March 5, 2007

Eragon or Hero Gone?

I have not read Christopher Paolini’s "Eragon". However, we did watch the movie yesterday. I don’t know how similar the book is to the movie (the synopsis on Wikipedia seems to suggest that there might be major alterations to the story) but as soon as the movie started, I had but one thought – "This sounds a lot like an adaptation of ‘Star Wars‘" 🙂

That was my impression on seeing the first five minutes of the movie and the rest of the movie did nothing to dispel this impression. A world ruled by benevolent dragon riders and all of the dragon riders being killed by one of their own who then became the despotic dictator of the world? Years later, a young princess stealing a valuable object belonging to the dictator/king and running off to hide? When she’s caught, she sends off the valuable item elsewhere? The item ends up in the hands of a young farm boy who lives in the boondocks with his uncle? Any of this starting to sound familiar? :p

Having not managed to get my book sold at all, you might ask "Who are you to talk?" I might even be accused of jealousy. I’m not jealous of Christopher Paolini. He made it and the more power to him. Given that he was fifteen when he wrote this, you can actually understand the inspirations and the sources behind the story. Of course, according to another Wikipedia entry which lists no source, Paolini has said that his inspiration wasn’t "Star Wars" but Joseph Campbell’s "Hero’s Journey", which has been credited by George Lucas as his own inspiration for "Star Wars". Looking at the number of similarities between the "Star Wars" storyline and "Eragon", I find that a little tough to swallow, but whatever, dude 🙂 We are not talking about Paolini and his source of inspiration.

What I do find fascinating is the complete lack of originality on the part of Hollywood. Why would they take a story which so obviously is "Star Wars" on dragons and create a movie out of it? Did they think the success of the book would guarantee the success of the movie? Are we so bankrupt of ideas today that we think just taking any successful book series and creating movies out of them is the way to go? Or is it just that every Hollywood studio wants a series of their own that they could milk for several years? It all seems so silly if you look at it logically but then again, logic seems to be in even shorter supply than ideas in the world of today ….

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Posted by Fahim at 6:42 am  |  No Comments

November 19, 2006

Updates about being inundated

I’ve been meaning to update the blog for a while now but what with a trip to Dubai (from November 8th to the 10th) where we went gadget hunting, the setting up of the said gadgets on our return, work, doing some web server stuff for some people I’m working with and so on, there hasn’t been much time for updates. Finally, I’ve found the time to put up an update and to also mention a few things that I wanted to mention before.

The first thing is that I’ve put up a new blog called "Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog" 🙂 This is basically a serialization of my novel – the one I’ve talked about here before. As I’ve mentioned before, I plan to rewrite the novel almost totally. But there are some people who read this version and liked it very much. Since this version will probably never see the light of day in any other form, I decided to serialize it online weekly and see if anybody else likes it 🙂 If they do, then I’m happy. If they don’t, well, nothing lost.

The other thing of note probably is the fact that I have been dragged back into BlogShares :p A long time ago, I used to be really involved in BlogShares. Then I lost interest and I believe the site itself crashed/was down. Then it was revived again and I discovered that my old user ID no longer worked. So I signed up around the beginning of this year but didn’t really get into it at that time. I was reminded of BlogShares again by Simon, who made a passing reference to is somewhere or other online, and so went back and checked on my account. I was surprised to find that my stock had gone up a lot and so got back into the game in earnest 🙂 Of course, it became even more fun when Laurie decided to join in – but for a while, they tagged us as cheaters because we both came from the same IP and were doing a lot of connected deals :p

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Posted by Fahim at 8:00 am  |  No Comments

October 27, 2006

The return of scummy scammers

There are some people who would do anything to part you from your money. They would even go so far as to warn you about other people who might try to mislead you about the first bunch of people :p It’s kind of interesting to watch as an exercise in misdirection. However, it is also alarming when you consider the fact that those not of a suspicious bent (or of a more gullible persuasion) could actually fall victim to these lying, cheating scum.

Who am I talking about? Scammer agents, of course 🙂 First, there was the Top 20 worst agents list. Then there was Barbara Bauer kicking up a ruckus about AbsoluteWrite.com and getting the plug pulled on them back in May. Now it looks as if the scammers are taking a different tack – they are banding together to bilk more gullibles of their money and at the same time, appear legitimate by creating their own association of agents. This new association, named the International Independent Literary Agents Association appears to be unable to count, let alone represent anyone. They have a Top Ten literary agent list which has only nine agencies listed :p And guess who heads the list? The self-same Ms. Barbara Bauer Ph. D. who was the star in the AbsoluteWrite drama and who also appears prominently in the Top 20 worst agents list.

Of course, the IILAA has lots of stuff to say in their defence 🙂 According to them, there are a lot of hate sites out there that are intent on besmirching the names of agents. (Of course, their message would be more accessible to most people if they took out that annoying background and the text which melds into the background – but then again, they’re professionals, so what do I know? :p) Basically, the people who investigate agents and ferret out the scammers are doing so because they have an ulterior motive. They apparently have an agenda. Of course, the IILAA never states what this agenda might be. They certainly do know how to get people’s paranoia working. Maybe they should work in political propaganda rather than spending 20-30 years on being agents and not selling a single book?

Yes, they do have a Coming Soon page where they say they’ll list the "newest sales by their members" – I’m really waiting on that one, good fiction is hard to find these days :p

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Posted by Fahim at 3:37 pm  |  No Comments

October 9, 2006

Codes, Concepts and Breakouts

We watched "The Da Vinci Code" a couple of days ago. I am not going to go much into the movie itself since everybody and their unborn child has probably seen it by now. Or heard about it. Or been urged by their neighbour’s grandmother to go see it. Or read about it in the newspaper. Or something. You get the picture 🙂

Now Laurie had already read the book. I hadn’t. So the movie was all new to me – especially since I hadn’t been interested enough in the book to learn what the story was about :p What did strike me while watching the movie was that the story was almost a poster-child for Donald Maass’ "Writing the Breakout Novel" 🙂 Maybe I’m reading more into it (pun intended) than I should. But I’m reading "Writing the Breakout Novel" at the moment and Dan Brown appeared to follow Donald Maass’ advice very carefully. Perhaps it was coincidence, perhaps not. So the first thing I did was to check for any connections between Dan Brown and Donald Maass. Don’t think I found any direct connections or references to Brown being influenced by Maass’ book. So then, I looked up the publication dates for the two books and Maass’ book had been out for 2-3 years before Brown’s book was published. So I guess it certainly is possible.

Or maybe it’s just coincidence. Maybe bestsellers do follow a formula. I have no idea 🙂 But what I did notice was that Brown raised the stakes continually as Maass advices in his books. You start with a simple murder, then Langdon gets called into take a look, then we learn that he’s a suspect in the murder, then he learns that there is a conspiracy behind it and he has to go on the run and so on. The stakes just keep rising and you are swept away in the tide of rising excitement.

Then there are the characters themselves. There’s Langdon’s claustrophobia, which is introduced almost as soon as the story starts. So you start sympathizing with him. Then you are introduced to Sophie and you learn that she does not believe in God. You start wondering about her. Then you learn that her whole family died when she was a child and you begin to realize perhaps she blames God for it. So you again sympathize with the character and are invested in their quest and what becomes of them.

There are many other points to ponder about how the story (in the movie) follows Maass’ advice closely. It probably is coincidence but then again, it’s a nice mini-not-quite-conspiracy theory of my own to say that Dan Brown wrote his bestseller by following Maass’ advice to the letter :p Or maybe, it just points to the fact that you can write by numbers as long as you know which numbers to follow 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 6:33 am  |  1 Comment

September 29, 2006

Breaking out as a novelist

I’ve been reading "Writing the Breakout Novel" for a while now and have been meaning to talk about it. But till today, I didn’t have the perfect opening. And the opening was provided by the book itself.

We didn’t buy "Writing the Breakout Novel" – somebody was kind enough to send it to Laurie as a gift 🙂 I had heard about Donald Maass (of course :p) but wasn’t really interested in the book at the time we got it. I was in the middle of editing my novel "Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog" and a book on writing wasn’t going to be much use to me (or so I thought – shows how much I knew :p) But then I began thinking about restructuring my novel again and that was when I decided to come back to Maass’ book.

I read some reviews of the book online and most of the people who blogged about it seemed to be rather negative in their opinion. They thought that Donald Maass was giving a by-the-numbers solution to writing and that it wasn’t a workable solution. Having read the book (or at least the first three chapters) myself, I don’t see it as a checklist approach. Sure, Donald provides checklists at the end of each approach but I don’t believe he actually wrote the book thinking that you’d take the checklist and check each item off as you wrote the book :p I take the book more as a reference work – take out of it what is useful and don’t worry about the rest. So far, it has proven to be pretty useful to me and I might even write a blog entry or two about the most important things that the book taught me.

However, what I wanted to comment on was something that Donald mentions towards the end of chapter three. He asks, "Why do you write? If it is for money or fame, you are writing for the wrong reasons." (I’m paraphrasing him here.) I agree with the sentiment (to an extent) but can’t help thinking cynically whether all agents do the same thing – do they represent a client only if they are utterly convinced of the worthiness of the project or do they also look at how well the book will do financially? If all agents and publishers took on projects just because they loved them, I have a feeling that we’d wouldn’t have so many truly terrible books published :p

Sure, I love my work. I am so lazy that I probably wouldn’t write unless I had to write. Most of my novels start because the characters get in my head and keep doing stuff and I have to put everything they do on paper or I won’t have any rest :p But I’ve also discovered that what they do isn’t terribly interesting – that I might have to spend some time in beating them into shape and getting them to do stuff in a fashion which is more literarily satisfying 🙂 So why would I go to all that work if all I wanted was to write? There has to be something else – whether it is the desire to have other people enjoy what you’ve written or a desire for fame or money or for beautiful women (or men depending on you inclinations) to fall at your feet or to offer various body parts (hopefully still attached to the rest of the body) to be signed. There has to be more. At least for me. I just can’t see myself writing just because the characters are so compelling. Well, I can, but then there is no impetus for me to do anything more with the story – to polish it, to refine it, to make it actually ready for publication. At least, that’s how I see it 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 8:08 am  |  No Comments

September 28, 2006

Write, re-write and repeat

I haven’t been writing much about writing here, lately. That’s mostly because I haven’t been doing much writing lately 🙂 As I believe I mentioned sometime back, I have finally realized the need to rewrite "Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog".

It began as a simple rewrite because I realized that my story wasn’t as interesting as I’d thought at first. But then I began reading Donald Maass’ "Writing the Breakout Novel" and I realized that the problems ran much deeper :p You see, here in Sri Lanka, writing is not really taught. English at best is a link-language or the third language over here and you don’t get much grounding in using English for writing (professional writing that is) at school. There are no courses (that I know of) which teach creative writing at the university level either. So what you write (and how you write) is totally up to what you pick up along the way.

Then, if you do manage to land a writing job – for instance writing for a local paper – and you are any good at writing, you get told so – over and over again 🙂 But the editors usually don’t do much in the way of actually editing your stories or telling you what you need to do to improve your writing. (At least, that has been my experience so far) So again, you are basically left to learn on your own. And that is what I did all these years till I started work on my first novel. Having not had much editing and being told all the time that I wrote well, I thought writing fiction was going to be a piece of cake – it took me a while to learn how wrong I was :p

Now don’t get me wrong – I didn’t jump in thinking that what I wrote was the greatest thing since Shakespeare and that it was going to be an instant classic. I wasn’t that delusional :p But I did think that whatever I wrote was going to be good enough for publishing. It took me many months to see the error of my ways 🙂

First, it was all the rejections from agents and publishers. But I told myself that they hadn’t even seen a page of my writing – that they were rejecting me based on my query and that perhaps they just weren’t interested in humorous science fiction. I asked around and was advised that perhaps it wasn’t a wise idea to be so specific about genre. So I went back and polished my query and queried again. Still I got rejections based on query alone. So I went and asked a couple of people to take a look at my query and polished the query further. Resubmitted and again, rejections.

I was now convinced that my brand of science fiction just didn’t work. Then I read a few humorous science fiction novels by Simon Haynes. He was getting published (and he was brazenly calling it humorous science fiction never bothering to hide the "H" word :p) – so why wasn’t I? I looked a little deeper and realized that perhaps I needed to make my stories more interesting. Sure, I was interested in my main character but was anybody else going to be interested in a guy who’s on the run from his wife’s wrath after selling her dog? It wasn’t as if it was going to be the end of the world if his wife caught up with him, right? (Well, maybe the end of the world for him but why should anybody else care?)

So I began planning how I would make the story better, make it more interesting. In the process, I realized I had too many characters and too many plot threads – I needed to prune and to consolidate. I needed to make the main character’s story stand out more – the reader had to be invested in the main character, not be swivelling back and forth between the stories of four or five different characters. I had come that far on my own … and that was when I read "Writing the Breakout Novel". That opened up a whole new vista of possibilities and things that I needed to look out for. Of course, it would take me a whole new blog entry to talk about all that I’ve learnt in the first three chapters alone. So I’ll reserve that for another day 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 6:52 am  |  No Comments

September 12, 2006

Weekly update

It’s been a rather interesting week 🙂 The highlights – I pulled all but six scenes from "Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog" and decided to rewrite it, I started work on a new PIM application and above all, I’ve been communicating with a lot of people and it’s been both good and bad (and yes, I can’t mention some of it here even in broad, general terms due to various reasons :p)

First, the writing news. After reading Simon‘s Hal books (and receiving a kind crit from him about both my query letter and the first page), I decided to plunge in and do something that I’d been considering for a while. I decided to re-write my first novel 🙂 As some of you might know, I’ve been trying to get an agent or publisher interested in the book for a while now. While a few were mildly interested, nothing has come of it so far. I knew that the book wasn’t the usual fare – it was humorous science fiction, it had no definite villain and it didn’t have much action. But I thought that this was my "style" of writing. That it was a personal thing.

However, after reading Simon’s Hal novels, I finally came to realize that my story just wasn’t interesting to everybody out there. Sure, some people will find it interesting because it appeals to their specific natures (like it does to mine :p) but it doesn’t have mass appeal. And that was where I had to make a choice. I could have said, this is a personal work deeply connected to me emotionally and I’m not changing a word, no matter what. Or, I could have said that I’d make whatever changes necessary to get published. Of the two roads, I decided to take the one which (hopefully) will lead to publication 🙂

I enjoy writing and there was a time when I said that I’d simply write for the sake of writing as long as somebody enjoyed what I wrote. I still feel that way but with the advent of old age, I am getting to the stage where I don’t want to simply do something with no goals set 🙂 I see no point to spending months on a novel if nobody will read it. So I’ve decided to put my all into this new version of "Honest" and see if it will get published. If it doesn’t, then its perhaps time to say that getting published is not the dream to follow – or not, I really don’t know. I’m rather fickle that way :p But at least for the moment, that’s the goal.

In order to do this, I’ve decided to restructure "Honest" completely. I’ve dropped everything but the first six scenes and even those are being changed to introduce more conflict and get things happening more quickly. I’ll be bringing back some of the older scenes depending on how the story develops but at least one sub-plot will be completely dropped and I might change the current four-threads-of-story format to something different. Besides, the current format gives equal time to all four threads and that wasn’t working either :p Let’s see where it goes when I take up writing again.

But writing’s on hold for the moment while I work on my latest coding project – a PIM (Personal Information Manager) which allows you to store all kinds of information using a treeview format. There are tons of other PIMs along the same lines, right? Yes, but the thing is that none of them have the one thing I really want. The ability to tag information so that I don’t have to rely on the tree paradigm to categorize and store information. I’ve found only two PIM apps which actually allow tagging but they don’t have anything besides basic editing features for their notes. So I decided to create my own. But things have been so hectic that I am not making as much headway as I’d like. Ah, well …

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Posted by Fahim at 7:02 am  |  No Comments

September 3, 2006

Of crapometers and poems

Miss Snark is currently running her semi-regular 3rd annual Crapometer where she reads your query letter and the first page of your manuscripts and tells you what you did right (or wrong). I sent in my entry but never received a number and by the time I got around to even thinking about contacting Miss Snark about it, she’d already posted the winners. You snooze, you lose :p Ah well, her comments about other participants still makes for interesting reading though and the comments themselves should help anybody figure out how to craft a good query letter. So go take a look 🙂

I’ve not written much recently since I wanted to put writing on hold for a bit so that I could spend my writing time on reading Simon‘s "Hal Spacejock: Second Course" 🙂 I’m enjoying the book and will post a review once I get done but it’s slow going at the moment (not due to any fault of the book) but because I’ve not been feeling a 100% recently. But I’m halfway through the book and this is an even better read than the first one – some writers, like wine (not that I have any experience mind you :p), get better with time.

Though I’ve not been working on "Hunt for ‘Read October’", I’ve actually been writing a bit of poetry after ages. I thought I hadn’t written much in the way of poetry for close to 20 years, but going through my archives here, I notice that I had indeed written a few poems during the time this blog has been existence. These new poems however, are slightly different in that they have a central them and are part of a series 🙂 But more on that tomorrow (perhaps). For now, let me just post the first poem.

Light

Light and dark, day and night,
People walking in daylight bright.
Deeds foul or actions right,
Nothing ever is black or white.

Do you wonder ’bout the world of grey,
That often is just a thought away?
If you would bother to open your mind,
A different light you would find.

Where rights and wrongs are blown away,
And might does not ever hold sway.
A world of thought before deed,
With nary a hint of lust or greed.

A world where humanity really thrives
And towards excellence forever strives.
Like a sunflower opening its face
To the sun’s blessed life-giving rays.

August 30, 2006

Where, oh, where, oh, where, is my agent?

I’ve been researching and compiling a long list of agents over the last couple of years in my effort to find somebody to represent "Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog". I still haven’t found representation, but I certainly have a pretty big list of agents which is not doing me much good till I finish my second novel and start querying them again 🙂

So, I thought, why not set up a page online which lists all these agents and publishers so that somebody else can benefit from my research as well? I originally wanted to add an export feature to WriteTrack (I keep agent information in WriteTrack, my submission management software) so that I could export the database to HTML. But the more I thought about it, the less efficient an HTML page seemed. It would be a long static list of agents/publishers which would take forever to load and would be hard to search.

So I began thinking about a way to quickly code up a nice little interface to access and manage the data and to even provide a way for users to give feedback on the agents/publishers. The first thing I thought of was – Adobe Flex. Basically, it’s a new development environment (as well as a suit of technologies) which uses Flash to provide a spiffy interface which is also extremely fast to design and develop. I had not used Flex before but I had been meaning to and after about a day of mucking around, I came up with this page.

The page works fine but it takes a little bit of time to load and needs Flash 9 to work. While I am happy enough with the interface for the moment, I am considering going the AJAX route and redoing the interface so that it loads even faster and doesn’t depend on third-party technology so much. Since the data will remain the same, you can continue to use this interface till I do something new which will hopefully have even more features and will work even better 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 7:05 am  |  2 Comments

August 22, 2006

Of comics and cars

Still working on the idea of developing a comic based on the characters from "Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog" 🙂 There were a few things that I needed to put together first though – for one thing, I wanted a landscape which reflected the turmoil and the destruction of the bygone eras. This was fairly easy to do.

Then I needed a hover car. I created one by modifying an existing model of a sports car and while I did like it, it didn’t have quite the futuristic look that I would have liked. Then I found another model which provided just the look I wanted but it had some other issues with how the final setting looked. A few tweaks and changes later, that too was fixed.

I thought I was ready for my final test render before I introduced my characters but that was where I hit the biggest snag of all :p And it was something rather simple as well – the road. I have two of my test renders further below (one showing the sportscar hovercar and the other one the later version I used) and if you look at the yellow hovercar picture, you will notice that the road is really smooth. I didn’t like that. Besides that, it wasn’t really following the contour of the land, which was rather tumultuous 🙂 This was because I wasn’t sure how to do the road in 3D.

I’d first tried a road which was a modeled object but it would not (as I mentioned above) fit to the contour of the land. Not only that, in some places, the road would actually be several feet above the land – though I’m not really sure if you can see that in the image :p I spent several days trying out different techniques to get the road to lie on the land instead of under it or above it or through it and finally, met with success today. The second hovercar shows the results.

So, onwards and upwards! Next, my adventures with creating characters 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 9:53 am  |  No Comments

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