It's been almost three years since I graduated with my Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (and seven years since I finished my MBA), and the more I look back at it, the more I'm glad I went to grad school.
I'm convinced that the MFA program I was in made me a better writer. That's what I paid for. But above that, it made me be more able to fully appreciate great writing. I can better understand quality writing when I see it. The downside is that it's made me hate poor writing, all the more. But when I read really good stuff, I'm better for it.
I miss the days of being in grad school. It was nice to be in contact with so many other writers on a constant basis. Once you're done with it, writing becomes a very solitary process.
Writing groups take time. Too much time. It's fun to follow authors on Twitter, and to read articles written by novelists, buts it's not the same as being immersed in a group of writers. Besides the learning, grad school is a wonderful way to be in a large group of people with a similar passion who are all cramming to learn the same stuff as you. It's a real benefit. I miss it.
I read a lot of articles written by people who either recommend MFA's or don't. There're many pros and cons. I'm definitely in the pro-camp, as long as you find a good one that's affordable. A graduate degree in creative writing might not lead to tremendous financial wealth, but it does make you wealthier in other ways.
Perhaps later in life, when I'm an old man, I'll be teaching writing somewhere. Being around other writers is a good thing. I miss it.
Here're some brief thoughts on the first episode of Season 6:
First the bad.
I thought the direction during several scenes was less spectacular than what we've become accustomed to when watching Game of Thrones. Though the Castle Black stuff was exceptionally well composed, blocked, and cut, the Sansa/Theon scenes, the Tyrion/Varys scenes, and the Daenerys/Dothraki scene were off. Even the Arya scene was not well shot. The worst shot scene was clearly the sword fight (Brienne of Tarth) in the forest. It was inexcusably poorly executed. Did they not have a long enough production schedule to take the time to shoot this right?
The Tyrion/Varys scenes underwhelmed visually. These are supposed to be $10M episodes. There seemed to be about twenty extras in the whole village. It was too small.
Some of the actors looked different. They either aged or gained weight. It was noticeable in several scenes.
Now the good:
The Castle Black scenes were spectacular. Well written, acted, and shot. If John Snow somehow rises, they at least didn't blow that load too early.
Lena Headey did some phenomenal acting.
The special f/x of the ships burning in the harbor was good. If it had been at night, it would have looked more spectacular.
The last scene with the Red Woman twist was an intriguing reveal.
So far, though, this early on, the Showrunners have oversold this season. They claim it's the best one so far, without any weak episodes. After the first one, I'm a bit underwhelmed.
It's hard to come up with something more annoying in video gaming than level caps. They're a terrific way to suck the fun out of games.
I've been stuck at the current level 60 cap in Star Wars Battlefront for awhile. I've gotten all the Jabba contracts finished. I unlocked all the guns months ago. Sure, I've got several unlocks in other categories to finish, but the level cap in particular is a pretty harsh killjoy.
Why would Battlefront do this? It's a surprisingly fun game. I'll still be playing it often. By why would you cap the levels? Adding an additional ten in every expansion pack isn't nearly enough. And if you (for some ungodly reason) want a level cap, why not set it at 150, with an additional 50 every expansion?
I've never understood the logic behind level caps. If you're afraid that a character is going to get too powerful, just stop adding bonuses. But as a marker as to how far the player has gotten, let them level up. Make it a hard and long journey as the character gets up there in levels. But for God's sake, don't cap what a player can do!
Bethesda got it right in Fallout 4. No level caps at all.
A huge part of the fun of first person shooters and sandbox games is developing your character. Advancing your character's level is a significant part of that fun. Why put a cap on that? DICE, please learn this lesson from Bethesda.
The remake of The Magnificent Seven (which of course was a remake of The Seven Samurai), has been in development for a few years, with many big names supposedly attached at various points. I was glad to see the trailer finally drop today.
I'm so happy that Sony is taking this huge risk. American Westerns are incredibly hard to make because they tend to pull so little money overseas. Of course there are notable exceptions (i.e. Dances With Wolves), but they're rare. Even The Unforgiven grossed under $60M internationally.
Denzel, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, Peter Sarsgaard--that's quite a cast of quality actors, so I'm guessing the script has to be decent.
What I don't like is the release date: Sept. 23rd. Damn, that's too late in the summer season. I'm worried that it'll fail to rock the box office hard enough to pay all those heavy salaries. Then it'll be blamed on genre and not release date. Hence, we won't see any more Westerns for awhile.
But let's hope it's exceptional and pulls in big box office numbers. Bravo to Sony & MGM for taking this risk. Check out the trailer:
A couple of days after AMC CEO Adam Aron said in a Variety interview that his company was considering allowing phone use during movies (in order to attract Millennials), he wholeheartedly rejected the notion via Twitter, stating that: "NO TEXTING AT AMC. Won't happen. You spoke. We listened. Quickly, that idea has been sent to the cutting room floor."
Great. So now that you've trashed that horrible idea, here're a few you should consider:
I just saw a clip on the local news regarding AMC Theatres. They're trying to come up with ideas to attract Millennials. One idea is to start allowing people to text and use their phones in certain sections of their theatres.
This will all but assure that I never step foot in an AMC theatre again.
There are three AMC theatres in Burbank, near where I live. For the most part, people behave. Since Burbank is the center of the world's film industry, patrons tend to have respect for others who come to watch a movie. Rarely do I see someone start up their smartphone mid-movie. But when I do, the damn thing is like a spotlight that is beyond annoying.
What AMC is going to do is irritate patrons who are over thirty years old in order to try to bring in more teenagers and people in their twenties. That's fine. But be aware that there are other avenues upon which to watch movies. I don't have to go to an overpriced theatre that isn't exactly the fanciest place on Earth to watch what I want to watch.
AMC Entertainment is making a huge mistake if they go through with this abhorrent idea. But then again, it wouldn't surprise me. I used to step into an AMC theatre about once a week. Now, I rarely do. I go to a much nicer theatre that serves my needs as a customer, and one that would never cave to children who can't behave themselves.
I finally finished Season 1 of Bloodline last night. I got to the series late, in part because when it came out last March, there was just too much good TV to watch.
The people I had talked to who saw at least some of the series could be broken down into two camps: those who found the first two or three episodes to be too slow and quit watching, and those who had watched the whole season and couldn't recommend it hard enough.
I was hooked from the very first episode. What becomes apparent early on, is that this show is fantastically cast. It is true that it's not the fastest paced show on the planet. There're not a lot of gun fights or explosions. But what it does have in spades is drama. The actors are given situations and dialogue to brilliantly shine in, and man, do they pull it off.
The show's tagline is: We're not bad people, but we did a bad thing. It centers on a family from the Florida Keys, headed by a mom and pop played by Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard, and four adult kids, one of whom is the black sheep of family, who comes back into town, and causes the troubling events to start taking place. There's a lot of mystery and a lot of intrigue, and by the end, you're blown away by what happened.
This is one of the best first seasons that I can remember. It's up there with the first seasons of The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, True Detective, or Fargo. It is an absolute gem. I can't wait to get started on the second season. I can only hope it doesn't let us down (season 2 of True Detective still hurts).
If you love great character dramas, please give Bloodline a chance. Stick with it through the first several episodes. It's a masterclass in how great dramatic television should be made.
My rating: 9.7 out of 10. (a bit knocked off for some marginal casting decisions with a couple of secondary characters).
Earlier this year, I set pretty solid writing goals for myself. I'm working on a fantasy novel and wanted to make sure that I was making adequate progress throughout the entire year. The first several weeks, it seemed to be working well. If I was too busy one week, I'd make up for it the next week. That often seemed to be the case.
Lately, however, the goals are having an unexpected effect on me. I've suddenly had much more available time than I usually do. In fact, this month I have almost nothing on my calendar, which is extremely rare. So I've been writing, hitting my weekly goal, and then taking time off from writing. Too much time.
When you're behind on what you're expecting to accomplish, goals work well. They are rigid guidelines to keep you going. But when you're in the midst of a good run, I think they become an excuse to take a break, once you've flown past the goal.
When you reach a goal, it gives you a sense of accomplishment. I think what's important is that you tie your ultimate satisfaction only partly on accomplishing your weekly goal, but more importantly on how you feel about what you've accomplished during the period. How good is the quality of what you've written? How much have you written compared to the available time that you had? Do you wish you would have accomplished more?
I now realize that the original mid-year page count goal I had in my mind is not adequate if I keep having sizable chunks of free time. I have to get 15k words or so above that goal. But I don't want to set that in stone because I know at some point I'll get insanely busy with life again.
Goals need to be adjusted in both directions, depending on what comes at you. Allowing a goal to be used as an excuse not to write really defeats its whole purpose. What you accomplish should be primarily guided by what's in you, not what you've written down on your to-do list.
I'm sitting here watching the Detroit Tigers play the Miami Marlins during their first game of the season. I love it when the baseball season finally starts.
Baseball is different for me than football. Because the pace is so slow, I usually do something else while watching the game. Sometimes I play Minecraft. It's a slow, slog of a video game that works well when watching a slow, slog of a sports game.
I also tend to write while watching baseball. It's a good mix. Writing for me comes in spurts. Baseball action does too. They compliment each other well.
I watch baseball on the MLB app, sometimes on my TV, but usually on my phone. When I had a tablet, it worked perfectly for watching baseball. At some point, I'll have to buy another Google tablet, solely for watching sports on it.
Of course, if it's a big game, especially towards the end of the season or during the playoffs, it's on my tv, and I'm not doing anything but watching it. I think it's not only the fact that baseball is slow, but also that each regular season game means so little, that helps make it watchable while doing other stuff. I could never write or play a video game while watching football.
So here's to the 2016 baseball season and hopefully a successful campaign for the Detroit Tigers. I will most likely write hundreds of pages of stuff while watching them play. The game takes the edge off of writing, and writing takes the edge off of the game.