Lightsabers and Surfboards

Stefan A. Slater's blog about whatever's on Stefan A. Slater's mind (e.g., Ewoks, Pipeline and speaking in the third person).

Category: Uncategorized

Happy Thanksgiving from Lightsabers and Surfboards (and me)

Happy Turkey Day, everybody! I have a lot to be thankful for this year, but instead of berating you with every item on my list (I’m going to do that later at the dinner table in front of all my family; moreover, I will be slightly shammered and yelling in my happiest, most Thanksgiving-iest tone of voice too) I thought I would post two treasures that I found on Imgur this morning.

Once again, Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

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Workday Distractions Part II: When the Internet Dies, What Do I Read?

smart-dog-is-reading

Having recently returned from the land of redwoods and kelp-infested surf (aka Big Sur… don’t worry, I’ll save the trip photos for FB), I feel like now’s a pretty good time to delve into the second part of my Workday Distractions series, which I’ve decided to title, Stuff I Read When the Computer Kills My Eyes Or When The Internet Vanishes.

As a writer, my computer is my best friend. I spend most of my day sending emails and pitches, surfing the Web for story ideas or general news, promoting my work, staying in touch with other writers, and… well, blogging. Put I also play online games and hang out on Imgur and Youtube way too much. So, with that said, sometimes I need a break from the computer and all things electronic—sometimes it’s because I’ve hit a little productivity slump and I need to mix things up, and other times it’s because my eyes are ready to pop out of my head like bloody Champagne corks due to the fact that I’ve been staring at the computer screen (aka Screen of Death) for hours on end.

So, without further ado, here’s the list:

Books and comics: Ok, this is probably a bit of a no-brainer for most of you, but you’d be amazed by how many writers don’t allocate enough time to reading. Even if I’m busy, I try to allot a certain amount of time to the need-to-read book that I’m trying to work through, which means that I have to pass up on other, sometimes more entertainingly thoughtless distractions, like Adult Swim cartoons or Xbox games. And yes, I’m not trying to throw out some tried platitude in the same vein as one of CBS’ The More You Know commercials, but the old school reading and writing rule is still the best one: The more you read, the better your writing will become. So, with that in mind, I try to read it all: Genre fiction, literary fiction, comic books, pamphlets, take-out menus and crumpled-up coupons—if it’s written halfway decently on a piece of paper that isn’t sopping wet and or on fire, then I’ll read it. Though I have to say, I’m not perfect: I’m not one of those writers who will tout that, “Oh, I can’t wait to curl up with my copy of War and Peace before I go to bed.” Yes, it’s absolutely important that you read the weighty classics, but I still like to read the fun genre stuff. Give me an issue of Y: The Last Man, Saga or a good King short and I’m set for the night. It’s all about balance: Read the heavy stuff, but don’t be afraid to switch over to some light reading too—as long as the story is decent, anyway.

Newspapers and Magazines: Reading TIME.com and Tor is great, but since I’m currently a freelance magazine writer (yikes, that does make me sound a bit old), I do my best to read some of the best works that I can find in today’s newspapers and magazines. I’ll read the local stuff (local city mags, LA Times, LA lifestyle websites, etc.), but I also make a point of reading print publications from outside of LA, two of the best being The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times (those are two very different beasts, I know, but they both offer up some of the best feature writing in the country). Most people look at mags and newspapers as struggling dinosaurs that are wheezing and slumping along as they try to keep up with the super-evolved, ultra-fast electronic mammal we call a “website,” but that’s not entirely accurate. Yes, newspapers and magazines will never, ever be a main source of information in the 21st century, but the print medium is perfect for one thing: Telling the ideal long-form story. The Web is designed for short spurts of information—short blurbs that are meant to get across the key bits of a story. But a print feature can meander a little more. It can spout off important details—such as physical descriptions, longer quotes, and so on—that web editors would cut out in a heart beat. A print story still has to be relatively concise, but the story can takes its time and mature a little, which is honestly something that’s rarely seen online.

Pen and Paper: I do most of writing on the computer. But sometimes it’s nice to break out the old pen and paper. I only started writing in a notebook (either jotting down short stories or quick notes) consistently a few months ago, but I’ve already noticed a few things about my electronic writing: I rely on spellchecker and Google way, way too much. Plus, when you’re writing on your comp, the distractions (especially the web-based distractions) are hard to ignore. But with simple paper, it’s a little easier to focus on the task at hand. I don’t write in my notebook as much as I should, but it does have its perks, and I recommend it to any other writers out there.

Anyway, that’s my list of non-web related Workday Distractions. Thanks for tuning in! If any other writers out there have any suggestions on non-web things to do when I need a break from my computer (but still want to improve my writing skills), let me know.

Europa Report and Pacific Rim: Highbrow vs. Popcorn fun

If you haven’t seen Pacific Rim yet, do so. Scrap your plans for the day and go see the movie. Take your friends. Your mom. Hell, even your dog… you know, if he or she’s into the whole “robot punching monsters” thing.

And with that said, I know the premise sounds a little unsophisticated, and honestly, it is: There’s an interdimensional portal, possible alien overlords trying to take over our world, and GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING GIANT MONSTERS. And that’s it. There aren’t any real twists. What you see is what you get. But you know what? Sometimes that’s a damn fine thing.

The movie is popcorn fun incarnate. The fight scenes are tremendous, the effects spectacular. The monsters are terribly clever looking (and, sometimes, even a little scary), and the Jaeger robots are beyond cool–the amount of detail that went into each one, especially the hero robot Gipsy Danger, is borderline obsessive. Also, and unlike Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, there aren’t any prerequisite half-naked Megan Fox slow-mo shots, or (as far as I know) blatant product placements. The main characters, Raleigh Becket (Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam) and Mako Mori (Rinko Kikiuchi), have engaging origin stories and are independently strong–there are hints of a relationship developing between the two throughout the movie, but there’s never any outright romance. The director, Guillermo del Toro, never strays from the story he wants to tell: Humans build robots to fight monsters. And that’s it. So, all in all, the movie is simply a lot of fun. It didn’t really stimulate any deep thought, but all in all, that wasn’t the point–Pacific Rim is pure entertainment.

Europa Report, however, is on the opposite end of the spectrum. If Pacific Rim is a game of dodgeball at recess, Europa report is a two-hour math final–in other words, it’s absolutely grounded in real world seriousness. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in most cases, but unfortunately Europa kind of dropped the ball.

The movie, which stars one of my favorites, Sharlto Copley from District 9, is about a group of astronauts and scientists who are on their way to Europa, that one moon of Jupiter’s that’s completely covered in ice. NASA worked with the production company to make sure all the minute details (tech, terminology, etc.) was all accurate, and in that sense, the movie works wonderfully. There’s also this daunting sense of isolation, especially once the astronauts lose contact with mission control and are effectively on their own.

But, ultimately, Europa just becomes another monster movie, and said monster, at least in my opinion, was a bit of a let down. It felt like the movie revolved entirely on convincing the audience that these are real astronauts, flying a plausible mission to explore a real destination, one that scientists now believe might host life. And in that regard, they succeeded. This all really could happen. I firmly believe that. But once the astronauts reach Europa, well, the movie regurgitates the same “monster tries to get onboard plot,” albeit with a lot of fancy NASA terminology. And the monster looks too much like an Earth creature (not to give away any spoilers)–the production company could have done anything with their creature, but it still looks way too Earth-like. Honestly, there was a great deal more creativity that went into the creatures in Pacific Rim, by far.

So, if you’re looking for a movie to watch this weekend, skip the ultra-realistic Europa and concentrate your efforts on the popcorn fun that is Pacific Rim. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Burning Lobsters and Penmanship

Well, the project folder sure has filled up this past month.

Good news all around, by the way, because consistent freelance work not only keeps me from hanging out on Imgur (which is about as addictive as chocolate cake laced with heroin), but it also keeps me motivated to work on some of my other personal projects.

For instance, I’m on the third draft of a short story I started during my creative writing class—started at 10,000 words, now I’m trimming it down to 7,500—and I’m working on some fun flash fiction too.

Oh, I’m also working on improving my handwriting.

Why?

As a writer, my handwriting should be decent. Passable. Kind of legible.

I should be able to lounge in my lavish garden and bang out 20,000 words using my exquisite quill and ink set. But I can’t. First off, no garden or quill set, but more importantly, my handwriting’s completely illegible.

Let’s say you gave a lobster a pen.

I’m not sure how you’d go about doing that, but hypothetically speaking, let’s just say that you bought a lobster at the supermarket, and duct taped a pen to one of its claws.

Then let’s say that you took that seriously confused crustacean and placed it on a notepad and poured a few pounds of cocaine all over it.

Still with me? Good.

Okay, after waiting for the lobster to do its Tony Montana thing, let’s say you then poured gasoline all over it and lit it on fire.

Whatever half-burnt scribbles you were able to salvage would still be better than what you’d find in my research notebook.

Longwinded way to say my handwriting’s terrible, but hopefully you got my point.

So, I’ve taken it upon myself to remedy the issue: Following advice from both my girlfriend and mom, I’m copying (word-for-word) one of my favorite books—The Drawing of the Three: The Dark Tower II—by hand.

If anyone has any advice on improving my handwriting, I’d appreciate any and all suggestions. Wish me luck!

Oh, and I promise I wont burn any lobsters.