Amazon Storybuilder and Storywriter

I found some new writing tools tonight and they got me so excited I figured I’d give them a quick review. They’re called Amazon Storybuilder and Storywriter, they’re free, and if you think Amazon is out to get us all, you probably want to stop reading right here.

amazonscript5

This looks like another way for Amazon to break down the walls of traditional publishing, this time for TV and movie scripts, much the same way they’re doing with book publishing. Like its Kindle Scout program, it looks like you can write and submit scripts for review and possible production. That is cool and all but what has me most excited is their Storybuilder tool, which allows you to create and manipulate virtual note cards on a virtual cork board, much like Scrivener does. Except this is free and it works on your tablet as well as your desktop (mostly; more on that in a bit).

amazonscript1

Here’s a test outline I made really fast to, well, test the functionality. As you can see, this is designed for script outlines off the bat, with Act 1 set up at the start, but you could set it up however you want.

amazonscript2

It is really easy to drag and drop scenes to reorder them. The picture above doesn’t show my cursor, but I’m in the middle of moving the 3rd scene down.

amazonscript3

Now that I’ve gone wild and moved the 3rd scene after the 5th scene, I put Act 2 in front of Act 1. I guess this is going to be a pretty experimental film.

amazonscript4

You can also click on Collapse Cards in the bottom right corner to just show the titles of the cards, and you can click on Manage and select Print-Friendly View to export the outline in list form for easy printing.

I tried opening Storybuilder in Chrome and Safari on my iPad. Both allow you to pull up your outline, add cards, and write/edit cards, but if there is a way to drag and drop cards to rearrange them, I couldn’t figure it out. That’s the one feature I’d like (or if it already exists, the one I need to learn how to use).

So is it perfect? No. But for me it’s pretty damn useful, because at least I can access it when I’m away from my desktop, unlike Scrivener. Plus, it’s free, so that’s hard to beat.

Since Amazon is also offering the Storywriter service as well, I opened it up and messed around with it. It’s basic, and you should probably know how a scripted page should look already, but for the price of free I had nothing to complain about it. Here’s a quick test I whipped up to showcase some of the different elements.

amazonscript6

I should note that once I was inside Storywriter, I couldn’t find a way to exit it other than going back in my history to the Amazon Studios page again.

So hey, free tools and a possible path to getting your script turned into an Amazon TV show or movie. Not bad at all.

Review: Crooks & Straights

Crooks and StraightsCrooks and Straights by Masha du Toit

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a wonderful read which I suppose falls into the YA category but suited me just fine as an adult reader. It is the story of a young girl in a magical version of South Africa who gets caught between the magical and non-magical world around her. The world itself is full of everyday magic, but also tension as it becomes increasingly clear that magical people and creatures are an oppressed underclass. As such, the book deals with civil rights issues and the topic of children with special needs, through the lens of a world uncomfortable with magical or odd things.

The book is full of inventive magical details and feels very real and well-constructed, and the writing flows well and is often quite beautiful. I recommend Crooks and Straights to fans of Harry Potter, movies like Howl’s Moving Castle, and the books of Neil Gaiman.

View all my reviews

Review: Andre the Giant: Life and Legend

AndretheGiant_Books_Cover-550x733

Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge 7/50
Andre the Giant: Life and Legend
by Box Brown
ISBN: 978-1-59643-851-4

I know Andre the Giant from The Princess Bride and vague memories of Wrestlemania. For a time in my childhood I was way into wrestling, because the characters were everywhere, from cartoons, to music videos, to rubbery action figures. That being said, I haven’t thought much about these guys since then, but when I came across an Andre the Giant biographical graphic novel, my interest was piqued.

It’s done in a pleasantly cartoony style, taking us from when Andre was a 12-year old in 1958 France (he couldn’t fit in the bus, so he got a ride to school from Samuel Beckett), through to his death in 1993. It is not comprehensive, but rather a series of vignettes, more than a few of which made me chuckle. It also shows, however, the pain and inconvenience of his acromegaly, such as how he was too big to fit in an airplane restroom, so he had to, um, completely empty his system before a long flight.

One highlight for me, of course, was the illustrated version of anecdotes from the cast of The Princess Bride, such as this moment with Robin Wright.

Andrewarm

It’s a quick read (hence the light review), and if you’re at all interested in seeing inside the world of wrestling or finding out more about Andre the Giant, I recommend it.

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers

ggtmrw

Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge 6/50
Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers Volume 1
ISBN: 978-0785166870

It’s been quite a while since my last graphic novel review. Partly this is because I tore through a bunch of new Valiant graphic novels (reviews to come later), but it was also because I’ve been reading this dense collection of the original Guardian of the Galaxy comics. Well, I’m finally done, so here’s my thoughts on it.

I was first introduced to the Guardians of the Galaxy in 1990 with Jim Valentino’s version of the comic. I bought three copies of issue #1 and I got them signed, thus assuring my financial future! But much like this version of the Guardians, the future in which I got rich from collecting comics was only a possible future. Alas, it was not meant to be. But I digress. After collecting the Valentino run for a while, I worked on collecting earlier appearances of the Guardians, but never got them all. That’s where this handy volume comes in. The 18 issues it compiles bring the Guardians from guest star status alongside the Thing and the Defenders, to their own run in Marvel Presents.

 

gg1st

So who are these original Guardians, in case you’re only familiar with the new team? They start off with Major Vance Astro, an Earth native sent on a 1000-year voyage in stasis. The only problem is that hyperdrive is developed while he’s on his voyage, so humans from Earth have already populated the galaxy when he arrives at his destination. Plus, he is somehow damaged by the stasis and has to be encased in a full body suit lest he disintegrate. But his eyes and mouth can be uncovered. And he has psychic powers. And he’s kind of a whiny teenager in a grown-up’s body, and … what was he going to do at the end of his 1000 year voyage if people hadn’t developed hyperdrive while he was asleep, anyway? It’s best not too think too deeply about him.  He’s old, he’s pissed, and he’s kind of an ass. ‘Nuff said.

Charlie-27 is the last survivor of the genetically-modified humans who lived on Jupiter. Same with Martinex, except he’s the last survivor of Pluto. Charlie-27 is big and strong, and Martinex can create and manipulate fire and ice, because Pluto. The last member of the team is Yondu, a version of which became Michael Rooker’s character in the recent movie.

Later on, the team grows to include Starhawk, a character who is “One Who Knows,” which means he gets to move the plot along and act mysterious. He also turns into a woman sometimes, which gets explained toward the end of this volume. Nikki, the last Mercurian, also joins the team. Her power is… she’s got spunk? In an essay in the back of this volume, Stever Gerber says “she was our token female and our token Mercurian.” Way to kill two birds with one stone.

Okay, so that’s who the Guardians are, but what do they do? Well, they don’t get to guarding the galaxy for a while. The first half of this volume involves them kicking the alien Badoon off of Earth, where they have turned the remaining human population into slaves. The Badoon, a race of lizard-like humanoids, are also the reason why so many of the team are the last of their kind. To get rid of these vile creatures requires help from the past in the form of Captain America, the Thing, Doctor Strange, and the Hulk, to name a few guest stars.

The second half of the volume takes the Guardians off Earth and out into the galaxy. There’s some inventive ideas in here, a lot of silly ones, and more than a few batshit crazy ones, like a giant (we’re talking light-years-long) humanoid being whose existence is anti-life itself.

I mentioned before that there’s an essay in the back from Steve Gerber. There’s also one by Roger Stern. Reading them puts a new light on some of the strangeness in the preceding comics, as it makes clear how much of the comic was a seat-of-the-pants affair. Here’s Roger Stern on taking over from Steve Gerber:

[It] was basically my first title for Marvel. I picked it up under circumstances that have since become a trademark for Marvel–it was already late, and not only that, but my first issue was to be the conclusion of a two-part tale about the origin of Starhawk. When Steve brought in the pages of the preceding issue, I said, ‘Gee, this is really bizarre, Steve! How does it end?’ And Steve revealed that he hadn’t really figured that out yet. I was thunderstruck.”

Given that sort of planning, it’s no surprise that these stories meander a bit, but there’s some fun and powerful stuff in there along with the filler. Especially toward the end of this volume, there are stories that pack more of an emotional wallop than I expected from the stories that came before. The emotional impact of the scene below is lessened somewhat when you read what Roger Stern has to say about it, but it still comes as a surprise in terms of the comic.

ggwompwompAnd when super-strong lunkhead Charlie-27 ends up crying, you know the Guardians have grown up some.

ggcharliecry

Or maybe they haven’t. I’ll have to wait until I get Volume 2 through an interlibrary loan to find out.

 

Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge 5/50: Archer & Armstrong Vol 1

Review:
Archer & Armstrong Volume 1: The Michelangelo Code
Fred Van Lente, Clayton Henry, Matt Milla
ISBN-13: 978-0979640988

I was a big fan of the Valiant Universe in the 90s. It started off as an excellent alternative to the Marvel comics and, at least at first, they were more about substance and quality and less about how much money you might make collecting them. Eventually, the universe grew as large (and had as many expensive collector’s covers) as the Marvel universe I had fled, but for a couple of years at least, I picked up every issue of every Valiant comic.

Fast forward to the present and Valiant has been rebooted, but minus Solar, Magnus, and Turok. I avoided it for awhile, but Humble Bundle pulled me back in with their astounding Valiant Comics deal. (Seriously, when they have their comic bundles, get them. The deals are unbelievable.)

All that being said, I’ve finally started to dip into the new Valiant Universe, and Archer & Armstrong Volume 1 was an amazing place to start. This volume contains the first 4 issues and includes a handful of variant covers at the end.

The story starts in Ancient Mesopotamia with Aram (aka Armstrong) trying to convince his brother Ivar to not resurrect their slain brother, Gilad. That doesn’t go so well, but it does let the return reader know that the Eternal Warrior and the Timewalker are present in this reboot. Cut to 10,000 later and we’re introduced to the other half of the titular duo, Archer, who has been raised in a creationist theme park to be the ultimate warrior for a group known as the Dominion. His job is to assassinate He Who is Not to Be Named. One hint: it’s not Voldemort.

A lot of the fun in this first volume comes from the interplay between straight arrow Archer, who is horrified by life outside the amusement park and whose strongest language is the word “flippin’,” and the easygoing, drunken Armstrong.

Even more fun is the world of ancient conspiracies and modern secret societies that Van Lente has dreamed up, including The One Percent, a group of Wall Street elites whose name says it all, and the Green Dragon Lamas, a group of telepathic monks who are not your typical enlightened beings (their choice of mustache may give this away).

image

The One Percent. This is what every news story about the economy sounds like to me.

The story in this volume quickly becomes a Dan Brown-esque chase around the world, with the fate of all humanity hanging in the balance. I could list off all the cool elements and scenes in it (ninja nuns), but I don’t want to ruin it for you. Bottom line: this is a great re-introduction to the Valiant universe and it has me eager to read the next volume and the rest of the Valiant books. I highly recommend it.

(This is my fifth entry into the Mother/Gamer/Writer’s Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge.)

Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge 4/50: Usagi Yojimbo

 

Usagi-Yojimbo-Book-1

Review:
Usagi Yojimbo Book 1: The Ronin
Stan Sakai
ISBN-13: 978-0930193355

I’ve known of Usagi Yojimbo for years but only ever read a story here and there, so I figured I’d start from the beginning. Of course, it didn’t disappoint. How can you go wrong with a world full of anthropomorphic animals in the equivalent of a samurai movie? In the case of this series, it allows for a mix of funny and serious stories, some of which are straight-up samurai tales that happen to star walking, talking animals, while others rely on the animal nature of the characters. Think ninjas who can burrow through the earth, or a blind swordspig who is deadly with a sword thanks to his incredible sense of smell.

The titular character, Usagi Yojimbo (or rabbit bodyguard) is a masterless samurai, or ronin. (I half suspect anyone reading this knows all this already, but just in case.) His master, Lord Mifune (one of at least two nods to Toshiro Mifune) was killed in battle with Lord Hikiji due to being betrayed by one of his own generals. (Hikiji’s presence is felt throughout this first volume, as many dastardly deeds and personal tragedies can be traced back to his actions.)

Now wandering as a ronin, Usagi picks up jobs here and there as a bodyguard, but also stumbles into many situations where he sees fit to dispense justice on his own. For the most part, he is honorable and wise, although in at least one encounter I felt like he made a mistake and acted too harshly. I’m willing to forgive him this momentary lapse because it sets up a cool (and amusing) villain for later stories.

There are quite a few characters introduced in this first volume who I am sure will return for later stories, including two possible love interests (although one is married to Usagi’s childhood rival). One character that appears in two stories in this book is Gennosuke, a rhinoceros bounty hunter who, with the dark shadow of a beard on his jaw, is clearly meant to be a Toshiro Mifune look-alike. While he is not wholly good or bad, he and Usagi have a fun rivalry in this first volume. I gather from a quick Google search that he will be back for many more stories, which is a good thing.

All in all, these comics don’t suffer at all for being about 30 years old, perhaps due to the feudal setting already being timeless. For those like me who missed these comics the first time around, this collection is an excellent way to catch up, and I’ll be searching out the rest of them because I have quite a lot of catching up to do.

(This is my fourth entry into the Mother/Gamer/Writer’s Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge.)

Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge 3/50: Mickey Mouse Color Sundays

mmsunday

Review:
Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse: Color Sundays Vol. 1 “Call Of The Wild”
Floyd Gottfredson
ISBN-13: 978-1606996430

I have a fascination with the days when the Sunday Funnies commanded so much newspaper real estate, so I appreciate volumes like this one which showcase these comic strips of a bygone age (the 1930s in this case). What’s especially nice about this collection, if you’re even a passing fan of Disney, is to see the early versions of characters like Goofy (originally Dippy Dawg) and Donald Duck.

The essays scattered throughout the book did a good job detailing the history of all the characters as well as the interplay between the Sunday comics, the daily strips, and the cartoons. It seems the daily strips were an entirely separate continuity than the Sunday strips, and were more action/adventure-oriented. While this volume had several longer stories, it was mostly gag-focused. Some of the gags still got a laugh out of me some 80 years later and the rest were amusing or at least interesting in a “what did they find funny 80 years ago?” way.

Of course, given the time period that these comics are from, these strips have their fair share of racial stereotypes. If you absolutely can’t accept these within the context of the time period, you might want to avoid this volume.

But if you want to travel back in time to when funny strips were serious business and Disney characters were not yet set in stone, I highly recommend this volume.

(This is my third entry into the Mother/Gamer/Writer’s Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge.)

Review: The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide

SPURG-Cover-front

Review:
The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide: Every Indie Author’s Essential Directory – To Help You Prepare, Publish, and Promote Professional Looking Books
Joel Friedlander & Betty Kelly Sargent
ISBN-13: 978-0936385365

The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide bills itself as “the first and largest collection of curated and verified resources for independent authors who plan to publish their own books.” It has “over 850 resources listed in an easy-to-use format that includes live links, phone numbers, email addresses and brief descriptive copy. The Guide makes vendors and other resources easy to find by separating them into 33 distinct categories within the 3 main tasks the self-publisher must deal with. How to Prepare, Publish, and Promote their books.”

In other words, it’s a book of lists, from different types of editors to ebook conversion services to website designers. And for this book to be useful, you have to be willing to trust the expertise of the authors who compiled the lists, or at least prefer to pick one of their choices than do your own research. In that respect, I’m not sure this book is for everyone. Mostly it feels like a website that has been made into a book, which put me in mind of the early days of the internet when there were so few places to visit, you could find them with the Yellow Pages.

Remember using this? I do.

The authors claim that the ebook version of the book will be “updated regularly to provide current information and links in the fast-changing indie publishing world,” which again seems like something a website is more suited to, but perhaps this is an easier way to monetize this sort of curation. More power to them.

Bottom line: If you’d prefer a list of vendors who have been vouched for by two experts in the field, this book might be for you. If you’d prefer to do it yourself, there’s nothing in this book you can’t find online with enough searching or with a recommendation from other writers. Either way, caveat emptor. Here are the buy links for the book if you’re interested.

Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge 2/50: Girl Genius Omnibus Vol 1

girlgeniusomni1

Girl Genius Omnibus Edition Volume 1
Phil & Kaja Foglio
ISBN: 978-1-890856-40-3

I enjoy a lot of webcomics, but I’ve been intimidated by the deep archive for Girl Genius, so I’ve stayed away from it. How nice then to have a thick omnibus edition to help catch me up. The trade-off for this particular volume is that it is in black and white instead of color, but that didn’t bother me except for some pages that came out way too dark this way.

My first exposure to Phil Foglio’s work was from the Myth Adventures book covers and graphic novels (some of which are online here). Girl Genius, with art by Phil and co-written with Phil and Kaja Foglio, has the same sort of over-the-top humor as those stories, but it is set in a world where steampunk science and magic exist in equal parts. In this world, some people have the Spark, a magical ability that allows them to defy the laws of physics.

Volume 1 starts with our heroine, Agatha, getting mugged and having her locket stolen. This makes her late for her class at Transylvania Polygnostic University, where she has a knack for building clanks (autonomous robots) that fail spectularly.

When Baron Wulfenbach and his son Gilgamesh show up at the university, a series of events leads Agatha into the Baron’s service, although only Gil seems to recognize Agatha’s potential.

Mysteries abound throughout the story and there’s plenty of humor in both the writing and the art, but a large part of the pleasure in reading these is in discovering the details of the world the Foglios have built. I’m a sucker for this type of steampunk fantasy, filled with giant automatons and enormous airships, so it didn’t take much to pull me along through this first volume.

This is good, because until Agatha starts coming into her own a little by the end of the third volume in the omnibus, her story was a little painful to read. She’s misunderstood, underappreciated, and has a nasty habit of ending up in lingerie and sleepwalking. It’s a joke that falls flat quickly but gets used over and over for some reason.

Despite some rough patches like this, the book ends on a high note with plenty of hooks to make me want to keep reading this series.

(This is my second entry into the Mother/Gamer/Writer’s Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge.)

Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge 1/50: The Invisibles Vol 1

I couldn't find a good image of this, so here's a scan of my library copy instead.

The Invisibles, Volume 1: Say You Want A Revolution
by Grant Morrison, Steve Yeowell, Jill Thompson, and Dennis Cramer

For my first entry into Mother/Gamer/Writer’s Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge, I’m going back to the 90s for some comics I didn’t read at the time. The Invisible has been described as a “complicated and ambitious comics masterpiece” and I’ve heard it mentioned frequently, so I figured it was high time I gave it a read.

The very first issue of The Invisibles, “Dead Beatles,” throws you right into the deep end. There are evil folk wearing opaque, circle-lensed glasses bowing down to horrifying gods, the ghost/god John Lennon, delinquents who have their sexual drive and rebellious instinct sucked out of them, and a secret band of superheroic individuals who are fighting against the evil folk.

It’s a trippy, confusing trip through the essential elements of the story, focused on one of the above-mentioned delinquents, Dane McGowan.

Dane gets recruited by the Invisibles, the group of freedom fighters who are clued into the truth of the world, and the second arc, Down and Out in Heaven and Hell, follows him as he initiated into these truths. He learns about the invisible world beneath ours, the horrible things that live there, and those who fight against the horror.

The whole initiation into the secret truth of the world and fighting against bad guys in sunglasses reminded me a lot of The Matrix. Checking to see which came out first, I found it was The Invisibles by a few years. In this post, Morrison agrees: “Yeah. It is that close. I don’t think they could deny it. After the initial rage, when I really went through it plot point by plot point and image by image… The jumps from buildings, the magic mirror, the boy who’s being inducted called the One, the black drones, the shades, the fetish. The Kung Fu as well. The dojo scene. The whole thing – the insect machines that in fact are from a higher dimension, which supposedly enslaved their own. The entire gnostic theme.”

But where I found the Matrix to be a fun, thought-provoking action-adventure, I found this first volume of The Invisibles to be incredibly draining. I wasn’t the only one, apparently. Per the Wikipedia page for The Invisibles, Morrison became seriously ill while writing the book, something he attributes to working on the title and the manner in which its magical influence affected him.

I can readily believe that the work had such an effect on him. The last arc in this first volume, Arcadia,  had me wanting to simply put the book down and not look back. The story deals with the French Revolution, a madman from another dimension, the Marquis de Sade, and horror creatures feasting on human flesh. It’s not a ray of sunshine, that’s for sure. Even Dane grows increasingly sick throughout the tale.

The violence and depravity just didn’t work for me in the same way as it did in, say, the Preacher graphic novels, where there’s at least some humor. It just dragged me down into a really uncomfortable place.

I grabbed volumes 2 and 3 in the same library trip as this one, but I think I need to take a break before I pick up the second volume and see if I can push on through this series.