Movie Review: Black Panther

(Reed’s Playlist of the Day: The Black Panther soundtrack… duh)

I was pleasantly surprised by Black Panther.

A while ago, I wrote a review of Wonder Woman in which I talked about how much I hate the superhero genre of movies. I’ve found it to be formulaic at the very least, and sometimes there isn’t really anything original in an entire two and a half hour film. Pretty much since the first avengers movie came out, I have watched with growing boredom as the movies got more and more “meh”.

God, I sound like such a douchey critic. It’s not even that I don’t like superheroes – I’m just so tired of the genre that takes itself both too seriously and not seriously enough. That’s why I freaking adored Deadpool and, to a lesser extent, Guardians of the Galaxy. They were just so mold-breaking and so much less serious than their counterparts.

So when I started hearing that Black Panther was actually different, and better, and more exciting, I didn’t really want to believe it. I made the same joke I’ve been making the past two months – that the only superhero movies I want to see in 2018 are Deadpool 2 and Incredibles 2. Because let’s be honest, both of those movies are gonna kick ass.

And yet, somehow despite all of this, I found myself going along to see it with friends. And there were a few reasons why:

  1. Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote the new graphic novel series. The author of Between the World and Me, an activist and writer and human rights homie. His book was featured as one of the UCLA Common Books, which was how I found out about him in the first place. I figured if the movie was as well-written as the series, it wouldn’t be half as annoying and full of factory-made dialogue as the rest of the Marvel films.
  2. Kendrick Lamar did the soundtrack for the film. I’m not much of a rap dude, and there are only a few rappers I listen to with any regularity. But Kendrick is one of them, and I knew he would bring some interesting cadence to this movie.
  3. The star-studded cast. From Chadwick Boseman to Danai Gurira to Letitia Wright to Forest Whitaker, there was hardly a person on the cast list who hadn’t won an oscar or been in a TV series I’ve loved. Plus Martin Freeman as the token white dude was hilarious.

So I went. And honestly, it was pretty good. Superhero movies will never truly be my genre – not until Christopher Nolan comes back to it – but the movie was fast-paced, exciting, and relatively good with dialogue. The characters were archetypal but likeable, and the acting was exceptional (except for Freeman’s American accent, which creeped everyone out a bit).

I especially appreciated that people didn’t fucking stop in the middle of battles to have heartfelt character moments; there was literally a time where two characters met up and said, “Are you okay?” “I’m good, you?” “Yeah.” and then went on with killing people. Everything felt very real. They even had a plot device to allow the protagonist and antagonist to have a talk in the middle of the battle which made total sense. I was kind of in love with that aspect of the film.

So, definite strength in dialogue. On the converse side, some of the scenes cut away too quickly which gave the movie a feeling of a bit of abruptness, and there was a plot point I wished had gone differently, which I won’t share because it’s a major spoiler.

Honestly, other than that the movie was good. The fighting felt powerful without being over-the-top violent or gory, and I appreciated the choreography, which felt a lot less flashy than most other films of the genre.

So yeah, I’d suggest you go out and watch it. Even if you don’t like superhero movies, you’re probably going to get your money’s worth.

BUT REAL TALK THO WHAT ABOUT THAT INCREDIBLES 2 BAYBEEEEEE

Reed’s Rating: 8/10

Yours, gearing up for some more Edna Mode,

-R.R. Buck

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Lucky Me

(Reed’s Song of the Day: Hey Thanks, by the Wonder Years)

Today I’d like to share with you all a sickeningly sappy tale.

My girlfriend and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day – not because of some kind of protest against commercialized love, but because our anniversary is on the 17th. This Saturday, we’ll be at 4 years, which is kind of crazy to think about.

4 years is a long time to be in a relationship. It’s an even longer time to be stuck with someone like me.

But in all seriousness, I’d like to mark the occasion by sharing the “how we met” story with the internet. Even my family and friends who read this blog may not have heard the entirety before. Despite raving all the time about how incredible Lindsay is, I don’t find a lot of opportunities to talk about the whole story.

Let’s start in September 2013, just a few days into my sophomore year of college, when I first saw Lindsay in the common room of the dorm we shared. I was a sophomore and she was a brand-new freshman.

My first thought was Wow, this girl is beautiful. I wish I had thought something a little less stereotypical and vapid, but hey. It’s what I thought. And she was beautiful – breathtakingly so.

She was also very quiet. She hung out with my friends and I a lot, and we developed a kind of core group of people on our floor in the dorms, but I never really got to know her. She always seemed so background, and I assumed – again, wonderful male douchebaggery here – that she had a boyfriend, because “Why would any girl that beautiful not have a boyfriend?”

I know. I have no excuses for the way I thought back then. All I can say is I try my hardest now to not put Lindsay on such a two-dimensional and body-centric pedestal.

So anyway, I didn’t really talk to Lindsay. Still, there were moments where I was able to see a little more of who she was. We used to host movie nights at least once a week in the dorms and sometimes there would be just a few people in attendance, and so I would end up sitting next to her and chatting about stuff before and after the showing. I realized just how sweet of a person she was – and that was my exact second impression. Sweet.

But I still didn’t even attempt to flirt with her. I tried to squish any feelings I had for her. I didn’t want to be let down by another girl.

Anyway, about midway through the year, we were getting late night food at one of the dining halls in the dorms. Lindsay had talked on previous occasions about the kind of crazy shit that can go down when her blood sugar gets too low. So when in the middle of the line she started to get woozy and weak, I kind of freaked out.

I brought her inside – rushed her, if I’m being honest – and grabbed her a cup of soda to drink. The time I sat with her, making sure she was okay, I realized how trembly I was. And when she looked up at me and thanked me for helping her, I had this thought.

Oh, shit. I kind of really like her.

Things went strangely quick after that, as they usually do with me when I finally admit I’m interested in someone. I asked her roommate about Lindsay and found out that in fact, she didn’t have a boyfriend, but she would always get super awkward around guys if she knew they were interested in her and she didn’t reciprocate.

Somehow that didn’t deter me. It was getting into winter now and I was spending more time with her – trying to be physically close with her during movie nights, making excuses to hang out. I even invited her to our Organic Chemistry class to sit in on lecture, where she would spend the whole hour drawing things on the back of my right hand while I was taking notes with my left.

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I know, it’s like fourth grade flirting.

I thought it might be a good idea to ask her out on Valentine’s Day. My friends talked me out of that particular endeavor. Still, I found myself filled with a kind of nervous energy that weekend (which also happened to be President’s day weekend, so it was a long one). I decided I wanted to go for a walk around campus, and I went around to all of my friends asking if they wanted to come.

Only one person accepted.

So instead of having a planned date with Lindsay that night, I went for a walk around campus with Lindsay that night. It wasn’t a date, but still, it was the first time I’d ever been alone with her for multiple hours.

I asked her what kind of music she liked. She told me cinematic music, like “Time” from Inception. I asked her what the most important thing in her world was. She said family. I asked her what her biggest fear was. She said her grandparents dying.

I think I fell in love with her right then.

I was still sure she wasn’t interested in me, but at the very least, spending time with her was incredible. She had to go away that weekend on a trip with her family, but I spent the whole time thinking about her.

Well, that and one other thing.

See, we do this thing at UCLA called “tunneling”. There are a series of access tunnels that go under the school, through which steam and electrical and water pipes travel. Punk-ass kids like myself who like to do illicit things can pop a bolt on certain doors in campus, enter these tunnels in the dead of night, and go around looking at certain UCLA sights that don’t exactly appear on maps of the campus. Like an underground bridge below the gardens. Or the basement of the research library where they keep old texts in other languages. Or even, if you’ve been taught by someone who knows the way, up into the towers of Royce Hall, our performance building and one of the iconic UCLA sights.

Because I was the only one who knew how to tunnel, I took our friends a lot. We went that Saturday evening while Lindsay was gone, and when she came back she said to me, half-jokingly, that she couldn’t believe I’d gone without her.

I said half-jokingly back that I could take her that night – the early morning (like 2am) of February 17th – but that, because everyone else had gone on Saturday, it would just be the two of us. I fully expected her to try to extricate herself from a creepy situation like that.

Instead, she said, “Okay.”

Let me tell you, winding your way through the bowels of UCLA with the girl you have an enormous crush on, still not entirely sure she’s at all interested in you, is terrifying. I spent that entire night jumpy as hell, hoping that one way or another this confusion would be resolved.

At about 3:30am we arrived up in the Royce towers, from which you can view the entirety of campus. She was all eyes – looking out at the buildings lit up in the night – while I was trembling and sweating up a storm. I had never been good at making any kind of move, and despite being up in an incredibly romantic setting alone, I found myself petrified.

So I went for the casual physical contact, to try to gauge interest. Here’s how it went:

Me: *puts hand on the small of her back and kind of scratches her*

Her: “That feels nice….”

Me: So she’s okay with this, at least!

Her: “…my mom used to do that when I was sick.”

Hold up, your mom? You’re thinking about your mom at a time like this?!?

Suddenly, everything was in disarray. All the signals I’d thought I’d picked up on during our Valentine’s Day walk were suddenly suspect. Did she even know what I was trying to do? Or was she just oblivious to the messages I was trying to covertly send? My mind was chaos.

In the end, I honestly think it was the late hour that did it. It was approaching four in the morning, and she turned to me and said, “Thank you so much, Reed. This was such an incredible night.” And I was so tired of being adrenalized, so tired of trying to figure out whether she was interested in me, that I just went for it.

I said something like, “I can think of one way we can make it even better.” (Smooth, I know.) And then I kissed her.

And when I pulled away, she was smiling. So of course, being me, I immediately said, “Wait, you wanted that? Like, you like me?”

And she said yes, to which I responded, “But… why?”

I’m not kidding. We spent a little more time kissing and then there was a long journey back to the dorms, and the entire time, I was pestering her, trying to figure out why she was interested in me. What could make somebody like her – somebody so incredible, inside and out – want somebody like me?

She just shrugged and said she didn’t know.

You know, it’s funny – I was at the rock wall in our gym the other day and the guy who runs it told me not to worry about the “grades” they give the trails which determine their difficulty. He said, “don’t let the numbers bother you.”

And without thinking, I said back, “The only time I didn’t let the numbers bother me was when I asked Lindsay out. And that’s the only time I need.”

I’m still really self-deprecating in my humor. I still like to joke about being a five dating a ten, and it’s not okay. But the thing is, I’m lucky. I’m so incredibly lucky to be with Lindsay, not just because she’s beautiful or sweet or interested in me, but because she helps me to understand that I am every bit as perfect for her as she is for me.

Here’s to you, Wizzy. I hope you’re not a blubbery mess right now, considering you’ve heard this all before.

Love, always,

-Reed

A Zine for the World

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Burning Love, by Elvis Presley)

I won’t be able to do any work on Sleeper today.

I’m working until 7 pm – giving an information session on Library resources to TA’s – and after that, I have dinner and evening plans with friends. Which means no work on editing today.

Or tomorrow either, now that I think about it. Since I’ll be doing both Kashima Shin-ryu and climbing the rock wall with Lindsay tomorrow, I won’t be able to do any creative writing that evening either.

But I did get to write something today.

The UCLA Library does a few pretty cool events each year around Valentine’s Day. One is called “Blind Date With a Book”, where we gift-wrap books and then write cute little taglines on them related to their subject matter. Then students can browse them and check them out without a real idea of what the book is.

The other is a zine-making workshop. For those who don’t know, zines are like small DIY magazines, usually made with part art/writing, part cut-and-paste from newspapers and other magazines, and part other interesting artistic materials. They often focus on political and social topics – feminism, mental health and illness, countercultures, that kind of stuff.

Now we all know I’m not an artist. But the last two years I’ve tried to take a crack at making zines while I was staffing the event. And because it’s almost Valentine’s day, I want to share one with you. I originally wrote it about – and later gave it to – one of my best friends. But it really goes out to anyone in the world with a mental illness.

(And no, I’m not gonna apologize for the shitty quality or mistakes I made. I think they’re endearing.)


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I love you, all. Remember that this Valentine’s Day – some random dude from the internet loves you.

Yours, heartful and hopeful,

-R.R. Buck

TIME TO GO FULL NERD.

(Reed’s Song of the Day: Pretty Fly for a White Guy, by the Offspring)

There’s a point where nerdiness becomes cool. That’s what I tell myself, anyway. And I’m hoping that my newest hobby is going to propel me forward through nerddom to that barely tangible point on the horizon.

I’m learning to swing a sword.

You could probably have guessed this was coming if you read my post about buying a cloak and replica sword at a Renaissance Faire. I’ve actually wanted to get into swordplay for a while now, ever since I… bought one.

Let’s take it back a bit, shall we? To the beginning. In May, while at the Faire, I bought a wooden replica of a falchion. I rationalized the purchase by saying that learning some basic swordplay moves would make it easier to write more authentic combat scenes in some of my fantasy novels. However, when I started looking stuff up online, I couldn’t find that many resources on swordplay for a falchion. It isn’t exactly like kendo or anything like that; it’s hidden.

So I started thinking about maybe trying a different style of swordplay, one that would be easier to find resources or classes on. Fencing got into my mind – I have a friend who has a background in fencing. And right around the time I was thinking about fencing, and rapiers, and stuff, I was also doing research on how much it cost to have a sword smithed.

I’M A NERD, OKAY? DON’T YOU JUDGE ME.

Turns out it’s ridiculously expensive to get a custom-made sword. Like, minimum $800 expensive. I don’t have that kind of cash.

But then there was a magical moment. A… wizardly moment. As in, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios. I went there on a trip with my girlfriend and her family, and you wouldn’t believe what I stumbled on in the gift shop.

Godric Gryffindor’s sword.

Not a replica. A legitimate steel rapier in the (fictitious) style of Excalibur, with the crosshilt/sword guard of a larger sword but a very thin blade. And it was much less expensive than getting a custom sword made.

So, to the befuddlement of my girlfriend’s family, I purchased a sword that day. Want to know a fun fact about buying a weapon from a theme park? They have to ship it out to the front entrance for you to pick up because you’re not allowed to have it on the premises. I would never have known.

Anyway, I had the sword, but again, finding online materials with which to teach myself was difficult. My poor rapier gathered dust under the futon while I got lazy (although I did bring it out for the occasional D&D session).

Then came New Year’s Eve, where I found myself in a dive bar with some friends counting down the hours until 2018. We met a really nice couple there, and over the course of a few games of pool we all became decent friends. The guy was talking about how he was with a group called the Society for Creative Anachronism – basically a huge group of crafters, LARPers, and fighters who enjoyed learning old Renaissance stuff. He encouraged me to look it up because, as we’ve established, I’m a nerd.

And when I looked up the L.A. chapter, I saw that they had rapier fencing classes. For free. I was so stoked, I emailed the rapier marshal almost immediately. But again, the momentum was lost when Lindsay and I weren’t able to make it out for the first class and then classes were cancelled for the next couple of weeks because of rain. Also, it was just a bit too far to Lyft once a week, and neither of us had access to a car.

Can we take a minute to recognize that Lindsay wanted to try this stuff with me? Seriously. Each and every time I ask her to try something new or weird, she puts aside her anxiety and goes for it because she knows how much it means to me. I am so lucky to have a partner like her.

But back to the story. I’d tried in three different ways to learn swordplay, and all of them failed.

But then came last Wednesday, when Lindsay and I were walking back from the gym and we saw a few people out on the lawn in front of the basketball stadium, practicing a martial art. They held wooden replicas of katanas and for a minute I thought it was just some altered form of kendo. But when we approached and talked to them, we found out it was something else altogether.

It’s called Kashima Shin-ryū, and it’s sick as hell. Basically it’s a series of grappling and weapons fighting techniques that include daggers, swords, staffs, glaives, and more. Many of the weapons I might have my characters swinging, I could learn myself first.

We came back yesterday – they practice every Wednesday – and tried our hands at it. I did pretty bad, but Lindsay picked it up really well! I think both of us felt badass, though, even if it was just wooden swords. It’s definitely something we’ll be continuing to do on the weekly, and I might bring some of the cool little nerdy facts back here to dissect.

I honestly think this will be a great inspiration for me to write good combat scenes. And maybe someday I’ll actually be able to wield that Sword of Gryffindor and not completely embarrass myself.

…even though it’s a rapier and not a katana.

Well, a guy can dream.

Yours, swooshy-slicingly,

-R.R. Buck

Editing Discoveries [#3 – Double Writing]

(Reed’s Song of the Day: Love in Vain, by the Rolling Stones)

I now have two (count ’em, two) chapters from Sleeper in a pretty good place. This has been the work of just over one month, which bodes badly for the next 35 chapters. At this rate, I’ll have the entire book edited to Draft 2 in about a year and a half.

But it’ll be a pretty damn good book, and ready for Draft 3 edits.

I feel like each time I edit a book, I go into a greater depth, always thinking I’ve done the maximum amount I could do, only to find out later that I could have actually gone deeper. I mean, I suppose I knew that some authors spend years and years getting their books ready for publishing… it’s just more that when you actually put in the effort yourself, it seems so, well, effortful.

It sounds dumb, I know. But previously when I would tell people that I’d written books and they would be impressed, I would always say, “It’s not actually that difficult – anyone with enough time and determination can shit out a terrible book.” And I really felt that way.

Now I think when I’ve finished Draft 2 – and definitely when I’ve finished Draft 3 – I’ll actually feel some sense of accomplishment. Where before I couldn’t really take pride in my work other than its existence (like a spectacular cooking failure that you have to eat but you’re not gonna like), I now will have a book I can be stoked on.

Just seventeen more months to go, I guess… or hopefully it’ll get faster at some point.

But enough blabbing. Today’s editing tip is something I didn’t realize I was doing until halfway through editing my last chapter. I know it’s not original – none of these so-called “discoveries” are original – but it’s new to me, and so it might be new to you.

I’m talkin’ bout double writing.

You ready to hate me? I am!

You have your Draft 1, and it’s nice and unpolished. You pick it up **after the appropriate waiting period** , dust it off, and get out that red pen. Right?

Wrong.

Don’t so much as look at it – unless you don’t even remember what the original chapters were. Instead, pull up a brand new Google Doc or sheet of paper and try to rewrite the first chapter. Except this time, be really conscious of your writing. Try to pay attention to the things you’ve identified as your biggest editing needs as you write. Watch your character interactions; analyze whether your dialogue is according to tone. Check your descriptions to see if they elicit a clear image of what’s happening.

Write that chapter as though you’d never written it before – using your old chapter as an outline, but nothing more than that.

And if your old chapter is shit, or if it doesn’t make sense in the context of your new draft, throw it out completely and try again with this chapter. Write your entire book another time, chapter by chapter.

And when you’re done, pick up both versions of your book – Draft 1 and the version I’ll call Draft 1.5 – and compare them. See if the language you used in one version was more consistent or more impactful than the other. You might be inclined to think that Draft 1.5 will always be better than Draft 1, but that wasn’t the case (at least for me) in some chapters or sections.

What you will have is a previous iteration, one you may have polished and polished without realizing it was utter crap at its core. And in that previous iteration you might find, hidden like nuggets of gold in a pig trough, a few incredible descriptions or bits of prose. Take those hidden gems and sprinkle them into your Draft 1.5. Make a hybrid of those two chapters. The best of both worlds.

Then come down on that motherfucker like Mjolnir.

Don’t worry about line edits, little grammar issues, or anything like that. Tackle bigger stuff – like your editing needs, the immersiveness and grip of the words you write. Because you’ve just done a comparison of two versions of the same chapter, you’ll be in a great position to be able to note where you’ve done a really bad job of accomplishing what you’ve set out to accomplish. Dig away at those things until there’s nothing left but the strong backbone of the chapter or scene. Then start layering it on with buttery strands of fat, glistening prose.

I gross myself out sometimes.

But seriously. It sounds like a lot of effort, I know. And if you’re anything like me even six months ago, you probably won’t be ready to do this. Just know one thing – any editing you do to your novel is bringing you in the right direction. It may take a lot more effort to edit the “wrong” way, but there is no “bad” editing.

Still, if you’re able, try this method. It has brought me some incredible results so far.

Now, I’m halfway through Draft 1.5 for my third chapter, so if you all don’t mind, I’ll be bidding you adieu until Thursday.

Stay squishy, homies.

Yours, with his nose to the editing grindstone,

-R.R. Buck

Oh, and P.S. I consider rewriting to be a different thing than double writing. In case you think I’m stupid and don’t know the word “rewrite”… you’re not entirely wrong. But in this case, yeah.

Editing Discoveries [#2 – Motivational Shifts]

(Reed’s song of the day: Should I Stay or Should I Go, by the Clash)

I’ve been having the best week.

It feels like things are really coming together. I got approval on a new project I’ve been chipping away on at work; I get to watch my girlfriend’s reactions to the last few episodes of Westworld (she’s watching it for the first time); and I get to go to Disneyland with her family this weekend. Plus I have D&D after this tonight.

But one of the best things that happened to me this week was, ironically, a rejection email.

August 2015 – an optimistic and naive Reed Buck sends off a completely unpolished, totally shitty version of Sleeper to about eighty different literary agencies. He gets back a whole bunch of form rejections, one revise and resend that turned out to be a scam, and nothing else.

Now skip forward to Monday, when I received an email back from one of those publishers after one and a half years. The agent apologized for being so late, explaining that they had been overloaded because they responded to each and every query letter with a customized email instead of a form rejection.

They then went on to tell me no, but in one of the nicest ways possible, and even better, they gave me feedback on why it wasn’t working for them, which is like a gold mine to a new writer. I was so stunned, I sent an email back just thanking them for taking the time, after over a year, to respond to me personally.

And then they responded back to that email, telling me that they were happy to hear I was coming back to editing Sleeper and wishing me good luck on my future endeavors. It was so opposite of what I had come to expect of interactions with literary agents. Especially at a time where I was exhausted of spending weeks on editing a single chapter, it gave me a much-needed feeling of connectivity with the writing community.

So what was that one bit of feedback? It was only a sentence, but it’s a sentence I now have written in the Google Doc for Sleeper as a comment when I first open the document. The agent said that they didn’t connect emotionally with my characters, which ultimately prevented them from connecting with my work.

Sounds like a generic line of bull, right? Wrong.

That may be the go-to for literary agents, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad feedback. On the contrary, when I examined all of my main characters in isolation, thinking about their motivations and internal struggles, I realized that so many of them had nothing actually driving them forward besides curiosity and, in one character’s case, a penchant for causing chaos. Those are the makings of something flat on a page. I wanted a person who felt entirely real, so that when you read their very first lines of dialogue you could see them almost as an acquaintance.

So here’s Editing Discovery #2: If you’re not getting a lot of headway with your writing because your characters seem dull… if your alpha readers can’t finish reading your work and you suspect it’s because they can’t get into it… if you just feel like something is lacking in the story or plot….

Try changing your character’s core motivations.

My main protagonist in Sleeper is Melira Canton. She was a new adult who hated her father for reasons unknown and was driven by curiosity to inspect strange events occurring in the city. She could literally have been anyone.

I spent so long in my first round of edits, two years ago now, trying to perfect her dialogue and interactions with other characters. But it’s like Gordon Ramsay trying to make a pie out of pigshit and grass – if the source material isn’t good, it doesn’t matter how good you are at your craft.

And that was when I thought of something. What if I changed Melira’s motivation around? What if she were to keep having strange flashbacks of a memory she knows is not hers, which plague her at the most inopportune times? And what if, when trying to figure out what these memories are, she stumbles upon the main plotline – a thing she doesn’t really care about in and of itself, but needs to solve in order to understand what’s happening to herself? (We all know how I love an anti-hero.)

Suddenly Melira’s curiosity is well-founded. She has violent, terrifying memories of things that haven’t happened. When she starts pulling threads, she realizes her parents may be lying to her – hence her hatred of her father (which also now makes sense in context). And it provides juicy character moments later on that I won’t reveal in case this is finally the round of edits that makes Sleeper marketable.

I guess my point is, if you keep trying to make the world more realistic or the plot more gripping or the magic more intricate, you may not be getting to the root of the problem. No other element of a story can exist in isolation – you can’t just have a world or a plotline. But if you write a really good character, a character that feels so consistent and true that it’s as if they’re standing right in front of you while you’re reading… people would read any story about a character like that, and damn the content.

Yours, one more step down the road in the journey into writing,

-R.R. Buck

Life Update: Career Goals

(Reed’s playlist for the occasion: This 10-hour repeat of the night riding theme from Breath of the Wild)

Well, here we are. A few pretty important things happened in the last two weeks for me – things that I originally thought I could combine into a single post. To spare my viewers a very long and winding read, I’m just going to talk about the most positive of them.

The short of it is, I think I may know what I want to do for a career path.

A week or two ago, I was given the opportunity to teach some classes for the library. Now, up until this point, I’ve done a decent amount of tutoring, review session-leading, individual consultations, mentorship, and other related things. And last quarter I was able to do some co-teaching with a librarian or another student employee for courses I was familiar with.

This was different. For one thing, I didn’t have a co-teacher to fall back on if I wasn’t comfortable; for another, many of the sessions I’ve taught were barely an hour long, including a library tour. This was a full two-hour session by myself.

You might imagine I was pretty nervous going into it. You’d be right.

But the weird thing is, the second I got up in front of that class and started talking about library research skills, the nervousness went away. It was like I was on autopilot, or maybe ‘in character’ is a better way to describe it. I felt kind of like a performer playing a role, where the role was an engaging, enthusiastic teacher.

Of course, there were things holding the class back from being ideal. It was a research course (a requirement for Biology majors who otherwise had no interest in research), and there was some confusion about what students were supposed to be doing. All of them came in at a different level of preparedness for the library session. And finally, it was at 5-7pm. Which meant nobody, including me, wanted to pay attention to my presentation.

Despite this, I went up there and was stoked – I tried to make sure that a lack of enthusiasm from my students wouldn’t bring me down. I taught two classes on two separate days, and both of them lasted about an hour and a half of the allotted two hours. But even in just that three hours of teaching, I felt something incredible.

It didn’t matter that it was so late in the day and everyone wanted to go home. It didn’t matter that when I asked questions I was often greeted with silence. What mattered was that, when there were breaks in my presentation and students were tasked with doing some research during class, I went around to all the groups and answered questions. What mattered was the look on a student’s face when they finally understood how to go about a search, or when I could provide them with a useful trick or workaround.

I’ve always known that I need to work with people in whatever career I have. There has to be some interaction with my customers, or I won’t really be happy. But what I realized in that classroom was that it isn’t just interaction – it’s mentorship, and the ability to know that I’m effecting a real change in someone’s life. That’s what I loved about being a camp counselor for kids with hemophilia; it’s what I loved about being an orientation counselor.

I want to be a teacher.

This isn’t the first time the thought has popped into my head, but it’s the first time I really wanted to pursue it. But of course I know nothing about the experience of teaching outside of the few experiences I’ve had that relate, and I don’t know a lot about the process of becoming a certified teacher.

Luckily, I have great connections to draw on. My aunt and uncle were both teachers for years. My father teaches a prep class on electrical inspection to young professionals who are taking a test to get certified as inspectors. My cousin teaches community college. And I have an abundance of professors and teachers who’ve influenced me whom I want to hear from.

I’m in the process of sending emails out to all of them, and the initial responses I’ve gotten back have been very positive. The way my aunt, uncle, and high school teacher have described the benefits of teaching are exactly in alignment with what I’ve realized my career goals are. They talk about the feeling of providing resources to struggling students and sharing their triumphs and sorrows. They write about how the real benefit of teaching isn’t in the pay. It’s in knowing that you’ve had an impact on children and adolescents at the most critical and impressionable periods in their lives.

I want to do that. I really, really do. And unlike most things I’ve been interested in, I have a natural knack for it – more on that in a second – and I have real world experience doing it. It’s not like writing, where I’ve mostly been playing around and only recently just started to get serious. I can see myself doing this.

And it’s wonderful to receive affirmation from those who teach that I’m thinking about it the right way, but the best things to happen to me in the past few weeks weren’t those emails.

I was given the opportunity to see the feedback and comments students left for me after the library instruction session was over, and they were overwhelmingly positive. They said I was enthusiastic, engaging, answered all their questions, and made them feel a bit more excited about the assignment. They took the time to thank me specifically. Reading over those comments – in the middle of what had been a bad day until that point – turned my entire afternoon around. I almost cried.

That’s what I want for myself. To know that I could do that every day, every year… it would be worth the meetings and the bureaucracy, the pay, the problem students. The opportunity to teach.

So what’s up next for me? Well, I’m emailing some people at UCLA in the education graduate program to ask about what I need to do to become certified. I also have a short list of universities and colleges in California with good education programs, and I’m gonna look them up one by one whenever I have a weekend free or a day off. Eventually, I’ll start getting letters of rec and preparing to take the GRE.

But for now, just having an inkling of what I want to do, and the security that comes with a definite answer… it’s so refreshing and stabilizing. I can move forward knowing not just that I’m moving, but that I’m going towards something. Things may change again in the future – I’d be stupid to not accept that they might – but for right now, I have a path. And that’s just about all I could want.

Yours, hoping for more good updates soon,

-R.R. Buck

Reed’s Top 3 – Editing Needs

(Reed’s Song of the Day: Low, by Todrick Hall)

You know, I was going to write this long post about something I talked with my girlfriend about last night, and the realizations I’ve had about how I operate as opposed to normal people. But right now I’m pretty tired and looking at a three-day weekend after I finish this post, so I’ll save the heavy emotional stuff for next week.

Instead, let’s talk about the top three things I’ve identified as important for me to keep in mind while editing my novel. It’s both similar to and different from my top 3 list of writing shortcomings I put on this blog a little while ago. And if you’re doing editing, these are good things to keep in mind too!


NUMBER THREE: SENTENCE VARIETY

Good writers have this way of crafting sentences that always seem new and interesting. They can interweave short, pithy statements with longer, more grandiose descriptive sentences, all the while keeping the tone consistent. This serves to emphasize what’s important while also driving the reader forward to the next sentence without an obvious drain on their energy.

As you may have noticed, I’m not exactly great with sentence variety. Luckily for me, I have a few alpha readers who are lovely at picking out when I’m using the exact same sentence structure over and over again. You know, the run-on sentence that has a series of phrases barely held together by commas?

He looked at her, saw the way that her hair floated in the wind, the way her eyes watched him even as he watched her, the way the smile tugged at the corner of her lip, and he knew.

Yeah, I do that a lot. And it’s kind of taxing on the reader, having to read those sentences again and again. The number one thing you don’t want to do as a writer is make it difficult for your reader to get through your work, even if they like it; I’m afraid I’ve done that. So I’m keeping a special eye out for sentence variety!


NUMBER TWO: CHAPTER/SCENE VARIETY

If you’re exceptionally clever, you may notice a pattern here. I recently tried a writing project entitled Sanctuary where I had a new writing strategy – basically just have a character and a situation, no outline whatsoever, and write what comes naturally.

Sounds cool, right? WRONG.

When I wrote what came naturally to me, I ended up with 200 pages of terrible, terrible dialogue. No descriptions of characters or places, no real plotline, just a meandering series of character interactions that did an okay job of establishing motivations but was otherwise unreadable. Poor Sanctuary is my least favorite of my writing projects since high school.

The problem was that I wasn’t focusing on variety within a chapter. And not just in the number of scenes that occur – I actually do okay on that – but on the things that are being portrayed in those scenes. Ideally, we have a little bit of character development, a little bit of dialogue, some descriptions thrown in there, and maybe a new plot point introduced. Like a well-tossed salad.

My salads are like lettuce in a bowl. Just lettuce. And that lettuce is barely digestible dialogue.


NUMBER ONE: PACING 

Yeeeah, this is still my biggest problem. It’s really hard for me to tell what should make it in and what should be left out of a draft. Last year, I kind of went on this bender where I decided that everything that wasn’t absolutely necessary should be cut. Maybe if I were a better writer this would work out, and I’d be able to use a thousand words to set a scene, execute some kickass dialogue, and showcase character personalities all at once.

But I’m not that good yet. And so what happened when I cut scenes from Symphony of Legend, one of my newer projects, was that I left myself with a way-too-fast plot progression set in a world that felt two-dimensional. There was no time to adjust, relax, and look around at the places I’d created. It was just story moment after story moment, and the whole thing kind of made me feel queasy.

So obviously I can’t drone on and on in my books like I do in these posts, but neither can I remove all details of my world and in doing so make the whole thing flat.

FLAT EARTH CONSPIRACY – KALIN IS ACTUALLY LOCATED IN A CORNER OF DISCWORLD – SPHEREISTS ARE FULL OF SHIT


But in all seriousness, what I’m really trying to work on with this new set of edits is variety. I want my stuff to feel well-rounded, like I spend the right amount of time on everything. And that, darlings, is my editing need for this year.

Now if only I could actually do that….

Yours, wondering why he sucks at descriptions,

-R.R. Buck

Editing Discoveries [#1 – Alternating Perspectives]

(Reed’s Song of the day: the Furi OST – seriously, if you haven’t listened to this, do it)

Do you hate editing your writing projects?

Me, too.

I honestly have yet to come across a young writer who enjoys the process of editing. It’s kind of like taking the fun of spontaneous, thoughtless, exciting writing and locking it up in a cage for a while while you separate grains of rice by hand. Except those grains of rice are words, and each one has to be examined.

See, luckily I’m blogging right now or I’d have to think about just how shitty that metaphor was.

If you hate editing as much as I do, then hopefully my new series will be of some help to you. I’m calling it “Editing Discoveries” because “Editing Tips” sounds like I know all this crap instead of figuring it out on the fly (and then probably changing my opinions later). I’m hoping this will be a fruitful year, even if it’s frustrating, and I want to share what I learn with you all.

So here’s number one. It begins with you reading, if you haven’t already, at least part of my teaser chapter (parts one and two) of Sleeper, one of my oldest workable novels.

Go on, read it. I’ll wait.

So what’s wrong with these teaser chapters? Besides all the little grammatical and word choice mistakes, of course. In my perception, at least, the problem with part one is that it’s all action and no exposition – we have no idea what’s going on, no sense of stakes, and because we know nothing about the girl, we don’t really care that much.

And the problem is almost the opposite in the second part – we have this nice long chunk of dialogue between the King and the General, but nothing really happens other than this clear exposition.

One is too action-heavy, one is too dialogue-heavy. As a writer, I should be able to inject a little bit of backstory or exposition into the girl’s chapter and a little bit of action into Artura VII’s. And I tried doing that, with a little bit of success (examples to come below).

But a bolt of inspiration struck me one night where I thought to myself, If these two are kind of opposites, why not put them in alternating perspectives? If I could find places in each chapter where the tension is getting higher and then cut away from that scene to a bit of the other chapter, I could keep increasing that tension in both places as well as not overloading the reader with too much dialogue or action all at once!

So I gave it a shot – and mind you, this isn’t a substitute for making legitimate variations in chapter and scene structure. It’s just a nice helpful trick to use, especially in the first chapter so long as it doesn’t feel gimmicky. I haven’t had very many of my alpha readers look over it, but the one who did said he thought it worked well.

Maybe you all can tell me what you think. I’ll post some portions from the end:


“Be silent, General,” Artura hissed. Did he tremble with rage, or with weakness?
“Perhaps,” Weiss said, stepping closer, “you simply need someone to tell you to quit whinging and take some initiative!”
“Oh, I’ll show you initiative.” The king exhaled a sharp bark of pained laughter. “My final initiative will be signing that bill. I’ll give Canton a shot at running this fallow city.”
“No, you won’t,” Weiss said. “If you think I’ll let you condemn yourself, then—”
“Then what?” Artura VII said, his grip tightening on Weiss’s shoulder. “In case you’ve forgotten, Hugh, I’m still your king. You will do exactly as I say or I’ll have you executed. I still have that power.”
General Weiss gaped as he edged away from the King. Inadvertently, he broke Artura’s grip on his arm; without the support, the King’s legs began to shake with exertion.
* * *
The girl’s body came back under her control.
She was off like a marsh hare, darting through the mist, refusing to even look behind her as she ran. She had no idea what direction she was going, if she was moving out of the Fallowland or further in, but it didn’t matter. Any distance she put between herself and the incubus was another breath of life.
Try as she might, she couldn’t block out the sound of it behind her; its thudding footsteps shook the ground ever so slightly as they landed. She could feel her spine tensing in anticipation of the rending claws in her back. But they never came, and she started to relax just barely enough to take stock of the situation.
There was only one way she could survive this. The girl gathered up her aura again, tearing at it with both hands. The little crack in the center was like a beacon of hope to her.
She stumbled over a hidden vine and lost concentration. Though she managed to keep her footing, she had to start again with her aura. The labored breaths of the incubus came from behind her, slow and heavy.
“Shite,” she muttered, bringing her aura back around and starting the process of warping again. “Shite, come on, you stupid thing.”
Claws raked her back, drawing a line of fiery pain, and her heart nearly leapt into her mouth. Somehow, she managed to keep her concentration. A cry of relief escaped her as her aura opened.
She wiggled sideways through and was treated to one last nightmarish glimpse of the incubus reaching for her from the other side, its eyes glowing dark.
Then she was somewhere else.
* * *
The General stared at his King, but made no move to stabilize him. “Is that how it will be, then?” he said. “Is this the legacy you’ve left for history?”
Artura felt blood rise to his face. “Get out of my throne hall.”
General Weiss let out a choked laugh through his tears. “Who will escort me? None of your soldiers respect you. They answer to me only.”
It was true. Sun and moon help him, it was all true. Artura VII commanded no one.
“Leave,” he whispered, forcing the word past trembling, traitorous lips. “I need to think.”
“Think, hm? That I sincerely doubt.”
Leave me!”
The words echoed throughout the throne hall, growing more distorted and garbled as they overlapped. They were the cries of a wounded animal.
For the shortest of moments, the General’s hand clenched into a fist; then he conquered the urge and bowed stiffly one last time.
“Sir.”
General Weiss stalked to the side of the room and threw the door open, terrifying the maid who stood in the hallway behind it. The King heard him yell “What?!” at the poor girl before the door slammed shut and Artura VII was alone.
The tears ran down Artura’s face, catching in wrinkles as his body used up the last of the magic he’d hoarded. Another attack of weakness hit him as he descended the steps, causing him to fall to the ground with a pitiful thud. When he maneuvered his arms under his body to push himself up, all he could see were veins and wrinkles and liver spots.
Artura VII barely made it back to his feet and stumbled over to his nonpareil. The object that had tormented his waking dreams. The ultimate symbol of his addiction. His own pale, ancient face stared back at him like a corpse on the pyre. The sight of his true body made him want to retch.
With shaking hands Artura VII grasped at the sides of the nonpareil, nails digging into the soft gold of the frame. He could sense the magic just beyond it, waiting for him, beckoning.
Just one hit… just a tiny bit.
Could he betray General Weiss so easily?
Did he dare?
* * *
Though her mind tried to take stock of her situation and remain alert, the girl’s legs betrayed her. They crumpled and she fell into a sitting position, her tights growing damp with the permanent moisture of the Fallowland. She put her palms against her eyes, stifling tears that threatened to overwhelm her.
What had she been doing here? What had she thought she would accomplish? A stupid, scared little girl thinking she could just walk up to the mountain. She’d almost been killed, and now she was hopelessly lost.
Somehow, it still wasn’t nearly as bad as having the memory at the back of her mind. It waited there in the darkness for her to let her guard down. This may have been a foolish plan, but she needed to be rid of it. Somehow.
In the Fallowland there was an answer; outside, there was none.
She sniffled a bit, wishing there was someone here with her. Someone who could tell her what to do.
And then it happened.
She wasn’t quite sure how she knew – perhaps a nearly imperceptible change in the air, or a little sound as the incubus warped into place behind her. She whirled around, fists clenched. At the very least, she wasn’t going to freeze this time.
The incubus moved with startling agility. Its aura clashed with hers, dark and light sparks flying as they pushed against one another. The incubus reached forward, its arm pushing into her aura so that it flexed like a bubble. To the girl it was as if she was being attacked in exaggeratedly slow motion.
She realized she might be able to run again, if her aura could slow down the incubus this much.
And then her aura disappeared.
The incubus overpowered her even as the Fallowland dust seeped into her eyes, her hair, her mouth. It was warm when she breathed it in to scream.
The incubus lay a single claw on her forehead, and Draumir disappeared around her.
The girl saw something – something far beyond herself. A glimpse of a truth so deep and resonant that it ached to experience in this shortest of moments.
This… can’t be….
She collapsed to the ground and surrendered to unconsciousness.


And so on and so forth. You get the idea.

I think it really aids both scenes, allowing me to continue to bring the tension forward until it’s almost too much. And as we all know, you really need to capture the reader’s attention in that first chapter or it’s curtains for you and your work.

So next time you’re editing a scene and you notice that it’s too much of one thing, see if it would work out to combine with another, differently structured scene! It just might be the perfect thing for both scenes.

Yours, now 1.25 chapters through editing a trilogy,

-R.R. Buck

Book Review – A Wizard of Earthsea

(Reed’s Song of the Day: Push It, by Salt-N-Pepa)

So before we get started I just wanted to let you all know that I won’t be posting this Thursday. I have to work late – something I want to talk about next week – and I’ll be going right into D&D after that.

Hopefully all my raving fans can handle a day off.

Anyway, let’s hit it!


Title: A Wizard of Earthsea

Author: Ursula K. Le Guin

Genre: High Fantasy

Premise: A young and arrogant wizard pays for early mistakes when he casts a spell that releases an unnamed evil into the world.

If you’re a big fantasy reader, chances are you’ve heard of the Earthsea series. It’s one of those classics that’s been around for decades and is still popular. Ursula Le Guin is one of the great female fantasy authors, and I was glad to finally have an opportunity to read the first installment of Earthsea when my brother gifted it to me for Christmas.

It’s a surprisingly short read, albeit dense like most fantasy. The paperback copy I have is less than 200 pages – I assume because it’s a four-part series and this was just book one. So if you’re looking for something that isn’t too time-intensive (read: not Brandon Sanderson), then you can pick this up.

I have only a few small issues with the book.

The first one I’m gonna call “Bible prose”. A Wizard of Earthsea has a lot of that kind of writing style where there are a lot of phrases and clauses separated by commas and everything is kind of puzzling to work through. You know, the “And so it was, that by the powers that were, he should find the place whereupon, if he were to reach it, he might finally determine, through a series of challenges, the nature, however fleeting, of his manhood” kind of sentences.

I actually don’t mind it – sometimes it can be pretty cool to read, and it definitely makes it feel like fantasy – but for me at least, it kind of ruins character development. If I’m not hearing at least some kind of an internal monologue from my characters, and not just one that’s present but one that invests me in them as people, then I’m not going to bond with them as much as I might want to. I definitely felt that was the case here; I didn’t have a lot of interest in these characters and kept reading mostly for the world and the adventure within.

This especially occurred because in many scenes, where dialogue could have been had and I could have gotten to know the protagonist through his words and choices, there were instead vague summarizations like “With few words spoken the ship’s master agreed to take Geed as passenger to Roke, since it was a mage that asked it”. The dialogue, when it occurred, was sparse, which didn’t give me a great connection with any of the characters.

The second problem is, I think, more a result of the year the book was published (1968) than a choice of the author’s. It has pretty much no strong female characters. The only female characters that have any importance in the book are all beguilers, using a combination of charm and witch-sorcery (which is apparently inferior to male wizards’ magic) to attempt to turn the protagonist from his noble path. And the minor female characters have almost no role, at least in this novel. Maybe it will be better in the latter part of the series.

Despite these small problems, A Wizard of Earthsea is a rousing adventure full of epic moments. There are all the things we want to see in a classic fantasy novel – dragons and sorcerors, evil and good, a hero’s journey – and the world it takes place in is well-realized and deep. I may not have felt that connected with the hero, but I still enjoyed watching his journey across the various islands of Earthsea fleeing the demon he’d released.

Reed’s Rating: 8/10

Yours, taking a break to read Animorphs,

-R.R. Buck