The Time of the Doctor

Let’s Talk About: Moffat’s Doctor Who

The Time of the Doctor

This’ll be a quick post with not a lot of structure. I’m trying to turn these “Let’s Talk About” pieces into looser articles where I don’t have to have a central point or something.

Anyway this morning it hit me that my experience watching Steven Moffat’s three seasons of Doctor Who has been largely defined by questions. What do I mean by that? Well, when watching a Moffat episode (especially ones he writes himself), my wife and I end up pausing the show every few minutes because we’re asking questions.

“Wait… How does that make sense?”

“If he did this thing now, then how could he do that in the past?” (or some other time-travel related question)

“Does this mean he changed the future?”

“I’m confused. How could that happen?”

Over and over. And I really don’t think being confused should be the core feeling one gets while watching Doctor Who. But it’s not that we’re stupid (in my opinion) or not paying attention. I’d like to think that as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I’m pretty good at keeping up with sci-fi shows. Same thing for my wife. She’s not a writer but she gets hyperfocused when she’s watching something she loves, and Doctor Who definitely falls under that category.

So I think this comes down to Moffat’s fundamental flaw as the showrunner: he tries so damn hard to impress the viewer with how clever he is.

Doctor Who the Silence

Sometimes it creates “ah-ha” moments, but for the past few episodes–the end of season 7 and this year’s Christmas special, “The Time of the Doctor,” in particular–those moments never came. Instead the episodes were marked by either me or Erin calling out “Pause! So wait, what…?”

The emphasis on plots, timey-wimey twists and turns, and clever surprises can sap an episode of its emotional, character-driven moments. I really enjoyed Matt Smith’s run as the Doctor, but I was more sad to see David Tennant go than I was last night. Instead of feeling sad last night, my mind was occupied with trying to untangle years of plotlines (exploding TARDIS, the Silence, warrior priest soldier people, crack in the wall, etc.) rather than savoring Matt Smith’s final goodbye. (Okay his last couple of lines about changing from moment to moment were real good)

So another chapter of Doctor Who is over and a new one begins. I’m excited to see how Peter Capaldi will play the character. I just hope that I can start watching the show again without having to ask “How does that make sense?” every few minutes.

Doctor Who Season 7

Side bar: I think having Matt Smith’s last episode be the Christmas episode was a mistake. The show tried to mix normal Christmas-special stuff with Regeneration-stuff plus tying up Moffat’s loose ends. That’s way too much disparate stuff to cram in a single episode.

Side bar to the side bar: Here are a couple of articles on i09 (here and here) about “The Time of the Doctor” that I liked. Check ’em out. They also touch on some of the episode’s highs and lows.

Ancillary Justice

Challenge Accepted!

Ancillary Justice

I followed the Twitter conversations about The 52 Review’s “Best Of” post (I think this was last month or the month before). That’s when I first saw the challenge: only read genre fiction books written by women in 2014. Since then I’ve been caught in a morass of indecision.

I want to do it. I am going to do it. That’s not what I’ve been undecided about; I’ve been going back and forth whether or not I should tell anybody I’ve accepted this particular challenge.

Continue reading

White People Almost Kissing Nicholas Sparks

Why Don’t You Just Write Genre X?

White People Almost Kissing Nicholas Sparks

This post is inspired by a short conversation I had with Robert Jackson Bennett on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. It went a little something like this:

This led to his response: “jesus christ.” And then a link to a hilarious image like the one you see above. “White People Almost Kissing” the brand-new novel by Nicholas Sparks. And now for the whole story about my conversation with my mom and some commentary.

I went out to dinner with my mom the other day. In between our main course and the spring roll appetizers–I also decided during this dinner that I don’t care for spring rolls–and with the best intentions she asked me: “Why don’t you try to write a romance? Something like Nicholas Sparks. He’s such a good writer.”

She meant well. She sees me struggling to pay bills and make a living as a writer and thinks that if I just wrote something in a mega-popular genre like romance that the money, movie deals, and all the other trappings of fame would just roll in. I’d probably have to turn away studio after studio that wanted to turn one of my books into a trans-media property. Because romance is popular. Because science fiction and fantasy aren’t as popular. Because she “doesn’t really like sci-fi but she liked my book.”

Here’s the problem with that line of thinking–chasing what you think the mass market wants–you’ll always be chasing after something that’s constantly changing. Maybe you’re one of those authors who’s able to flit from genre to genre with ease. I’m not. My bread and butter is genre fiction: speculative fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and maybe even a tiny bit of horror.

I try to move around within genre fiction–a sci-fi short story here, a horror story there, two steampunk novels, a sword & sorcery novel in the works, and several abandoned space opera novels. But it’s all within what I like to write.

Science fiction wallpaper

That’s the important part–liking what you write. Because I feel strongly about my stories, my characters, my genres, it comes through in my writing. Would The Exile’s Violin and its sequel have worked as, say, a paranormal romance? I have no idea, but I can guarantee the book because I don’t write paranormal romances.

So you can imagine how awful the results would be if I tried to right a contemporary romance novel for purely commercial reasons. Or maybe it wouldn’t have been awful per se. I like to think I have a tiny bit of skill that when combined with proper revisions, working with beta readers, etc. could produce something half readable. A better term for the resulting paranormal romance manuscript: soulless.

That’s what happens you write something to chase commercial acceptance. Or at least, that’s what would happen if I tried it. Maybe some authors are able to make that work. I’m not one of them.

I have to write what I want to write. Otherwise, why bother writing it at all? So the next time somebody says, “Genre X is much more popular than genre Y. Why don’t you just write genre X?” I’ll reply, “Because I like writing genre Y.” ‘Nuff said.

As I Lay Dying's Tim Lambesis

Some of My Favorite Writing Music

I love listening to music while I write. That’s just how I work best. If it’s too quiet my mind tends to wander. Some writers I know say they don’t like music with words when they’re putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys, I suppose is more likely). I vary back and forth. Some scenes come easier when I’m listening to music with lyrics, while other times I just want some nice instrumental stuff.

As I Lay Dying's Tim Lambesis

So what do I listen to? I’ll give you a small sampling of some of my favorite writing music. I’ll also share what projects each song goes with–for the ones I can remember that is!

Fight Scenes in The Exile’s Violin and Terraviathan

Heavy metal is my favorite type of music to listen to while writing action-heavy scenes. At the moment some of my favorite bands include As I Lay Dying, Parkway Drive, Mastodon, In Flames, and All That Remains. In case you’re not familiar with them…they’re of the–how do you say–screaming variety. Metalcore, death metal, all those subgenre labels. I love it most of it, especially the bands that use some melody in their choruses.

According to iTunes, some of the songs I’ve listened to the most while working on fight scenes and the like in my steampunk novels include:

Pretty much anything by Strung Out. They’re my favorite band and the inspiration behind my only (so far) tattoo. These guys write some amazing music that flirts back and forth between metal-tinged punk and straight up SoCal skate punk. They’ve been around since 1989, and if you’ve got that kind of longevity, you know you gotta be doing something right.

Dark Days music video

“Sleepwalker”, “Dark Days”, and “Boneyards” by Parkway Drive. I like the environmental message in “Dark Days” especially. That’s part of the music video up there in gif form. I also “sing” along to those three songs a lot during my commute. I’d like to think that I can keep up with Winston McCall pretty well.

“A Greater Foundation”, “Forsaken”, and “Parallels” by As I Lay Dying. Even though their a Christian band–a religion I don’t subscribe to–most of their songs aren’t overtly religious. Plus they rock. Really damn hard. Those three songs are from three different albums spanning from 2007 to last year. As I Lay Dying has always been in my musical writing rotation since about 2003.

A few other songs and bands: “Oblivion” by Mastodon, anything by Coheed & Cambria, any of Thrice’s hard rock/post-hardcore songs.

Mood Music & Non-Screaming Bands

But what about the times when I don’t want lyrics? When I’m either editing and revising or world-building it’s really hard for me to focus while listening to the kind of relentless aural assault my favorite metal bands bring to the table. What then? Break out your Flock of Seagulls haircut, your Gameboy, and your dial-up modem from 1994! We’re going to listen 80s pop, chiptunes, and dubstep!

The Cars, A-ha, Simple Minds, New Order, OMD, Eddie Money, Genesis, Eurythmics, Tears for Fears, and more. The synth-ier, the poppier, the cheesier the better. Wham, Kenny Loggins, pretty much every one hit wonder you can think of. I listen to it all. I love it. There’s something about catchy 80s pop that really keeps me going when I don’t feel like writing.

Illusive Man Mass Effect 2

And then I have a set of songs that I listen to whenever I want to set a mood. If I’m writing science fiction–especially anything cyberpunk or space opera related–I’ll flip on the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack, the soundtracks from the Mass Effect series, or something from the From Alpha to Omega album by Destructoid community member Alphadeus. All that music really gets me into a sci-fi state of mind.

Occasionally, I’ll log into Pandora and turn on my “Dubstep Station”. I think the music is kinda hilarious-bad, but at the same time I like it. I can’t name any of the artists to save my life, and half the time it sounds like a Transformer and a dial-up modem are getting it on in a blender, but for some reason, I find it really easy to write to dubstep.

The same goes for chiptunes and videogame soundtracks. I have a playlist set up in iTunes that has almost 2000 tracks of just electronica, chiptunes (music made with the sounds and musical effects from 8-bit and 16-bit videogames), and videogame soundtracks. Some of my favorite songs include: anything from any of the Zeldas, a metal cover of the Skyrim theme song, an album of big band renditions of F-Zero, and the Double Dragon Neon soundtrack.

Seriously. That song right there is ridiculously catchy. It’s videogame music and faux-80s pop all in one! How can I resist?

There you have it dear readers! Probably more than you ever wanted to know about what music I listen to while writing. What about you? How many of you authors listen to music while you’re writing or editing? Or do you need to have it silent while you’re working. Let me know! I find hearing about peoples’ creative processes fascinating!

Interview with “The Returners” author Mikey Neumann

Mikey Neumann

Today, I have the privilege of interviewing Mikey Neumann, author of the serial novel The Returners, and Gearbox Software Chief Creative Champion. He’s a super cool dude, so I was excited when he agreed to answer my questions. I just finished Part One of Season One of The Returners two nights ago, and I can’t wait to dive into Part Two. Onto the interview!

You’ve had numerous health problems—ones that shouldn’t have affected a 29 year old, which if people are interested they can read about on your blog ( I actually recommend that people check it out. It was a funny, open, touching take on everything that’s happened since last year.

Would you say that these issues with your health have changed the way you approach writing? Has there been any change to your worldview that might manifest itself in some way in your writing?

I think it’s safe to say that my worldview has changed and this has affected my writing to some degree – though, it’s probably in unexpected ways. I think the most obvious way is how freeing it was to just dive into things, I mean, that’s where the blog came from in a sense. I wanted to inform people purely on my own feelings, thoughts, and emotions going through some difficult times. I know that some relatives and friends were a little taken aback by the honesty on display, but in the end, I think it made it more valuable.

In concrete detail, that journey is what created The Returners in the first place. I wanted to lose the safety net.

Let’s get away from that topic and focus on cool stuff: video games and writing. You’re the Creative Director at Gearbox, and you’ve worked on some great titles like Borderlands, Brothers in Arms, and Aliens: Colonial Marines. How did you get your start at Gearbox, and when did you start writing for video games?

I have been the Creative Director on products here, but my official title is Chief Creative Champion. I started at Gearbox in 2001 at 19 while working on Counterstrike: Condition Zero as a texture artist. I also did a bit of work on Half Life for PS2.

The first game I wrote from start to finish was Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30 – I think this job solidified on the

follow up to that game, Earned in Blood, when I was nominated for an Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences award for writing. I was around 24-25 at the time and it cemented in me a desire to write stories for the rest of my life.

How hard is it to switch gears (heh, get it?) between writing for a visual, interactive medium than it is writing say a short story or novel? What techniques do you find work well across both media? And has your time in the gaming industry influenced how you create scenes for your novel experiment?

I’ve never seen anyone ask so many questions in a single paragraph before. (Editor’s note: There were more questions in that paragraph originally)

In short, the example I usually give is describing how I’ve hired other writers (like Anthony Burch) to work at Gearbox. It’s easier to train a person that’s a good writer to be a game writer. If they understand story, pacing, character arcs, etc., then you can teach them the tools and structure of a type of game. If someone comes along and says they only write games, that raises an eyebrow. Storytellers are storytellers and the medium is of middling importance.

As for the rest of that mammoth inquiry, I’m not sure the novel experiment is too influenced by the games I’ve written in the same way that Anthony Saves the World wasn’t influenced too much by Brothers in Arms. They’re just different types of stories.

You’ve been working on your serialized, internet novel experiment, The Returners for a while now. For those that don’t know about it, can you give a quick description/synopsis?

The Returners: Season One Part One

It was the thing that got me out of writing the illness blog. I was done feeling sympathy for myself and wanted to channel all of that creative energy I was spending explaining and telling stories about my illness to become something greater. So I was thinking to myself, what if I blogged a book, chapter-by-chapter?

The Returners is what came out of that. I wanted to serialize a book like Charles Dickens did with Oliver Twist. He wrote that under the pseudonym “BOZ.” as it was being published in the magazines at the time. That’s where “BOZ.” Publishing comes from. The idea was to serialize a novel of grand scope on the internet – that’s why the website is fixed height and width – it’s just worked on a Kindle of an iPad.

The book is about a group of known historical figures that all find themselves born into another life on this Earth in the modern day. Why are they here? Why is someone trying to kill them? When you write Joan of Arc having a conversation with a thirteen-year-old Albert Einstein, you know you’re onto something. It comes from a place of wanting to spiral a personal story of friendship and survival into something of much larger and grander scale.

It’s my LOST, I guess.

Since The Returners is serialized, would you say that it might be similar to writing for a TV show than a more traditional novel? How much of the story do you have outlined in advance? Do you have a secret list of all the historical figures you want to make an appearance? Or because these are daily chapters, do you just kind of make it up as you go along and see where the story takes you?

I think writing The Returners is a lot like writing a TV show. I’m clearly borrowing their nomenclature with doing the book in “seasons” and such. I want people to know it’s an ongoing story and there are many kinds of stories to tell in that universe.

As far as what I have outlined in advance, I have all of the chapters in Season One (all three parts) outlined and ready to be written. From there, I have where it ends and the major ideas of five seasons of stories, increasing in scope and grandeur with each one. In my head, the story would make an excellent TV show (which I’ve also heard a lot from the fans of the books,) but I’m not sure if it would make a good movie. That’s probably just me, I always like TV shows more than movies – I like spending time with the characters.

Of course there’s a list of who else comes back in the book! There’s some new faces that arrive in part three of Season One *winky face*

Sticking with the TV analogy for just a bit longer, have you ever envisioned taking a “summer break” where you don’t put up new chapters but instead plan out where you want the next season to go?

Yeah, when Season One has concluded I’m going to outline in detail that entire second season as well as put up another novel I wrote last year called The Ending. The website will continue to grow with not just my own content, but the content of other authors as well.

I gotta thank Mikey for answering all my questions! Great stuff! If you’re interested in The Returners, you can read it for free at “BOZ.” Publishing or buy the collected chapters of Season One Part One from Amazon. You can also follow him on Twitter and see more of his work at Gearbox Software.

In Situ is Now Available!

In SituIn Situ, a new science fiction anthology from Dagan Books that is centered around archaeology, is now available for purchase! The wait is over!

According to the publisher, In Situ is loaded with “science fiction stories featuring alien archeology, hidden mysteries, and things that are better off left buried. […] These fifteen evocative science fiction stories will take you from dusty archaeologists digging up our alien past into a distant future where we’ve become the relics. Thought-provoking and entertaining, IN SITU explores science, theology, preservation, and the art of alien finance, in a whole new way.”

My story, “Jewel of Tahn-Vinh” is a science fiction horror story about things left adrift in the depths of space that  are better left alone. There are other great stories in the anthology, and I have to say that Ken Liu’s “You’ll Always Have the Burden With You” is quite fantastic.

In Situ is available in DRM-free ePub format for only $3.99.

To get a copy for Kindle, buy it here.

And the trade paperback is also available from Amazon.


Repost: When Mass Effect 3 and Doctor Who Collide

This is reposted with some minor adjustments from my gaming-related blog over at Destructoid, but I thought it was worth sharing here.

The original article talks about how the interactivity offered by videogames made me feel in ways that books, TV, or movies couldn’t. There’s definitely something powerful at hand when you can take ideas from one type of media and apply them in another. Mass Effect 3 wouldn’t have affected me emotionally if they hadn’t used good characterization and storytelling techniques perfected in places like books.

When Mass Effect 3 and Doctor Who Collide

Originally posted on Destructoid 3/19/2012

I want to talk about Mass Effect 3, but don’t worry, I’m not here to talk about the ending; I haven’t gotten that far yet. Instead I want to talk about how it made me experience one of the most awesome moments in gaming ever. Better yet, it combined my love of the Mass Effect series with my love for Doctor Who. There will be spoilers for those playing through Mass Effect 3.

Mass Effect is one of my favorite series of all time. I played the original back in 2011, years after it was released. I’d heard the name of the game before that, but nothing about more about it. I picked up a deeply discounted used copy and decided to give it a go. I’m so glad I did. Despite certain flaws, the game grabbed hold of me. I loved the space opera story, the meticulousness of the in-game universe and backstory, and the music. (The soundtrack deserves an article all its own).

As soon as I finished the game, I bought a copy of Mass Effect 2 and proceeded to play it through twice back to back. I enjoyed its many improvements and loved its character-oriented story. My companions became my friends, especially ones carried over from the first game: Tali and Wrex.

At first I felt like the character interactions in Mass Effect 3 were lacking compared to Mass Effect 2, and I missed seeing my old squadmates. Then I got to the Tuchanka mission and everything changed.

You go to Tuchanka to earn the krogan’s support by curing the genophage (basically a sterility plague) that’s affected their species for years now. But there’s a twist. Another species–the salarians–implores you to sabotage the genophage cure because they’re afraid that once the Reapers are defeated, the krogan will go on another bloody rampage across the galaxy like they’ve done in the past.

Since I’m playing as a Renegade, I decided to do the “evil” thing and agree to sabotage the cure. Several times during the mission I had to lie to my companions, including Wrex, about my intentions. I know it’s just a game, but it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.

In order to rationalize my decision, I ended up turning to Doctor Who. In that show, one of the running themes is that everything has its time; everything dies at some point. That’s what I told myself as I progressed through the mission, inching closer to the point when I’d stab Wrex and his entire species in the back.

I thought: The krogan had their time before. They devastated their world with nuclear war. They got a second chance when the salarians uplifted them. Then they blew it again with the Krogan Rebellions. It’s just their time to go now. Everything has a time.

I told myself that over and over until I reached the mission’s climax. I was in a crumbling facility with the salarian Mordin (also one of my favorite characters) seconds away from deploying the genophage cure. Mordin decided he had to make sure it deployed properly. The game presented me with a terrible choice: let Mordin go cure the genophage and potentially unleash the krogan on the galaxy again or murder him and basically doom the krogan to a slow extinction.

My resolve crumbled. Then in my mind’s eye I saw Matt Smith (the current Doctor) standing there in his coat and suspenders. His head is lowered and he’s saying, “Everything has to end sometime…” Dramatic pause. You think he’s going to go through with it, condemning an entire species to death. Then this song kicks in. The Doctor looks up with a maniac’s grin on his face, he points right at the camera and shouts, “…but not today!” Then he saves the day.

As soon as I saw that in my head, I leapt to my feet, pointed at the TV and shouted, “But not today!” My girlfriend in the next room probably thought I was crazy. It didn’t matter that I was ruining my pledge to play as a Renegade; I couldn’t bring myself to betray a friend, murder another one, and condemn a species to death on a mere possibility of a future disaster. I let Mordin go cure the genophage. And then the game ripped him away from me.

That mission affected me deeply on multiple levels. I felt so much for these fictional characters that I couldn’t betray one of them. Then I was devastated when another one was taken from me. But multiple types of media are able to make you care for fictional characters, so it couldn’t just be the fact that I cared.

No, Mass Effect 3 really brought home how the interactive nature of videogames allows the player to experience feelings that TV, movies, or books can only show them. I’ve watched all six seasons of the current Doctor Who, but I’ve never had a moment where I felt like I was in the Doctor’s shoes. This Tuchanka mission did that to me. I felt like I had the weight of galaxies and entire species on my shoulders.

I feel like that kind of experience has to be unique to videogames. Movies and books have played with my emotions before, but nothing quite on this level. Rather than absorbing things passively, I had agency (within the confines of the game’s mechanics and narrative of course) and the ability to change things on a galactic scale. Mass Effect 3 was the perfect game to make me experience something like this because of how well the characters were written and presented since the first game. I doubt I would’ve felt the same way if this type of decision had been presented to me in a different game.