Becoming a ruthless killer…of words

May 31, 2011 in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study by pacejmiller

It’s getting down to the business end of things.  The due date for my novel project is just around the corner and I have buckled down for the home stretch!

The novel itself will not be complete (the project only requires a certain number of words) but what I submit will have to be high quality, polished stuff.  And so I have essentially stopped drafting new chapters and am solely focused on reshaping and reworking the existing ones.

On top of that, I have to start trimming the words down to a manageable size.  I’m about 10,000 words over what I should have, and it’s going to be brutal.

Yesterday I commenced what I thought was a murderous rampage through my draft manuscript.  I deleted whole chunks, moved others, rephrased and slashed words and sentences here and there.  I thought I was on a roll.  But when I checked the word count at the end of the day, I had only cut a few hundred words!  It may have had something to do with me adding a little too much new material.

The good news is that I can simply cut entire chapters for the submission.  Find the ones that aren’t working yet and just take them right out.  Get back to them later.

The best advice I received from all the  workshopping I’ve done recently is that for comedic writing (which is what I am striving for here), the best way to go about it is to gather a whole bunch of stuff, find out what works and what doesn’t, and just keep the best bits.

For some reason I was under the assumption that brilliant comedic writers struck gold every time — and some of them probably do — but there’s bound to be certain passages that don’t work and some that work better than others.  The key is finding out which ones.  I find reading the writing out loud really helps — in identifying the strengths and weaknesses, separating the interesting from the boring, and assisting with the rhythm and comedic timing of the jokes and punchlines.

Oh well, better get back to it.  Time is running out.

China DVD Movie Blitz: Part I

May 29, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

As documented on this blog, I visited China a couple of months ago.  Apart from the Great Wall, China is also very well known for its DVD stores.  I visited a couple of these while I was there, and they are amazing.  For some reason, these stores stocked all the latest movies and TV shows some that weren’t even out at the cinemas yet!  And they were all perfectly packaged.  No wonder they say the future of the world lays in China’s hands.

I bought a few to sample and they were the real deal.  Here are my reviews.

The Warrior’s Way (2010)

I saw the trailer for this on the Internets and was intrigued because it was one of those Asian martial arts fantasy films with a Western backdrop.  Led by Korean ‘superstar’ Jang Dong-gun, the film also featured the likes of Hollywood stars such as Kate Bosworth (whom I hadn’t seen since Superman Returns), Geoffrey Rush (talk about a man willing to be in absolutely anything) and Danny Huston.

I can’t really remember much except that the Korean dude was some super swordsman that went to America with a baby, and there were lots of sword/gun fights.  I didn’t expect much from it but I did expect it to be slightly more fun than it was.  Visually it was impressive, even more fantastical than films such as House of Flying Daggers, The Promise and Hero, but like those films the engagement factor was pretty low.

2.5 stars out of 5

Waiting for ‘Superman’ (2010)

This was an interesting documentary about the crippled education system in America.  It was expectedly scathing when it came to public education and the quality of teachers, but for me the most compelling part was watching how various families pinned all their hopes on their child getting into a particular charter school through a student lottery.

I had no idea what charter schools were (basically an alternative to public schools and can have their own system of rules and regulations that hold both students and teachers more accountable for their performance) and I was fascinated by this idea of a child’s entire future riding on luck.  If they get into a charter school, their future looks bright.  If they don’t, they’re stuffed.  That was how the film conveyed it anyway.  As a result, he lottery scenes towards the end of the film had me riveted.

It’s not an exceptional documentary (too many numbers and slow bits) but it’s an important one.

3.25 stars out of 5

The Killer Inside Me (2010)

I’m trying to think of a good feature film with Jessica Alba (in a significant role) that was any good.  If Sin City doesn’t count (because she was hardly in it) then I can’t think of any.

The Killer Inside Me was barely okay.  It stars Casey Affleck as some sick psycho and Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson as the women in his life.  It’s a stylishly shot film set in the 1950s (I think) and has some confronting moments that are brutally violent, but I didn’t get a connection with any of the characters. It was 109 minutes but felt like 3 hours.

PS (SPOILERS): I read somewhere that the film was criticised for being misogynistic, which is stupid.  Watching Alba and Hudson getting the crap beaten out of them was one of the less boring parts of the film.

2 stars out of 5

And Soon the Darkness (2010)

I always wondered why Odette Yustman (star of Cloverfield and The Unborn) was not a bigger star.  Unfortunately, And Soon the Darkness will definitely not make her a bigger star.

Yustman and Amber Heard are two young American girls backpacking in Argentina, in an area where young women have gone missing.  Yada, yada, yada, they get in trouble, stuff happens and people die.

I suppose there were a few entertaining moments in this film (which also stars Karl Urban as the ‘is he the bad guy or not?’ guy) but it was impossible to like either of the annoying girls whose stupidity and lack of common sense made me want to see something bad happen to them.  But then again, if they weren’t so moronic none of the things in this film would have happened.

2 stars out of 5

Book Review: ‘Room Service’ by Frank Moorhouse

May 27, 2011 in Book Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

I’m a big fan of comic writings and I have been reading a fair bit recently because I am trying to write a comedic novel myself.  One of the recommendations from my supervisor was Frank Moorhouse, a gifted Australian writer I can certainly learn from.

I picked up one of the thinnest Moorhouse books I could find from the library, Room Service, a collection of short stories and essays first published in 1985 and predominantly featuring Moorehouse’s alter ego, Francois Blase.

Room Service is seriously funny stuff, particularly the first few pieces.  Blase is a quirky, neurotic, somewhat disturbed individual who gets himself into bizarre and compromising situations.  In many ways he reminds me of a less abrasive, classier George Constanza or Larry David, both of whom I adore.

The first piece, for example, is all about how Blase, not wanting to pay for ice that is always half melted by the time it gets to his hotel room, leaves his beers outside the window and then suspects the hotel staff of purposely altering the beers’ position so that he will accidentally knock them off the ledge.

There are many other hilarious pieces, such as one about Australian vs Chinese culture and stereotypes and another satirical piece on the love affair between Australian men and sheep throughout the ages.

Each piece is self-contained (and I discovered at the end that most of them had already been published elsewhere separately) and crafted with a keen eye for detail and punchlines that you don’t always expect.  Moorhouse has this uncanny ability to be self-deprecating while retaining a dead seriousness about his justifications and world views.

What impressed me the most was his ability to create so many varied pieces, many with completely different styles, but somehow making them all fit together in this tight little book (around 174 pages).

That said, I wasn’t captivated by every piece.  As often is the case with collections and anthologies, there were a few a simply didn’t get or enjoy, and there were some others that didn’t sustain my interest the whole way through.

3.5 out of 5

Editing Your Own Work Is Hard Work!

May 25, 2011 in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study by pacejmiller

I’m up to the stage where I have just completed what is essentially a first draft of my masters project novel.  It’s not the whole novel but at 25,000 words it’s already substantially longer than what it needs to be for the purposes of the course (which I think is 15,000).

I am meeting my supervisor again shortly, and as usual, I am sure there will be more amazing suggestions and insights forthcoming.  The task now is to try and shape this first draft into something awesome.

Easier said than done.

I don’t mind editing my own work, not when it’s just copyediting — ie, fix the typos, the spelling, the grammar, etc — but when it comes to major overhauls and structural changes, I just want to bury my head in the sand and hope it miraculously fixes itself.

To me, editing your own work is the hardest part of writing.  Unfortunately it’s something that has to be done.  There are no magic bullets.  Just need to keep trying different things, testing various styles and combinations, and persevering until I get it right.  Well, either that or until the deadline, which is only a couple of weeks away.

Eek.  After that maybe I can get a real editor.

Hangzhou’s Leifeng Pagoda

May 23, 2011 in China, Travel by pacejmiller

We visited what turned out to be one of my favourite places in Hanghzou on our second day, Leifeng Pagoda.

We hired a taxi driver for the day and it was the first place he took us to.  We wondered whether we should just stand outside and take a couple of photos or pay the entry fee and go in to take a look around.  We went with the latter, and it was the right decision.

A lovely little pond by the parking lot

The Leifeng Pagoda that stands in Hangzhou now is not the original, which was built in 975AD but largely burnt down by Japanese pirates during the Ming Dynasty.  Apparently, superstitions about the power of the pagoda led to people stealing bricks from what was left of it, and eventually the whole thing just collapsed in 1924.  It wasn’t until the turn of the millennium that the government decided to build a new one over the old foundations.

The new Leifeng Pagoda is very tourist friendly.  For starters, there is an escalator that you can take up to the base of the pagoda.  I had never seen escalators at a pagoda or temple or similar attraction before.

Every tourist attraction should have these

Once inside, you can take an elevator to one of the five floors of the pagoda.  One of the floors shows visitors the remnants of the old foundations, which for some reason I found kind of spooky.  There were rumours that the pagoda was used as a mausoleum and an excavation unearthed many treasures.

Potential mausoleums give me the creeps...

Several of the other floors allowed visitors to step outside and enjoy the panoramic views of the West Lake from as high as 72 metres up.  My favourite floor, however, was the one that retold the legendary Chinese fairytale of the White Snake in amazing carvings.

West Lake from the pagoda

From what I could gather, it’s about some dude who falls in love with a woman who is actually some kind of snake demon (bad eyesight?).  Eventually the snake demon is pinned under the Leifeng Pagoda by a super monk.  End of story.

In short, if you’re ever in Hanghzou, checking out Leifeng Pagoda would be a pretty good idea.  Escalators, elevators, great view and a fascinating story told in carvings.  Not bad at all.