The continuing chronicle of Wesley's quest to be published; plus comments on popular culture, family life, and whatever else falls out of his head.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Review: "X-Men: The Last Stand"

I never was any good at updating my journal, whether it was online or in my hand. So let’s just get right to it, okay?

The wife and I saw X3 last week. It was good. Entertaining. It wasn’t a better movie than the first two, by a fair margin, but it wasn’t the same kind of movie, either. The first two, directed by Bryan Singer (who left the franchise to work on another super-hero in Superman Returns), were action oriented, yes, but they were also darker, moodier character pieces about Wolverine and Rogue Hugh Jackman and Anna Paquin returning for the third installment) fitting in and finding their place in a world of outcasts. This latest episode was directed by Brett Ratner (Rush Hour), and lack of polish and subtlety is noticeable, replaced by a relentless plot and so many new characters that none of them really stand out except Wolverine and Storm (Halle Barry).

The plot goes something like this: One the west coast, the industrialist father of a young mutant discovers a cure for mutantism in the blood of another mutant, one whose ability is to negate the powers of other mutants. On the east coast, Jean Grey (Famke Jannsen) has risen from the lake where she was drowned in X2: X-Men United. And Magneto (Ian McKellan) is up to his old tricks to unite the mutants of the world to overthrow humanity.

In its own way, X3 is more true to the spirit of the X-Men comics on which it is based than the previous two installments. There are more characters here than allow any of them to get any real moment to shine, and Wolverine has stolen every scene near him, so this time no other character even tries to steal the attention from him. Primary characters in the previous installments are used as plot points this time, and new characters with whom we are meant to empathize mean nothing because we barely know more than we would if we read their baseball cards.

Even without Singer at the helm, X-Men: The Last Stand acts as a capstone to an X-Men trilogy. By the end of the film, three major characters have been permanently depowered from the cure, and three others are dead.

Of course, as they say in the comics, dead never means dead.

X-Men: The Last Stand isn’t as quality as the first two, but it succeeds at what it tries to be. It’s a fun, over-the-top popcorn movie that heralds the official start to the summer movie season.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Review: "His Majesty's Dragon," Naomi Novik

His Majesty's Dragon is not a book I would normally pick up on my own. The reason I did was on the recommendation of a few different agents. Since I'm trying to get my own novel accepted, I've been scanning agents' blogs on a regular basis for the past several months, and picking up stories that the agents or other prominent authors recommend, the thinking being that if an agent liked it well enough to recommend even if she didn't represent the author, then it must be good. This is the second time I've found a book based solely on agent recommendation. Already Dead was the first.

Laurence is captain of an English during the early 1800s. Napoleon is in power in France, and basically every country in Europe is at war with one-another. Laurence's ship encounters a French Frigate returning home from China. After overcoming the ship, he discovers that the sole item of cargo is a large dragon egg that is about to hatch.

In this world, dragons are common enough that they are in nearly every part of the world and bred and raised by every nation in their war efforts. The trick, however is that they bond almost immediately to someone present at their hatching, and therefore, if they are to be used effectively, the riders--or aviators--need to be trained and prepared years before they're ever bonded to a dragon.

You see where I'm going with this. After Captain Laurence sacrifices his career in the navy to bond with the dragon, whom he names Temeraire, they are whisked off to Scotland where they both will be trained to fight for the crown.

The remainder of the book focuses on the pair's training, and the conflicts they both have fitting in with their new surroudings; Laurence's rigid naval training and worldview does not mesh with the Air Force's more relaxed standards, and Temeraire is different from any other dragon recognized by British experts.

Being a fan of "Age-of-sail" stories myself, I was expecting this to be a high adventure on the level of CS Forester. But it isn't. There are a handful of aerial battles, and the climactic battle over the English Channel is something to behold. However, the book isn't plot driven. The plot is truly negligible, as the real thrust of the book is the charm of the two main characters. It is, in fact, something of a love story. It could be an "A boy and his dragon" story. Captain Laurence's stiff formality is melted away by Temeraire's buoyant enthusiasm for new experiences and learning, and his eagerness to please his soulmate, Laurence.

While this is Novik's first novel and she doesn't appear to have any obvious degrees in history, she writes as an expert in the Napoleonic era. Her style is not the overstuffed flowery mush that so much fantasy is, but is simple and direct in its poetry.

Plus, Stephen King loved it, and this is not remotely a chiller.

I enjoyed it too. As I read it, I thought it was okay, but I didn't realize I would miss the characters as much as I do. It's a good thing the publisher is rushing out the first three books in the series in quick succession, so I can read The Jade Throne right now instead of waiting a year or more.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Words or Phrases That Are Funny On Their Own

1. "Moist Towelette"

Review: Brokeback Mountain

This past Saturday, Roger Ebert wrote the following in regard to Mission: Impossible III, explaining why a 2-hour action sequence can get boring:

There is a theory that action is exciting and dialogue is boring. My theory is
that variety is exciting and sameness is boring. Modern high-tech action
sequences are just the same damn thing over and over again: high-speed chases,
desperate gun battles, all possible modes of transportation, falls from high
places, deadly deadlines, exotic locations and characters who hardly ever say
anything interesting.

I find myself agreeing with this sentiment more and more every year. I don't know if my tastes are maturing or if I'm just becoming a fuddy-duddy, but movies like Mission: Impossible III don't interest me much anymore (not that the first M:I did any better).

But I would go one step further than Ebert to say that movie with an obvious agenda are boring as well. Movies that want to make some political statement, or that have something to prove beyond giving the audience a good story--that's boring, because you can predict the twists and arguments the movie is going to present to achieve its goals. And, that's frustrating, because many movies will present only their arguments, presenting anyone with an opposing argument as someone to be mocked and laughed at.

The wife finally convinced me to sit down an and watch Brokeback Mountain on Saturday. I really had no desire to see the film for a couple of reasons:
1. Ang Lee is a great director who injects visual poetry into his films, but sometimes he'll put it in movies where it doesn't belong (Hulk), or in films I don't think I would enjoy anyway (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).
2. I figured the movie had an agenda. I had heard all the hype about the "Gay Cowboy" picture (and let's be honest, they may work as shepherds, but they are cowboys).

Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal portray two ranch hands who work one summer in 1963 as unsupervised shepherds alone on a mountain in 1963. During their time there, they fall into angry sex that blossoms into an affair. The remainder of the movie follows the two men over the next twenty years as they go their seperate ways, get married, have kids, and continue their affair with one another.

I was expecting this to be a movie with a PURPOSE: to show that homosexuals are persecuted unjustly, and that there would be small-minded rednecks as the villains. I was surprised and pleased to discover that neither were true. Brokeback Mountain is a character-intensive story about how the impusive actions can haunt someone for the rest of his life.

Heath Ledger gives the performance of his life as Ennis Del Mar, a shy, mumbling cowpoke who's engaged when the movie starts. He brings a quiet sobriety to the role, while giving Ennis a 'deer-in-the-headlights' expression through most of the movie. I can certainly see why he was nominated for Best Actor this year.

However, the only real problem I had with the movie was with his performance. Throuhout the movie, Ennis is about as emotive as a stump. But, only in the scenes on the mountain after both cowboys have acknowledged their love does Ennis seem anywhere near comfort in his own skin. In those scenes, he smiles easily, which is fine, but he also is far too 'touchy-feely.' It's a jarring contrast that disappears for the rest of the movie.

There is one other nitpick--Anne Hathaway (in another breakout performance) goes topless for a short scene, and that was disturbing. I'll admit that The Princess Diaries is one of my favorite guilty pleasures of the past 10years. Nobody should want to see Princess Mia's boobies. But, as I think about it, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that she went to 'Grandmere' Julie Andrews for counsel, and Andrews herself bared all for S.O.B.

Beyond that, Brokeback Mountain is a wonderful film. I doubt if I'll ever see it again, because it's too damn depressing. But I'm glad I had the opportunity to see it at all, and would say this is definitely a Must-See.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Indiana Jones and the Gospel of Judas

I just finished reading National Geographic's account of their recovery of the Secret Gospel of Judas. It surprised me on a couple different levels. First, I wasn't expecting a first person narrative to be woven into the history of the document. The author, Andrew Cockburn, interspersed his interactions with the religious leaders he interviewed among the stories of the document's journey from it's discovery near the Nile River in Egypt, to it's theft and return around 1980, the attempts its various keepers have had in trying to sell it quietly for a profit, until it finally fell into the Society's hands.

Parts of it read like an adventure story.

The second thing that surprised me was how the writer (and, by association, National Geographic Society as a whole) acknowledged and accepted the existance of Jesus as a fact. In a magazine so devoted to pure scientific method and research, it's encouraging to find that such an august body silently acknowledges his existance, if not his deity.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


So, I haven't finished the most recent issue of National Geogrphic Traveler, but I've finished most of it, and I've come to a realization:

I don't really enjoy it much anymore.

When I first started buying the magazine on a regular basis, it was because of all the first-person narratives and experiences in exotic places. They still have that, but more and more they seem to focus on the nuts and bolts of vacationing--hotels, airlines, how to pack.

And the lists. I am getting so tired of the lists. Both NG Traveler and NG Adventure have started running these ridiculous cover "articles" like "20 Things to Do in Denver Before You're Dead," "35 Trip You MUST Take This Summer." Basically, long lists of single paragraph blurbs outlining places in such vague detail as to render them useless.

But all is not lost. There were three feature articles in this issue and some smaller columns in the back that were first-person narratives. They engaged and inspired me.

I just don't know if they did enough of that to warrant the subscription.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

“Well, if you could accuse anybody of being downright evil, it would be him.”

Joe Dander shifted angrily in his seat. His wrists were chafing from the handcuffs. The other end of each pair were connected to either leg of the steel folding chair. If he was going to get out of the interrogation room, he’d either have to chew his hands off or take the chair with him. And at his age, with his back, Joe didn’t really feel like going anywhere. Seventy-six was too damn old to care about trying to make a daring escape.

So he waited. He had waited in interrogation rooms before, and he’d wait again. Probably. His chair faced the two-way glass, and Joe’s only options were to stare at the ceiling, stare at the ashtray on the table in front of him, or stare at his reflection.

He had counted 1,534 divots in the acoustic ceiling tiles before the detective returned.

Dectective John Bronwyn was a large, packed into a rumpled courdoury sport coat. He had a round, Buddha face under a graying military haircut, and smile lines etched at the corners of his eyes. He had a thick manilla file tucked under one arm with a steaming Styrofoam cup in his hand as he closed the door. He trundled to the chair on the opposite side of the table and scooted it to the corner—cops always moved the opposing chair so the psychologists behind the two-way mirror could pretend to get into the head of the accused better. All cops did that, except FBI agents, because the Feds were fucking morons—spun it around, and plopped down onto it.

“You are a crusty old bastard,” Bronwyn said with a smile. Ah, so Detective Bronwyn would be playing the role of “Good Cop” in today’s production. He wasn’t very good at it. He was breathing heavy just from the effort to sit down. Maybe Joe would be able to induce a heart attack in the guy. That would be fun.

Bronwyn set his coffee down and thumbed open the file. “Do you know you sent two officers to the hospital, old man?” Joe looked at the table. “You’ve got a fight left in you, I can appreciate that.” He took a sip from his coffee. “Tell me what happened the night of the twenty-ninth.”

“Well,” Joe started with a sigh, “After I fucked your mom, I rolled off her fat ass and did your ex-wife a couple of times.”

Bronwyn didn’t react for several seconds but his head seemed to swell under the comment. Then, as the steam was escaping through his ears, he chuckled. As he picked up his cup to take a sip, Joe noticed that his hand shook and when he sat it down, it was dented from the pressure of his grip. Good, Bronwyn was a lot closer to the edge than he appeared.

Bronwyn set the file on the table and concentrated on it, not making I contact with Joe. The bald spot on the top of his head mad an enticing target. “What can you tell me about what happened last week, on the evening of the twenty-ninth?”
Joe stared through his reflection in the two-way glass at the man he new was watching him from the other side. This was that bastard Piccolo’s fault. If you could accuse anyone of being downright evil, it would be him.

Monday, May 01, 2006

“Okay, I paid the twenty bucks. Now what do the cards say?”

Karl was making his way through the busy foot traffic from his apartment to his office overlooking another office on a side street off of a real street in Manhattan. He normally enjoyed the morning crush. The press of bodies, the thousands of stories that he passed every day. New York was an exciting town. It was the very definition of cosmopolitan, and Karl had loved just about every moment he had spent there since graduation, even if he didn’t especially love his life.

Normally he enjoyed the walk to work. Today had been an exception. From the very beginning, when he slept through his alarm and he had been forced to take a cold shower because someone else in his building had used it all up, to the steamed heat that the city’s streets were already emitting, it was shaping up to be a spectacularly unpleasant day.

And then, in the distance, he saw Rose, power-walking his way in her silver-pinstriped Armani suit. Even at this distance, Karl recognized the way she moved. Her confidence, almost predatory, preceded her, slicing through the crowd so that New York citizens found themselves veering left or right with no real knowledge of why.

Rose was the third to the last person he wanted to see, right below his mother and Christopher Walken, who had creeped Karl out ever since Pulp Fiction. Since Rose was the last person alive who could look intimidating in wrap-around Ray-Bans and was arguing into her cell phone, she might not have seen him yet.

This block of Broadway hadn’t quite survived the makeover that Times Square had during Giuliani’s reign. While Karl could see the ads for new musicals in the distance, the businesses were of a different caliber right where Karl was. A fistful of cheap jewelry stores and pawnshops, a take-out place that specialized in “Korean/Jewish cuisine,” and a gay nightclub were the only places he could immediately see, and none of them had opened yet. He could risk ducking into an alleyway, but not even Karl was that dumb: the wrong element may stay away from the street during the morning rush, but if you took two steps off the sidewalk, you were in another world.

Karl crept forward with the rest of the crowd, hunching his shoulders so that Rose might possibly pass him by without recognizing him. Meanwhile his eyes darted to the right, looking for an opening in the row of businesses beside him.

He spotted a windowless, gun-metal door so narrow that it seemed to be wedged more between two other buildings than set into it’s own. Above it hung a wooden shingle with flaking paint: “Hotel Apollo,” it read. It didn’t look safe, but the risk of danger behind the door was secondary to the real hell he would be put through if Rose spotted him.

Tough choice.

New May Updates.

I plan to be updating a lot more often in the coming days, as I try to kill two birds with one stone. On one hand, I'll be putting up excercises from The Writer's Book of Matches and other such writing exercise books. On the other hand, I've got a stack of National Geographic related magazines that's literally six months' worth of backlog. One of my New May resolutions is to read at least one article each day from at least one magazine that I subscribe to anyway.

Wish me luck.

Monday, April 24, 2006

"Not My Genre"

I've got the book out, waiting to hear back from a few agents. But if I get negatives back from them, that'll be it for agents who represent fantasy authors. Carrie has been encouraging me to start submitting to agents who represent mystery as well, but I wasn't comfortable with the idea. I figured at best I'd be wasting my time, and at worst I could get put on some agent's blacklist.

So I called Miss Snark. If you have never read her blog, the anonymous but good hearted Miss Snark doles out advice to published and unpublished about the vagaries of the publishing industry.
I asked her if I should bother querying mystery agents, and here's how she
Query Kristin Nelson of course.
She does both, and sold a book
like that recently. She takes equeries so you’ll hear back pretty fast I
Then query mystery agents.
Genre blending is the latest thing
(think Charley Huston’s latest just for example).
Go for it.

The problem, of course, being that I already queried Miss Nelson. Twice. It was purely by accident, but it was still due to my own poor record-keeping. I found her name after the first wave of querying, and I thought she was a good enough fit that I should query her as well. Then, I re-discovered her (oy) when I was going through my second wave of queries, and didn't realize the fact until I was filing her rejection the second time and came across her first rejection (double oy).

Haven't decided if I am going to query mystery-representing agents yet. But if I do, I am definitely going to do my homework beforehand to try to find agents that have a passing knowledge of fantasy. And I will definitely be certain that I haven't queried them before.