Pegg and Frost and Wright: The World’s End

Let’s make no bones about it: Hot Fuzz is the best Pegg/Frost/Wright film. Yes, it is. You might think Shaun of the Dead is, and I respect the parody high points and just general cluelessness of Shaun, but by the time Wright reaches Hot Fuzz, he has parody down to a science. And the ending between the two films? Honestly, no contest. I’ll pay to see elderly British villagers turn into hardcore criminals every time.

The World’s End is not as good as either of Wright’s previous efforts, but it’s not bad. What is interesting about The World’s End is it’s much more act-y than the other two films. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz treat characters at best as a genre nod, at worst as parody, and the characters exist only to serve their function in the film (hero, idiot, villain, zombie, etc). In The World’s End, the story is a personal one: five friends from grammar school get back together 25 years later to do a pub crawl, and the film is about their relationships. Heck, the first half an hour is all about relationships, until the strange blue paint incident in the bathroom at about the 4th pub. It’s funny, but the film is much more like, say, The Big Chill or Peter’s Friends than its predecessors.

This changes radically as the film takes on a fantastic edge. It not only is a film about the epic journey of Gary King, the low rent who wants to relive his glory days of youth with his friends, who have all moved on as adults (and don’t we all know a Gary King), but it is also a film about what it means to grow up and what friends owe each other. Yes, against the backdrop of alien invasion. But still, that’s a day at work for a SF/F writer. Or it should be.

So, while I recognize the craft in the other films and find it better, I appreciate the effort of this film as Wright stretches as a director.

The actors are wonderful. Pegg and Frost completely switch personas, as in this film Frost is the one who is competent and real, while Pegg is the blow off. Other strong actors such as Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, and Eddie Marsan round out the group of friends nicely

My only complaint is this: while the ending grows organically out of the story, it is such a radical change in tone, and contains a great deal of exposition. It is truly incongruous.

Get a chance to check it out if you’re a fan of the other two films.

Writer Readers and Reader Readers

As expected, things are finally beginning to click on the new book. Having writing time and being hot to write the darned thing help. I’m not saying that I am still not very much in the first draft stage. I am laying pipe. BUT, I am beginning to see the story that this can be under there, and that makes me excited.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about recently is recapturing the feel of the original stories, that Shirley Jackson/ Edward Gorey kind of vibe. I’m not there, and that will take an overlay. But after thinking about it, I’ve decided to pull a Patrick Rothfuss. I’m expanding my pool of reader readers.

What I understand from Rothfuss at a convention is that there are two types of readers that can help you out. There are writer readers, where your writing peers give you advice and suggestions on how to improve the craft of the book. And there are reader readers, who are looking at the book experimentially. It is awfully hard for a writer reader to be a reader reader. Heck, even with books I like and can escape into, I’m looking at them with my writer brain. If you don’t believe me, see yesterday’s post.

With this in mind, then, I actively solicited some very good readers from a few years ago when I began posting thinly disguised Klarion fiction on a sight that welcomed fan fiction. And they’ve agreed. So, that brings my pool of reader readers to five. If Mark is still in, I suspect six. I want to test drive this story to see if it’s a train that they can’t get off.

My plan at the moment is to finish up the first part and leave it rough, and then write as far as I can based on the fallout of the first quarter. When I run out of momentum there, I will pen the ending. Then I will look at the tent poles I plan to have in the books, and write the rest of the scenes accordingly. I will be revising the manuscript after that, deeply and thoroughly. That is the revision I will begin sharing with my readers.

Once more I am engaged with process and the spirit of the book. Whether published or no, this I believe increasingly matters to the exclusion of all else. I don’t know if I’ll be lucky enough to get published or not, but I am determined that this will not be my fault if that is the case.

All right. The day job beckons.

Runaway Train

It took me a very long time, comparatively speaking, to read the Young Miles omnibus by Lois McMaster Bujold. I enjoyed the omnibus so much that it made me interested in reading more of the series, so I’ve been cruising the book stores for used paper backs, and I’ve been hoarding them away for down the line, dutifully, in my desk row of books to be read. Few books skip the line. Books for the book club and books by friends do, but otherwise I chug along. I’ll get there eventually.

It took me a long time. There was a lot to do at work, my own writing, and just plenty of social activity to be had. But time is a relative thing. The other night, I started in on last year’s World Con books. Like I said, about a year. So, I began reading Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig last week.

The epiphany? I figured out why I personally, and perhaps you, other writers, need rejections. I’m not so sure Chuck Wendig would appreciate the gift he’s given me, but let’s unpack that.

The thing about Wendig’s book? It’s sick, evil, twisted and wrong, but I couldn’t stop reading the book! I read the book preferentially to all things. I dug through my stack and found the sequel, also published at the same time, and began it immediately. I wrote dutifully on my own material yesterday, and finished off a hunk of Wendig last night.

As I was working with my writing group on Skype last week, I said that this was the problem. This is why my books aren’t being published. Wendig’s book is a tension juggernaut. Ain’t nothing stopping this book. It moves forward like a bus in Vietnam (Did you know in Vietnam, there is no word for brakes in the language?) My book stops and starts. There are good action scenes in my book, but there are also quieter scenes, and there’s some tension in those scenes, but not enough, perhaps, to keep a reader in the game from start to finish.

I have read other books like this. Machine by Jennifer Pelland comes to mind this year. Fair Coin by E.C. Myers. These are books where you sit down, and you reluctantly leave the book. What is it about these books, and Wendig’s that move you forward?


1. Action. There’s a great deal of plottiness–things that happen that the heroes have to address.

2. Characters. You want to ride along with the mains. You can identify with them or their problems, and you want them to succeed, or to change.

3. Relationship tension. If you check out Blackbirds, you’ll see that Wendig pairs Miriam, his psycho unstable main up with a mellow, nice guy, shakes that up in a martini blender, and watches the jumble that comes out. Ethan’s problem in Fair Coin is that he’s displaced dimensionally, and each new incarnation of his friends becomes a situation he has to negotiate. And well, you just have to read Machine. A lot of that relationship tension comes from who the main was versus who she is becoming.

4. The rising action builds into the character’s relationship tension. The scaffolding and the way the characters and the plot are all interconnected make the reader focused on seeing what happens next. Miriam is in a situation. She reacts to it, and something happens, and then that builds a new situation, and she reacts to it, and something new happens, and so it goes. Like a snake eating its tail.


None of this is stuff aspiring writers don’t know. But newsflash for me, and perhaps you. Your book may have a great idea and interesting characters, but how does the whole thing interlock? How active are these characters? How much do they affect the universe around them? How much tension is there in the relationships around them?

Pelland and Wendig are helped by having some seriously broken main characters. Myers’ main is not broken, but he is a classic young hero who is more resourceful than many. This isn’t about likeability or about brokenness. It’s about tension and the main interfacing with the plot. Forward movement.

All right. I can see it. I understand it. Now, can I do it? Because Abby Rath is a good book, but it’s no out of control train. You probably could put that book down. How do I write you a book you can’t put down? How do I put you on a runaway train? Until I figure this out, I expect the rejections will continue.

This is why you should study the successful art of those that have come before you.

Personal; Icons of the Future!; Weekend Antics

Happy Friday morning.

It’s been a wild ride here at the college this week, constant student need married with faculty tension. Wednesday was a low point. On Wednesday my boss was having a hard day and she yelled at me as I was on my way to the doctor’s. So, that happened, but I sent her some flowers because she needed something in that day to brighten her up. I received a very gracious written apology and a tearful oral one the next day. It’s been a hard few weeks on everyone for a variety of reasons, but I still believe that Allison is a class act, and you know, I wouldn’t want her job, and I admire her for doing it.

The doc gave me all sorts of useful thyroid information, which I’ve already posted about. And I also checked about another difficulty I’ve been having since my return from jungle climes. We won’t talk about it, except to say that samples have been gathered for The Test That Must Not Be Named for The Condition We Won’t Discuss. That really made my Wednesday awesome too.

Two more blows came early in the week. One of the fulls I had out was a no. That seems to be about the highest I can climb at the moment, and my store of inherent optimism was used up dealing with work. Financially, we’ll be fine, but we paid for some tree work, and have yet to pay for new tires and some serious roof repair. My glamorous diamond buying lifestyle is done for a bit. You can see why I want to sell a book!


But yesterday was awesome. I felt so good about turning the work situation positive. I turned in all my lab stuff. I have a wonderful husband with a sympathetic ear who took good care of me Wednesday. I chatted with writer friends last night. I realize that regardless of the outcome, I am again writing a story I enjoy.

And then there’s next year’s Icon. I should tell you about that.

Mind, this year’s Icon is pretty cool. All this action will be mid-November. We have Greg Frost, Nancy Kress, Jack Skillingstead, Jim Hines, Joe Haldeman, and Ellen Datlow. It’s like a serious quorum of SF/F from the past, present and future, right here in Iowa!

Besides our guests, we have some awesome YA and local writers coming for a big signing Thursday at Barnes and Noble (including yours truly. I’ll have some Hulk Hercules and Cucurbital 3 with me). On Friday, before the con gets rolling, we have an author event for high school kids. We Paradise Icon people will use Friday for workshopping (we are five strong, and hoping for more of you to join us!). And then all sorts of awesome con stuff and panels on the next days.

All I can say about next year at this point is that we have confirmed Jim Hines again as our toastmaster. Jim, I can’t say enough how much you bring to our con, and as Mindbridge President I am grateful we’ve been able to get you back for three years running! I have a feeling this gig is yours for as long as you want it.

I’m also very excited to say that we have writing super couple Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch confirmed as our Writing Guests of Honor. Wow. That excites me very much. I mean, two of the hottest SF/F writers in the US right now. Not too shabby, little Iowa con. Adding Jim in, three of the hottest SF/F writers in the US right now. Not too shabby indeed. And…we’re still working on our artist guest. The name that’s being tossed around right now is a great one, also very hot, and one of my faves, so we’ll see how that works out.

No, it is NOT my fault that the guests seem to be writers I am friendly with. I don’t lean on the con comm as MB pres. I just have a giant list of suggestions, and things seemed to go my way. I have been very lucky.


This weekend, Bryon and I are taking some large boxes of collectibles up to the Minneapolis Geek Society in preparation for their Geek garage sale. Yes, we are old enough that some of the geeky things we once thought were cool we now think someone else might enjoy better. That’ll be seven boxes of stuff we won’t have to move later. I am hoping we can winnow more, and not necessarily the geeky stuff.

It doesn’t help, however that I too have sunk into toy collecting, and that my Monster High students commandeer almost a whole room of their own. Curse you, plastic mongers!


I intend to have a fun afternoon writing. I hope you have a great weekend. Tell your friends about both Icons. Better yet, come. What else were you going to do with your November anyway?

The Care and Maintenance of One’s Thyroid

Okay…so I went to the doctor today to ask all those kaboodles of thyroid questions I had. Here’s what I found out.

1. Take your thyroid pill at night. You can avoid just about every possible ridiculous thyroid medicine interaction if you take it at night. Mind, you should stop eating about 2 hours before you take it. And mind, there aren’t really any interactions.

2. You should NOT go on a low fiber diet. New research says high fiber is good…for about everything. So, unless you have other reasons to avoid fiber, don’t do this for your thyroid.

3. Similarly, there is no negative interaction between Birth Control Pills and thyroid meds.

4. Calcium, magnesium, etc, etc, etc: Keep taking them.

5. Drink your milk. Eat your cereal. Stay healthy.

6. You can have soy. No, really.

7. Probably I need to look elsewhere for the weight gain I’ve recently experienced. Doctor says eat less. Oookay. Maybe I need measured iron rations or something.

Anyway, that’s the report. I know some of you fellow thyroid groupies out there were curious.

Folklore Influence in the Novels of Will Alexander

One night, in a hotel room in Vietnam after a long day of digging dirt and making concrete, I cracked open Will Alexander’s Goblin Secrets. When I finished, I said, “Man, does this guy know his folklore!” Will and I met up at Convergence, and I heard him read an excerpt of Ghoulish Song (I’m getting there!) and I thought, “Man, does this guy know his folklore again!!!!”

So, Will was kind enough to answer some questions about folklore in his writing. And here they are!


Tamago: So, how’d you get to know so much about folklore anyway?

Will: This is probably my mother’s fault. She’s a gifted reader of bedtime stories—she does all the voices—and most of those early, formative stories were folk and fairy tales of one kind or another. I built on that foundation by reading more of the stuff whenever I could.

Even when I wasn’t seeking out such material deliberately, I notice, looking back, that most of my favorite books and authors draw from folkloric source material. There’s Tolkien, obviously. Jane Yolen is known as America’s Hans Christian Anderson. Ursula K. Le Guin often writes from an anthropological perspective. Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn is a metafictional fairy tale, even more so than The Princess Bride, and it includes inside jokes on the study of ballads. Lloyd Alexander and Susan Cooper both make magnificent use of Welsh and English lore. These are the authors that helped shape my young brain, the ones I sought out to help me decide what sort of person I wanted to become.

Later I studied folklore, theater, and theatrical lore at Oberlin College. That helped, too.

Tamago: Folklore can be a little spooky, and yet you are using it in children’s books. Why do you think your younger readers can handle it?

Will: I find that kids can handle this particular kind of unsettling story far better than adults. As adults we fool ourselves into thinking that we understand the world, how it works, and what we can reasonably expect as we move through it. Kids know better. They are more practiced at coping with things that they don’t understand, and at intuiting rules no one has yet articulated. They have to be.

Kids also need unsettling stories as vaccinations against unsettling events. They’ll be defenseless otherwise. We have a responsibility to tell them unsettling stories. (Tamago: My favorite quote in this article!)

I’m with Sherman Alexie on this. Here’s a quote from his WSJ editorial on the #YAsaves controversy (which similarly wondered whether young readers are too steeped in dark material): “I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons… that will help them fight their monsters.”

Patrick Ness said much the same thing: “If you read what teenagers write, it’s much, much darker than anything a young adult author would publish… I don’t think that’s a bad thing. That’s the age you’re reckoning with stuff. And I think that if you’re a YA writer who isn’t engaging with that on some level then you’re leaving them to fend for themselves.”

I’m not a YA writer. My audience is younger. But the principle is the same. Middle Grade readers haven’t hit puberty yet, but they can see it coming. They need to gather resources for the transformations ahead. Stories help.

Continue reading “Folklore Influence in the Novels of Will Alexander”

Killing Myself Softly

The day job has been stressful recently. No two ways about it. Last week was one of the toughest weeks we’ve had in a long time. The registration style of our students and the policy our college has to cancel classes are in great discord. We cope, but this fall will break all records of previous falls, and we would have more students if we had room for them. I understand that the college cannot be psychic about enrollment, but I also think that the college is unwise to adapt the one size fits all approach that we are adopting. I have spent a great deal of the last three weeks being querulous, mostly to my immediate superior, who generally runs interference with the college regarding administrative policies, but was towing the party line this time (for a variety of good reasons.) However, my job is to stand up for the students and teachers who serve us as best I can, as fairly as I can. Having the protection of a union enables me to be outspoken about these issues, which is a luxury my boss does not have. Not that I ever wanted to be dean of the English department, but I suspect I have now officially created a glass ceiling for myself. I am not a team player, nor am I a realistic budgeter. I would rather lose money and serve more students. Idealism at 48? Pretty much yes. I understand concerns about money. I feel, however, that with these numbers, we *can* support these students.

I just need to get them to come in earlier. A project, somehow, for next year.


It has been stressful, and my weight and my constant need to sleep show it. I am worried about the interaction between my new thyroid meds and the other meds I take, as well as what I eat, but Dr. Banks and I will sit down to converse about that on Wednesday. However, after dropping three pounds by virtue of eating sanely this weekend, I’m pretty sure my weight gain is *not* due to new meds. Stress tends to make me want to eat. I have been exercising religiously, so I don’t die of a heart attack, so perhaps that has kept matters from being even worse. This means my knee acts up more, but only in the limping stage, not the brace stage.

You might remember that I had thought about becoming just a teacher again a couple of years ago, after a botched attempt at getting a full-time administration position made out of the job I do. That…didn’t work out, and I have struck a compromise between my writing time and my teaching time. There are, however, these times of intense stress and trouble shooting, and I feel my life force being sucked out of my fingertips as I type and type and type…I know that there will be more take home work as a full time teacher, so you know, it’s a trade off. What I need is a solid meditative technique to wind myself down when the going gets tough. But often, during the year, after things have settled down, my job is pleasant, so I am only killing myself softly at the ends and beginnings of semesters.

Health concerns can always change plans. How is your blood pressure? Your digestive systems? These are things that I will be watching as I age and as this intense work continues.

So, now, gotta do some more stuff. Make some phone calls, check in with a class, teach some students some lab material. All in a day’s work. Plus the unexpected.

Next: an awesome interview with Will Alexander. You will see.

Putting Yourself Out There

And now…it’s time to channel my inner Midwesterner.

Well, there’s this.

Heroes of Cosplay

Now, from a strictly academic, anthropological point of view, I find this very, very interesting. The SyFy channel gets to look at a geek subculture, and examine how those people interact with each other. There’s a competitive side to cosplay culture which SyFy emphasizes with all the vehemence of the average reality show. The people that have been chosen have been chosen for a variety of reasons, but I suspect one of the reasons is that they put themselves out there.

I know one of those cosplayers personally, and while we have always had pleasant interactions, she has a reputation for seizing opportunity. I believe you may well need to do that to, say, land a gig on a show like this one. There are lots of people who are the squeaky wheel, and they get the grease. I know writers who have followed editors around conventions, or ditched lesser friends to talk to famous authors, or former fan writers who glom onto successful writers to piggyback on their fame on their way to their own careers (Carolyn, that is so NOT why I enjoy hanging out with you!). And, maybe you’ve got to do do this if you want to get to other places. Maybe you’ve got to put yourself out there.

I have a friend, C. C is a beautiful woman whom I think of as the Greta Garbo of Cosplay. Her body is natural still (yes, some cosplayers do have body work done for a variety of reasons). She spends most of her con time in her room. She comes out with a bunch of guys who act as body guards because she is very shy. And when she is done with her costuming, she goes away. C comes to costuming for different reasons than the Heroes of Cosplay, clearly. She is in it because she likes costumes. She is there because she wants to wear pretty clothes. C even likes competing in contests. I’m sure C could tell you all the reasons she is in it, but the definite thing she is not in it for? To put herself out there.

Myself, I liked the attention for costumes well made, and I have made some hi tech, pretty ones. I was once the pinup girl of cosplay (me and H-Chan and Alicia-chan) before we knew what that was. Back before reality tv and so forth. No one even knows who I am today. I only have the pictures to prove that I was once a cosplay queen. I remember the first time the cosplayer I know showed up at a con wearing an average costume. That’s where we all start out, at the average level. We work to get better.

I liked some of the attention I received, but like my friend C, I too did not do cosplay to be a star. That’s sort of like being famous for eating the most pies or something. I never thought celebrity was possible for such a geeky thing. And eventually, we learned that the reason people won awards at costume contests was because people had awards to give, no more, no less. The best didn’t always win. We won a lot, but not always. And we were often baffled at what won and what didn’t. Like every other hobby. Sounds familiar regarding publishing, yes?

So…drawing attention to yourself is a distinctly not Midwestern thing to do. “Might be all right fer some” is the phrase I hear in my mind. “Can’t stop you. It’s a free country.” But does this mean that those who position themselves for attention are doing something wrong? What chance do those of us who aren’t grabbing for attention possibly have? Let’s unpack that. I can’t judge people. I can only say what makes me comfortable. BUT my culture (Midwestern American) does make me uncomfortable around people who position themselves for attention. We think of that as manipulative. Other nastier terms come readily to mind. I disapprove, and I try hard not to judge, but I have years of cultural conditioning working against me.

Yet, while there is no magic bullet, sometimes the person that gets somewhere is the person that puts themselves out there. Not always, mind. I won a special teaching award in grad school. I remember talking to all my bosses who thought I should nominate myself. I told them I couldn’t do that. So, both of my supervisors nominated me for the award. They knew I was doing a good thing, and maybe they thought my modesty became me. I realize, though, that in today’s celebrity driven culture that may well be the exception.

To my way of thinking, I would feel strange doing what some others do readily. But then again, I need to be me, and do what makes me comfortable. This blog, or friendly professional behavior is about all I can manage. The rest will have to take care of itself.

As Jim Hines often puts it, don’t be that guy. Putting yourself out there seems like being that guy to me. Your mileage may vary.

The Thinking Season

I wrote the title for this post this morning at 8. After three hours of student interview tests and one conversation with a new teacher, I am returning to it. Yes, I know. You want my life.


School is nigh upon us! And thank heavens for that! I may be one of the few teachers out there whose life is substantially less busy once the classroom antics ramp up again. Right now it’s all about placing students and troubleshooting issues. There will be some of that next week, but less of it. Much less of it. Then I can settle down into teaching my classes and being a sympathetic listener, dabbling at some administrative projects, and writing a course in fire science English.


My planned writing time will come back. And how I will welcome it. The outline of my book is pretty complete for the first and last quarter of it, and I just want to sit down and hammer that out. Then yes, I will paste it together with an interesting middle, let it rest like a loaf of bread, and come back to it when it’s risen. I plan to have this book’s rough draft done by the end of the year. I do not plan to have this book done by the end of the year. I think it’s more like I will have this book done by about June of next year. Given what I know of my time and circumstances, that seems reasonable.


Of course, I thought I would make 200 pounds by the end of the year, and I think that may be out of reach now. I started on thyroid meds this summer, and I’ve gained about 8 pounds without changing my habits substantially. I will see the doctor next week, and see what he advises. I have questions about thyroid and diet anyway. The internet makes one uncertain of any information, you know. But at the time I wrote the 200 pound goal, I was only 10 pounds from it. So, circumstances.

Life is an interesting thing. As I age, I learn that flowing with life seems more wise than thrashing against it when I cannot change the flow of the river. In my youth, when I was taking 19 credits a semester in college to graduate in three years, I would have finished that book this year, by God, or starved myself to make a goal weight (500 calories a day! Woot!) Now? Phhhttt.

But look! My goals have revised, not disappeared, and that’s important too. My philosophy about books is I write until I think it’s ready. I guesstimate that until June is what it’s going to take, this time. And my goal for health is to continue to fight the fight, but figure out what’s getting in the way of doing that and acting upon it. Reaching goals is important, but I stopped living in the future a few years back. I can wait for my flying car. I want to enjoy the journey rather than rushing to goals. I think that’s anti-American, but there it is. Still, setting realistic goals and getting there, that’s a good thing.

As I re-enter the thinking season, the ritual in fall when teachers really feel the year starts anew, I will do what I can to control my destiny and make what I want happen. I hope that you reach your goals and dreams too.

My Fur is Glossy, My Eyes are Bright

I’ve talked some about my own anxiety and depression before here at Writer Tamago, and I feel very fortunate that I’ve been lucky enough to have these problems in a very minor way, and have them controlled with minor medication. I know many people who have these issues to varying degrees, but you know, there’s someone involved in my life who I’ve overlooked for a long time, who has been very uneasy to the point that she’s lost hair and has a personality that vacillates at the drop of a hat.

That someone is my cat Sekhmet. We’ve just recently started giving her kitty prozac. The difference is phenomenal in just one short month.

Continue reading “My Fur is Glossy, My Eyes are Bright”