Sunday, February 4, 2018

world building is fun

A few years ago, my wife was reading a rough draft of my book The Inter-Terrestrial and noticed something.  She pointed to a scene where an alien character proposes to his girlfriend.  It was at the end of a chapter.  The next chapter cuts to a different part of the story, and when we get back to his alien and his wife, they are already married.  She pointed out that I had missed a golden opportunity to show what a wedding on an alien planet is like.  I could have the fun of coming up with something really weird, which would also be fun for the reader.  She was absolutely right.  I wrote a wedding scene where the completely nude bridal party sprays the intestinal fluid of an animal on the couple, causing the bride's gown to turn white, signifying their marriage.  And the flow of the book is better for it.  Thanks to all that grease.

Because when you have a story that takes place in a fictional place, it is fun to make up the world surrounding your characters.  Even if the story takes place on Earth, but in a fictional city, you can make up names of landmarks, coffee shops, other businesses in such a way that you can throw in jokes or just personal touches.  (Burger Cave, D's Donuts etc.)  Hammer City in my book Working-Class Superheroes has a section called Manville, named for the Rhode Island town I grew up in.  And with an alien planet, you really have the opportunity to go out there with your ideas and humor.

Another part of The Inter-Terrestrial had my main character talking to a classmate of his who was an athlete.  Of course, since this was alien, I had to come up with what kinds of sports are played on his home planet.  I spent two paragraphs explaining this sport where players with curved (jai lai?) sticks toss around a poisonous insect, trying to get it into a soccer-sized goal without it biting them (or the other team stealing it).  This game, called nar-nar, had nothing to do with the rest of the story, it was just me explaining what this sporty character was up to.  But I had so much fun writing it, as I did with the greasy wedding scene earlier, that I wanted to write a whole story about this game.

So, if I ever come up with something that I want to say about professional sports, I am going to use nar-nar as the focal point.  Maybe it's about the gambling, the way injuries (from those poisonous insects) are treated by the team owners or about an older player who feels underappreciated because he can't do what he used to.  Or something else.  I haven't figured out the details yet.  But it's great how such a small section of the story can get your creative juices flowing.

For more creativity, check out Turtle Rocket Books.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Justice League REVIEW


I liked 'Batman v. Superman' more than a lot of people.  But when I saw the theatrical version, I thought the storyline was a bit choppy.  The scene where Superman survives a bomb blast and then (in that version) just flies away afterwards was the most insulting deviation from an established character that I had seen since the Ninja Turtles became hulking monstrosities.

But then, they came out with a longer version on DVD, which was WAY better.  There was a subplot where Clark Kent was doing some hardnosed investigative journalism, a side of him we don't see very often.  The action scenes were longer and better, as was the bathtub scene, which my wife enjoyed.  Oh, and Superman actually helps to pull people out of the fire after that bomb went off.  I wondered why Warner Brothers would make the producers of this film shorten it.  What's wrong with a 3-hour superhero epic about these two (sorry, Wonder Woman...three) iconic characters?  Why did Superman's "cat out of a tree" (Senators out of a hearing?) moment end up on the cutting room floor?

Well, right before 'Justice League' came out, there was an online rumor that WB wanted the producers to cut JL down to two hours or less.  BVS was cut down to two and a half hours and that movie only had the two main characters.  Why would they want JL to be two hours or less when most of their six superhero cast had not been established in other films the way that their esteemed competition did with The Avengers?

Well, whatever the reason, the movie suffers for it.  And online rumors tell us that there is no longer DVD cut this time.  All the actors are great in their respective roles, but the story is choppier than that first version of BVS.  Partially because they had to introduce all these characters in this way-too-short film.  I loved the scene where Aquaman goes home to Atlantis, but it would have made way more sense if we actually knew more about it, either from a longer version of this film or the Aquaman solo film being released first.  It could have been like a wetter Asgard.  (Try saying that out loud without laughing.)  The Flash and Cyborg were awesome as characters, with Flash being my favorite.  But, they should have taken a page out of Marvel's playbook and given them solo flicks first.  It makes their roles in this seem too quick and "well, that was cool, but..."

The subject of autism is one close to my heart and the scene where The Flash talks about how everything around him is too slow for his brain sparked my interest like the speed force lightning that shoots off of him when he runs..  There are some clever references to how fast Flash is compared to Superman and a cameo by a character (group?) who would have been in this movie more if a Ryan Reynolds movie didn't ruin him in the public eye years ago..  There are a few great character moments and some good chemistry between a few of the characters, but the story doesn't engage you enough to care about any of it.  It made me want to watch the 2000's animated series again, as it had better versions of all of these characters (except for Cyborg, who was a Teen Titan back then.)  This movie made me hope that 'Avengers: Infinity War' is a 3-hour superhero epic so that someone can show WB/DC how it's done.

2.5 Halls of Justice out of 5.

For more inspired lunacy, check out Turtle Rocket Books.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok REVIEW

There is not a moment in this movie where you will not be able to hear Marvel executives in the back of your mind discussing how much money 'Guardians of the Galaxy' made.

"Yeah, let's make it more like that."

"I mean, they're both in the same universe and they're both in space."

"And we have to set up Thanos' Death...girlfriend...person for 'Avengers: Infinity War' anyway..."

Much has been made in other reviews of how much funnier this movie is than the other two Thor films, or his portrayal in the two 'Avengers' movies.  Thor has always been sort of funny.  He's funny in that dry sort of way, where he is in an environment that he is unfamiliar with and comments on something that he finds odd or doesn't understand.

So, part of the humor in this film comes from Thor being in crazy situations and reacting to them.  And the situations, characters and the planet he's on are much crazier in this film than in the others.  But, admittedly, the writers of this movie did make him a bit more of a quipster than he was n previous films.  But not so much that he isn't the same character.  He's just been hanging around with Tony Stark too much and some of his humor rubbed off on "Point Break".

And that humor, both from Thor himself and from surrounding characters, is what makes 'Thor: Ragnarok' an enormous leap from the dull second movie.  And the story.  No longer is Thor pining over Jane Foster.  Her character's absence is reduced to one line where a side character says "sorry Jane dumped you".  Thor is back to his role as a warrior of Asgard.  Picking up from one of the more interesting aspects of the second film, Loki has been taking Odin's place as king of Asgard and has been involved in some pretty extensive propaganda to make himself (his "son" Loki) out to be a hero of the 2nd film.  Thor makes quick work of that before the villain (Thor's sister and Thanos' boo Hela) shows up and destroys his beloved hammer, as shown in the trailers.

After an extensive, funny, engaging prologue that ends with both Thor (without his hammer) and Loki on a planet ruled by the villainous Grandmaster (played by a flamboyant Jeff Goldblum), the movie turns into a buddy comedy between Thor and Bruce Banner/The Hulk.  Thor has great chemistry with both Bruce Banner and his green CGI alter ego (both played brilliantly again by Mark Ruffalo) as they attempt to get off the Grandmaster's planet and back to Asgard to save it from destruction from Hela.  Along the way, they form a small team as a drunken fellow Asgardian named Valkyrie is thrown into the mix.

This movie very much feels like 'GOTG' as far as the balance between an exciting sci-fi story and the humor goes.  Thor is not as quippy as Peter Quill in GOTG, but he is surrounded by funny characters including Korg, a rock creature played by the director himself and Goldblum's funny showman, the Grandmaster.  I personally liked the first Thor, as it was a story about humility, but after the second one, a new direction was welcome and this was a good way to handle that.  Thor losing his hammer was a great opportunity for the character to grow as a person and if Marvel wants to make me laugh at the same time, that is fine by me.

There are lots of great little nods to previous and future MCU movies for the fans to dissect and some good cameos.  All the acting is top shelf.  Tom Hiddleston is always great as Loki.  Cate Blanchett is great as well, providing some contrasting moodiness and some dark humor whenever the scene cuts away from Grandmaster's technicolor Flash Gordon-ish planet to her.  But, the common complaint about Marvel movie villains just being there so the hero can fight them in the third act is true here and its the movie's one minor flaw.  Yes, comic book fans realize that they had to set up Death as a character for Thanos' role in future films.  So, she needs to be there and her performance is good.  But you will be far more interested in following Thor, Hulk and company around.

4 lightning bolts out of 5.

Check out Turtle Rocket Books for more engaging sci-fi from the mind of a mildly-autistic man-child.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

FREE CONTENT: other ways to get reviews

There is a website called Smashwords where indie authors post their work.  One thing that I like about them is that they allow you to post short stories for free a lot easier than Amazon does.  For obvious reasons, more people will read free books.  And then, if they like your style, they check out the stuff they have to pay a few bucks to download.

I have found that I get more reviews on free books as well, which is obvious if more people are reading them.  And good reviews draw people to the book.  My practice is that I will take a chapter of a book that I am working on that works as a short story unto itself (that happens a lot in my work, as I am trying to introduce a character and the whole chapter ends up working as a short story) and I will post the short story on Smashwords for free.  And if people want to read the whole thing, I post an ad for it on the last page of the story.

Here are some links to some of my free content.  Feel free to leave reviews.  Thank you.

Time Travel Police Corruption
Detective Aileen Buckman has just uncovered a terrible secret, about corruption among her superiors in the Time Travel Police Department. How will she expose this diabolical plot without the corrupt leader of the TTPD and his ruthless mob confidant?

Jason Jacobs has an autistic daughter who identifies with lizards better than people. Jason finds it unusual when their pediatrician suggests that she take lizard hormones to feel comfortable in her not-yet-scaly skin. But why would Jason's wife be in favor of such a radical procedure in the first place? And what does her past as an activist have to do with her unorthodox choice?

An alien prince battles a space slug that only gets stronger when it feeds on the selfishness, fear and hatred on the planets it consumes.

Nebb Tuk
Nebb Tuk is a down on his luck musician who gets the biggest offer of his life, to perform on a TV show that showcases mutants like him. But will he take the money and fame he is being offered or view the show itself as pandering to those who are different?

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

wrapping my head around alien characters

A lot of times, when I come up with an idea for an alien/mutant/otherwise weird-looking character, I draw them first.  The purpose of the drawing is not to use it in the book, as I don't draw that well and my art is far from professional.  The purpose is to make it easier for me to picture the character when I am writing.  Hopefully, the character will look/feel realistic to the reader when he/she is reading the novel, but the crude drawing helps me wrap my head around what they look like.

So, for this post, I would like to share some of my favorite crude drawings of characters that ended up in my books in some form or another.

Enjoy.  And check out Turtle Rocket Books

The best review I ever got.

Of course, reviews are very important to an indie author who sells their work online.
I have gotten a few.  Mostly positive.  This is my favorite.  What makes it even more special is that it is a review for my favorite one of my books The Inter-Terrestrial.  It can be found beneath my book's listing on Amazon.  Click here to see.

The Inter-Terrestrial is a science fiction novel, but within this book are current themes regarding discrimination and prejudice.  Chad Descouteaux writes smoothly and his writing reads as that of an author who has worked on his novel and concepts for quite a long time.
I found it very interesting how in this book humans were deemed as inferior, which was rather brilliant.  So many times humans see themselves as the upper class in terms of other species and beings,but by putting them at the bottom of the galactic food chain, Descoteaux opened up a new dialogue for readers to discuss our place in the galaxy.  He also presented prejudice in a new way that allows science fiction fans to understand the concept in the format of a genre they admire.  I thought that Descoteaux’s writing was knowledgeable and original and I thoroughly enjoyed his work.  His novel is not only appropriate for science fiction fans, but for anyone who enjoys books that discuss prejudice and the crisis that is currently a major issue within our society.  I love seeing so many novels examine this conflict and Descouteaux has written a novel that I feel is original and stands out in his chosen genre.  I urge anyone who likes science fiction to read this novel as it is easy to understand and enjoy, and I have to say that it is one of the better novels that I have reviewed recently.
I hope that Descoteaux continues to write, because I would love to read more of his work and more about his stance on different topics.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

the book that made me want to write stuff

SPOILERS for the 'My Teacher is an Alien' series ahead.

Probably the first book that intrigued me enough to say "I wanna do that" was 'My Teacher is an Alien' by Bruce Coville.  I must have been in elementary school at the time.  The first book in what became a four-book series was about a girl who stuck up for the nerdy kid and later needed his help to get to the bottom of an alien invasion plot.  I knew a girl like Susan who would stick up for kids getting picked on.  And, yes, I related to shy Peter.  But it was the first time that I had seen that sort of a marriage between weird sci-fi elements and relatable characters.  The kids in that book were a little older than me at the time, but I still related to strict teachers, tests and the seating arrangements in the cafeteria in the middle of a larger sci-fi plot.

I remember how psyched I was when I was walking through Walden Books at the Lincoln Mall in Rhode Island and I realized that there was a sequel, 'My Teacher Fried My Brains' centered around Duncan, the bully kid from the first book.  I remember laughing a lot more with that book, as Duncan would always argue with his brother and they would hit each other.  I never had a sibling, but I had friends that I would roughhouse with, so that was age appropriate for me at the time.  But the thing that intrigued me about the first book, the weird alien stuff...there was a lot more of it in the second.  And the third.  And the fourth.  Especially in the third and fourth, where most of it took place out in space and we met more aliens.  That combination of relatable characters that grounds the weird stuff stuck with me and found its way into my writing when I would actually start writing, taking it seriously years later.

And then, the Ninja Turtles became popular.  Relatable teenage characters who, like me, love pizza.  But they're giant turtles who know kung fu.  And their dad's a giant rat.  It was a perfect storm of the things that inspired me about Bruce Coville's books.  I don't know if 'My Teacher is an Alien' is still in print, but you can check out a book that was largely inspired by Bruce Covillle's work (and for a slightly older audience) here.