Joanna Penn on the Bestseller Experiment

On this week’s podcast we spoke to Joanna Penn, and blimey O’Reilly it’s an episode crammed with a ton of useful information on marketing and social media for authors. I’ve listened to it three times already to transcribe it for the Vault of Gold and it still hasn’t all sunk in.

One small note; we were using Zencastr to record this episode, which is normally as good as gold, but for some reason I sound like a Dalek gargling Listerine for most of it, and then at the very end I sound like I’m trapped in a tin box. Apologies for that. Normal service will be resumed shortly… CLICK HERE TO LISTEN NOW

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Rogue One – the fanboys have taken over the asylum (spoilers agogo!)

Be ye warned, I have all the spoilers in the article below and we can only proceed on the assumption that you’ve seen Rogue One: A Star Wars story and stayed awake to the very end.

 

Are we cool…?

 

Very well.

 

Let us begin with a trailer showing a ton of shots that did not make it to the finished film…

I’ve seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story twice now, and I enjoyed it very much.

There has been chatter, some negative, about the stream of in-jokes and easter-eggs in the film, and no one has summarised this better than Adam Roberts in this article. But, despite all the scaremongering news of reshoots and rewrites (like this was the first film ever to suffer this), we have been gifted a very enjoyable film.

 

I’ve seen plenty of rave reviews, some saying it’s the best Star Wars film for thirty-odd years, though I wouldn’t go that far. When watching it for the second time its flaws became more apparent, and it got me wondering about the future of this series, which is very close to my heart, and the future of this kind of shared-universe storytelling.

But let’s start with the movie itself. It has a finale to rival any other in the series, and it’s full of incredible moments, but second time around I found the journey to reach that epic climax was slow and stodgy.

My biggest problem is our leads. Felicity Jones and Diego Luna are fine actors, but they’re both saddled with dour characters with downturned mouths. They’re very earnest and sober and lack any of the verve of Finn or Rey, let alone the swagger of Han Solo, or the infectious energy of Luke and Leia. They feel very one-note all the way through, and it’s hard work to care for them.

star-wars-rogue-one-jyn-erso-cassian-andor
Cheer up, guys… might never happen. Oh, wait…

I blub at the drop of a hat at the movies, but I felt curiously unmoved by their sacrifice at the end. It was as if they knew they were doomed from the start and allowed their story to play out with a defeatist tone. How many kids will want to be Jyn or Cassian when acting out their adventures in the playground? I suspect Rey and Finn will remain the top ‘bagsy’ for some time.

The story is a patchwork of rewrites and you can still see some of the stitching. There are visual clues of discarded story threads, such as the unexplained wreckage of a still-smoking X-Wing on Jedha, but that stuff just adds to the intrigue of a bigger story, and can make for fun speculation.

More problematic are some of the character beats: Bodhi Rook is interrogated by the big jelly-Cthulu-like creature which, Saw Gerrera assures him, will make him lose his mind. Yet, one quick chat with charisma vacuum Cassian Andor and suddenly Bodhi is tickety-boo. Wouldn’t it have been more fun to rely on a defective defecting pilot who is one sandwich short of a picnic? And what should be a perfectly simple plan by Bodhi to hook-up a cable during the final battle needs explaining not once, but twice, and at great length… it feels like a cut-n-shut script solution to a bigger story problem.

And why did Saw Gerrera need to die when he does? Okay, he might have had to stop to oil his legs, or take a fresh puff from his oxygen mask, but he was perfectly capable of getting to a ship with the others. It makes absolutely no sense, other than that’s where Joseph Campbell says the mentor should die if you’ve been studying The Hero’s Journey. I suspect there was more to this story thread, but it was lost somewhere in the rewrites.

And speaking of ships, why do space ships in science fiction movies land so far away from their final destination? You travel halfway across the galaxy to your quarry’s farm in Iceland, and park two miles from his house. Why??

rogue-one-03
“Sir, this is a really long walk, shouldn’t we have parked maybe a little closer to the–?” “SHUT UP!”

We also have an utterly pointless excursion by Krennick to see Vader’s compact and bijoux residence with hot and cold running lava, which feels like an awful lot of unnecessary shoe leather for such a short conversation. Wouldn’t a quick holo-call have done? Then Vader could have at least stayed in the bath…

But, much of this is nitpicking. Overall, the film was a blast. One for the fans, made by the fans. I think this film marks a turning point in the Star Wars canon, and how these kinds of films will be made. This is where the fanboys have taken over the franchise. Yes, The Force Awakens was made with affection and nostalgia, but, crucially, it was written by the man who wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi. Not a fanboy.

With these stand-alone stories we’re now seeing a progression to a different kind of storytelling, where men (and it is all men writing and directing these films) of a certain age, who grew up playing with their Star Wars action figures, are now getting to play in the sandbox of the Star Wars movie universe. When I first saw the trailers for this film, it reminded me of the games I would play with my toys as a child. Stories that focused away from the main saga, and were free to dabble in corners of the universe that we’ve not seen before. And it is play: watching the end sequence of this film – a triumphant, crowd-pleasing finale – it played out like a live-action version of the game Star Wars: Battlefront, each problem they were presented with felt like the next level of a platform game. Even Vader’s thrilling moment scything through rebel soldiers was seemingly taken straight from the Battlefront Hoth map…

Don’t get me wrong; this is all fun stuff, but these adventures are feeling less like iconic movies, and more like serial TV. We have a very capable show runner in the redoubtable Kathleen Kennedy, and we have the Lucasfilm Story Group (mostly comprising of women, which is encouraging), to keep everything on track. I don’t envy them. This must be like a game of Jenga, where writers have to make extremely delicate manoeuvres to ensure that the whole edifice doesn’t come tumbling down.

The Star Wars universe is no longer the vision of just one man, it’s a big business that will be squeezed for all its worth for at least the next two decades, in movies, TV, games, theme park attractions, books, toys, food and clothes. Along with Marvel, Disney, DC, Harry Potter and Bond, this is industrialised storytelling and it’s here to stay.

There was a time in the late ’80s where I felt like I was the only Star Wars fan in the world. The films were done with, they had stopped making the toys, and a fan could almost know everything there was to know about the saga. And then, when something new came along, like the Timothy Zahn books, it was a thrilling event, but an isolated incident. Those days are gone, and eventually we’ll reach a saturation point where I fear I’ll be sick to the tits with anything Star Wars. I’m guessing this is what fuels a lot of the impotent male rage you see online; the idea that something that was once special to them is now cherished by the masses, and – heaven forbid – girls. But to complain about this is to reveal a thin skin. I love that my kids are enjoying a golden age of Star Wars, that they can enjoy exciting stories with a cast of characters as diverse as those in The Force Awakens and Rogue One, but already I can see a day when the bubble bursts. All it takes is a disappointing opening weekend and the franchise will begin to die. And, with each new iteration of an increasingly-complex storyline, the odds of a disappointment will increase and the Jenga tower will fall, and the masses will suddenly be interested in a new shiny thing to decorate their bedrooms with. So, let’s enjoy it while we can. Just because a thing doesn’t last, it doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. The fanboys and fangirls are running the show, and they’re off to a pretty good start.

 

 

 

 

GollanczFest 2015 – behold the awesome line-up (and, er, me!)…

GollanczFest 2015: 16th-18th October – Manchester and London

 

**STOP PRESS: LONDON AND MANCHESTER HAVE SOLD OUT, BUT THERE ARE STILL TICKETS AVAILABLE FOR THE WRITERS’ DAY ON SUNDAY 18TH**

This is going to be awesome, with an amazing line-up of authors including Joe Hill, Joe Abercrombie, Brandon Sanderson, Joanne Harris, Ben Aaronovitch and Sarah Pinborough, spread over four days starting Manchester and ending in London.

Day one: Friday 17th October, Waterstones Manchester Deansgate

I’m in the CLASS OF 2015 bit with Aliette De Bodard, Alex Lamb, Al Robertson and Tom Toner and it should be great fun…

Manchester - Room 1
Manchester – Room 1 (click to enlarge)
Manchester Room 2
Manchester Room 2 (Click to enlarge)

Day Two: Saturday 18th October, Waterstones Piccadilly.

This has officially sold out, but if you’re a lucky ticket holder, then I’ll be in the Class of 2015 bit again, with a slightly different, but no less awesome, line-up:  Antonia Honeywell, Alex Lamb, Al RobertsonTom Toner and Catriona Ward

London Room 1 (click to enlarge)
London Room 1 (click to enlarge)
London room 2 (click to enlarge)
London Room 2 (click to enlarge)

Day Three: Sunday 18th October, Waterstones Piccadilly – Writers’ day

This has just been added so grab your tickets now! If you’re a writer, this day is gold dust. If I weren’t already going, I’d be first in line for tickets. Top writers and agents (and, er me!) talking about their craft. Unmissable…

What a line up! (Click to enlarge)
What a line up! (Click to enlarge)

Friday and Sunday, Prince Charles Cinema screenings of Minority Report and The Prestige.

And after all that, why not kick back enjoy a couple of classic movies with introductions from Pat Cadigan and Joe Hill?

minority

prestige

Really hope to see you there. It’s going to be a blast.