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Welcome to my blog. Here, you will find information about my novels, life in Japan, as well as author interviews, discussions on writing, and more. Feel free to browse and if you enjoy a post, please comment. Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Last Post Of 2012

This was quite a year for me. I published my first novel, Adventure Hunters, in January. My JET Program ALT job of five years ended, I moved in with my wife, and joined the writer's group Master Koda on Facebook. My family gave me and Yoko a wonderful wedding reception and Jeremy came for his yearly visit. I got a new teaching job and met some wonderful new teachers and students. Yes, 2012 was busy.

For me, this was my "writing year." This was the year I decided to get serious about writing. I know I'm just a newbie and still have a lot to learn, but this year was a lot of writing firsts for me, and I hope to improve my craft in the following year(s).

What do I have planned for 2013? I'm keeping my resolutions simple and writing-oriented. I want to publish my next novel, become a more disciplined writer, and learn more about marketing and promotion. I think I have become a bit of a social media butterfly, using Twitter much more than I use to, as well as running online promotions, and of course, starting this blog. I hope I can increase my sales this year. Writing is my focus. I love my teaching job, but if it ever came to the point I could make a living writing, I'd quit in a heartbeat and write full-time.

"The best laid plans of mice and men" and all that. I don't know what 2013 will bring. Something wonderful may happen. Something terrible may happen. But as long as I have my wife, my family, my friends, and my readers, I'll be happy and ready to face the new year.

To everyone who has supported me this year, both in flesh and blood and online, I want to say thank you. From flying to Japan, funny emails and Facebook posts, long distance phone calls, and words of advice and encouragement and congratulations; Thank You.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

In Defense Of Fan Fiction

Fan fiction gets a bum rap. Somehow, if you write fan fiction, you're not a "real" author. I don't believe that. An author writes. As simple as that. A fantasy author is a writer. A speechwriter is a writer. A cookbook author is a writer.

For readers who may not know, fan fiction is, according to Merriam-Webster, "stories involving popular fictional characters that are written by fans..." These are stories not written and authorized by the author and/or their management or estate. These fan fictions range from regular stories that try to stay true to the author's world to parodies to erotic/romantic pairings of characters.

Aren't media tie-in novels basically fan fiction? All the Star Wars novels, Star Trek books, and dozens of others, in a way, are authorized fan fictions. The publisher is hiring writers to write in a pre-made universe, following the rules of that universe. That's what fanfic authors do: write in someone else's world. You could argue big names like Stephen King and Jeffery Deaver have dabbled in fan fiction. King wrote a Sherlock Holmes short story and Deaver wrote a James Bond book, Carte Blanche.

I began my writing with fan fiction. I remember writing a short story in elementary school using Indiana Jones as the main character. When I began writing screenplays, my first ones were for TV shows I liked: Star Trek, Cleopatra 2525, The Secret World of Alex Mack. I was practicing, and more importantly, I was writing.

I think writing fan fiction is great for two reasons. One, and most important, you are writing. You're getting that story out of your head and onto the paper, or most commonly, screen. Two, you're having fun. You enjoy writing. You enjoy it because you enjoy the characters and the world and you don't want to leave it. Writing is always at its best when if doesn't feel like work.

I think writing fan fiction can be great practice. You can let your imagination run free and make the characters do stuff they would never do. On the other hand, you know the characters and their responses and you can craft stories accordingly, trying to write a story as close to the original as possible. It's also fun to fix problems or things you don't like about the original work. "The story would have better if..." Now is your time to see how it would have turned out had "if" happened.

I'm a fan of traditional fan fictions. I prefer stories that try to remain as close to the originals as possible. With large universes, such as Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings, whole new characters can be invented. Who says you have to use Picard and Gandalf? Go wild! But I think the best ones are the ones that try to remain true, while bringing a newness to the property. They are fun to read, also; seeing how different fans interpret the same universe.

The downside to fan fiction is it is unpublishable for profit. You can't write a dozen Castle short stories, then put them in an anthology to sell on Amazon. You'll be sued out of existence in a heartbeat. You can write them for fun and practice, but if you want to make money writing, it must be original. You can't just take your fan fiction, change the names, and publish it. Your world has to be distinct enough not to cause copyright infingement.

But, in an odd way, fan fiction for TV shows can get you a job. Called 'spec scripts' (for "speculative") writers often write a script for a TV show and pitch it to the producers. If it's good enough, they can get hired. And they did it by basically writing a fan fiction piece.

To me, though, fan fiction is best for practice. By writing and studying the world you're writing in; you're learning characterization, dialogue, structure, and all the rest. Once you feel ready, you can write your own stuff.



Friday, December 21, 2012

A Christmas Post

Donna R. Wood has been posting a series of Christmas articles written by independent authors from the Master Koda Facebook group. Here is my contribution to her ongoing series. Read them and enjoy the holiday season!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Book Review: Cassidy Jones And The Secret Formula

Cassidy Jones And The Secret Formula is a young adult novel, the first in a series, written by Elise Stokes. I usually don't read young adult (aka YA) fiction but this one seemed promising and had lots of positive reviews.

The premise is simple and predictably comic booky: during her dad's interview with a famed geneticist, fourteen-year old Cassidy suffers an accident that enhances her strength and senses. Shortly after that the scientist is kidnapped. When the scientist's son Emry comes to live with Cassidy's family, the two join together to find Emry's mom.

I'm a little on the fence about this one but hear me out. First the bad. It's written in first-person POV, which I've stated before that I don't like. Next is the dialogue; which, while not horrible, isn't very good, especially for a teen novel. However, I do know that writing dialogue, especially good dialogue, is one of the most difficult things for a writer to do. I know I have atrocious dialogue and I can forgive Elise on this. Some writers are just naturally good at it. The dialogue in the novel serves the purpose of conveying information and moving the plot forward. But the characters just don't seem to have a unique voice.

Each character has their own personality but I found Emry the hardest to wrap my mind around. He is supposed to be mature beyond his years, because of his genius intelligence, but something about him just seems...off. While trying to make him mature but a teenager at the same time, it seems Stokes hasn't quite got a handle on how to write him.

These quibbles aside, I liked the book. I liked it for what was not in it. Angst and romance were in short supply, which I was thankful for. Cassidy loves her family and she isn't bitter or angry towards them. Her and her brother have the regular sibling rivalry but I love the fact Cassidy is smitten with her five-year old brother. Rather than being annoyed by him, she likes it when he smears cookies on his face and just generally likes him, a nice break from the "I hate my family" angst. The family seem a little too clean-cut but they are nice.

Cassidy is well-written and likeable and the main villain is a hoot. The action sequences are fairly well thought out and portrayed well, although a few fights were cut too short, in my opinion, and I would have liked to have seen more feats of strength from Cassidy.

The pacing is fast and the story is enjoyable with likeable characters. I don't know how long the series will go on, and while I may not read every story in the Cassidy chronicles, I'll definitely pick up the sequel. All in all, a nicely executed enjoyable book.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Book Review: On Unfaithful Wings

Independent author Bruce Blake was kind enough to do a blog swap with me, so I decided to check out his novel, On Unfaithful Wings; the first in the Icarus Fell series.

Without giving too much away, the novel deals with a dead-beat loner who gets killed, then resurrected by God to become a harvester of souls. His job is to lead them to Heaven. But his job is made difficult by Carrions, harvesters playing for the other guy. When Icarus (yes, Icarus Fell is his name) deliberately botches a job, it creates repercussions that leads to a fiery battle in a church for his soul.

The book is great. Icarus is a good anti-hero, a former drug addict and alcoholic trying to do right by his son. Trevor is the only thing Icarus feels he has done right and he desperately wants to cling to that. Icarus is well written, an anti-hero without being a tough guy or unsympathetic. I found myself rooting for him, laughing along with him at his funny observations, and basically feeling this is a character that really existed. Because the book is written in first-person, we know Icarus very well. The other characters are also well written with their own personalities and each feels unique.

The bad. It's written in first-person about 90% of the time. I'm not a fan of first-person POV, never have been. I find it limiting and at the same time unrealistic. I always think as first-person as a person telling a story and nobody tells a story as detailed as the way it is written in books. It is not a fault of Bruce Blake's, he is a great writer, I'm just not fond of first-person POV. A few times he switches to third-person when he is writing from the perspective of Sister Mary-Therese. I found this perspective switching confusing the first couple of times and wondered why he didn't write the whole novel in third-person. I think the same perspective should be used throughout a book.

But that is a minor point. The characters are well-written; from Icarus, to his insecure guardian angel Poe, to the sun-loving angel Gabriel. Each character has their own voice and some, like Poe, seem to have their own interesting backstory, which hopefully will be revealed in further volumes.

While this story deals with angels, demons, Heaven, and Hell, it isn't religious. Icarus asks a few pointed questions about life and death but this book is really non-denominational. There is nothing in here to anger Christians and the book doesn't beat you over the head with religious messages or get into deep philosophical territory. It is the story of one man trying to make his life right again, set against a Heaven versus Hell backdrop.

I bought two more of Bruce Blake's books after reading On Unfaithful Wings in just three days. I highly recommend this book.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Where I Start

One of the most common questions asked of writers (especially popular or prolific writers) is "Where do you get your ideas?" The answer, most of the time, is "Everywhere." Writers are inspired all the time by what they see, hear, and experience. Sometimes all it takes is a certain image to get them fired up and typing away. Writers do need to start somewhere, though; but where?

I think the genesis for most ideas for stories can be divided into four categories: character, scene/situation, theme/topic, and setting. Character is starting with either a specific person, say an actual person because you'll write a historical novel; or a type of person, like a cop or a superhero. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is an example. You could start with a specific scene or  situation. Most of Stephen King's books fall into this section. Salem's Lot is "What if vampires took over a small New England town." Themes are another place to start. Perhaps a book about lost love, feelings of loneliness, or a fictionalised account of cyber bullying. Setting is a particular place, perhaps you want to write a book that takes place in a haunted mansion or on a cruise ship. The book series Star Trek: Titan is an example.

I start with character. I often have a very basic idea for a character that I want to write about and I'll build that character. My story evolves from who that character is and how they came to be that way. My current work-in-progress is The Super School Uniform. When I started, I only had a character in mind: a Japanese schoolgirl with superhuman strength. That's all. Everything else evolved from trying to figure my character out. How old was she; was she a high school student, middle schooler, college age? If she has powers, how did she get them? Was she born with them? Given by aliens? Are they mystical in nature? Is she afraid of her powers or happy and a show-off? By answering questions about my character I was building my story and plot, keeping what worked and discarding ideas that didn't fit.

I often have a specific scene with that character, an image to work from. Sometimes it makes its way into the story, sometimes not. Sometimes an image itself, either of a person or an object, will make me want to write about it. Of course, these are often already licensed or copyrighted, but they get me thinking.

There's no wrong place to start a story. If you are more of an emotional writer, character or theme might work best. Maybe you want to use your favorite vacation spot as a jumping off point for your story. It doesn't matter. Try different approaches. Some are easier than others but they all have one thing in common: they'll get you thinking about a story. And thinking about a story will get you writing it.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Interview: Blaithin O'Reilly Murphy

 I was interviewed by Irish author Blaithin O'Reilly Murphy on her blog What Bla Did Next. It was posted December 12, I'm a little late reporting it. As always, please read the interview and learn more about this fellow independent author.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On Bruce Blake's Blog

I did another guest posting on Bruce Blake's blog. It's one I did before on my own blog, but feel free to check it out again, along with Bruce's work. He writes urban fantasy.
http://bruceblake.wordpress.com/2012/12/10/guest-post-cody-martin-the-novel-reuploaded/

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Guest Post: Books Versus Movies by S.L. Wallace



Today I have a guest blogger, S.L. Wallace. Here is her bio from her Amazon author page: "S.L. Wallace is a teacher and life long writer who is a descendant of the famous William Wallace. Like him, she believes in freedom and independence. Unlike him, she fights her battles with the pen, most recently taking a political stand against recent changes in government at both local and state levels.
The Reliance on Citizens trilogy is her first published series."
 Check out her blog, Crossroads of Humanity, and her novels. Heart Of Humanity will be available soon.





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Books Versus Movies

How many times have you heard someone complain, “But that wasn't anything like the book,” after seeing a movie based on a book? Often, I think the problem isn't with the movie itself but rather that the reader has a fabulous imagination. And that, my friend, is not really a problem. When settling in to watch a movie that's based on a book, I try to remind myself that books and films are two entirely different mediums. In short, I try to enjoy it for what it is. Some movies fall flat, in my humble opinion, but others go far beyond my expectations.

I'm a teacher by day so I'll focus on two amazingly well done movies based on kids books.

The first is Warner Brothers, A Little Princess, released in 1995, with director Alfonso Cuaron and starring Liesel Matthews. It's based on the novel, A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, first published in 1905. I read this novel as a child and was completely blown away. Because I enjoyed it so much, I followed up with The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy. Years later, I was lucky enough to discover a copy of the book, Sara Crewe, at a local library book sale. It's Hodgson's serialized 1888, novel upon which A Little Princess is based.

A number of films have been based on A Little Princess, the most famous one may be the Shirley Temple version. As a child, I'll admit I thought that version was enjoyable, but Warner Brothers took the story to an entirely different level. Instead of placing the story in London, they moved Miss Minchin's boarding school to New York City. I am one who enjoys original stories, and I don't particularly like it when Hollywood feels the need to Americanize foreign films or place everything in America. But Warner Brothers didn't end there. They split the story into three parts that added complexity and depth. When Sara tells the other girls stories from India, we are transported to India along with them, and when she receives letters from her father, we are taken to the battlefields of World War 1.

Was the movie identical to the book? Not at all. Creative liberties were most definitely taken. In the novel, Sara Crewe's father isn't sent off to war; he reportedly dies of jungle fever. But the main themes of the story remain intact. This is a story of a child who is, at first, treated like royalty and later, due to circumstances beyond her control, is neglected, starved and abused by the same woman who once thought her so special, and through it all, Sara perseveres because of her strong sense of self worth.

Another great kids movie based on an equally well done novel is Holes, released in 2003, with director Andrew Davis and starring Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight and Shia LaBeouf. It is based on the novel, Holes, by Louis Sachar. This novel is actually three stories rolled into one. Up front, it is the story of Stanley Yelnats who is wrongfully accused of theft and sent to a boys' juvenile detention center out in the middle of the desert. Every day, the inmates are sent to dig holes in the dry lake bed beneath the hot desert sun. According to the warden, this is to help them build character. Actually, she is hoping to uncover treasure stolen from her great great grandfather by Kissin' Kate Barlow, an outlaw who lived in those parts long ago. Both the novel and the movie seamlessly intertwine the story of Camp Green Lake from long ago with that of the boys' detention center today. In addition, we also get to hear the story of Stanley's great great great grandfather who immigrated to America after his heart was broken by the featherbrained, Myra Menke. Take some wild onions, add a few fictional deadly spotted yellow lizards and a dash of canned peaches to the mix and you get an amazingly great story.

So...how did the movie compare? It was one of the truest accounts of a book being transformed into a movie that I've ever seen. Why is this? That's easy. After rejecting the first screenplay which deviated too much from the book and was far too dark for a children's movie, the studio hired Louis Sachar, the author, to write the final screenplay. He was also on set every day of filming and had a cameo appearance as one of the people who buys onion juice from Sam the onion man.

So there you have it. What makes a book transition well to film? Hire a screenwriter who believes in staying true to the meaning of the book if not to the exact storyline, and keep the story interesting and intelligent. The audience will appreciate it.



My Links: 

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I really appreciate S.L. for taking the time to post. I hope everyone enjoyed it. As always, leave comments and thanks for reading.

I Did A Guest Post

I did a guest post on S. L. Wallace's blog Crossroads of Humanity. I talked about some of the differences between American and Japanese schools. I encourage everyone to check it out, as well as S. L.'s books and blogs.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Book Versus The Movie: True Grit


A while ago I watched True Grit by the Cohen brothers. I use to watch Rooster Cogburn and the Lady with John Wayne quite a bit as a kid, so I decided to give the new version a try. I wasn't sure how I'd feel about Jeff Bridges taking over from The Duke, but I heard the movie was more faithful to the book. Several months later I decided to give the novel a read, since I was trying to read books I normally wouldn't and True Grit was considered a classic.

The novel is told in first person from Mattie's POV, the fourteen years old girl who hires Marshal Cogburn, because he has 'true grit,' to find her father's killer. The character is well-written in the book and well-portrayed in the novel. However, in the book, since we only get her thoughts and perspective, she is annoying as all get out. She's bratty, arrogant, pushy, and demanding. She doesn't really go through a character arc and come out a better person. When we learn about her eighty-years old self, she's pretty much the same. She is the same in the novel, but since we get her interior monologues and character perspectives in the book, her bad qualities seemed amplified.

If you don't compare Jeff Bridges to John Wayne, he does an admirable job in the movie. Wayne's Cogburn seemed more tough-guy than Bridges's portrayal. His Cogburn is more of a wash-up, a tired old marshal seeking something in helping a little girl, even if he (and the audience) don't really know what it is. His Cogburn matched closely with the novel's.

LaBoeuf, the Texas Ranger played by Matt Damon in the movie, is the most changed character. He has very little page time in the novel and his role was expanded in the movie. In the book we only get Mattie's perspective on him, a person she doesn't like and basically considers an idiot. In the movie he comes across as an arrogant and naive young man trying to prove himself, a little unsure what he's getting into. He's the most likable of the three.

The movie follows the book quite faithfully (I was surprised how short the book was) while adding quite a few character building moments and nuances that are missing from the book because the story is told by Mattie. They say the book is comic, but maybe the humor is too subtle for me. While I sometimes chuckled at how pigheaded Mattie was, she was more annoying than anything.

I do admit that the book is well-written. In this case, I recommend the movie over the book. The story is told almost exactly and the viewer gets more characterization of Cogburn and LaBoeuf. Bridges gives a fine performance and we get to enjoy the characters more.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Interview!

I'm 'In the Booth with Ruth.' Ruth Jacobs is a British author and blogger. Every day she posts interviews with established, as well as up-and-coming authors. She interviewed me for her blog and you can read it at this link.