Man of Destiny Series

Seeing Star Wars in sadness, not in anger

In what may be a first time event, my article at Bleedingfool.com expanding on my split with Star Wars hasn't gotten a single negative reaction or comment.

That's a remarkable occurrence.   Normally with that many reactions someone's bound to be a hater, but that's not the case here.

Clearly my experience in not unique.

I find that a lot of our problems as a society come from people who turn every disappointment into incandescent rage.  The movie wasn't good AND IT'S YOUR FAULT!!!

I suppose hate-clicks count the same as any other, so why seek understanding when you can spout off for fun and profit?

That brings me to my other observation, which is that about half of the reactions were "sad," an emoji I've never seen anyone choose for my articles before.

Of course what happened is deeply sad, both from the perspective of ruining art to the self-destruction of the creative talent behind it.

One one of the things that gets me fired up is waste - wasted opportunity, wasted resources, wasted talent.  It's particularly galling when you see something that mostly good and could have been great but for that one stupid thing and the thing wasn't an oversight or accident, but a very deliberate and determined choice.

As I get older, I'm less like to rage against waste and more likely to mourn it.

 


The Fourth is not with me

I forgot that today is the designated Star Wars holiday - the anniversary of the first film's opening.  Hence the saying "May the Fourth be with you."

Ha.  Ha.

There was a time that I shared the joy and love of Star Wars, as readers of his site (or my works) know.  That time has long since passed.

Like many relationships, this one died gradually rather than all at once.  There wasn't a hateful renunciation and clean breakup so much as a growing sense of weariness and a desire to just get away.

There were fights along the way and we tried to hold it together, but Star Wars and I just got tired of each other.  As I've always said, love and hate are two sides of the same coin; the opposite of love isn't hate, it's indifference.  I'm indifferent to Star Wars.

The only reason I'm writing this post is that well-meaning friends (who think I'm still on good terms with my ex) keep bringing it up.

I'm reminded of the way Evelyn Waugh describes this process in both Brideshead Revisited and the Sword of Honour trilogy.

At first, there is passion and completion and contentment.  But gradually the excitement fades and is replaced by routine, and the desire slowly disappears.  He obviously knew a lot about failed relationships, but that's how it is with me and Star Wars.

Still, the memories of my first love sometimes come back, and I think back to all the good times we had together.  Ah, to be young and watching the original trilogy on the big screen in first release! 

Those were the days.

 


Some Thoughts About Prequels

I've written at great length about the many problems with the Star Wars prequels (including of course the Man of Destiny series), but one area I've neglected is the problem of creating tension within the story.

Yes, it's possible to keep an audience's interest in seeing how a character gets out of each scrape.  This is the foundation of the James Bond franchise.  No matter how bad things look, somehow Bond survives for yet another adventure.

I'm not particularly interested in those kinds of stories, however. 

I think the best way to pull off a prequel is to relegate the known main characters into supporting roles.

This allows other people (who don't have script immunity) to come forward and provide the proper dramatic tension.  It can be interesting to see how events formed a future hero, but for those who want actual suspense, you can have that with all the additional characters getting bumped off (or looking like they might get bumped off).

I will say that if you are going to make the future main characters take center stage, the demands for a very good story become that much greater.  And as noted above, that's hard to do when physical danger is categorically out of bounds.

In fact, emotional danger's also largely taken away because they have to come out reasonably intact.   I'm tempted to say that prequels are by nature locked into a static characters, but that's not entirely true.  You can take a beloved character and show him as a complete dope who will turn into something more familiar.

But even there, with the outcome known, it's critical to make that path of that progression really interesting.

I've been asked a couple of times to write a prequel to Man of Destiny and the natural thing to cover would be the Deimos War.  It's vague enough that I'm not giving anything away and any "crossover" characters from Man of Destiny would be children.

The thing that holds me back is not just the potential scope of the project, but the fear of giving in to "fan service" type call-backs.  If I were to do it, I think I'd have to write it as a standalone book, explaining everything anew.  I think only then would it be worthwhile.


Heart of Darkness vs Apocalypse Now

As part of my revisiting the works of Joseph Conrad, last week I read Heart of Darkness, which stands somewhat apart from the rest of his tales.

Based on Conrad's experiences as a river boat captain in the Belgian Congo, it takes the reader on a physical but also spiritual journey in to the center of what was once called The Dark Continent.

It's structure is unique.  While Conrad once again uses Marlow as the first-person narrator, in this work he is both a participant but also an observer.  That is to say the centerpiece of the drama is the attempt to retrieve a mysterious ivory trader named Kurtz and Marlow's role is simply to repair a damaged steamboat which is then used to reach Kurtz's remote trading post.

Conrad's musings on human nature and the ease with which 'civilized' people can revert to savagery of the worst kind made it an instant literary classic.

Apocalypse Now is very loosely based on Conrad's story, with the setting changed from colonial Africa to Vietnam.  This is not as ludicrous as it seems, and roughly the first half of the movie does a good job of drawing parallels between the breakdown of discipline and morality the farther one gets from organized institutions.

The problem is that near the midpoint, Coppola loses the plot and starts a meandering tale packed with lame tropes highlighted by inexplicably stupid behavior on the part of the characters.

I'm by no means the first person to observe this, and I'm sure lots of people have pointed out that it would not be difficult to recut the film to bring it into line with Conrad's story - and also provide a more satisfying ending.  As it stands, the film builds up energy until instead of a climax, it just sort of grinds to a halt and everyone goes home.

For a fleeting instant I thought of writing the alternate ending out, basically giving the film the Man of Destiny series treatment, but the definitive take has already been written - by Joseph Conrad.

To my knowledge, this is a story that has yet to be fully realized as a movie.  There was a TNT attempt some years back that was abjectly awful.  Go look it up if you want, I'm not even going to link to it.

Heart of Darkness is a significant work and also something of a litmus test because it's a great example of how people can value a story enough to make a movie while missing the whole point of the thing.

See also: the hideous movie disfigurement of Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One.  Ironically, the craptastic adaptation of a cynical book about Hollywood is altogether appropriate.


Music to write by

Last night I was bit by the writing bug, and cranked out 500 words on a new project, but I have no idea if it will go anywhere.

I seem to do a lot of that lately.  It isn't exactly writer's block, since I'm not under any obligation to write anything at the moment.

A big part of writing is mood.  With each book, I've had something of a soundtrack to facilitate creativity.

Battle Officer Wolf was written while listening to Enya's Amarantine album, over and over again.

For much of A Man of Destiny, I had a Star Wars mix of the darker ("imperial") pieces playing.

I had a special mix as well for Vampires of Michigan, which drew heavily from the Blood and Chocolate soundtrack.  (Yes, I know that movie was about werewolves, so sue me.)

Long Live Death didn't really have a soundtrack.  I just wrote it in a manic frenzy perhaps sensing the parallels between the faltering Second Spanish Republic and our own.

As for my other books, there was nothing specific, though Three Weeks with the Coasties sometimes caused me to look up the music that was popular at the time.

In any event, 2020 is winding down and so it will soon be time for me to start my 2021 book. 

Perhaps instead of thinking about topics, I need to think about music?


The uncanny parallels

I try to keep this blog free of politics, but the last few weeks have brought out a series of very alarming parallels between the current situation in America and that in pre-Civil War Spain.

As Stanley G. Payne pointed out in great detail in his Spanish Civil War, by 1935 the Spanish Left reached a point where it believed that no other party should be allowed to govern Spain.  This repudiated the constitution that they themselves had written only recently.

Time and again, they broke laws, ignored customs and always chose to escalate rather than calm.  Payne goes through an entire checklist of "off ramps" the Left ignored, any one of which could have avoided the resulting carnage of war.

The fact of the matter is that it is difficult to push a war on people who don't want one.  The Man of Destiny series was written in calmer times, but I recognized that one of the fatal flaws in the Star Wars prequels was how arbitrary and random the start of the Clone War was.

Thus when I began telling my story, I spent all of the first book and half of the second chronicling the downward spiral, including opportunities for both sides to de-escalate.

All historical parallels are inexact and one can rightly note that the standard of living, technology, international reach of modern American cannot be compared with that of Spain in 1936. 

Still, I cannot deny that part of the frenzy that drove me to write Long Live Death was a desire to get out in front of events and supply the book as a cautionary tale.  Spain's leaders in 1936 did not have many examples of how a seemingly united and peaceful society can disintegrate into conflict.  We do, with not just Spain but the breakdown of Yugoslavia serving as grim reminders that the bonds that keep nations together can collapse with frightful speed.

I will conclude by asking those of a religious bent to include a plea for reconciliation, forgiveness and renewed unity in your prayers.  We need all the help we can get.


Yet another "new writing project"

Since completing Three Weeks with the Coasties, I've bounced around on what to do next. 

One option was a prequel of the Man of Destiny series.  This would be set well in advance of the events in Man of Destiny and focus on the Deimos War referenced in background conversations.

Another option is to look at a project that has been going on since I was college - a fantasy epic set in the Atlantis of my own imagining.  It's gone through a few incarnations, none of which worked.

I don't know how author authors operate, but I tend to "hoard" my various projects and come back to them.  I have them all listed on a spreadsheet, which I sometimes review for ideas.  So it was while studying this that I picked up another project that had been kicked around for a while:  the Vampires of Michigan.

At some point I'll stop this game of being indecisive and just bludgeon my way through.  Part of what holds me back is the knowledge that the farther afield I roam, the less of a "genre" author I become.  Most authors seem to find a niche and stay there.  If I were doing this as my primary source of income, I guess I would do that, too, but since it's a hobby, I can do what I want.

On the downside, that gives me extra opportunities to waste time.

Plus, it's summer.  Who wants to stay inside and write?


I don't think Game of Thrones could have succeeded on its own terms

No, I didn't watch the finale.  I've read the synopsis and intend to take a look at some point, but I don't think it really matters.

As the lawyer types would say: the facts are not in dispute.

I'm the last one to minimize the complexity of writing a multi-volume story that covers dozens of characters over two decades, but I also know my limits.

That's why I waited to publish the first volume.  My story was far less ambitious than George R.R. Martin's and my inspiration was clear (insofar as I knew what I did not want to write), but even so, I doubted my ability to adjust on the fly.

Everything had to fit together and that meant changing things on the front end to make sure they fit on the back end.

This wasn't an exercise in ego, it was a service to my readers.  I wonder if that's part of what's going on - writers so full of themselves they think they can handle things they clearly can't.

I'm still a relative novice, but trying to keep 1,000 pages of text and a quarter of a million words straight was pretty tough.  And that's what, just one of Martin's books?

He bit off more than he could chew.

And there lies my criticism.

He didn't need to go so big to have a good story.  Dial it down a little, be humble, and take the win.

I freely admit that I decided to follow the example of J.R.R. Tolkien in making sure everything worked before publishing.  Lord of the Rings is a single, unified book published in three volumes.   It is a seamless masterpiece.  I knew I wasn't even approaching it's level of greatness, but I'd rather turn in a serviceable story than a flawed would-be epic.

To be sure, Martin has more stature and money than I do.  On the other hand, I like to think I'm just getting started.


A look at Star Wars: Episode I 20 years later

My latest article at Bleedingfool.com looks back at Phantom Menace, which opened 20 years ago today.

It was a very different time and I was a different person.    Many of the themes I brought up are familiar to people here, but it's interesting to contemplate the different cultural moment we live in compared to the one of 1999.

I won't say they were simpler times, but the certainly seemed safer.  Take a look and leave a comment.


Waiting for DoD and other projects - a writing update

Given that I'm on furlough, I probably should blog here more, but I've been busy around the house and wasting time elsewhere in the interwebs.

I've also been getting some writing done, which I will address momentarily.

But first the big news is that my latest project (Three Weeks with the Coasties, a Tale of Disaster and also an Oil Spill) is done and waiting review by the Dept. of Defense.  I submitted it at the start of the month, but it takes weeks for things to get processed.  Once that's done, I can go ahead and publish. 

It's an odd step for me, but because I was on active duty during the period in question and am in fact still serving, I gotta follow the rules. 

Until then, I've been keeping myself busy on a short story set between books three and four of the Man of Destiny series.  It's for one of those short story anthologies.  I'll let you know if it gets picked up.

Finally, I'm putting together the plot for a new series of books that share a background but aren't necessarily sequential.  I can't really say more about it because I still go back and forth on key details.

When the furlough began, I figured I'd be able to knock out a bunch of writing projects I'd put on the shelf for later, but going through them I see that some are hopeless while others need a lot of reworking. 

For example I had the beginnings of a tale of intrigue, politics and ambition that basically was rendered redundant by Man of Destiny.  The setting might be salvageable but it needs a totally new plot.

I also admit that things that interested me six or seven years ago don't necessarily interest me now.  In addition, I think my writing style has gotten quite a bit better and much of my older work would need to be entirely re-written.

All of which is to say: a lot of the 'future projects' I put on the shelf are likely to stay there - or simply go into the circular file.

Still, I'm hopeful that I can get some things worked out and then plow ahead with unprecedented speed.  The hardest part of writing for me has always been the building the premise and figuring out generally where it's going to go.  Once I get that, it's off to the races.

I suppose some folks might wonder why the Man of Destiny prequel hasn't been mentioned, and my answer is that it's in the mix, but not a priority.  I spent three years working on that project and the short story has actually got me thinking about it again, but I'm not yet ready to fully embrace that madness again.

Maybe after another Star Wars movie comes out.