Returning to Odyssey

I was fortunate enough to be asked to return last week to teach at the Odyssey Writing Workshop, my alma mater, four years after I graduated in 2011. It was an incredible experience to see the workshop from the other side of the table, to interact with the students, and to see student critiques. The people there are so bright, so motivated, and so willing to learn. It’s an incredible energy to be around them, and I wish I could be a part of that energy far more often. Writing can be a lonely affair, even at the pro level when you aggressively make writer friends, and Odyssey was–and will likely always be–one of my touchstones, one of the communities that makes this worthwhile. It was incredible to meet the new crop of Odyssey folks, and to share what I’ve learned in the last four years.

That was my primary goal in going this time–to share what I’ve learned, what I wish someone had told me when I sat on the other side of the table as a student. I taught a class called “Productivity for Writers: Practical Steps to Write More,” which was one part habit formation and three parts bouncing back from the inevitable challenges of life. I warned folks about the potholes in the writing road they’d inevitably encounter: the one-star reviews, the rejections, the occasional lack of respect and money, getting dropped by a publishing house. Then I told them that the industry was changing, and that even though this led to a lot of challenges, it also led to great opportunity: everyone here, after a little research and thinking, was as qualified as any so-called expert to make the decisions about their own career, to publish or self-publish, to market, and to reach readers. I had them read aloud Victoria Schwab’s amazing post Just. Keep. Writing. And then I talked about how to get unstuck when the world is crashing down around your ears, or your characters won’t talk to you, or your plot has holes you could drive a truck through. I made them promise to keep writing, no matter what. Because if you write, you have options. You have product. You have something to sell, something you control and something that’s yours. If not, you don’t. It’s that simple.

What I found most amazing about reading the critiques and talking to the students about their work is how far I’ve come. I remember reading other student critiques during Odyssey and knowing that something wasn’t quite right… but having no idea why. Or I’d love a particular piece, but Jeanne would eviscerate it. Or I’d write something that I thought was pretty good, and everyone in the room thought it failed. Now, on the other side of the fence, after four years of reading and writing in the industry and having a chance to absorb craft from Odyssey and a lot of other areas, I get it. I can see the things that I couldn’t see then, and while my critiques don’t always line up with Jeanne’s in every particular, they do on a huge percentage of issues and stories. That is incredibly validating. I can finally see what my favorite teacher was seeing. And I finally feel like a pro. :)

So, to the students, and Odyssey, to Jeanne Cavelos, the superhuman woman who can teach amazing lessons on no more than 3 hours of sleep, and to the writer community who has nurtured me over the last four years–thank you. It was awesome to be back. I hope that you will invite me again.

It was an honor to be there.

Posted in being brave, business, Cool Stuff For Writers, writing triumphs, writing workshops | 1 Comment

Talk Nerdy to Me: James Knapp Talks Text-Based Video Games

Hi All,

Please welcome James Knapp to the blog. He’s here to talk about the nerdiest of nerdy video games… the text based ones :)

Oh, and he has a new book out called Alice in No Man’s Land – with a giveaway! So check out his site for details.

Thanks for joining us for Fun With Nerdy Things.

Alex

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From the moment I first played Space Invaders, I knew I loved video games.

Back when I was a lad if you wanted to play video games you had to go to an arcade and I went as often as I could, pumping quarters (then later tokens) into machines you’re most likely familiar with like Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Galaga, and Defender, but also a ton of games maybe not so well remembered like Crazy Climber, Jumpman, Wizard of Wor, Gorf, and Qix but while they were fun distractions none of the truly got under my skin. It wasn’t until later, when gaming consoles began to make an appearance alongside the early personal computers, that I found my first true video game love – the text adventure game.

The very first text adventure I played lived on a mainframe at our local college where my friend’s father worked. It was called ‘Colossal Cave Adventure’ (launched by entering the command ‘advent’) and in it you used simple commands like ‘north’, ‘east’, and ‘get sword’ to navigate rooms that were only described in words with no visuals whatsoever:

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The goal of the thing was basically to find and collect a series of treasures, and then bring them back to the building where each new game begins. That’s it.

It was amazing. There were magic words, treasures, twisty little mazes, snakes, giants, dwarves, and puzzles…so, so many puzzles. There was no instruction manual – it would dump out a paragraph or so explaining basic syntax if you answered YES to the question in the previous screenshot, but you were pretty much on your own. There was no internet then (certainly not as it exists today anyway) and so there were no walkthroughs, no forums where you could get advice, there was just you trying to figure out how the heck to get past the snake in the Hall of Mists. The deeper into it you got, the better it got. It was amazing.

My friend and I spent hours playing it but while he eventually tired of the thing I never did. Years later when my father brought home a Commodore 64 computer with a 5.25″ floppy drive, I discovered a game called Zork I which was basically a retelling of the original Colossal Caves adventure but with a better parser:

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I played it, and was hooked. The game was released by a company called Infocom, and I quickly became a borderline obsessive fan. I played Zork I, Zork II, Zork III, Enchanter, Sorcerer, Spellbreaker, Starcross, Suspended, Planetfall, Stationfall, Cutthroats, Seastalker, Deadline, The Witness, Suspect, A Mind Forever Voyaging, Trinity, Infidel, Ballyhoo, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Bureaucracy, The Lurking Horror, Borderzone, Moonmist…heck, I even played through Nord and Bert Couldn’t Make Head or Tail of It. I loved those games. I understand why they aren’t popular these days with games like The Last of Us being released, but back in the Infocom days they competed with games where the player was generally represented by a handful of cobbled together pixels. By just ditching graphics altogether and letting the player use their imagination, they weren’t just as good as the graphical games of the time, to me they were better.

I loved them so much that I eventually sat down in front of a Commodore 64 and attempted to come up with a simple text adventure game like the Infocom games that I had grown to love so much. However, I only got a few rooms into it before I realized on some level that I didn’t really have the tools I needed to make it work the way I wanted it to. Not that it couldn’t necessarily have been done in Basic (maybe it could have), but at the time I didn’t understand the concept of ‘classes’ and ‘objects’ and so everything was just one long spaghetti string of if/then clauses that didn’t take long to become a tangled mess. I saved the final copy to a cassette tape, and shelved it. For those of you too young to know, cassette tapes were once actually used to save computer data. For those of you too young to have ever encountered a cassette tape, they came after LPs but before CDs. If computer technology had advanced slightly faster than it did then who knows, maybe I would have saved my games on an LP.

Much later, after text adventure games more or less went the way of the dodo, I found myself in a job where I did a lot of scripting (mostly in TCL/Tk) to run automated tests against data switches (exciting, I know). It marked my first foray into programming, and so when I learned that there were still people out there writing text adventure games (now given the moniker ‘Interactive Fiction’) using a fan-created toolset similar to what the folks at Infocom had used, my curiosity got the better of me. I followed the links, downloaded the tools and manuals, and got to tinkering.

In a way, the game that resulted was the first computer program I ever wrote. It used a language called ‘Inform’ rather than C++ or Java or something like that, but it did use a computer language that then compiled into a runnable program. I called my game ‘And Ye Shall Find’.

And Ye Shall Find is not a great game – I’ll be honest about that right up front. It’s probably too large, certain things are kind of broken, and all in all it was my first attempt at a real game. I was so excited about the possibilities this new language offered that I spent more time coming up with cool things to interact with than I did worrying about the rest of it (including proofreading – if you’re brave enough to get maybe a quarter of the way through the game, you’ll find a ‘canister’ and a ‘cannister’ literally in the same room together) but man was I having fun.

To give you an example of what I mean there are lots of gadgets in AYSF (teleportation pads, matter transmitters, syringes with drugs, a two-way radio, a personal library terminal, etc) but to start with, in the different living quarters units it made sense to have things like a bedroom with a bed, and a bathroom which of course meant a toilet. Since objects in the game world are only as interactive as you make them, this meant I actually had to come up with a working ‘toilet’ class that I could use as a base to populate all of the game’s bathrooms. Now, this might seem like an inconsequential game object but remember – I was giddy with power. I began to think of all the things a player might try to do with a toilet beyond just the obvious. I figured it had to open, close, and flush but what else? Would people try and put things in it? Flush things down it? Drink from it? I came up with a template for a ‘space-age’ toilet with three buttons, white, blue, and green (which you’ll find throughout the game), and the end result ended up looking like this:

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And of course controls for the fancy toilet:

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You may notice there is not mention of water in the TOILET class, and that is because water in the game is its own class. During initialization, all of the toilets (and everything else containing water) get filled with an instantiation of the water class, so that you can fill, say, a drinking glass with toilet water if that’s your bag.

And that was just the toilet, something you don’t need to interact with at all in order to complete the game. Other things were more difficult, like the ‘mind-reading gun’. Did I mention the game has a mind-reading gun?

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Unlike the toilets, you *do* need to use the mind-reading gun to complete the game. It’s useful for gathering certain information from people (or animals, or aliens) who can’t otherwise speak to you:

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I feel like the game is probably way too hard, too, but if you get stuck there’s always the hint system:

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Basically I was like a kid in a candy store, who got locked inside after hours. At the end of it I was discovered lying on the floor in a near diabetic coma, sporting a five-o-clock shadow made up of pixie stix dust. I created, debugged, and created until the itch had been at long last scratched. Later I would try and make another, much smaller game called ‘They’re Everywhere’ which consisted of a house, shed, and surrounding woods. The idea was that there would be six additional NPCs who used a very rudimentary intelligence to move around and act every turn that you did. Over the course of the game several timed disasters (all of which were purposely overused tropes) would strike – first a mind-controlling parasite, corrupt Men in Black coming to cover it up, then zombies, then finally an alien invasion. I wanted the game to be different every time (all six NPCs could be transformed by the virus before the MIB ever showed up, or some might actually survive all the way to the invasion to help you) but alas, it all proved beyond the capabilities of the text game engine. I shelved it, and got back to writing novels like a responsible writer (when I wasn’t playing Morrowind).

So that’s my tale of one of my nerdier pursuits over the years – if you actually want to play the thing you can; I dusted off what was the latest version and recompiled it using the latest version of Inform. To run it, you’ll need to also install an interpreter (called Glulxe), which you then launch and use to open the .ulx file (the game file). I’ve included both on my site, and you can find them here:

http://www.james-knapp.com/aysf.html

The .zip file contains the interpreter installer, as well as the game file (aysf.ulx). Since the .zip file in the download contains an .exe (the Glulxe installer) your browser may throw a warning so just be aware. If you’d prefer to download it yourself you can find it at this address:

http://www.ifarchive.org/indexes/if-archiveXprogrammingXglulxXinterpretersXglulxe.html

Even if you aren’t interested in playing AYSF you might find it interesting to download the interpreter and go online to find other (better) IF games that have been written by enthusiasts over the years. If you’re an older feller like me it will take you back and if you were born into a world that already contained this new-fangled internet, you might find a little gem from the past that you enjoy in spite of its low-tech origins.

 

Posted in Talk Nerdy to Me | Leave a comment

Talk Nerdy To Me: Featuring Eric R Asher

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Before we had “Revenge of the Fallen”, “Dark of the Moon”, and “Age of Extinction”… they were simply “More Than Meets The Eye”…

TRANSFORMERS
by Eric R Asher

When they killed Optimus Prime in the 1986 Transformers movie? Quite possibly the most traumatic moment of my childhood.

It all started back in 1984. My parents came home with a Bumblebee Transformer, and that was that. I can still remember their old basement, with classic 1960s wood paneling and a thin orange and brown carpet you’d only find in an outdated office today. Birthday presents for the next three years would be Transformers, and I’d eventually wind up with Shockwave, Optimus Prime, Wheeljack, and a host of others.

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A few years later, after I’d “grown up” a bit, everything Transformers related in our house left in a garage sale. It wouldn’t be until about 1998 that the nostalgia bug struck. I found a Snarl dinobot figure at a flea market, and having just found out about that newfangled eBay thing, I managed to buy all the parts he was missing. Then I found more, and I bought collections from friends, and my nostalgia bug turned into a storage bin full of warehouse shelving filled with Transformers and their parts.

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You can show me a 3 inch chunk of plastic, and I can tell you what figure its from, whether its counterfeit, and what its going price is. This is a fabulously useless skill to list on your job application. It was the mid 2000s when I learned about the Japanese exclusive Transformers. These were some of the greatest figures from the entire toyline, only ever released in Japan. Vintage exclusives were rare, expensive, and I spent quite a few years hunting down my favorites, going to the national convention, Botcon, several times and eventually amassing enough to qualify myself for a collector skill level of “obsession.”  You can always count on us Transformers collectors to discuss—at GREAT length—the mythology and nuances of every new generation that comes along.

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Further down the line, I realized I wanted to publish a book, but publishing costs money, but toys sell for money! Sometimes logic wins out. I ended up on Travel Channel’s Toy Hunter with Jordan Hembrough—which was a blast—and I sold several pieces to some wonderful collectors. Some of my collector friends ask if I regret selling any of those collectibles. Of course not, I have Worribles to fill the gaps. (That’s a whole OTHER post!)

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Eric R Asher is the author of the urban fantasy Vesik series, featuring a necromancer who gets dragged into a centuries old battle for power. The third book in the series, WINTER’S DEMON, was just released in audiobook.

Eric is a former bookseller, guitarist, and comic seller currently living in Saint Louis, Missouri. A lifelong enthusiast of books, music, toys, and games, he discovered a love for the written word after being dragged to the library by his parents at a young age. When he is not writing, you can usually find him reading, gaming, or buried beneath a small avalanche of Transformers.

 

Posted in Talk Nerdy to Me | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Reader Question: Why Hasn’t Adam “Fixed” His Addiction?

I had a reader contact me today with a question I’ve been asked a few times now, why Adam doesn’t just “fix” his addiction or have it “fixed” by the Guild Structure people. This is a good question! And I love that my readers are thinking deeply about the world and the rules of the world. Since I’ve been asked it a few times now, I thought it was time to go ahead and answer it on the blog in more detail for everyone.

Thanks to Frank, who wrote the text of the original question from today (copied below).

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Hello,

I am reading the first book in the Mindspace Investigations book, Clean and I have a question.

Currently I am just on Chapter 11.

 In Chapter 10, you describe Constructs as being able to ” If you want a criminal to literally not be able to think about molesting children again…” . If that part is correct, then why hasn’t the hero had this done to remove the ability to think of Satin to cure his addiction?

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Thanks for contacting me! Always great to hear from readers.

I’ve gotten this question a few times, and there are three major issues at play.

(1) Addiction is complicated, because it’s not just about the behavior. With an addiction to a substance, it’s usually about an emotional need or pattern as much as the substance. So the Guild has learned over time that blocking thoughts of Satin just leads addicts to seek out a new drug or new destructive behavior in the short term to meet those needs or patterns. In the long term, the patient often regresses right back to the addictive habits, often to new ones on top of old. It’s not specific enough a trigger to be adequately treated, if that makes sense. You can block the Satin but you can’t block the need that’s driving the addiction.

Even with the criminal treatment for convicted child molesters–which is to a very, very specific set of triggers and behaviors–the criminal will often act out in other ways to try to fill whatever need for control or lust he/she was getting through those sets of behaviors. The treatment and rehabilitation team will try to channel this into a form that is much less destructive, but it’s often very bad for the criminal’s mental health and future, or very bad for those surrounding the person. Sometimes with enough patience and determination, the criminal can even get around the mental block, which is also bad. For this particular set of criminal behaviors, the future society is willing to pay that price. For other situations the unexpected consequences could far outweigh the thing you’re trying to fix, and society may not be willing to pay that price. Humans are complicated, and messing with their heads is complicated.

For addiction, the Guild has by this point determined that Structural intervention just isn’t worth the trouble. Better the addiction you know about and can deal with in other ways than new addictions and new problems you can’t predict.

 

(2) Adam has Structural training. Any telepath who can “see” what’s been done to his/her brain has a much better shot that average of undoing what’s been done, and someone with Structural training can rarely be permanently “changed” without his or her active and ongoing participation. The problem with addiction is that Adam’s emotional needs will keep forcing him to “pick at the scab” and undo what’s been done. So “fixing” Adam isn’t really worth it if he’s fighting you, because it likely won’t work, or won’t work the way you planned.

 

(3) Humans don’t as a rule like having their brains altered. Like so many folks with bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses, they don’t “feel themselves” on drugs that change the brain. Sometimes the difference is worth it to the individual. Sometimes people go off the drugs as soon as they can. Sometimes it’s something in between. And drugs are a lot less personal and less invasive than having someone prodding around in your head. Not to mention that having that sort of thing done against your will–to alter who you are as a person–is traumatic. I imagine that “fixing” your brain is very much the same. If you actively consent and want the benefits from the change, perhaps it works because you’re willing to pay the price. But it’s a brain change, and is going to change how you feel overall and how you experience your mind and yourself. People as a rule don’t really like that, and will choose it only if the benefit outweighs the price.

For Adam, considering his desire for control and anger towards the Guild at the worst time of his addiction, he would be very, very wary of having anyone change his brain. He wouldn’t want a stranger poking around in his head and making wholesale changes. He fundamentally wouldn’t. So he’d have every reason in the world to fight and possibly undo what had been done, even if the Guild had somehow decided to go against their policies and intervene with the addiction.

 

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What about you guys? Would you choose to have someone go in and “fix” your brain? What unintended consequences do you think something like that might have?

Posted in definitions, for readers, rules | 4 Comments

Talk Nerdy To Me: Featuring Jennifer Estep

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Today’s “Nerdy” guest has a passion that I feel many of us share,  to some degree. In some tiny (or maybe NOT so tiny) nook or cranny of our homes/offices/attics… we’ve got them, we love them…  and today, author Jennifer Estep is going to share hers with us.

Jennifer-Estep-4-240x300I’ve always loved superheroes.

The action, the adventure, the daring escapes, the dastardly villains—I enjoy them all, whether I’m watching a superhero movie or TV show or reading a graphic novel.

But I also really love superhero-themed items.Black Widow and Hulk

T-shirts, mugs, cups, keychains, magnets, figurines, calendars, ice-cube trays … I have all those things and more. Why? Well, I have to have to shirts to wear and cups to drink out of anyway, so I figure that I might as well have fun shirts and cups. Especially when I can get them with my favorite characters and some really cool designs.

Yes, I am a total geek this way. :-)

Captain America and Wonder Woman mugs

As a kid, I don’t remember having a lot of superhero-themed items or them even being all that readily available. But with the recent popularity of all the Marvel movies and TV shows like Arrow and The Flash, you can find superhero-themed items at pretty much every store, even the grocery store, not to mention online at thousands and thousands of sites.

So where do I go when I need a superhero fix? One cool site is SuperHeroStuff.com, which has all kinds of superhero-themed items, from T-shirts to socks to shopping bags. If you like superheroes or want a T-shirt with a specific character on it, this is a good place to start your search.

Wonder Woman magnet

Redbubble.com is another good place to go for superhero-themed T-shirts, as well as just pop-culture characters in general. And then you have sites like Etsy and CafePress and too many more to name.

So if there’s something out there that you want with a superhero on it, chances are that you can find it—and lots of other cool things to go along with it.

It’s just a great time to be a superhero fan, and I’m enjoying every minute—and T-shirt—of it. J

What about you guys? Do you have superhero-themed items? Who is your favorite superhero?

 


Jennifer Estep is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author prowling the streets of her imagination in search of her next fantasy idea.

Fandemic, the fifth book in her Bigtime superhero series, was released on June 2.

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For more on Jennifer and her books, visit her at www.JenniferEstep.com or follow her on her blog,  Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter at @Jennifer_Estep.

 

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The Great Expecting

Hi all,

I have some great news! I am preggers. Pregnant. Expecting. Knocked up. It’s traditional to wait until the end of the first trimester to tell everyone, but I’m impatient, so you guys get to find out now (at 11 weeks). Yep, you can totally wish me mazel tov. (I’ll wait :) )

This is our first offspring, and he/she was a very welcome surprise. Sam and I are both happy and nervous and Every. Possible. Emotion. On Earth. Because kid! I’m due in December, and poor kid may end up with a Christmas birthday. We’ve already laid down the law to relatives: no joint presents. No really. We may end up celebrating the half-birthdays in July, just to be fair.

But what about me? I’m so glad you asked! I’ve been horribly, horribly sick with morning sickness and low blood pressure and a flu that I wasn’t allowed to take any cold medicine for. At all. Vomiting–my least favorite thing on earth–has happened several times, and nausea is a constant companion. Plus exhaustion! If you’ve ever wanted a nap right after you took a nap, you feel my pain. I literally slept 4 hours yesterday mid-day and then another 9 overnight. (A lot even for me, but you know, preggers.) It’s been a rough few months. With any luck, though, we have maybe three weeks until I feel a lot better. I’m seriously on countdown.

ultrasound_2015.05.29-1So this is the big secret, the reason why I’ve been so incredibly sick and running behind on nearly everything. So if you’re one of the folks who had to wait a bit for me to recover from illness, sincere apologies and I had a good reason!

In fact, I have pictures.
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See? Pictures!

Isn’t Pip cute? I’m probably hopelessly biased.

But that’s okay :) you can totally lie to me and tell me he/she is the most adorable thing ever.  (He/she is currently the size of a lime, and a very adorable lime at that.)

 

So you probably have questions about the writing. I mean, Pip is adorable but Book Five already! I totally sympathize.

So here’s the deal. I am planning to work my little tail off and Get Things Done as much as humanly possible before December. Book Five is penciled into the calendar to be released by self-publishing sometime in October. I’ve got a book for writers penciled in to be released over the summer. And I’ll have some Mindspace extras and a short story collection coming out somewhere in between.

I’ve also figured out what was holding me back with Book Five: too much planning. After months of struggling with my outline, I realized that all the work I did to sell the book to my editor last fall was just too much planning. I already knew what was happening, and I didn’t care anymore. So, I went to my writer’s group from Odyssey and asked for help. We have a new plot and a new (half-planned) character arc to work with. I’m cranking out the words. And it finally, finally feels good.

I’ve got a street team of amazing people already poised to help me get the word out about the books, and I couldn’t be happier. Things are lining up.

But what about Book Six and series and stories and… am I going to stop writing and stuff now that Pip is a thing? Take heart, dear reader. Writing runs in my blood, and I would no more walk away from the writing than I would from several internal organs. I’m putting in a big push before December for a reason, to get set up. I’ll take a maternity leave, like I would from any job, early next year. Then Pip and I will figure it out. Child care will happen if necessary (I already have evil plans for child care swaps with another writer I know). And words will start to happen again. There will be adjustment! And we will take it as it comes. But I know many amazing writers who wrote when they had small kids, so it is Totally a Thing.

So, a happy day all around! You can totally wish me mazel tov now. I’ll wait :)

Posted in big milestones, for readers | 8 Comments

Talk Nerdy To Me: Featuring Janice Hardy

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Cheesy Movies and Me. A Love Story.
By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

I don’t remember my first cheesy movie, but I’m fairly certain I saw it during Creature Feature one Saturday morning. My guess, it was Godzilla vs. Something, but whatever it was, it sparked a love affair that has lasted to this day.

I love cheesy movies, especially the disaster kind. This includes monsters, genetically altered fish, environmental disasters (both natural and man-made), epidemics, and anything that puts a large population at risk from something terrible.

Half the enjoyment of a cheesy movie is making fun of it, and I often root for the disaster or monster. I was terribly upset when the sun didn’t melt the Earth in Supernova: The Day the World Catches Fire. They made a promise right there in the cover and didn’t follow through. Jerks.

Although the line is a fine one, there is a difference between a cheesy movie and a bad movie. Bad movies are just badly done in a variety of way, but a good cheesy movie take real skill and a few specific elements:

It is what it is, and it’s okay with that.

The true cheesy movie needs to embrace what it is–if the goal is to be serious, it must take itself seriously, no matter how absurd the topic (such as Frankenfish). If it’s trying to be silly and fun, it needs to bring out the silly and fun (such as Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon). But it always knows it has a ridiculous plot and it doesn’t make excuses.

It’s trying to do the movie justice, no matter what the budget.

Bad special effects when you have no budget is funny, and worthy of great cheese. Not even trying to maintain scene continuity and realism is just bad filming (yes, I’m looking at you Sharknado). At least try where production values are concerned. One of the best things about Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus was that they used the exact same factory control room as a submarine command deck for three separate countries–they just changed the lighting per country. Blue for the American sub, red for the Russian sub, and yellow for the Japanese sub. Cheesy? You betcha. But hysterical, and it embraced the cheese.

It’s trying to make sense and feel plausible.

Let’s face it, no cheesy movie is going to get anywhere near realistic, but it needs to feel credible within the ridiculousness of its own plot. I can suspend disbelief and buy some crazy ideas, but if you nuke a school of fifty-foot piranha, and they just shrug it off, I’m not going to buy a team of SEALs with spear guns finally killing them. There are limits, people.

It’s trying to be a cheesy movie.

I’ve seen plenty of “Best Cheesy Movies” lists that have great movies that never intended to be cheesy listed. They just happened to turn out that way. Maximum Overdrive didn’t set out to be a cheesy movie, it was a serious adaptation of the Stephen King story that went…um, wrong. Jason X knew what it was, and played off its own clichés and tropes for the humor of it. The DVD even has a “jump to a death” menu. I mean, seriously–space Jason used a hologram of one half-naked co-ed in a sleeping bag to beat another half-naked co-ed in a sleeping bag to death. The producers knew what they were doing.

Let’s take a quick peek at some of my favorites:

Janice Hardy’s Top Ten Favorite Cheesy Movies

  1. Deep_RisingDeep Rising

I’m a huge fan of Treat Williams, and he’s been in countless cheesy movies. This is by far his best, and it’s a big budget film to boot. The plot is simple: smugglers (Williams and his crew) take some bad guys to a cruise ship in the middle of nowhere, but when they get there, the ship is dead in the water due to a giant squid monster. (Note, anytime you can use the words “giant squid monster” there’s a pretty good chance it’s a cheesy movie).

  1. Dance of the Dead

This independent film is a classic “zombies rise to eat everyone at prom” scenario, and could have been an episode from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Very well done, and lots of fun to watch.

  1. Independence Daysaster

A spooffette of Michael Bay’s film, this one is a great example of doing a lot with a little. Aliens invade the Earth, and it’s up to unlikely heroes to save it. They do a great job of maintaining plausibility and working within their budget. Need a president, but can’t afford an Oval Office set? Just have the guy crash in the middle of nowhere and wind up with some geeks who can help save the world. Totally works, and it left them enough cash for cool spinning balls of alien death.

  1. Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus

The title pretty much says it all here. All you need to know to love this movie is that a giant shark jumps out of the ocean and takes down a 747. This one does push the “credible” envelope a little, but come, on. Shark vs plane? I’ll allow it.

  1. Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon

While this one isn’t a disaster movie, it’s one of the best cheesy movies out there. It’s a kung fu spoof set in Harlem with a hero called Bruce Leroy and his evil nemesis, Sho’nuff, the Shogun of Harlem. Add in the always delightful Faith Prince and her wacky Cyndi Lauper meets Weird Al music videos and you have cheesy gold.

  1. Grabbersgrabbers

Aliens invade a small town in Ireland, and the only way to protect yourself is to get utterly blasted drunk. When the goal of the movie is to get everyone snookered at the bar, and it works, you’re looking at storytelling genius.

  1. Night of the Comet

The IMDB description is sheer perfection: A comet wipes out most of life on Earth, leaving two Valley Girls to fight the evil types who survive. Still a classic, and a must-watch for every Halloween.

  1. Jason X

Jason Voorhees in space. Do I really need to say more than that? I already mentioned the hologram scene. This movie balances the horror and the humor in all the right ways. Or wrong ways depending on your definition of humor.

  1. Piranhaconda

Part fish, part snake, all killer. It’s also the sequel to Sharktopus, so I’ll give you a minute to let that sink in. It’s a warm, loving film about a pair of fish-snakes doing their best to find their stolen egg from evil scientists. Or at least, that’s how I think of it. It also stars Michael Madsen, who is, well, Michael Madsen. Even when he’s bad he’s awesome.

  1. armyofdarknessArmy of Darkness

No cheesy movie list is complete without this masterpiece on it. Bruce Campbell with a chainsaw for a hand, fighting medieval evil dead and spouting one-liners. I’d give him some sugar any time.

I could list great movies all day, but I suddenly have the urge to grab some popcorn and laugh at my favorites one more time.

What are your favorite cheesy movies?

Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She is also a contributor at Pub(lishing) Crawl, and Writers in the Storm.

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An Ending and a New Beginning

Hello, all.

Today, we’re doing a bit of blog “housekeeping”. I’d like to get some opinions from you, and let you know where we stand on a few things.

First: How have you been liking the “Talk Nerdy To Me” posts? I’ve really been enjoying the variety of topics. Have there been any posts that you’ve particularly related to? Any topic that addressed a shared geeky passion? We’ve got quite a few quest posts already scheduled throughout the summer, and I can’t wait to share them with you.

Second: I’ve finished sending out this round of “Three Words” stories in the newsletter. The word suggestions you sent in were fantastic (many thanks to Ricky R, Clarence W, Susanne F, and Adam R. for some great words to build on this time around). I wish I had time to do stories for all of them. I hope each of you receives my newsletter, and were able to read them. If your word suggestions were used, what did you think of the story? I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts.

question-markThird: Those of you following this blog on a regular basis are some of my (and the Mindspace world’s) most dedicated fans. I’ve been trying to think of a way to be more interactive with you, and I think I’ve got something that we’ll all enjoy. Keep your eyes peeled for a new Q&A vlog feature that will be coming in the next few months!

Fourth: Many of you have asked, via social media or email, for ways to help me spread the word about my books. Since the next book will be published independently, having a dedicated fan base is a HUGE gift. You guys who love the stories are THE reason it will work! A few ideas if you’re feeling enthusiastic and motivated…

  • Ask me a question. – This doesn’t sound like a “pro-active” support method… but it does give me an idea about what information readers want to know about the story and the characters. It also gives me an idea about how in depth the world building and/or character building needs to be.
  • Leave a review. – This is invaluable for any author. Not only can you share your love for the series with anyone who comes across the titles on retail and review sites, but many sites do in-house promo based on the number of reviews. Places like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Powells, IndieBound, GoodReads, BookLikes, LibraryThing, Shelfari, etc. are where people go to choose their next books, and they’re looking for opinions like YOURS!
  • Recommend the books to a friend. This sounds super simple, and it is… it’s also one of THE MOST effective ways for authors to reach a new audience. There is no equivalent to in-person excitement and word of mouth.
  • Join my street team. Did you know there was a TEAM ALEX? If you’d like to take your love of the books to a slightly more active level, we’re creating a team that will have weekly (non-spammy) missions, special activities and challenges, special perks and contests, and lots of fun interaction. Even though it IS work, we hope to make it feel more like fun. If you’re interested in joining, you can email me (or my street team captains Jen and Lisa) at alex at alexhughes dot com.

One more quick note… if you’re not subscribed to this blog, please consider doing so. This way you’ll receive an email when there’s something new to see, and you won’t miss out on any of the fun. This is different from the newsletter, which goes out only for special events or announcements. It’s super easy… you just put your email in the little box right over theeeeere —————————–>>

So, there you have it. A mini “state of my union” right now. I’ve got lots of irons in the fire, not the least of which is a new Mindspace story for all of you. I appreciate each of you who comes back to this blog, and to my books, time after time. I can’t wait to see what questions you have for me!

*And in the spirit of all things Nerdy…*

May4th

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Talk Nerdy to Me: Real Warp Drive?

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So I was surfing the Internet this morning, you know, avoiding writing this post, when I came across this article. Holy crap, Batman.

British scientist Roger Shawyer’s odd and highly controversial closed-chamber electromagnetic space propulsion system, the EmDrive, not only works–which we had thought it might, since it tested well last year–but it works in a vacuum, apparently. Against most of the known laws of physics and conservation of momentum. (See io9’s take on it.)

Even better, in a move that has me squeeing for joy and nerves, according to one report, during the test, when NASA engineers fired lasers into the resonance chamber, the particles were accelerated to incredibly high speeds… some faster than the speed of light. The mathematics of the interference pattern apparently match the mathematics of a warp bubble (yes, a real thing, thank you Star Trek). The engineers may have accidentally created a warp bubble and paved the way for real FTL travel.

What does this mean? Well, all science is a process of theories and testing and more theories and corrections, so it may be too early to tell exactly what’s happening. It could always be a data error, a false alarm, or an indication of a different physics issue we still don’t understand. But, considering that Shawyer’s EmDrive already seems to function reliably outside our understanding of conventional physics, and that a huge number of great scientific discoveries historically happen by accident, well…

Maybe it’s an actual space drive! Or the beginnings of one. If so, it’s one of the biggest stories of our generation, one of the biggest advances since my mother watched the moon landing in her elementary school class, and just as important. It blows my mind that if this is so, this one small announcement on this one ordinary day in May, 2015, might be the beginning of a new era. I might get to see people go to Mars, or space, or get to go to the moon myself.

I hope that’s what’s happening. I really, really hope. Here’s to happy accidents working out.

Added: As usual, the scientific community is urging a lot more caution while the media is running with possibilities. Since I’m a hopelessly nerdy science fiction author, I get excited about things. But, since I believe in the scientific process, which tests and retests before adopting any cautious belief, I’ll go ahead and include a more realistic take on the situation here:

Did NASA Accidentally Discover Warp Drive? Spoiler Alert: No.

Bottom line? We have some unusual data. Once. Data which may or may not fit a mathematical model of something people get excited about. (Like Me! Warp drive warp drive warp drive!!) It’s time for more testing, more data, and more models. (Sigh.)

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Be Afraid

Be afraid.

The food you’re eating. The water you’re drinking. The containers they’re sitting in. The BPA. The non-organic. The processed. The food-bourne illness. The bacteria. The viruses. The mold. The termites.

Be afraid.

The government, spying on you. The companies, stealing from you. The guy next door to you, the person standing at your door.

Be afraid.

EM radiation. Cell phones. The microwaves from your microwave. Too much sunlight. Sunscreen additives. Lack of vitamin D.

Be afraid.

You’re doing it wrong. 16 hacks to do it better. You’re not pretty enough, thin enough, rich enough, smart enough, kind enough, ruthless enough, and you don’t part your hair the right way.

Be afraid.

Airplane travel. Bus travel. Sniffling children coughing right in your face. Trains derailing. Earthquakes. Hurricanes. Lightning strikes. Walking outside your front door.

Be afraid.

Falls at home. Termites. Household chemicals. Your spouse. Your children. Your mother in law. Is your cat trying to kill you?

Be afraid.

Awareness. New diseases. Threats from strangers. Horrors on the news, in your paper, blowing up Facebook. Danger. Injustice. Scandal. Attention now. All your fault. Nothing you can do.

Be afraid?

Your hometown has stood for a hundred years, no fire, no flood, no war, no burning to the ground. You did not get cholera as a child. You are not dying of consumption, or plague, or guillotine.

Be afraid?

You expect all three of your children to live to adulthood. You own a house, or rent a place, and won’t be dragged out into the street on pretense. You are warm, or cool, when you want to be. You may live to be 80, two lifetimes or more in the old days.

Be afraid?

Homeless shelters post signs to tell people to line up for food—most homeless can read, and there is food to be had. Doctors have cures for diseases, and treatments for many more. We have nearly killed polio. Malaria may be next. The world turns, and people live. People volunteer to clean parks, and scrub streets, and watch children.

Be afraid?

You can talk to your aunt overseas every day. You can apply for jobs sight unseen in other cities. You can read about the Bad Things nearly instantly, and choose to care. You have the time to care, and the brainpower. You can read. You can think.

Be afraid?

Your food is safer than it’s ever been. Your home is safer than it’s ever been. Your children’s pajamas are fireproofed. Your microwave is shielded. Your wall outlets are rated for safety. And if it all comes down, 3 minutes away is a fire truck and two hours away is an insurance agent to make it all right. And you don’t store your money in the mattress.

Be afraid?

Your country is safer than it has been since 1960, when your mom threw you out the door to bike with your friends for hours by yourself. Predators are no more numerous, and everyday folks are legion. We stopped Flight 93, the Crotch Bomber, and countless terrors. Your neighbors may help you. You may help your neighbors. Some will get on planes and help strangers.

Be afraid.

Car accidents. Heart disease. Stray bullets, and falling down stairs. Cigarettes and cancer and living until old age. Not glamorous, but real risks. Drive a little safer, move a little more; the risks won’t ever go to zero. You wake up in the morning and do your best. You live.

Be afraid—if you must.

Small risks are trumpeted, fear comes out big—ask yourself who benefits. Gold and clicks and power, all given away. Be wary, lest you be controlled. Fear sells papers. You are worth more than fear.

Breathe.

Reasonableness. Don’t jump out in front of the train or the bus. Double your 0.000001% risk probably doesn’t matter, no matter how loudly they yell. Breathe. Smile. Take precautions when you can, when it matters. Breathe. And live.

There is no need to be afraid.

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