In Sputnik’s Orbit

A few thoughts to tide you over…

 

Disney Rethinks Sleeping Beauty — Again

imagesYesterday, I took the family to see Maleficent, and the following contains SPOILERS – sort of.

In this reimagining of Disney’s classic “Sleeping Beauty,” a pure-hearted fairy protector turns vindictive after she’s betrayed by a human who uses their acquaintance to gain the throne. To get her revenge, she shackles his child and kingdom with the unbreakable curse familiar from the classic tale, but later grows to regret this petty act and to love the child she has cursed and to seek to undo what she herself has made undoable.

Which is all very well. It’s nice to see the female characters recast as something akin to actual people. It’s nice to see both the king and Maleficent retold not as one-dimensional archetypes but as people with imperfections, vices, and redeeming virtues. However, for me, there is far more wrong with this story than these virtues can heal.

First, the ending is transparently clear from early on–from the first scene after the child goes into exile with her “aunts”. Once this ending approaches, it become clear that a pointless battle must occur to fill up the remaining time in the film. The battle occurs, but there is only moderate peril and a somewhat unlikely resolution. To be fair, I have found that since I started writing, I’m surprised by very little in any film, so it might just be me.

Second, if Maleficent has depth, the entire rest of the world is reduced to puppetry. The king’s youthful actions are capricious. As an adult, we feel for him only at the moment of the curse, and next see him as a virtual lunatic who we can neither sympathize with nor despise. The prince is now the throw-away archetype that the princess was in the original telling–and I don’t see how that’s any better than the original sexism. The other characters act and appear at the whim of one king or another or at the flick of Malifecent’s hand. The kings wife just conveniently goes away, as apparently has Maleficent’s parents and support system, to the detriment of all.

Third, the story is conveniently inconsistent. There is a point in the final battle when, consistent with the story so far, Maleficent could easily arrange her servant’s escape but doesn’t–because the story requires that someone else intervene. Multiple scenes set up the premise that when fairies contact iron, they are instantly and painfully burned, yet when a heavy iron net is dropped on Maleficent, she seems only mildly inconvenienced and then instantly recovers. At the start of the film, Maleficent is respected as the future protector of the fairyland “moors”, but after her betrayal, all the other fairies vanish even though she clearly still has more than enough power to protect them. This gives the entire world the feeling of a convenient plot element.

At the end, Maleficent restores the fairy moors and bestows a fairy crown on the girl, declaring the two kingdoms to be finally united. Which is what you WOULD say, I guess, having vanquished the army of the neighbouring kingdom and thrown it’s ruler from a tall tower. Okay, he was trying to kill her for no clear reason, I get it.

Finally, the pacing—-oh the pacing. On the one hand, I didn’t feel than key relationships were developed sufficiently. On the other hand, there are whole swaths of film that needed to be tighter–like when Maleficent’s crow, acting in the role of aerial recon drone, makes several forays into the kingdom tell us things that were obviously going to happen. Then in a pivotal scene of redemption, I found myself thinking less about the poignancy of the moment than about how the filmmakers had wasted a gaping opportunity to draw out the tension and amplify the power of the moment.

My youngest daughter gives the film 9 out of 10 sprinkles. I give it about five. It isn’t that it was bad, I just thought it could have been far more emotionally powerful and that Disney fumbled away the drama at nearly every step. But then, I am not the target demographic, and I’m a writer, so my brain is kind of warped. Oh yeah, and Angelina Jolie did pretty well with the role, such as it was. There was one scene of genuine poignancy in which ladies throughout the theory could be heard squeeing into tears. If only there could have been a few more such moments.

My New Website!

Howdy! I have a spiffy new author website, and you can see it at www.cStuartHardwick.com.

Screenshot - 05202014 - 11:49:42 PM

Yeah, I know, that’s the same place the old site was. I just pointed my domain to the new goods–but that’s not what this blog is about.

I’ve worked in IT long enough that the luster is long since off the wires and lights, the gadgets and whirly-gigs; I just want to get my work done. And I should no more need to understand C# or HTML to do it than a carpenter should have to understand the two-phase, double-insulated motor in his table saw. I’ve developed many a website and many another application in more technologies and tools than I’m going to be bothered to enumerate here before your quickly glazing eyes–and folks, let me tell you, I’m over it.

The modern trend toward cloud-based, wizard-based tools is good. Custom code? Not so much.  Putting aside special-focus sites like Facebook and Youtube, creating websites to suit our needs is now as accessible as typing a letter (okay, formatting an elaborate presentation). Blogging sites like WordPress and Blogger allow you to create pages that you can use to create simple static display sites, and for most of us, give us everything we need in a personal website for free. If you need or want a little more, tools like Weebly, Joomla, Wix, and Squarespace make web design almost as simple as grooming the dog, with less fur.

Skip ahead a bit brother….

I chose Weebly. For me, it strikes the right balance between wizardly ease and customizeability, and by giving me a great deal of control over a relatively small set of slick and attractive templates, it lets me get on with it in a manageable, economical platform. I had my new site built in an hour, and spent an afternoon working on tweaks. Each of those was simple and satisfactory, and I’m delihted with the final product. So if you are considering Weebly, here are a few observations and tricks:

The Domain Game
With Weebly, you must pay if you want to use your own domain. Otherwise, your site will be accessed at aSubdomainOfYourChoosing.Weebly.com. This is not true of Blogger with supports domain forwarding for free, but it is true of many sites including most aimed at web site construction. Decide now whether it’s a deal killer. There’s really no way around it.

Control
With Weebly (and any tool remotely like it) you are giving up some control. For example, I’ve yet to figure a way to set alternate text strings for some photos uploaded to customize the templates and that’s something that can adversely affect  search engine rankings if that’s something you worry about.

Making changes
Weebly gives you access to its HTML page templates, its uploaded file resources, and its relatively simply, self-documenting, and well-oranized CCS stylesheet data. Playing with these is far less daunting the updating a WordPress or Blogger template, and might even be a good place to learn basic HTML and CSS.

Before making any of these changes, be sure you understand how Weebly’s preview and publish features work. You’ll want to take care not to push broken changes to your site. If in doubt, keep back up copies.

How to turn off the header: Many of the Weebly templates have a big bold title line at the top of the screen. For my purposes, I found this redundant and a waste of vertical screen real estate, so here’s how I turned it off:

  1. Go to the “Design” page, and click “Edit HTML / CSS”
  2. Under “Page layouts”, select any layout. It doesn’t matter which, because you’re going to make the same change to them all.
  3. Search for “logo-wrap” and wrap this whole block in xml comments ( <!– –>) making sure to delete any other comments that might get in the way–so it looks something like this:<!–div id=”logo-wrap”>
    <div class=”container”>
    <table id=”header”>
    <tr>
    <td id=”logo”>{logo}</td>
    <td id=”header-right”>
    <table>
    <tr>
    <td class=”search”>{search}</td>
    </tr>
    </table>
    </td>
    </tr>
    </table>
    </div>
    </div–><!– end logo-wrap →
  4. That’s it. Make sure it works as expected, then repeat for all page layouts. If you DO know a little html, you could also just remove the “{logo}” line and insert your own markup here.

How to turn off or replace the footer: If you pay for your Weebly site, you can add a simple footer. If you don’t, you are stuck with a big, garish ad for Weebly itself, but it’s easy to replace this with something more tasteful:

  1. Go to the “Design” page, and click “Edit HTML / CSS”
  2. Under “Page layouts”, select any layout. It doesn’t matter which, because once you have it the way you want it, you are going to make the same change to them all.
  3. Search for “Footer”. By default, the footer looks something like this:<div id=”footer-wrap”>
    <div class=”container”><div>{footer}</div><!– end container –>
    </div><!– end footer-wrap –>
  4. Weebly substitutes it’s generated footer for the keyword in curly brackets. To suppress and replace this, replace the footer markup with something like this:
    <div id=”footer-wrap”>
    <div class=”container”>Powered by <a href=”http://www.weebly.com”>Weebly</a> | © 2014 C Stuart Hardwick |
    <a href=”http://cStuartHardwick.wordpress.com/contact”>Contact</a></div>
    <div style=”visibility:hidden”>{footer}</div><!– end container –>
    </div><!– end footer-wrap –>
  5. Setting the style to “hidden” suppresses Weebly’s default footer. I inserted in its stead, a simple text footer, a link to my contact page, and a sensible acknowledgment with a link to Weebly’s home page. Note that my site no longer has the Weebly link because I’m a paying customer. That’s how Weebly pays it’s bills. Suppressing the footer on a free site without replacing it is, in my opinion, stealing.
  6. That’s it. Make sure it works as expected, then repeat for all page layouts.

How to make the favicon work properly: The favicon is the little 16 x 16 pixel graphic on the each website tab in your browser. If you pay for your Weebly site, you can easily upload a favicon on the “Settings” page, “General” tab, however it may not work right. You can exploit a little trick to set the favicon on a free Weebly site, and it turns out it’s the better option even on a paid-for site.Screenshot1

The favicon should normally have a transparent background, and must be in .png or .ico format. I already have one that I have used on earlier incarnations of my site, but no matter which format I used, Weebly displayed it on a white background. My solution, use this hack:

  1. Go to the “Design” page, and click “Edit TML / CSS”
  2. Under “Files” click “Add to File(s)”
  3. Upload your icon file. I used “favicon.ico”
  4. Now, you’ll need to know the URL to this icon file. Normally, you would just click on it in the file list, then right click where the image is displayed to the right and copy the image URL to the clipboard. It seems this doesn’t work for .ico files (I didn’t try the .png version) but there is a simple workaround: Simply click on any other image file, right-click and copy it’s URL to he clipboard, paste it somewere, and change the filename (to favicon.ico in my case).\
  5. Now, click Settings, SEO, and enter the following code in the header field:
    <link rel=”shortcut icon” href=”files/theme/favicon.ico”/>
  6. Anything you paste into this field becomes part of the page header for every page on your site. Click the “Save” button, publish the site, and it will now display in browsers with the favicon–with its transparent background.

How to repurpose the social icons: Weebly offers an elegant, well-designed icon strip for linking to your favorite social media sites, and setting it up is simple–as long as you use the right sites. But what if, say, you never plan to link to Vimeo, but you’d like to use Reddit instead? This is really just a matter of modifying the icon graphic used by the template, and it’s not as hard as you might think.Screenshot2

  1. First you’ll have to figure out which image file is used. You can do this by looking through your page templates or using “view source” among other things. For my site, it’s “social-blue.png”.
  2. Go to the “Design” page, and click “Edit TML / CSS”social-blue
  3. Under “Files,” right-click to download the icon .png file.
  4. Using any graphic editor that supports transparent backgrounds and saving in .png format. I use the free online tool Pixlr.
  5. Carefully blot out the images from the colume of icons you plan to modify and replace it with your own. This can be the hard part depending on your artistic skill, but you can usually find a favicon for any social site in .png format with a transparent background, and that makes it a lot easier.
  6. Try not to tamper with the background or icon edges, as these will be highly visibl in thesocial-blue finished site.
  7. In your Weebly editor “Design” page, under “Edit TML / CSS”– “File(s)”, choose “Add new file(s) and upload the modified icon graphic. MAKE SURE TO BACK UP THE ORIGINAL!
  8. That’s it. Assuming you did the editing well, you’re done!

We’re Writers: Ask us Anything!

Writers and Illustrators of the Future Red Carpet

Back in December, when I got the call that I had won the Writers of the Future contest, my first thought was not “oh good, new friends.” I actually didn’t know about the writers workshop–the week in LA learning and laughing and navigating the crazy streets of Hollywood with the rest of the year’s winning authors and illustrators, all of whom turned out to be just lovely people. Well shucks. That turned out to be the best part, as Megan O’keefe says “the kindness and enthusiasm of not only the instructors, past winners, and organizers, but of my fellow winners and participates.” On that last night in April, as we stood out in the parking lot watching the lunar eclipse (no, really), none of us wanted to say our goodbyes.

Well on May 13th, we’ll be together again for a Reddit AMA. We’ll be answering questions about us, our stories, the workshop, the pro-rated acceleration of planets in time-displaced gravitational wells–you name it.  It’s a giant Q&A in the form of an AMA (ask me anything) on the Reddit fantasy forum. Drop by to ask us anything you like. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll make something up!

The AMA will be posted here on May 13th: http://www.reddit.com/r/fantasy/

Those participating include:

Megan E. O’Keefe (Writer Winner) : Website | Twitter | Facebook

Randy Henderson (Writer Winner): Website | Twitter

Anaea Lay (Writer Winner): Website | Twitter 

Bernardo Mota (Illustrator Winner): Website | Facebook

Shauna O’Meara (Writer Winner): Website

Trevor Smith (Illustrator Winner): Website | Twitter | Facebook

Terry Madden (Writer Winner): Website | Twitter | Facebook

C. Stuart Hardwick (Writer Winner): Website | Twitter | Facebook

Cassandre Bolan (Illustrator Winner): Website | Twitter | Facebook

Liz Colter (Writer Winner): Website | Twitter

Oleg Kazantsev (Writer Winner): Facebook

Sarah Webb (Illustrator Winner): Tumblr | Portfolio | Facebook

Michael Talbot (Illustrator Winner): Facebook | YouTube

Paul Eckheart (Writer Winner): Website | Twitter | Facebook

Leena Likitalo (Writer Winner): Website 

Kirbi Fagan (Illustrator Winner): Website | Facebook

Vincent Coviello (Illustrator Winner): Tumblr

 

I really hope you’ll stop by, and then let me know what you think.

Help Out Your Favorite Author(s)

Thanks to technology, more people read today than at any point in history, and from a wider selection of materials. But while it’s become vastly easier to produce and distribute the written word, the challenge of writing well has hardly eased at all. The result is that it’s harder than ever for talented voices to be heard, with fewer returns for the years-long investments in skill and craft any author must make in order to create a worthy product.

So what can be done? How can you help your favorite authors be heard? The answer is actually quite simple, and modest efforts can have a real impact, especially for new authors just taking the stage.

Here’s how you can help your favorite authors:

  • Buy their books—in any form—whether through the affiliate link on their web page or through your local bookstore after asking them to stock the books. That’s not the important thing. The important thing is that you…
  • Read their books. Read them and sing their praises to everyone you know who might be interested.
    Review their books. You don’t have to be a journalist to review books these days. Visit online outlets for your fav (mine are listed on my site under “find My Work”). Leave good reviews–but honest ones with credible ratings. Stay upbeat and polite and write simply and from the heart.
  • Give their books as gifts – to friends who will love them and tell more friends about them.
  • Find your fav on the Internet, and subscribe by email, RSS feed, or Twitter to his or her blog or news feed (You can find me at http://cStuartHardwick.com (Just sayin’). Help publicize events, appearances, and news to your friends and contacts.
  • Visit your fav’s author pages, “Like” them, and share with others who might be interested (My Amazon page is http://amazon.com/author/cstuarthardwick).
  • Get their books on your book club’s reading list; start a book club if you don’t have one.
  • Ask your local library to carry their latest books–or donate yours when you’re done with it. The best advertisement for any writers work is his book sitting on a shelf waiting to be read.
  • Spread the word on social media. Maybe you’re not a “big name” in the bloggosphere. Doesn’t matter. This is grass roots, and every potential ready matters. Go on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest and similar social media sites, and post links to your fav’s books. Share links posted by others.
  • Do you Pinterest? From a page with your author’s book cover or other interesting content, “Pin it” and include a comment about why you love it. The power of the Pin. Do you Stumbleupon? Again, from a page with something awesome about your fav, stumble it. Use any other social media you like in the same way.
  • Are you a blogger? Invite your fav to guest post! They can whip up a custom confection for your site, or you can interview them. Do a cover reveal for them. Excerpt a chapter. Anything to stir interest–even a little.

These all my seem like little things, but to an author just building a platform, they really can add up. Then again, this may seem like work. Well, don’t let it be. Just do what you are comfortable with and happy to do. And remember, every time you help your fav get the word out, you are helping raise a voice you admire above the cacophony that is the modern marketplace of ideas–even if just a little.

What am I leaving out? Share your experiences and ideas–I’d love to hear them!

 

Trevor’s Laws

Analog editor Trevor Quachri is a hoopy frood. He really knows where his towel’s at. I heap this praise on a man I’ve never met and on whom I’ve been waiting for five months to hear back on a story submission because in his editorial in the March edition, he proposes a zeroth law of editorship. Never mind what the laws are, I’m just chuffed he went all-in and used zero-based indexing.

Well okay, the laws are pretty good too. They are:

  • First: An editor must select the best material available.
  • Second: An editor must improve the selected material.
  • Third: An editor must, encourage authors who aren’t currently providing material usable to the market.
  • Zeroth: An editor must provide a public face for the market and communicate its tone

It’s interesting that he calls these laws instead of roles or responsibilities or duties. I think this choice tells us something about how he sees himself in relation to a magazine and tradition that stretches back for most of us were born. I think he might have called them commandments, but didn’t want the Cecil B Dem ille overtones.

Anyway, I’m sure when he got through the first three, a forth occurred that seemed more fundamental than the others, and he sorted it in in-situ to avoid redrafting the piece. Or maybe he thought “zeroth” conveyed and amplified the thought in a pleasingly useful way. Or maybe he’s a C++ guy from way back, and that’s just the way his noggin rolls.

Doesn’t matter. It worked, and it’s a wonderful example of how the details of writing and shape and hone the message.

 

P.S. Thanks, Brad for the comp copy. I can’t wait to dig into your story.

Sorry I’ve been so busy, but…

I’m not a fan of blog posts that begin by apologizing for how busy the author has been and how chagrined he or she feels at the great insult of not having posted more frequently. Like even the most popular of blogs has an audience waiting with baited breath for the next instalment.

Except, I’m wimageedit_1_4118488159ay overdue with this post, and this sort of chagrin is exactly what the post is about.

If you’ve been in orbit here for any time, you cannot fail to know that I just got back from Hollywood and the 2013 Writers of the Future seminar. There, I got personal instruction on the business of writing from seasoned pros like Tim Powers, Dave Wolverton, Kevin J Anderson, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Orson Scott Card, Mike Resnick, and on and on and on…

But that’s not the best part.

I also got instruction and experience on self-promotion and interviewing. I had fun. I met June Scobee Rodgers and visited the Challenger Learning Center. I had a kerfuffle with SpongeBob Square Pants. I ate dinner with Kerry O’Quinn, who gave the world Starlog and Fangoria, who’s social circles over the years have stretched from Alan Greenspan to Isaac Asimov. I put on a tux and spoke before a few thousand people. I got a laugh. I got a trophy. I got to see my work in print–hot off the presses.

I watched a total lunar eclipse, on my birthday.

But that’s not the best part.

I brought home a treasure chest of new friendships: current and former writer and illustrator winners and even a few of their family and friends. People who, diverse though they are, all have one thing in common. They are pulling for me, and I for them. And that’s something, I think, none of us expected.

And now I must get back to writing. I wouldn’t want to let my friends down.

My Writers of the Future Acceptance

My acceptance is at 1hr, 33 minutes, 51 seconds. If you have the time, grab some popcorn and watch the whole thing, including Astronaut Leland Melvin’s amazing story, some wonderful performances, and the acceptance remarks of my very good friends, the WotF class of 2013.