Sunday, May 15, 2016

Your Favorite Epic Fantasy Series – the “I’m-Reading-The-Whole-Series-And-I-Don’t-Need -Recaps” Edition

An open letter to authors, editors, and publishers of fantasy and science fiction epics.

There is a quality problem that has been plaguing our industry for a long time, and I think the time has come to address this issue.

The issue to which I’m referring is the “subtle” insertion of catch-up exposition added to sequels. Recaps are always annoying for hardcore fans of the series, though it gets worse as series get longer. When a quick recap of the events of book one pop up in say, book three of Gentlemen Bastards or book two of Mistborn, it is extremely annoying. It pierces the cloud of suspended disbelief and reminds you that you are reading a fictional story. It grinds the narrative to a halt and flashes there like a giant beacon of mediocrity, but, in most cases, one is able to simply sigh, grit one’s teeth, and power through until the book becomes its own story again a paragraph or two later – a whole chapter, if you’re unlucky. But these irritating recaps get exponentially more disruptive, the longer a series continues. When you’re in book six of Harry Potter and having to read about how Slytherins crave power and Ron comes from a big family, when you are in book eleven of Wheel of Time and are being told that the Aes Sedai are a powerful organization of women who can use magic – well, it sucks. It ruins your reading experience. And the more catch-up authors, editors, and publishers feel  the book needs to engage new readers, the more profoundly the narrative suffers. When book two comes out it's three paragraphs of exposition spread out over the first five chapters, but by book ten it has become a solid 10% of the book. A tenth of your book is now annoying and repetitive and slows down the narrative even as it bores and irritates your biggest fans and dedicated readers.

I recognize that these things are not done for no reason. An author’s hardcore, dedicated fans make up only a tiny portion of their readership. If you are writing books just for that specific audience, you will not sell enough books to be able to keep writing for a living. I know a person who picked up book three of “A Song of Ice and Fire” and started the series there.  I know someone who was going on vacation and grabbed book seven of “The Wheel of Time” at the airport bookstore so they’d have something to read on the beach, and they read it and enjoyed it “well enough” and that was all the Jordan they ever read. I know that these people exist, and if the recaps aren’t in the book, they will be completely lost and unable to enjoy the book that they randomly picked up halfway through a series. And I recognize that there is also a huge population that reads these books without obsessing over them. As each new book in the series comes out, they will read it once, then put it down and wait until the next book comes out, without ever re-reading the last volume. A few years (sometimes longer) might pass between each book in the series, and they simply don’t remember the details. The recaps mean that they can happily read the new book without getting confused or having to go back and re-read the whole series in preparation of the new addition to the series.

Now, we know that dedicated fans of the series are likely to be annoyed by recaps, but there is one other big victim of the practice – your own legacy. See, in a hundred years, no one is going to be waiting for your next big release. Your legacy, for good or ill, will be set and established. When someone sits down to read A Song of Ice and Fire, they will have a complete seven-book series in front of them (I dearly hope, please, please GRRM). They aren’t going to be waiting a year or more between each volume, they are going to binge the whole thing, and the recaps are going to be so annoying. It will be like when DVD seasons of shows from the 80s and 90s came out, and people starting binge-watching series that had never been consumed in that way before, and getting really annoyed when Friends had to keep reminding people that Monica’s boyfriend was super old so that the jokes made sense to the people who hadn’t bothered to tune in the last five episodes. Eventually, people realized that [good] shows were going to mostly be binge-watched by posterity, so they started formatting them different. You got “previously on LOST/Battlestar Galactica/Spartacus” recaps right at the beginning, and then you no longer had characters awkwardly recapping things just so that the audience didn’t get completely confused. When you are binge-watching the DVD set the “previously on” can be easily skipped; some DVD sets don’t even include them as part of the autoplay, you have to specifically click on them if you want the recap.

So, what to do when it comes to books? “Previously on” doesn’t work nearly as well in written word – you can recap massive happenings with a single cool-looking shot in visual media, but a terse sentence describing events with little detail is just going to be boring, and a massive infodump right at the beginning of a book is just about the fastest way to kill the excitement of a reader before they can even begin to enjoy a novel.

Well, here is my suggestion: You publish your standard version of the novel that has all of the recaps intact for new readers or casual readers who might not remember the details of previous books. BUT THEN, a little later down the road, you publish a special “I’m-reading-the-whole-series-and-I-don’t-need-pointless-recaps” version of the book, and these editions become the official, canon version of the series.

Personally, I suggest that we take a similar approach to Brandon Sanderson. For those of you who are unfamiliar, many of Sanderson’s works (Elantris, Warbreaker, Mistborn, The Stormlight Archive) are set in a shared universe called the Cosmere, and the books have some (so far mostly very minor) characters and events that very loosely tie the different worlds and series together, presumably building to a massive, epic, universe-spanning conclusion a few decades down the road. When working on such an ambitious project (most people expect the Cosmere novels to number somewhere in the forties by the time the series is concluded), some world-building inevitably falls between the cracks no matter how meticulously you plan. Sanderson’s elegant solution to this problem came out last year in the form of a gorgeous “Tenth Anniversary Author’s Definitive Edition” of his first published novel, Elantris. Sanderson and his team went through the entire novel with a fine-tooth comb, correcting minor spelling and syntax errors that had fallen through the cracks of the first edition, and, more importantly, altering some of the events of the book that did not make technical sense within the context of the book itself, like the direction a character ran during a key scene. In addition, he also published a limited-edition run ofleather-bound copies of this new edition, full of international covers and other artwork. Sanderson has stated that he’d like to continue to publish these “Author’s Definitive Editions” as each of his novels hits its tenth anniversary, and I hope that he does continue. I think it is a really wise idea. It pays service to his biggest fans right now, in the moment, and helps to secure his legacy as an author in the long term by showing how committed he is to making sure that his worldbuilding is consistent.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if “definitive” editions like this of our beloved fantasy novels included a recap clean-up as part of the editing process?

I truly believe that doing this will benefit the long-term interests of the author, the publisher, and the public, and that it will improve the very existential nature of epic fantasy/science fiction series for the generations to come.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Recipe - Goodsagna

I call it goodsagna because it is like lasagna, except good. If you want a less inflammatory name you could call it breadsagna. If you want a super boring name you could call it garlic bread lasagna.

  • Ingredients

  • Ground sausage, 2 lbs
  • Sage
  • Crushed tomatoes, 3 big cans
  • Basil
  • Cayenne
  • Oregano
  • White sugar
  • Salt
Cheese Mix                          
  • Ricotta cheese, 16oz or so
  • Parmesan cheese - grated, not powdered, 1 1/2 cups
  • Whole milk mozzarella, grated, 16oz
  • 9 slices of provolone cheese
  • 3 eggs
Garlic Bread
  • Loaf of extra-thin-sliced white bread (Pepperidge Farm makes a good one)
  • Three sticks of butter (trust me)
  • A jar of minced garlic
  • A bunch of fresh dill, chopped up fine
  • More salt


  1. Sauce: Fry up that ground sausage with some sage. Put it in a pot. Add to the pot the tomatoes, basil, cayenne, oregano. Add sugar and salt to taste. You'll want a bunch of sugar. Like, maybe close to a cup. Nobody wants you to skimp on the sugar and make the sauce bitter and sour. If you want something bitter and sour, make broccoli rabe with fresh lemon juice or something.
  2. Cheese mix: Take out the provolone and 8oz of the Mozzarella and put it aside. Mix everything else together. Make sure they're mixed thoroughly, obviously.
  3. Garlic bread: Melt the butter with the garlic and dill. Let it simmer for a while. Take it off the burner and let it cool down. Add some salt and mix it around until it's spreadable. Spread it on the bread. Put the bread on a cookie sheet and toast it in the oven until it's crunchy.
  4. Assembly: Put down a layer of garlic bread. Cover it with a layer of sauce. Cover that with a later of cheese mix. Repeat each layer. Finally, top with a final layer of garlic bread. Spread the provolone cheese over that top layer. Sprinkle the remaining 8oz of mozzarella over the whole thing.
  5. Cover it with foil and bake it at 350 for like 25 minutes or so. Let it sit for a good ten minutes after you take it out of the oven.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Introducing Star Wars to your children - Best Viewing Order

Here is the Actual Best Order for Introducing Star Wars Canon to the Next Generation.

I specify canon because there is tons of fun AU and just unofficial Star Wars stuff that is fun for kids, like the Droids animated series, the Ewok adventures, the 2003 Clone Wars series (made by the Samurai Jack studio) and the Lego Star Wars films like "The Empire Strikes Out."

1: The Clone Wars (2008) - This is seriously great. By the time you are halfway into the first season, you will be wishing to god that the prequels had been made by these people instead of Lucas. They are exactly what we all hoped the prequels would be - the awesome adventures of Obi-wan and Anakin. You will find yourself caring about both of them, along with Padme, Count Dooku and several new characters like Ashoka and Asajj Ventress. Even Jar Jar is retconned to be somewhat less offensive. Your kids will love this show and be excited by it, and so will you. They will go into the films knowing about Anakin, Obi-Wan, R2D2, C3PO, Padme and the Clones, and it will only enhance their experience.

2: The Phantom Menace - This is a god-awful racist heap of shit, but watching Clone Wars will make you totally want to go back and see the origins, botched as it indeed was. And it ends with one of the greatest lightsaber duels of all time, so you'll at least have a high note to finish on (and a thing to keep you watching in order to get to). Your kids will probably not hate it (though they might be bored by it at times, as it is far longer than any film that boring has any right to be - If any film can be chopped up and watched 40 minutes at a time, it is this tedious piece of shit). That is ok. They are excited to finally be seeing these characters come to life, and are too young to understand how awful it is. Your job is just to grit your teeth and stay strong until the lightsaber duel.

3: Attack of the Clones - Once again, mostly shit, but your kids will be excited to finally see the Anakin and Obi-wan they remember from the Clone Wars (seriously, that beard makes a huge difference, Ewan), and now they will be less disturbed by Anakin/Padme. Though perhaps they shouldn't be.

4: A New Hope - Unless you are a terrible fucking parent who has isolated your child like a crazy Star Wars fundamentalist, your child has heard of Darth Vader. If you're lucky and careful, they might not have heard "Luke, I am you father" (they certainly haven't heard it from the films, since that line isn't actually from any of them). Either way, most kids accept it at face value when Obi-wan tells Luke that Vader killed his father. They trust Obi-wan, and they will be super sad about Anakin's death, but will totally accept it, and the awesomeness of Luke and Han, combined with the familiarity of R2 and C3PO, plus finally seeing Tarkin (who you constantly want to slap in The Clone Wars) get blown to smithereens will get their spirits up quickly enough.

5: The Empire Strikes Back - Obviously they will love this one, because it is the best. Plus, they will literally have the same reaction as Luke at Vader's Cloud City revelation. Like, they will simply not believe it at all.

6: Revenge of the Sith - Here is where you watch their little hearts break forever

7: Return of the Jedi - And then you all get to see Anakin finally redeem himself! Does he bring balance to the force? Eh, doesn't really seem like it. But still, I think that the prequels (and especially the Clone Wars) actually make RotJ a much more satisfying conclusion.


8: The Force Awakens - Obviously, this comes after. And also, Rey is totally a clone of Padme.

I haven't seen Rebels yet, so I will update this list after I watch that, and again as Disney inevitably wreaks havok on continuity with a Boba Fett film and a Han Solo film.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The #3DNC Plans of Andrew Stirling MacDonald

Every Labor Day, a great many authors and author-hopefuls embark on a mad quest - attempting to write a novel in three days. It's a sort of NaNoWriMo all compressed into one weekend of frantic, don't-stop-writing-no-matter-how-silly-it-gets work. I will be joining several of my friends this year, and I will be trying to write a complete short story, or perhaps novella. I recently read (and reviewed!) The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, and came away from the book very impressed with the way he made his city come to life. My goal with my novella is to make a part of my Noose world come to life in a comparable way. I have a few small ideas now, but I think I will be setting my story in the capitol city, following one main character and focusing on the part of the city in which he spends his time. I'm looking forward to the experience, and may publish the story here once I've edited the work.

Media Review - "The Lies of Locke Lamora"

This is my review of the first "Gentlemen Bastards" novel from Scott Lynch. They were recommended to by me someone based on my love of everything by Brandon Sanderson, and although these books might not be for every Sanderson fan, I did quite enjoy this one.

The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastard, #1)The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lynch brings a city to life in a way that few authors have. Camorr is as much a character in The Lies of Locke Lamora as any of the people inhabiting it. The book would be a fantastic read for the world-building alone, but it also weaves together a fantastic heist/revenge epic that will keep you up long after you told yourself you'd go to sleep and save the rest for tomorrow. The flashbacks and other interludes can be a little bit jarring at first, but once you get hang of the book's rhythm you'll find yourself looking forward to these extra little bits of juicy character-and-world-building.

View all my reviews

Friday, February 13, 2015

Lullaby First Draft Progress: 25 scenes to go

I'm using Scrivener to write Lullaby (software I highly recommend to anyone doing any sort of creative writing). In the program, I first outlined my manuscript-in-progress into five parts - five Issues, if you will, as though the novel were a season or an arc of a television series. Each of these issues is then broken down into three or four acts (a beginning, middle and end and sometimes a forward or afterward, depending on the issue). Each of these acts is then broken down into different scenes, which I write one at a time. I haven't decided precisely where my chapter breaks will fall yet; since this story is told entirely from one person's perspective I have a little bit more wiggle room than I do in, say, Noose. Lullaby has nearly one hundred scenes in my outline, though the number has fluctuated to accommodate changes in the story. Currently I have twenty-five scenes to write first drafts of by the end of February. It will be a challenge, but I'm confidant that I will be able to meet the challenge and I'm looking forward to have a full first-draft manuscript to begin revising in March!

In the meantime, enjoy this screencapture of the manuscript-in-progress. I hope that it will give you a general sort of idea about the process I'm using to write. I've blurred/censored out some spoilery bits and highlighted where some of the Issues are in my outline to give you an idea of how it works.

I'm having fun with the writing again! Hooray! Now I just need to buckle down and finish this draft. Two weeks to go!

Media Review: "An Unwelcome Quest"

This is my review of the third "Magic 2.0" novel from the series by Scott Meyer (best known for his webcomic "Basic Instructions"). If you haven't read the series, I highly recommend that you do so, starting with the excellent "Off to be the Wizard." The books are extremely clever science-fiction comedy in the vein of Douglas Adams, and should be read by everyone.

An Unwelcome Quest (Magic 2.0 #3)An Unwelcome Quest by Scott Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first two novels in the Magic 2.0 series were fantastic, and while I feel that "An Unwelcome Quest" did not quite measure up to the first two books, it was still an excellent read. Meyer is writing some of the cleverest, most underappreciated stuff currently in print (certainly the best current works in the niche genre of Sci-fi Comedy) and he continues to deftly build his world and characters in creative and entertaining ways. It was extremely rewarding to have a whole novels' worth of the Phillip/Jimmy dynamic that we've only gotten tantalizing glimpses of in the past, and the characters of Tyler, Gary and Roy are far more compelling now that I've gone on this journey with them. Todd was an entertaining villain, though I had a somewhat hard time adjusting from "surly teenager" Todd (that we saw in Spell or High Water and the prologue) to the "surly adult" Todd that tormented the wizards through the story. That said, Todd's interactions with Tyler were some of the best moments of the novel, and I was definitely fully on-board with adult Todd by the end.

Now for some of the issues I had: I really missed the Martin/Phillip interactions that I've grown to love over the course of the series. Splitting the characters into two groups did let us see some fun character interactions that we might not have been able to see otherwise, but I always felt that Martin/Phillip interactions were the highlights of the series, and I feel like this book suffers somewhat from their separation. I also felt like having the second group follow more-or-less in the footsteps of the first group made their journey feel a little tedious. I felt that reading the descriptions of places we've already seen and the dialog of NPCs we've already met made their story drag a bit. Finally, I was disappointed by the lack of Murphy and Miller. They were some of my favorite characters in the series, and they were sorely missed in this volume.

I really liked the ending of this book. Jimmy has become one of my favorite characters, and I especially loved the conclusion to his part of the story. I enjoyed the book overall, and I really hope that we will see more in the series.

View all my reviews

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Building with Friends (Lego Tower Bridge)

Those of you who know me well will be aware of my long and storied relationship with the best toy in history: Lego bricks. Last night my wife and I went to help my best friend Jesse and his wife in building one of the biggest, most iconic Lego sets in the modern age: The Tower Bridge (10214, 4287 pieces)

It was a very daunting task, made more so by the fact that the set was developed before Lego instituted the use of numbered bags for their larger sets. However, working in two teams to build the towers simultaneously, we ultimately succeeded in finishing our portion of the build. It was a lot of fun to watch the towers slowly take shape. I would definitely recommend this set to people who are interested in building Lego as a group project, as it is very large and has the two elements that can be worked on at the same time, which helps to cut down on waiting around for it to be your turn to build.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Creative Goals for MMXV

I'm going to post this here so that I can periodically check back and see how I'm doing throughout the year. Here are my creative goals, and a very general time frame of when I'd like to accomplish them.

February: Finish a first draft of Lullaby
March: Begin my workshop draft of Lullaby
April: Work on my workshop draft of Lullaby
May: Finish my workshop draft of Lullaby
June: Edit Lullaby, begin shopping it to agents, begin writing a stageplay*
July: Stageplay writing
August: Stageplay writing
September: Stageplay editing
October: Arrange one (or more) of my musical compositions for an ensemble
November: Record the musical composition
December: "A Christmas Carol" production with Players of the Stage

*I'm torn between two stageplays that I've done a bunch of pre-writing for. One of them is a modern take on Little Women, set in the world of fundamentalist conservative homeschooling (which bears a surprising number of parallels to the world of trandscendentalism in which the original was set) It is a coming-of-age story about making your own place in the world and choosing your own path deliberately. The other play I might work on is a science fiction story set entirely in a small shuttle. It is a small cast - perhaps only two actors, though it might be as many as four when all is said and done. It is the story of a bounty hunter and her captive, and is about the concept of trust. I'm very excited about both of these ideas, and I plan to write them both eventually, but I'm not sure yet which one I want to write first.

Further out, I have lots of other projects planned:

  • Write whichever of those stageplays I don't get to this year.
  • Write and produce a feature with my frequent collaborator Jesse Kalavoda (we're working on developing a road-trip drama picture, hopefully we'll have more news on that soon)
  • Finish writing Noose, my post-post-apocalyptic epic fantasy novel. Noose is set in North America about 200 years after a zombie apocalypse has destroyed the infrastructure of our society. The threat is mostly over, but society has developed into a more-nearly feudal state.
  • Finish writing the sequels to both Lullaby and Noose (both are currently planned as four-book series, though Lullaby could probably be squeezed into three and Noose could certainly be expanded into a larger work).
  • Write the two musicals I have on the back-burner right now. One is set in the Lullaby world. It's sort of a dystopian Grapes Of Wrath meets Finding Nemo. Something like that.
  • The other is a Arthurian musical called "Four Nights." It's designed to have four different storylines happening simultaneously (and with complimentary music) in four different rooms or areas. The storylines converge in one central location several times to progress the story, and then the scenes repeat again so that the audience is able to see each of the four stories play out in whichever order they choose. The storylines are interconnected and the order in which they are watched will have a big impact on your perception of what is really going on.
That's the list of everything I can think of off the top of my head that I'm working on right now. I'll probably also spend some time composing and recording original instrumental pieces, but right now I don't have any concrete plans for those, I mostly let them come when they feel like it.