like excessive CGI, can become a crutch for a movie to lean on. It will be emphasized to hide a lackluster story, and distracts from a great one.
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Does Games have something to say about violence and how we have come to view it? Yes, it does. The book and film do an excellent job of pointing out how we have gotten desensitized to it and crave corpses for the heightened drama (and as far as I’m concerned, it seems to leave anything further up to the reader/viewer). But my position is that this statement makes up a small part of the whole, rather than being the primary reason we should pay attention to The Hunger Games. If a story is treated mainly as an excuse for academic thought exercises, the experience is diluted, like deconstructing the jokes of a comedian while he’s on stage, and pontificating about what jokes mean to the human condition.
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Even if the main/strongest point of The Hunger Games was to hold up a mirror to a violence-obsessed culture, do we actually need buckets of gore and lingering death scenes for the movie or book to give a satisfying commentary?
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Even if I’m full of crap and Games is mainly meant to comment on something after all, I still challenge the idea that the movie soft-petals its inherent violence. Look at the audience Suzanne Collins was speaking to, and the limitations of media that is read vs. media that is watched. The Hunger Games and its sequels are very much young adult fiction, or at least they fell quite snugly into the YA market. Violence in the books is probably about as far as YA can go right now (please correct me if you know of YA books with much more carnage than these). And given the lower tolerance for explicit violence when it comes to the MPAA, I understand that they wanted less blood shown in the movie, so the main fans could come and see it.
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But a counter-intuitive side effect of this toning down is that the horror of the titular Games is highlighted, not dulled. Violence is being described and commented on, but through what isn’t shown, almost like the use of deep shadow in a painting. The movie’s cutting away from most of the carnage works brilliantly — not because it supposedly panders to a younger audience, but because it leaves that carnage to your imagination.
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This isn’t the same kind of underdone violence you’ll see in the X-Men movies or the Mummy remake, where people get stabbed quite brutally, but not a single drop of blood is seen when the blade is drawn out. In Games, the judicious application of quick cuts showing splatters of blood and corpses in the background contributes heavily to a visual telling of the story. It’s one of the classic tensions between novels and filmmaking. Novels get it right when they spell out enough of what’s happening for the reader to picture it; powerful films go much farther when they don’t show most of the violence — or save a full view of the man-eating shark for the climax. Either way, the audience’s imagination is being put to work. So how the novel and movie handle the story’s violence is expressed in an ideal way for each medium, making for a strong novel and a strong movie.
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All right, I think that’s my last post on The Hunger Games, at least until I finally read Catching Fire. Any discussion, objections, or questions would be most welcome. Thanks for your time.

Satire is Overrated: A Response to John Seel’s Take on “The Hunger Games”

All right, here’s my totally arrogant, opinionated rant about something I’m not well-educated in.

A number of critics have said social commentary was lost in translation from the novel The Hunger Games, to the movie.

Both are, in my opinion, equally excellent renditions of the same story in different mediums. But apparently, the story is not valuable or important enough for certain critics to take the movie seriously (or even the book, with literary critics). Not until it has social commentary, clinging to any novel/movie/music/work of art that gets noticed enough to be “culturally significant,” like a remora on the underbelly of a shark. And John Seel has let us know his opinion about what the movie leaves out:

http://www.cardus.ca/blog/2012/04/when-reality-overwhelms-satire-what-the-hunger-games-reveals/

To be frank, I have a hard time thinking the book relied so heavily on satire. I’ll admit, I’m biased. My brain perceives the specific characters and situations of a story as the most important elements. Anything the author is trying to tell me, or the philosophy they worked with, doesn’t readily or immediately sink in (except in instances of annoying preachiness), because I’m too busy enjoying the story. I don’t pick up much social commentary, preferring to look at the strengths or weaknesses of the book itself. I couldn’t care less whether the author had something Deep or Important to say, as long as they don’t whack me over the head with it.

If a story is meant mainly to be a satire (or satire is its most important aspect), I lose interest. Storytelling can tell us about life, but it seems to be most effective when it’s not merely mocking a defect in society or human nature. For that reason, satire looks less important if you are telling a great tale; great stories are havens for subtlety and specificity. Satire is defined as “A literary composition, in verse or prose, in which human folly and vice are held up to scorn, derision, or ridicule.” So when you realize a work is a satire, you start to hear the derisive laughter echoing over the pages, and that is a massive turn-off for me.

The thing about The Hunger Games is that the novel and movie work spectacularly outside of the realm of social commentary. There is a lot of resonance with big themes and trends in society in Katniss’s story (reality TV, entertainment’s callous attitude to violence, etc.), but you’re always focused on her situation, rather than anything Collins may have been trying to sell you. In fact, I don’t think Collins was trying to sell anything beyond a great book. To call it a satire, in my opinion, is to allude to such a little part of the novel/movie as to make the contention nearly meaningless.

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So, finally, here’s my stronger-worded response to Seel:

In honesty, I have to say that satire doesn’t have as much value as Seel thinks it does, particularly regarding The Hunger Games. It’s a crutch that takes away the full impact of a story that can stand on its own legs. There are better ways to inspire moral outrage, if that’s your endgame, such as tackling a subject with complete seriousness and levelheadedness. How jaded are you if you need to mock a bad situation before you’re inspired to stand against it?

John Seel demands too much from the movie adaptation. And frankly, he asks too much of the book itself. The power of this novel comes from the remarkable storytelling, from the moral complexity of Katniss’s situation and decisions (I look forward to seeing how that plays out in the other two novels, which I have yet to read).

Maybe I missed the full impact of a latent satire in the book. However, it beggars belief that “satire” should be the most important point of a book that doesn’t rely on sermonizing. The Hunger Games, in book or movie form, would have been ruined had our ears picked up the clumsy scrape of a soapbox being dragged into the limelight.

This is what happens when a critic sees social commentary as more important than the story itself. The characters, the series of events they’re caught up in, what that teaches us about human nature – they are all brought down to mere tools for a cause. Hunger Games then becomes a means to an end for a schizophrenic culture to pat itself on the back and reassure itself that its moral vision is clear. “Who cares about Katniss, or Peeta, or Rue, or Haymitch, when you have a villainous dictatorship to spitefully laugh at?”

By the way, if Suzanne Collins’s “cultural satire,” intended or otherwise, was half as important to the story as Seel thinks it was, I would love to know how it got left out of the movie. She was, after all, a producer, and the studio took her seriously enough to let her have final approval on a lot of decisions. Don’t you think the “real point” of the book would have been manifested if satire really was so foundational to The Hunger Games?

The more I hear critics speak of social commentary in a novel or movie, the more convinced I become that it’s a vague concept which spackles Significance onto a story they really want to like (as if the story itself isn’t good enough). Satire may have a place in fiction. But not nearly so prominent as it is given now. If you want to know how I feel about most social commentary as pointed out by literary academics, you can consult the South Park episode “The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs.”