The housing market is worse than I thought

Judging by this ad at least:
It may just be me, but dancing skeletons do not fill me with the urge to refinance. They fill me with the urge to stock up on canned goods, toilet paper, duct tape and shotgun shells.

Chronologically Incorrect Storytelling

I just finished watching the anime The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi in the original broadcast order, which renders it the most non-linear TV show I’ve ever seen outside of Lost. Only two pairs of shows in the 14-episode series follow each other chronologically. And it works, not just on a narrative level, but thematically with the low-key but extremely surreal nature of the show.

It lead me to thinking about the nature of chronology in storytelling. It is something that beginning writers are often explicitly told not to screw around with. Everyone, I think, has been told by someone (usually they’re trying to be helpful) to NEVER use a flashback. Of course, that’s somewhat bogus information, akin to telling a three-year old to NEVER touch the stove. Right now they’re only going to hurt themselves, but when they grow up, they’ll have to cook themselves dinner.

So the whole array of frame stories, flashbacks, braided narratives can be filed under “advanced techniques, use with caution” along with dialect, second person POV, unreliable narrators, and unsympathetic protagonists. Nothing wrong with them, they’re just easy to screw up.

However, both Lost and Suzumiya Haruhi show how to use the technique well. First thing, always ground your audience in space and time before commencing a narrative in a new time period. Lost does this both with a contrast in settings and a musical sting, Suzumiya Haruhi begins each episode with narration placing us in a specific time during the school year.

Another good practice, if you’re flipping back and forth, is to carry narrative threads from one sequence to the next sequence that follows chronologically. In almost every Lost episode we see this happening, both the Island narrative and the Off-Island narrative move forward in time as the episode progresses, and it also spans episodes such as this year’s storyline showing Jack’s disintegration after he leaves the Island. With Suzumiya Haruhi the narrative (in the broadcast sequence) often jumps across an episode, where a cliffhanger will be picked up after an intervening episode that happens later or earlier, the nature of a cliffhanger helping maintain the momentum of the suspended storyline— much as US TV uses season finales to carry over a summer hiatus.

Most important, both use a non-linear chronology to build tension toward a climax. Both this season of Lost and Suzumiya Haruhi are narrative spirals, essentially circling around to a climactic event that happens, chronologically, in the middle of the narrative. This can be a very effective technique when used well, since the importance of the climax builds not only on our knowledge of what led to it, but our knowledge of its consequences.

Spammed.

NOTE: This only applies to Blogger, not WordPress.

I just got comment-spammed, so I’m switching on the word verification in the comments.
And, BTW, if you post something with the name “winlotto” I’m probably going to delete it no matter how “nice” you say my blog is.

Up and running.

Well I’ve now got my shiny new blog/website up and running. I haven’t officially changed sites yet, but it’s going well enough to allow people to surf on over for a test drive. Stop by and let me know what you think. The url (for now) is www.sandrewswann.com/blog.

Everybody Polka

Warning: Cognitive dissonance ahead.


Continuing with the Rammstein theme, proof that the Germans and the Japanese are up to something again. . .


Blog Update

I am working hard on the new site, pulling over the Blogger entries as needed. The main time-sink in getting the thing ready is pulling over the old home-page. I didn’t realize how much content was sitting there, all of which I’m trying to integrate into the new WordPress site. There’re at least two pages (a home page and an excerpt page) for each book, and several complicated interrelationships that require me to touch every page and iron out the links. Upside: it will help me maintain a consistent look for the whole mass of data. Downside: the whole headache of changing the URLs for an established pair of sites. That’s a mess any way you cut it. I will probably have to keep the old pages up indefinitely just to house redirects to the new site.

Along with the new site, and a new look, I will also be changing the blog’s name. There are a number of reasons for it. The site’s no longer going to be “just a blog.” It will house all the professional data you’d expect on a web-savvy author site— data on books, bibliographies, contact info for me, my agent, my publishers, upcoming appearances, books and so on, sample chapters and such, and anything else that might come up in the future. (podcasting, book trailers, who knows?) Secondly, “Off the Pink” is a very particular reference that only applies to a particular series from one of my personas, and I need a more general name that’s still reflective of my work and all my writerly personas. The name I’m pondering at the moment is “Genrewonk.” It still might change before my new web presence goes live, but I am sort of attached to it.

Here’s a sneak peek at the new site. It’s still unfinished, but I’ll start posting links to it when I think it’s reached the level of a “public beta.”

Iron Man: how to make a superhero movie right

I just saw Iron Man and, IMO it is probably one of the best superhero adaptations made since Superman. It could have gone so very, very, wrong. We have a prolonged origin story, the driven hero with personal demons, the avuncular villian we see coming a mile away, a political subtext about weapons proliferation combined with the obligatory scenes of the hero making things go boom. . . Just think of what a mess this would be if Michael Bay was involved.

First of all, while we get the inevitable superhero origin, Iron Man handles it as an integral part of the story. The origin and development of the suit is an integral part of the movie’s plot, the inciting incident of Iron Man’s creation is also the inciting incident of the story that is resolved with the climax. (Superman was slightly different in this respect, as it was structured like a biopic rather than an action movie.) The superhero genre has many examples of origins clumsily shoehorned into some other story, Daredevil being the most egregious example I can think of.

Second, while Tony Stark could have been played as a self-righteous emo supertwit, we get Robert Downey Jr. playing a nuanced and very credible performance. He is a reckless, self-involved playboy who has a near literal change of heart after a period of (PG-13) torture and imprisonment, but his change in attitude is believable. We clearly see that this guy is the same reckless, self-involved genius he was before. Just he’s now going to fix the problem.

Third, the politics. Dicey thing, especially in an action/superhero move, to tackle things like weapons proliferation (Case in point, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace). When the main character starts blowing things up, he can lose some credibility on those points. Iron Man actually is smart enough to take a pragmatic view. Tony Stark is not against weapons, just weapons in the wrong people’s hands. He is quite content to deploy flame throwers, missiles and any other ordinance at the bad guys. Agree or disagree, it is perfectly consistent with his character. Especially when he takes the idea of non-proliferation to the logical extreme, he’s the only one who gets the suit.

Combine that with the fact the writers could pull off wry humor without losing respect for the characters, they treated the material seriously but not so much to give off any weird übergeek vibes, and while they stepped in the occasional cliché, they didn’t track it all over the carpet.

All in all, this movie is made of win.

Apparently the books I sent to Iraq were a waste. . .

At least according to our latest asshat, none other than Stephen King. I’ve never thought of him as having a big mouth, but apparently it is just large enough to hold a foot. Quoth King:

I don’t want to sound like an ad, a public service ad on TV, but the fact is if you can read, you can walk into a job later on. If you don’t, then you’ve got, the Army, Iraq, I don’t know, something like that. It’s, it’s not as bright. So, that’s my little commercial for that.

Ok, politics aside, I think even the most rabid Michael Moore liberal would agree that metaphorically going to Walter Reed and telling the people there, “you’d still have your legs if you were smart like lil ol novelist me,” is in really bad taste. Don’t expect King to sign books at your local VFW hall any time soon.

(Also, does the Army even accept applications from people who aren’t reading English at a high school level?)

via Terry Ann Online

Changes afoot

If I seem to be blogging a bit less, it isn’t because I’ve stopped playing with my blog. I have finally decided to take the plunge and get my own web host. The good news is that WordPress imports from Blogger pretty damn slick, and with a few judicious configuration changed to the permalink format, and a little SQL scripting to change the domain for my extensive self-linkage, and about 90% of my blog ports over without an issue. The main hurdle to going live is porting over all the content from my home page over at sff.net which sort of evolved over the past decade or so and therefore doesn’t have the most intuitive layout (and certainly wasn’t designed with a package like WordPress in mind.)

Changing domains will be something of a pain, but since both this blog and the sff.net site are free for me, there’s no reason for me not to keep redirects up indefinitely.

I will keep you all updated.