Comics Review: Tonoharu

December 11, 2016 0

On the show, we’ve given a lot of love to Marvel Comics, and I can assure you, the Unreliable Narrators could do a very similar show on DC as well. It’s the independent comics that are a little harder to give love to. We have our faves (Mouseguard, Hellboy), but which indies you read are often a matter of personal taste.

Last night I drove home through an Iowa snowstorm after a full day of battening down the hatches for a creative snowy Sunday at home. I didn’t feel like digging into the writing or the huge epic fantasy I was reading, so instead I grabbed the volumes of Tonoharu that my comics guy, Ken, had tracked down for me.

Tonoharu may not pique everyone’s interest. It certainly picqued mine. The story is about two Americans serving as teaching assistants in English (think JET) in a small rural town. The art is in small squares, and is a simple, gray-washed style of moment pictures. In the prologue, Dan talks about whether or not he will renew for a year. For most of the story, we follow his predecessor, also named Dan, through his troubled, isolated year in Tonoharu.

Lars Martinson, the author, emphasizes in the support material, that the story paints a very grim view of living in Japan, and he goes on to wax poetic about how vital and life changing living in a whole different culture for a long time can be. I have to agree. While I have not lived for a year in Japan, my relationship with Japan has totaled 5 trips and probably about half a year in the country if you add it all up. My longest stay, as a student of Japanese in the summer of 1998, really helped me relate to Tonoharu. Dan is very much a fish out of water, although you can see that he would be just as uncomfortable in the US. His successor is much more like me, and figures out how to make it work in a compromise of the two cultures he’s negotiating.

The characters in the story seem real to me, because I have met so many of them. I have my own admirable sensei who is a fantastic person. I know my own shy students, strange expats who impose their culture upon the country, guys who are just there to sleep with Asian women. They all exist, and I found it eerie the way these characters might typify the expat experience in Japan.

I love Japan. Like any multi-cultural interaction, we find each other complicated and we have stereotypes about each other. We find enlightenment when we are surprised, we find isolation when we can’t understand. Tonoharu is a quiet comic, but if you’ve ever lived somewhere else for a while, you will find it a rewarding read. This will probably be one of my recommendations for the year as we close out 2016.

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

November 25, 2016 0

It has been said films which are set in the 20’s do not do well at the box office, and I understand this is true of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which had, according to Warner Brothers, a somewhat disappointing opening weekend. If you are looking for all Harry Potter, all the time, of course you aren’t going to want to see this movie. It’s set in the US, and in a different time period. The central figure in the film is Newt Scamander, whom many of you might know as the author of the textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find from the Potter series.

Turns out Newt is the Jane Goodall of the magical world. Newt has a mission–to help his fellow wizards realize the magical creatures they share the world with are not as dangerous as the ban in the US would make them appear. Well, let’s be realistic. They’re dangerous like all animals are dangerous, but Newt is a trained professional and unnaturalist, if you like. Newt’s a quirky, captivating character, very interesting and single-minded, so the film must be supported by some other emotional layers. Unfortunately, the female lead, an ex-female Auror, Tina Goldstein, is kind of lackluster and dull.

However, it is in the supporting characters where one finds the real emotional meat of the film. One Jacob Kowalski, a non-mag (Muggle to those of you in the know) ends up involved in the plot and seems like he will be the butt of jokes, but turns out to be a stalwart friend and yes, a romantic lead. Tina’s sister, Queenie, is a mage who reads minds, and is a charming, sweet woman. The chemistry between Queenie and Jacob is all the more poignant because Jacob is not allowed to remember his interactions with wizards at the end, a strange unnatural American law, as Newt points out to Tina.

The other emotional plot involves the manipulation of an orphan named Creedence, who has been adopted by the  anti-Wizard organizer of Second Salem. Creedence is manipulated by Mr. Graves, a wizard high in the Magical Congress of the United States, who thinks he is the way to a dangerous young wizard who has a powerful, evil occulus. I can’t reveal much here without revealing a lot of spoilers, but this plot also has emotional depth, and also reveals Tina at her best.

If you want to see more of the Potterverse, as in not more Harry Potter, but more of J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World, this is a great way to go. Costumes are wonderful. Special effects are great. Newt is winning. Queenie and Jacob are fantastic. Go check it out and give it the love it deserves.

Miraculous (Miraculous Ladybug)

November 11, 2016 0

And now, for something completely different.

One of the things that my animation-loving spouse recently introduced me to was a new cartoon originating in France, but with an international cast of producers and animators. It is called Miraculous in the United States and Miraculous Ladybug in France. A mere three days after we failed to elect the first woman president of the United States and elected a president who sets women’s rights back 20 years or so, shows like Supergirl and Miraculous Ladybug become increasingly important for maintaining and elevating the status of young girls.

There’s a lot to like in Ladybug. Our main character Marinette, half Chinese and half French, is a normal teenage girl, tongue-tied in the presence of Adrien, her crush. She has a good friend, Ayla, and a snobby rival Chloe, and is supported by a cast of well-rendered high schoolers. These students are important because every episode, someone is evilized by the show’s thematic villain, the Papillion (called the Hawk Moth in English because that’s more villain like that Butterfly, I guess), and while the evilized villain isn’t always a friend, it’s good to have a stock of misunderstood adolescents to choose from.

Remember Adrien? The rich son of an overprotective father, he too has a superhero ID. Marinette’s Miraculous (a cute little bug-like creature called Tikki) turns her into Ladybug, upon whom Adrien has a crush. Adrien’s Miraculous (a catlike stinky cheese eater called Plagg) turns him into the Chat Noir, or Black Cat. The gimmick is that Adrien and Marinette have no idea who their partner actually is. Ladybug plays down Chat Noir’s flirtations, and Marinette is hopeless around Adrien, a well-maintained tension.

While the show is presented as a partnership in the U.S., Ladybug usually saves the day with her lucky charm powers and resourcefulness. Chat Noir and Ladybug are great friends and partners, good role models, and a lot of fun to watch.

I prefer to watch the show in French with subtitles. It’s good practice for my rusty French, and I always think original voice acting is usually the best performance. But for your kids, you can watch the show in English on both Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. They can learn French later.

So, go watch this bright, colorful show with good animation. Show boys and girls how well they can work together and get along. Enjoy its quirky villains and Parisian culture.

Spots on! Or words to that effect.

Animosity #1 by Marguerite Bennett and Rafael de LaTorre

September 29, 2016 0

Animosity is published by Aftershock comics and is the latest work from Marguerite Bennett, featuring stunning art work by Rafael de La Torre. There’s a richness and a texture to the drawings that would render them almost storybook quality.

Except that this is a horror comic. Undisputedly.

You might know Marguerite Bennett’s work from DC Bombshells, an interesting spin/retcon of DC heroines. This isn’t that.

On page two, all the animals in the world of Animosity become consciously sentient, capable of judging right and wrong. They become, well, like humans think of themselves as being. And they have all the same issues with being used or eaten or enslaved that you think they might. There’s a sequence which shows several very short stories of the animals gaining sentience, and it is a horrific four pages, tiny stories of immeasurable sadness or anger or horror or love. The rest of the comic is good, but it doesn’t measure up to all of those tiny stories.

The main story centers on a bloodhound, Sandhor, who awakens to realize how much love he has for the little girl who spends the most time with him, Jesse. In a world where animals want revenge against humans for many, many wrongs, Sandhor decides to protect Jesse as though she were his family. The comic will follow them through this new landscape. I am very interested to see what happens next, and heartily recommend the comic to you.

You can still get in on this limited series, but it’s hot. I understand it’s going back for a 4th printing. That’s good news for Aftershock and its creators.

Ash Versus Evil Dead. Groovy.

September 16, 2016 0

The husband and I  have been eagerly awaiting the release of Ash Versus Evil Dead Season One from Starz Original. It was released and promptly sold out at every local outlet we checked. A shout out to the Barnes and Noble that I am writing in THIS VERY MINUTE for getting us our copy of the 10-episode series.

Now, I know technically this would be a better review to post NEXT month, but I understand that things are gonna get crazy like Halloween woah around here next month, so I thought Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi deserved to get a little loving early, and you might want to hunt this series down, and yeah, it’s gonna take some advance warning and leg work on your part, because it’s immensely popular.

For those not in the know: Sam Raimi, now a fairly well-known director started his career making horror films, notably Evil Dead and its remake Evil Dead 2. His buddy from high school, Bruce Campbell, was Ash, the less than brilliant hero of the classic “Don’t go into the woods, kids, unless you want to unleash unspeakable evil” movie. Campbell and Raimi are artists who started humbly, and are cult figures to many fans. Raimi went on to direct Hercules and Xena and the initial 3 Spider-Man films. Campbell has starred in Brisco County Junior, Jack of All Trades, and Burn Notice. And yet…

…the thing these two guys have been asked all the time is this: Why haven’t you made another Evil Dead film? Hey, wasn’t Army of Darkness enough? Apparently not. How about that other Evil Dead movie those other guys made with Raimi’s blessing? Close, but no cigar, we hear. So, okay, fine. But instead of a movie, isn’t a series better? Especially when that series has already been renewed for season two?

The answer appears to be a resounding yes. I keep telling people I’m not a horror fan, especially of films where people get carved up regularly by a man with a chainsaw arm. That said, yeah, Ash Versus Evil Dead is about as good as this genre can get. It’s pure, unadulterated camp. Since the events of the previous film, Ash has been laying low, continuing his gainful employment at ValueMart and trying to avoid the Deadites that could crop up in his life. One night while smoking marijuana, Ash makes a bad judgment call to impress the woman he’s with, and reads from the flesh-covered Necronomicon, which he’s been keeping in his trailer. Evil awakens, and Ash goes on the run, first to destroy the book, and then to do what he does best–fight evil.

Ash is not alone on this journey. With him is Pablo, played by Ray Santiago, his buddy from ValueMart who has natural brujo talents; Kelly, played by Dana DeLorenzo, a new ValueMart employee upon whom Pablo has designs; and Jill Marie Jones as cop Amanda Fisher, whose partner is killed early on by the Deadites. Lucy Lawless ducks in and out of the plot as the mysterious Ruby Knowby.

So, there’s lots of Karo syrup colored red to look like blood, and plenty of goofy jokes, lots of chainsaws grinding, and hapless people turned into Deadites. No one except Ash is truly safe in the show, and there are a few twists and turns, one that even made me gasp because I didn’t see it coming. It’s pretty good stuff, if you like your slasher films to be parody. Do they capture the magic? Yes. Ash is older, but in his essentials, he remains the same. Pablo and Kelly are loyal to Ash, some might say to a fault, and Amanda eases into the show as the comedic straightman, but comes into her own.

If you like comedy, horror, or the original Evil Dead, you’re probably gonna want to see this. If rationed properly, that’s 10 nights of quality Halloween month viewing in your future.

Book Review: Beyond Your Touch and A Hold on Me by Pat Esden

August 29, 2016 1

Pat Esden’s books are my first foray into New Adult fiction. I held a stereotype that New Adult is largely a soft porn delivery system. Now, Pat’s work is in fact very steamy and very humid.  Not only is her work satisfying on that front, but also it delivers a story punch as well.  Both A Hold on Me and Beyond Your Touch are published by Kensington.

So…spoilers about the first book. Be careful here.

Pat’s series starts with A Hold on Me, in which our heroine, Annie, discoveries that her past has been altered to protect her from knowledge of how her father’s magical family is involved in a war fighting djinn. As a child, Annie did not warn her family about how her mother was being visited by a djinn, and she feels responsible for her mother’s kidnapping. All of this is revealed against a backdrop of Annie’s father’s possession, cure, and reconciliation with his family. Also, there’s this guy named Chase, who happens to be half-ifrit, half-human, and all hot.

The next book, coming out in September, is Beyond Your Touch. Annie and Chase are now in a full-fledged, torrid and sexy relationship. Tension is introduced in two ways–a rescue mission will be launched to the djinn realms to rescue Annie’s mom, and in order to go to the djinn realms, the assistance of a magical flute player, Lotli, is required. Annie is convinced that something is up between Chase and Lotli, especially after Chase cools it with Annie so he can concentrate on the mission. Annie discovers more about her new family and her role in it. The mission to the djinn realm does not go as planned, and the book ends with the stakes higher than the book began.

If you’ve never read New Adult and you’d like to give it a try, I would recommend Pat Esden’s books. The story and the hot sex are co-conspirators in a partnership that pulls you in and keeps you moving through the story. Whether you are a lover of romance, or adventure, there’s plenty here to satisfy both those interests. I particularly found the subject matter interesting, as I have done some research regarding djinn and Solomon for my own work, so it’s nice to see how someone else interprets it.

A Hold on Me is available now. If you act very quickly, you may have just enough time to finish it before Beyond Your Touch arrives at your local bookstore.

Pitching

July 28, 2016 0

Well…that pitching post hasn’t happened yet for a variety of reasons, so here I am writing this post. Hey, we can’t help it if we’ve been caught up in bringing you a wonderful slate of awesome and interesting authors. It happens.

So, let me begin by saying…in the weird combination of circumstances that helped me get my agent, pitching was key. Reiterating: Pitching was key. Since 2007, I had been diligently querying agents over the course of 4 manuscripts. Last year I decided I would attend two pitch conferences, and I ended up pitching to agents, some who took queries and some who did not. In the end, I went with an agent whom I wouldn’t have met and sent a manuscript to if I hadn’t gone to San Francisco Writers. This agent did not accept open queries.

Pitching may sound to many of you like your worst nightmare. Hey, that’s cool. Paper is where authors often present best. We are, a bunch of us, introverts, and the idea of running through a pitch with someone in person, no, that frightens. Even a 140-word tweet, like something you would send in #PitMad or #SffPit frightens the bejeesus out of us. How do you reduce a 120K novel to its tiniest form?

On the other hand…

Some of are more trained for pitching. I am an introvert, but I play an extrovert at my day job as a professor. Every semester I teach, and I’ve been doing that since 1986. Presenting well, live, is what I do. You might too. You might have one of those professions where you get to talk, a lot. Or you may have a thing for theater or speech class. Some of us do like speaking and do have professional personas. If you are that person, consider pitching.

How do you pitch? Many conferences have pitching as part of their programming. There are pitches at World Con, for example, where you get an unprecedented half hour with an agent. The kind of scenarios at both of the conferences I went to were more like speed dating. We had a couple of minutes, a bell rang, and we talked to another agent.

The key to a good pitch is practice, practice, and more practice. You might get nervous. Knowing the pitch so well that you can follow through on it when you are jittery is important! I’ve heard agents don’t want you to read the pitch, so even though the pitch has a great deal in common with the cover letter, never read your pitch. Don’t rattle it off like it’s a race. Speak the basic plot and stakes, the genre and word count, and the comps. Emote if you can.

One of the things that helped each time I pitched was that I was on a team. In San Francisco, there were three of us pitching together. In New York, there were 4. We all practiced in our hotel rooms and gave each other tips and suggestions during the process of writing the pitch and during the day before and the morning of the pitch. This is important for the extrovert and the introvert. Never just wing it. We all repped professionally, dressing business so it looked like we took our writing seriously. In general, you want to pitch a finished book, just like you want to query a finished book, the exception being non-fiction.

Now, this might sound great to you. Get a group of friends together, find a writing conference with pitches, and go! That said, be prepared to spend a bit of cash. I like in Iowa. There are no pitch conferences in Iowa. Granted, there are opportunities closer than California and New York, but I’m gonna have to go somewhere. So, there’s plane and hotel and the conference itself. These conferences aren’t at your average SF/F conference rates. They generally are costs comparable to professional conferences. Is the investment worth it? Well, I understand from the statistics I’ve seen that pitching is more likely to get you an agent than a query, but getting an agent through either method is slim. Still, there’s networking, it’s another opportunity, and most writers conferences come with opportunities to meet professionals, get hot tips, and ramp up your game. Genre conferences are a different kind of networking opportunity. Mixing it up with a pro conference can teach you a lot about publishing, and get you a pitching opportunity at the same time.

It should come as no surprise that, having had a positive experience with most of the pitching I did, I would recommend it. Not every pitch was well-received. You will be told no, and you have to deal with that on an immediate time scale. Brush it off. It’s not personal. If you feel it’s personal, again, maybe pitching is not for you.

Good luck!

Rejection!

June 8, 2016 1

We will be posting our show about twitter pitching soon, and we will be eventually doing a show about pitching at conferences with actual, live people. Since you’ll be able to listen to a podcast about that, I thought that maybe now would be the time to transition to talking about self-publishing. But first, a word about rejection.

I have been thinking about rejection because a writing student at my college came to visit me last week, and we talked a lot about trying to publish her novel. She wasn’t obsessed with rejection, but it did come up as a painful thing. How can you avoid it? How can you get used to it?

Both self-publishers and authors who try a more traditional route are going to get rejected. Of course, editors, agents, and publishers will reject someone who sends out queries. How can a self-published writer be rejected? The cruelest cut of all, my friends, by readers. I think that in the case of the traditional route, most of the rejection comes at the beginning of things, and in the case of self-pubbing, when you are at the end of the process, after you have created your work and released it into the world, well, that’s when readers might choose to ignore you.

I have no advice to help you avoid rejection. If someone tells you they do, they are not being honest with you. Every writer at every level gets rejected. Yes, they do. If you throw Stephen King or Nora Roberts at me, I’ll say have you talked to them lately? 😀 Everyone is rejected. I know. You’ve written the best book you can and you believe in it. It’s going to get rejected anyway.

Here’s how I think it works. Sometimes, authors have epiphanies that their writing needs work. In that case, rejections are warranted, and off you go to ramp up your game. This is a good idea. Also, sometimes queries need revising. Or you need a more attractive cover for your e-book. Sometimes we can clearly see why we are rejected.

There is a point, though, where you’ve been writing for a while. Let’s say you’re on your seventh novel, and your craft is solid. Or you have created an ebook that glows like an emerald. You are pretty sure that this is an example of your best work, and it is as good as many things that are out there. Or your agent has a book that they are peddling for you, and it’s just not getting any offers (yes, Virginia, this happens a lot. There is no end to the ways they can say no to you in publishing). It is hard to not be disappointed, bitter, angry, frustrated when you know you’ve done a good thing and it’s going nowhere. Now, maybe years later you will cringe and figure it out, but let’s just go with the premise that the world is ignoring your genius. Why? WHY???!!!

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