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

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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

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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

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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.)

The Fifth House Edits: Week Two

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I am now about 72,000 words into the first pass edit of The Fifth House, which is the sequel to The Only City Left. (You can sign up for my newsletter to be notified when The Fifth House is released.) As I mentioned last week, I am using this first pass to look at the structure of the story as a whole, from where the chapter breaks are, to character arcs through the book, to where certain scenes need to fall in relation to one another.

In the process of rereading my first draft, I’ve come across a series of chapters that will require some major rewrites, if not completely new versions. When I write a first draft, I write write write, at least 1,000 words a day, every day. It forces me to keep going when I might otherwise stall out. Generally, it’s a good thing, but sometimes, as with these chapters, it can take me far down a dead end path.

So I need to go back and rework those chapters, but at least this time I have a better sense of where not to go with them. In fact, reading them and seeing where the story went wrong , I was able to make an outline for how to guide the story in a better direction. Edits like these can feel a bit like I’m moving through molasses, but I’m hoping that once I have the structure and pacing locked down, I’ll be much better able to focus on the sentence-level work of making the writing flow and sound right, confident that the big picture is working for me.

Photo Credit: No Cars-1 by Ze’ev Barkan.

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.

Review: A Noble’s Quest

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Review of A Noble’s Quest
by Ryan Toxopeus
ISBN-10: 1492170127

If you’ve ever played Dungeons and Dragons, chances are you and your group of fellow adventurers sometimes waded into combat without asking a lot of questions first. Or justified a slaughter when diplomacy fell through. Or found it easier to kill the King’s guards and hide the bodies than face up to some perhaps well-deserved justice.

You did all this in the name of fun and because, as the main characters in your own story, you were obviously the heroes. You saved the world, or at least the town, and if you left a lot of bodies behind along the way, well, that’s the life of an adventurer.

Maybe someone in your group jokingly brought up how your actions must appear to everyone else in the game world. “We’re murder hobos!” But it’s just a game and everyone’s having fun, so who cares, right?

But when those adventures are the basis for a book, as they are here, those ruthless antics are not as simple. As a reader, I expect the main characters to act heroic, work toward becoming a hero, or at least recognize that they’re not heroes at all, but they’re doing what they think is right.

If I had one huge disconnect with the book, it is that while the main characters are proclaimed to be heroic, the book never really addresses that they often act like murderers and thieves, without having any sense that their actions are justified. They’re doing it because they’ve been sent on a series of quests to achieve a secret goal, and they repeatedly talk about these quests in a way that seemed a little too meta for the characters, as if they were aware they were an adventuring party in a game.

One of the main characters repeatedly worries about the group’s seemingly unjustified murders, but eventually has an epiphany in which he realizes they were all justified after all because he was defending himself and his friends. I didn’t buy the logic and I never really felt the characters were heroic.

That being said, the book is well-written and it kept me reading. There’s a good sense of humor throughout and, even though a lot of the world-building is stock Player’s Handbook in many parts, the original touches are clever and engaging. I especially enjoyed a scene of some dwarves dealing with an interesting type of alarm, and any scene that had to do with the Dwarven religion, which seems like a clever, Dwarven take on Christianity.

I think if you approach this book as the account of a role-playing group acting out the lives of Player Characters, you’ll be more likely to enjoy it for what it is. And when all is said and done, I want to know what happens next in this world. Good thing then that the second book, A Wizard’s Gambit, is in the works.

The Fifth House Edits: Week One

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I am 40,000 words into the first pass edit of The Fifth House, which is the sequel to The Only City Left. (Sign up for my newsletter to be notified when The Fifth House is released!) For this first pass, I am looking at the structure of the story as a whole, from where the chapter breaks are, to character arcs through the book, to where certain scenes need to fall in relation to one another. More detailed edits will have to wait for the second pass.

Already I have pushed back the introduction of one character and relegated her to a smaller role in the book, because she was fighting for attention in an already-crowded novel. That change allowed me to cut down the length of the first chapter she appeared in, but of course this also requires cascading changes throughout the rest of the book. In the end, I think it will be worth it, though. Plus, any character I cut like this usually shows up again, whether in a short story or another work altogether.

I should mention that I have two point-of-view characters in Book Two, as opposed to only Allin in Book One, and they switch off chapters. This is done to expand the story possibilities in this book, and to have the action be more wide-ranging while still allowing me to tell the big-picture story I want to tell. Reading through my draft, I realized that the second character was sort of defined by her relationship to Allin. Since she should be as important a character as Allin, I wrote an entirely new introduction chapter for her, and I think this makes the story flow much more smoothly.

Finally, when I wrote this draft, I was more concerned with getting the ideas out than making the chapters the perfect length as I went. This meant that some of my “chapters” were 4000, 5000, even 7000 words long, whereas my preferred chapter length is about 2500 words. Breaking the chapters down to that size is complicated by my dual-narrator approach, but it’s a challenge I’m having fun tackling.

So in the first third of the draft, I have cut chunks of exposition, removed a character, added in a new chapter, and cut the existing chapters into smaller, more manageable pieces. Not bad for week one of edits!

Photo credit: [44/365] I am Jack, hear me lumber! by Pascal.

Review: Helen & Troy’s Epic Road Quest

helentroyquestI used to read humorous fantasy all the time when I was younger: John DeChancie’s Castle Perilous Series, Craig Shaw Gardner’s trilogies, and Robert Lynn Aspirin’s Myth series being some of the books I read and reread several times. Somewhere along the way, though, I fell out of the habit of reading funny books.

Helen & Troy’s Epic Road Quest, by A, Lee Martinez, definitely falls into the humor fantasy category. I might not have picked it up except for it being the book chosen for a local book club I am going to attend for the first time. I won’t say it has rekindled my love of the genre, but it was good enough that I’ll sprinkle similar books back into my reading queue. (Since I’ve had Terry Pratchett recommended to me more times than I count, that seems like a good place to start.)

So who are Helen and Troy and why are they going on this epic quest? Without revealing too much, Helen is a minotaur and Troy is your usual perfect hero type. They live in our world, if myths and legends were true and the fantastical had long since become commonplace. Their Call to Adventure comes by way of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, where they end up being tasked with a quest by an insane god.

In other words, just another day in the fantastical world Martinez has created. Of course, everything is taken so much for granted and treated with a dry, been-there-done-that attitude, that the book doesn’t have much of a sense of wonder. Instead, it’s a by-the-book quest to get the McGuffins, and it wears this on its sleeve. The characters themselves are aware that they are on a quest and must abide by certain tropes.

It’s done with a dry wit and gentle touch, spending as much time on building the friendship between Helen and Troy as on describing the mythical beings they encounter along the way.

Above all, it’s a quick read that kept me amused me and worked by itself and as a meta narrative on the nature of heroic quests.

5 Tips for Aspiring Self-Published Writers

Begin One Way by Andy Arthur

I am a self-published writer at the beginning of my career. I’m not a master passing down wisdom from on high. I’m just another traveler on the same road as everyone else, and these are some of the tips and reminders I give myself from time to time. Maybe some of them will speak to you, too.

1) You’re at the beginning of a long road. You know that old saw about enjoying the journey and not the destination? You better be ready to believe that, because the journey is the only thing you’re in control of. You can write, and polish, and publish, improving your craft with each cycle, but no matter what you do, there’s no guarantee you’ll become a bestseller or even make enough to pay your bills at the end of the road. Which brings us to point number two:

2) You gotta have faith, a-faith, a-faith-ahhh*. Trust yourself. You’re doing this for a reason. You’re passionate. You have stories fighting to escape from your mind and burrow into your readers’ imaginations. Finding those readers can be difficult at first. You might feel like you’re writing into the void. Keep going. If this is something you are passionate about, and you’re willing to keep improving your craft, it will find an audience. Someone will read your work and be transported to another world. How cool is that? Which reminds me:

3) You are awesome. And you stink. Both, really. At the same time. You have to be able to hold both of these thoughts at once, in balance, and not succumb to the dangers of excess belief in either. If you think you’re completely awesome, you might risk not getting some second opinions on your work before you publish, at which point finding out you are not the next Stephen King can come as a tremendous blow to your ego. If you think your writing stinks worse than last week’s beef and broccoli, you’ll paralyze yourself before you can bring a story to completion.

Remember, you are awesome, but you’re not perfect. Some of what you write will be downright horrible. Allow yourself to stink the place up in your first draft. Polish it. Share your writing with some trusted fellow writers or complete strangers and get some feedback. Polish it again. Try to have an objective eye for your work and, if you think it’s ready, put it out there.

4) Write, publish, repeat. No, I haven’t read the book of the same name, although I think I bought it in a bundle a while back. But I digress. I don’t need to have read the book to agree with its mantra. I know too many writers who have never pulled the trigger on publishing their work. They have so many unfinished projects, but for whatever reason, they won’t actually release any. If your goal is to grow as a writer, I suggest that you finish what you started and publish it. It feels good to have accomplished something, you’ll have proven to yourself you can do it, and most importantly, you can move on to the next project. And the next one, and the next one.

5) There’s a lot about selling books that is out of your hands, so for the things you can control, make them as excellent as you can. Note the italics on “as you can.” I’ll come back to that in a second.

The biggest item you can control is your writing, but don’t make the mistake of striving for the perfection of some ideal Book or Story. Write the best work you can. Get it edited if you can. Get beta readers if you can. Have it proofread by a professional if you can. Get an awesome cover if you can.

If you can. Notice I’m not saying you must or you should. I think we all, given the choice, would have a team of experts assisting us with every aspect of our book. Many of us aren’t at the point where this makes financial sense, however. We can afford some experts, maybe. Or we can’t afford any but we have some trusted associates we can trade with. Or we can trade beta reads, or find a writing group, or an online community.

Produce a work you’re proud of and accept that there will always be those who will tell you what you must do and what you should do, but in the end, do what you can do. Keep doing what you can do for long enough, and maybe you’ll be able to afford all the things you must and should do.

Bottom line: if you believe you have created the best work possible for you at this point in time, publish it. Then listen to reviews and pick out the constructive criticism. Use it to improve your next work.

Whatever road you’re on, I wish you the best of luck along the way.

*If you don’t get this reference, you’re probably starting on the road to self-publishing much earlier in life than I am. :)

Photo Credit: Begin One Way by Andy Arthur.

Lego 60066: Swamp Police Starter Set

Psst, you may not know this, but I like Lego. I’m in the early stages of Lego addiction, and I’ll be posting on my blog whenever I have something Lego-related to share.

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Lego has a new “swamp police” theme, which seems to involve lots of sets with the same few characters. Each set has a different vehicle or two, and a small building or two. I’ll admit not being that interested in the theme overall, but for anyone looking to build up their Lego collection, I highly recommend the Swamp Police Starter Set.

For $10 you get four minifigures (female and male police officers, two male criminals), which is a good deal in and of itself. One of the criminals comes with a nice orange-red beard, and both sets I’ve opened had an extra beard piece. Nice.

What else do you get? A pair of oars, fan and circular fan case, snake, spider, shovel, walkie-talkie, money, handcuffs, some foliage, and best of all, a really nice crocodile with opening jaw and swinging tail. And then there’s bricks to make a small hovercraft, a wooden raft, and small island money cache.

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I bought three of these sets, partly to get three crocodiles for a Pitfall build I’m working on, but also because it’s hard to beat the price on this one in relation to the minifigures and other neat bits you get.

5 of 5 for price and usefulness.