Hey, Charlottesville

Hey, Charlottesville. I hear you’re having a bad day. I know you pretty well, and I want you to know that, though the world is looking at you today and normally is content to ignore you, I know you’re a friendly, small city in one of the most beautiful regions of the United States, and you’re a beacon of culture, art, and enlightenment, and you’re trying to be a good home for a lot of different people with different stories and different ideas.

And that’s not an easy thing to do.

Much of that is why some of the worst of humanity is there today. You see, they don’t like you. They want to hurt you. They aren’t content to be a part of something great. To them, it is not great unless they dominate it.

But I want you to know that I know they are not you. I know that, today, this is not you at your worst. Today is us at our worst, and it just so happens to have found its way to you.

I’m really sorry about that and wish I could do something. Today, all I can really do is watch to make sure you make it through all right, and when you do, I want you to know I still love you.

The Dark Tower Is … *sigh … Solidly Okay

I just got back from seeing The Dark Tower. I’m a stewer. When I see a film, I generally can’t talk about it immediately afterward. I have to let it stew in my mind awhile. When my wife asked me what I thought about it, I found I had fairly instant thoughts on where the film succeeds and where it fails.

[This review is spoiler-free, by the way.]

It’s been years since I read the books, and to be honest, I have a love-hate relationship with them. I love the core story, what Stephen King was trying to do, but ultimately, I think the series is flawed in several major ways. So I was eager to see a reimagining that wasn’t a strict adaptation. I was excited to see a story using those core elements without having to conform to the original narrative.

That’s what we have with the film, and if you want to read more about my thoughts on all of that, click here.

The reason I bring this up is to give you a point of reference on my expectations. I take no issue with the film deviating from the source material. In fact, I welcome it. And all of that stuff, the faithfulness, the adherence to the original story, let’s pack that up and set it aside for now. Let’s just talk about The Dark Tower film as a film on its own.

I enjoyed it. Ultimately, though, I’m disappointed.

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Why I’m Excited for the Dark Tower Film (And Why I Understand If You Aren’t)

The Dark Tower film adaptation comes out this Friday, and while there’s a general buzz about a cool-looking film where Idris Elba plays some kind of cowboy knight from some kind of ethereal realm and Matthew McConaughey plays some kind of wizard with creepy fingernails, and there’s, like, gunslinger kung fu (gun-fu?) and stuff, excitement among fans of the novel series appears mixed.

It has all the makings of a summer blockbuster, and it has Stephen King’s name attached to boot (which arguably is a liability in some circles). But there’s this nagging baggage it seems to be lugging around.

If you haven’t read the series, you probably have a friend who has. Go ask them where they sit on this one, and you’ll probably get a moderately animated shrug, which is weird, especially for a franchise of this magnitude and prestige.

So what’s the deal?

(Minor spoilers for the book series below, but if you haven’t read it by this point, I don’t think you’ll mind. Either way, proceed at your own risk.)

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It’s About Time For Honesty and Introspection

Yesterday, the president of the Boy Scouts of America apologized for the political content of Donald Trump’s speech at the National Jamboree.

It’s July 2017. Donald Trump has been in office for roughly six months. Before that, we had about ten weeks to really prepare for his presidency. Before that, we endured his despicable 18-month-long campaign, and before that, anyone who was paying attention watched him transition from a once-failing businessman who saved himself by branding and licensing his reputation and becoming an inconsequential celebrity whose only real chance at relevance was stoking fires and pandering to American desperation and resentment through conspiracy theories, lies, and post-truthism.

My point is we’ve known what Donald Trump is for a long time. Or, maybe you’re just joining us because he’s put on full display the worst of America using the world’s biggest stage. Either way, love him or hate him, you know what you’re getting with Donald Trump.

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In Defense of Passengers

Last night, I watched Passengers, the film starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence whose characters wake up far too early on a colonial spaceship that’s en route to a new planet. I think it’s a film that certainly has its flaws but is ultimately worth a viewing for any fan of character-driven science-fiction. It’s a film that, given a fair shake, deserves attention for some solid storytelling and acting. But critics panned it.

With such an interesting premise and two of Hollywood’s biggest stars, you might think it was a solid bet. So what happened?

It’s conjecture, and a film’s failure and success is contingent on innumerable factors, but I think Passengers is another film where the critics got it wrong. What’s more, the film sufficiently and specifically addresses the most substantial problems in the second half, which makes me wonder if the critics who panned it checked out after a major development in the first half in which a character does something utterly, morally repugnant, something that is a huge risk in the realm of storytelling, something good stories have to do to be memorable and effective.

Spoiler alert

I spoil the hell out of the film below, so if you haven’t seen it and plan to, you may want to wait to read this until you do. But before you go, the bottom line is Passengers is a wonderful film, and you should watch it. If you’re interested, don’t be like me and let the critics dissuade you.

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On Chris Cornell’s Death

If you read Chris Cornell’s obituary today, you’ll learn he was the frontman for Soundgarden and Audioslave; you’ll learn he had a unique voice.

He was so much more than that.

Obviously, he was a person with family and friends who cared about him, knew him intimately, and will never forget him. But he also was one of the last remaining legends of a rock and roll era that has already lost so much or seen its heroes falter and fade.

My wife bought us tickets to see him solo a couple years back at this music hall near our home that typically hosts classical and traditional musical acts. What struck me about him was not his performance. It was his attitude and presence. Alone on a stage in front of hundreds, in a place that was maybe out of his element, he didn’t just command the room, he owned the whole damn building, because we did.

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The Girl With All The Gifts Film And Book Review (The Book Is Better)

Generally speaking, whenever someone says, “the book was better,” about a book-to-film adaptation, I feel the need to punch them in the throat. I could go on a long digression here about my feelings of film adaptations, the different camps of people wanting them to be faithful, and creative freedoms of artists as well as the nature of truth, but I’m not going to do that. Suffice to say, The Girl With All The Gifts film adaptation gets it both wrong and right in really fascinating ways. Continue reading

I Am The Night by Slade Grayson

I loved Autumn Moon. In a genre where there just aren’t that many good stories, it shines as an example of the werewolf tale’s potential. Autumn Moon demonstrates how to tell a deeply human werewolf story in a fascinating, alluring world rich with mythos and intrigue.

I Am The Night does something else entirely.

Rooted in the Autumn Moon framework, I Am The Night continues the narrative of Drake Burroughs, but like Drake, the novel’s nature has evolved. This one puts Drake in the spotlight and focuses on his struggles in the aftermath of the first book.

Drake has changed, and the core of Slade Grayson’s storytelling has changed, too.

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Writing Tips, Episode 1: Subjects

When I sold my first novel, I knew I would have to create a website. And when I started building that website, I knew a blog was going to be a part of it. It’s sort of obligatory these days. Most of my contemporaries have them, but one thing I decided I didn’t want to do was post writing advice.

I worried it would invite criticism. I worried that, once I started writing for writers instead of readers, my writing would enter a realm I just didn’t want it to be in.

But I’ve been writing and editing for a long time. It’s a big part of my life, and I feel like I should share it. I have this blog, so it makes sense to put it here.

So this is the first in a series of blog posts that will present a wide range of writing tips, from the practical to the theoretical, from the granular to the big picture. Continue reading

The Reaper Virus By Nathan Barnes

Ashton Kutcher once said the only reason he works out is in case the zombie apocalypse happens and he needs to save his loved ones. Far too many zombie story protagonists seem prepared for it. While the main character in The Reaper Virus does have some resources that give him an advantage for survival, he isn’t one of those people. In Walking Dead terms, he has more in common with Eugene than Rick or Darryl, but the truth is he’s just an ordinary guy who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances, a classic setup.

The story begins with a preface from Nathan, the main character who shares the author’s name. In this preface, the story presents one of the coolest promises I’ve ever read:

“I ask that you judge me for who I am and what I fought for, not what I’ve done.” Continue reading