Month: October 2013

The best scene in The Hobbit

I have to admit I didn’t care for Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movie (subject for another post, perhaps). However, I did quite enjoy this moment. In fact I would venture that it’s the best scene in the entire film. That’s really saying something considering it lasts a whole 10 seconds.

Gandalf: Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? That’s because I am afraid and it gives me courage.

It reminded me of that chapter in Niall Ferguson’s War of the World where he compares the UK during World War II to The Shire. I wouldn’t mind reading that section again, incidentally. Something to do with an extended metaphor — Britain as The Shire and Nazi Germany as Mordor.

In defense of Chernobyl Diaries

I rather enjoyed Chernobyl Diaries. I was appalled to see that it had a measly 19% on Rotten Tomatoes. Even that turkey Paranormal Activity 3 managed a 68%.

The premise: a handful of backpackers take an “extreme tour” of Pripyat, the Ukrainian town that housed workers that staffed Russia’s doomed Chernobyl reactor. Their guide is Yuri, a swarthy (if likable) Spetznatz trooper turned tour operator. After wandering around creepy-ass Pripyat for a while, the gang discovers Yuri’s van won’t start. So they’re stuck. Overnight. And to make matters worse, they start seeing and hearing signs they’re not the only ones overnighting in the abandoned city…

Chernobyl Diaries is all about atmosphere. The plot is relatively uninspired — irradiated cannibal mutants stalk hapless victimsWhat this flick has going for it is Pripyat:



Pripyat ferris wheel

Pripyat ferris wheel

Pripyat panorama


Soviet officials ordered the evacuation of Pripyat about 24 hours after the Chernobyl reactor melted down. Wikipedia has a fairly chilling translation of the evacuation order, which it cribbed from a National Geographic special:

For the attention of the residents of Pripyat! The City Council informs you that due to the accident at Chernobyl Power Station in the city of Pripyat the radioactive conditions in the vicinity are deteriorating. The Communist Party, its officials and the armed forces are taking necessary steps to combat this. Nevertheless, with the view to keep people as safe and healthy as possible, the children being top priority, we need to temporarily evacuate the citizens in the nearest towns of Kiev Oblast. For these reasons, starting from April 27, 1986 2 pm each apartment block will be able to have a bus at its disposal, supervised by the police and the city officials. It is highly advisable to take your documents, some vital personal belongings and a certain amount of food, just in case, with you. The senior executives of public and industrial facilities of the city has decided on the list of employees needed to stay in Pripyat to maintain these facilities in a good working order. All the houses will be guarded by the police during the evacuation period. Comrades, leaving your residences temporarily please make sure you have turned off the lights, electrical equipment and water and shut the windows. Please keep calm and orderly in the process of this short-term evacuation.

Chernobyl Diaries effectively leverages on this history for the first half of its running time. In fact, some of the creepiest scenes are of Yuri simply leading the backpackers around the abandoned city. This makes for a far more compelling film than a handheld camera pointed at an eight-year old’s bedroom. Or watching blankets rustle in a suburban home. It also offsets shortcomings in plot and characterization. That’s more than you can say for most horror gimmicks (ahem–found footage).

Many horror films live or die by atmosphere. Chernobyl Diaries is one of them. I’m not saying this is a great movie. It might not even rate as average. But it’s certainly not abysmal. It deserves far more credit than it’s gotten.

A home for a novella

Before too long I’ll be looking for home for my novella, “The Bazaar.” Kindle Singles seems like a great place to start. Basically, Kindle Singles fuses Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing service with an editorial process. It’s geared specifically toward material that doesn’t fit into conventional formats, like the novel.

From the Kindle Singles website:

Anyone can submit original work to Kindle Singles. We’ve showcased writing from both new and established voices–from bestselling novelists to previously unpublished writers.

We’re looking for compelling ideas expressed at their natural length–writing that doesn’t easily fall into the conventional space limitations of magazines or print books. Kindle Singles are typically between 5,000 and 30,000 words.

A Kindle Single can be on any topic. So far we’ve posted fiction, essays, memoirs, reporting, personal narratives, and profiles, and we’re expanding our selection every week. We’re looking for high-quality writing, fresh and original ideas, and well-executed stories in all genres and subjects.

Of course there’s still some revision left to be done. In the meantime I’ll be working up a pitch.

Think “tech startups with guns”

In a previous post I alluded to the fact I am finished with the draft of a fiction project. To describe “The Bazaar” in brief: a technology expert and a female mercenary battle a terrorist start-up hell bent on developing a digital terror weapon in a failed South American state.

For a summary with a bit more depth, see below:

Dr. Mitchell Fulton is an expert in digital augmentation: implanting computer hardware into the human brain. He’s also on the verge of a breakdown.

His marriage is crumbling. His old friend, eccentric computer programmer David Reese, recently
committed suicide.

So when private military contractor AEGIS offers him a lucrative consulting job in the Central American Free Trade Zone, Fulton can’t sign on fast enough. Time abroad might do him good, even if he’ll spend it in a war zone.

Fulton arrives to find a state on the verge of collapse. A loose coalition of drug cartels and leftist guerillas control most of the Trade Zone. They are well-armed and unusually adept at information warfare.

The AEGIS contract is run by a hard-boiled mercenary named Emily. According to her, Reese’s final software project is still circulating on the black market. The information encrypted within it could pave the way for developing digital weapons of mass destruction. Emily wants Fulton to help find Reese’s app, crack it and extract the nastiest bits. All it’ll take is a single meeting with a shady tech broker.

But when the deal goes bad, Fulton and Emily are forced to flee into the crumbling, narco-infested slums.

He soon learns the bad guys are utterly ruthless and extremely innovative. Not unlike tech startups with guns. They seem a step ahead at every turn. And before long the whole job starts to look like a setup.

THE BAZAAR is a 28,000 word novella. It is a thriller with some science fiction elements.

The above is formatted more like a traditional query letter. Broadly speaking, I plan to take this project to Amazon’s digital imprints first. Failing that, I plan to go the self-published route (but with proper editing, formatting and cover art). More to follow in the future. In addition, I am considering posting some excerpts to this blog for comment.

Opinions and advice welcome.

Is there such thing as too much revision?

Beginning writers beware: few pitfalls are more dangerous than the “never-ending cycle of revision.” A.k.a “when is my draft actually a draft?” It’s all too tempting to proofread and tweak, never quite getting to that point where you actually show someone what you’ve produced.

For me there is rarely a clear break between drafts. That is to say, I can’t go back and produce a Draft v1.0, Draft v2.0, etc. I don’t outline (a nasty habit I broke myself of years ago). Instead I go with my gut. When it feels like I’m making transformative changes it’s time to go back to the beginning and look at the manuscript from a fresh point of view.

I know I’m ready for beta readers when the plot is complete and momentum has ground to a halt. That means for the moment I can’t find anything substantive left to tweak. Then it’s time to get some distance and a second opinion.

I’m getting to that point with my latest work, “The Bazaar.” I am looking forward to sharing it with you.

In the meantime, I’d be curious to know how any of you interrupt the (potentially) endless cycle of revision.