Major Life Changes: Balancing Packing and Writing

mapTo say that the last few days have been a whirlwind of insanity would be an understatement. Last Monday, I was contacted about an interview for a job I really wanted. Less than 24 hours later, I was being interviewed for that job and was given a tentative offer; 42 hours beyond that, and I was offered a position as an Instructor of English with Berlitz in Poznań, Poland, starting at the beginning of October. “Did you accept?” you may very well ask, at which point I will stare at you incredulously, because of course I took the job. It would be ridiculously stupid of me not to. Anyway, factoring in the time I’d need to get settled and start my job training, it became clear that I have a little under 5 weeks to prepare, pack, and relocate. Everything since Thursday has thus been a hectic mess of logistics and suitcase-wrangling.

The sad and unintended side-effect of this major life change has been that I don’t have time to write. I finished another chapter of my novel about a week and a half ago, and I was working at full steam on the next one when the world turned upside down and and inside out (albeit in the best possible way). When I do have a few moments to sit down and not work on a list or comb through paperwork, I’m too mentally tired to actually get any of my creative writing done. My characters are currently complaining that I’m never around, but one day they’ll understand that I’m doing this for them so that they can have better opportunities and maybe a European castle some day. Anyways, I just cannot brain enough to work on my novel, but I can’t just stop writing while I’m relocating. So I’ve developed a system to keep myself consistently in the writing game (and, incidentally, keep me from stressing out too much). I have to take at least 15 minutes a day to write on *something,* whatever that may be. I started a travel blog that I’m currently updating daily, I write my posts for The Art of Writing, and occasionally I will write out one of my famous rants about something nerd-related (usually Doctor Who, to be honest, but you all probably knew that). The point is, despite all the insanity around me, I’m still making myself write. And when I’m flying from the Arizona desert to Poland next month, maybe I will have the time and energy to get back to my novel and my poor neglected characters. But for now, it’s a start.

“What Took You so Long, Old Man?” A Review of the Doctor Who Series 9 Trailer

Hello, sweetie.
Hello, sweetie.

I am a longtime Whovian, a devotee of the Doctor. I grew up watching Classic Doctor Who, and when Russell T Davies regenerated the show in 2005, I jumped on board the TARDIS with Christopher Eccleston’s 9th Doctor and never quite left. In April, I published my Master’s thesis, a 120+ page paper all about Doctor Who, complete with a personal interview with writer Robert Shearman and the signature of the Tenth Doctor himself, David Tennant. I’m a little bit obsessed is what I’m trying to say here. Despite my concerns (Tom, Lorien, and Tobias can all attest that they are many) with Who under Moffat’s leadership in general, and series 8 as a whole, I still haunt the internets in search of hints and promo pictures for anything leading up to the new series. When the teaser trailer for series 9 was released this weekend, I screamed like I’d seen a Weeping Angel, plugged in my headphones, and sat down to watch. So today, you’ll be treated to my review of the new Who trailer. The video is embedded below; if you haven’t seen it yet, watch, and then finish reading 🙂 Allons-y!

So, the first thing that comes to my attention is that they’re running a trailer without the Doctor Who theme music. I’m all for mixing things up, but making an entire 1 minute, 30 second trailer without even a hint of the music (particularly since the 12th Doctor’s music is so amazing), seems a little odd to me. We’ve also got some recognizable bad guys: Missy, the Daleks, the Zygons, and I could swear the grey hands coming out of the ground at the beginning are reminiscent of the Weeping Angels from Time of the Doctor. I could be wrong-and I probably am-but hey, that’s the first thought that came to mind. We also have what looks like the Doctor in an orange spacesuit, which has obvious flashbacks to the Tenth Doctor in The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit. Several folks have commented that this trailer leans very heavily on connections and references to Classic Who/early New Who, particularly in regards to Peter Capaldi’s increasingly Pertwee-esque look, and I can agree with that assessment. Moffat brought in a lot of new stuff to series 8, but based on this trailer, I think we’re going to be falling back more on previous plots and monsters. The appearance of Maisie Williams, the young actress who plays Arya Stark on Game of Thrones, reinforces this idea for me. Her one line, “What took you so long, old man?” instantly connotes a long familiarity with the Doctor, which has many, including yours truly, thinking that she’s a Time Lord. Earlier in the trailer, we see her jumping into the Doctor’s arms and he holds her tightly. Personally, I think that Williams’ character will be Susan Foreman, the First Doctor’s granddaughter.  Moffat is linking New Who to Classic Who far tighter than Russell T Davies ever did – and considering the atrocity that was the reference to Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in series 8, I’m not sure I like it. pertwee and capaldi

The newer villains, locations, and other characters honestly don’t make that much of an impact on me. They barely blink in for half a second each, and the dark lighting makes them hard to see. Since they barely register, it’s hard to be interested in them.

Something I noted in the trailer was the Doctor’s line about “evil.” We don’t know what that evil is; it could be evil in a universal sense or speaking about some force in particular. However, the Doctor’s line “I want to kiss it [the evil] to death” comes directly after a shot of Missy applying her lipstick, which seems to me to indicate that Missy is the evil and will be our overarching villain again. I also noted that this line seems to contradict the last line: “I’m the Doctor, and I saves people’s lives.” The contrast between him wanting to cause the death of something followed directly by an announcement that he saves lives. I think we’re going to get more tension between the Doctor’s traditional heroism and his more recent tendency towards anti-heroism.

The best part of the whole trailer was the one second shot of the Doctor in sunglasses, rocking out with a guitar. Now THAT, I want to see. Other than that, this trailer overall left me colder than a Dalek Sphere in the Void. It wasn’t very different or interesting, and it was hard to stay engaged without the right music. It didn’t get me excited about the upcoming season, so I do hope that the next trailer will be more defined and exciting. Overall: 2/10. Thoughts, fellow Whovians?

 

A Triumphant Return from the Mount of Academia

You may have noticed that I haven’t been around for the past three months. This unfortunate and quite devastating (to all of you, I’m sure) absence has been due to a rather insane final semester of my Master’s program. Over the course of the past 12 weeks, I’ve written and successfully defended a nearly-hundred-page thesis on Doctor Who, met David Tennant and his glorious hair (and got him to autograph the aforementioned thesis), survived my last two graduate classes and all of the papers pertaining thereto, and taught two courses full of occasionally eager, but usually sleepy, Freshmen students. I’ve also made the decision to move; in two weeks, the day after I get to wear the long robes and the funny hat in another commencement ceremony, I will be leaving the East Coast and heading to Arizona. As a result, I’ve had to add packing to my long list of things to do (and I still haven’t finished quite yet…). As you can imagine, such a hectic schedule has prevented me from doing anything outside of academic writing. I haven’t written a single short story or a line of poetry since January. Now that (almost) all of that is over and done, however, I now have time to write creatively and to talk to all of y’all about writing and other such fun things. For my next post, you can look forward to me talking about my next monumental task: I’m finally attempting a novel. We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, here’s a picture of me with David Tennant, his hair, and the random banana we brought for him (David’s Scottish accent not pictured, but oh, is it brilliant)

me and david

 

Foundations of Large Projects: Quote Mining

Life is good when you get to watch Doctor Who all day and call it "research."
Life is good when you get to watch Doctor Who all day and call it “research.”

So I am currently engaged in writing my Master’s thesis, which is a very complicated hundred page paper. Granted, it’s on Doctor Who, which is fantastic, but it’s still stressful and occupies the majority of my time and thoughts. My next few posts will have something to do with the art of thesis writing, because the more I work on this monstrosity, the more I realize I can apply some of the concepts I use to my fiction writing. Nice to know that all the work I’m putting in for that fancy bit of paper I’ll be getting in May will apply to something other than school work. Anyway, today I want to talk about the process I’ve been working on for the past two months, and how it applies to creative writing.

Since April, I have been working on something I refer to as “quote mining.” I have about 65 different sources for my thesis (whittled down from the 120+ I found during the research process), and I’ve read almost all of them at this point. Once I became familiar with my sources, I sat down with my computer and the stack of books and journal articles, and started up a new Word document. I’ve been going through each source individually, page by page, and typing up each quote I find that I think even might tangentially relate to something I’m going to discuss in my thesis. I’m still finishing up the quote mining, but once I’m done with that, I’m going to go back through the huge document of quotes, and organize each quote by which chapter it will end up in when I put it in the actual thesis. This is by far the most time-consuming and exhausting part of my writing – actually writing the 100 pages of material will be pretty quick and easy compared to this. However, it’s a really necessary part of the writing process for me, as it helps me really understand the material and become really familiar with my sources.

Like this, but with words.
Like this, but with words.

Now, how does this relate to creative writing? As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I have trouble working on creative projects that aren’t short stories. I’ve tried novel writing and never gotten anywhere, mostly because I have trouble with world building. It’s hard for me to creative a “world,” whether real or imaginary, and detail that setting for an entire book. I can’t keep all of those details and images in my head for that long, so it’s hard for me to remain consistent. Something I’ve discovered with the thesis process, though, is that if I do my research for my world building and catalog it the way I do my thesis quotes, the whole thing becomes much easier to manage. I “mine” quotes and descriptions from sources on setting, design, and so on that relate to what I’m trying to create, and once I’ve sourced it enough to have a clear idea of the world in my head, I organize the quotes/descriptions based on the part of the world to which they relate. Working on long creative projects has now gotten much easier for me to manage, and I’m not so freaked out by the world building anymore 🙂 I’ve also discovered that it works well for shorter projects that require research, such as historical fiction or sci-fi…quote mining my research in these areas helps me to remember what I’ve discovered/decided to use, and it makes my works much more consistent. I’m not saying this method will work for everyone, but it definitely works for a Type A, OCD, easily freaked out itinerant writer. Happy writing!

So I Went to Oregon and Met the Doctor

Well, this past week, I went to Portland,  Oregon for an academic conference. It was great fun – a bunch of English-y academic types presenting papers on everything from “Tracing Monomyth in Homer and Harry Potter” to “Sexuality in Doctor Who” to “Celtic Mythology in the Lion King.” We also went around and explored Portland a bit – since I’ve never been on the West Coast before, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Anyway, we got back really late last night due to bad weather (6 inches of snow, Virginia, really?), and today’s been rather hectic. So for this post, I thought I’d share some of my conference pictures and give a few brief descriptions of what happened. Enjoy!

My companions for the long flight: Rory the penguin, an iPod full of awesome music, and my favorite Star Trek anthology.
My companions for the long flight: Rory the penguin, an iPod full of awesome music, and my favorite Star Trek anthology.
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Portland things!
Powell's bookstore - this place spans an entire city block and has floor to ceiling bookcases.
Powell’s bookstore – this place spans an entire city block and has floor to ceiling bookcases.
Can I create my own Cthulhu?
Can I create my own Cthulhu?
He exists! The Doctor is real! And I met him.
He exists! The Doctor is real! And I met him.
From Voodoo Doughnut, the best doughnut shop in the US.
From Voodoo Doughnut, the best doughnut shop in the US.

Of Illness and Homework

What do you mean, summer is 3 months away? 😦

Well….I was going to have a really epic and awesome post for you today. However, I have been swamped with homework (28 credits + this is my last semester + thesis = very exhausted Sel), and on top of that, I’ve had a massive migraine all day. So, I don’t really have anything for you today. I promise to have an extra-amazing post next week, though. In the meantime, enjoy these pictures of epic things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A penguin with a lightsaber. This is awesome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Tennant with a kitten. Nothing better.
David Tennant with a kitten. Nothing better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epic dragon is epic. This image was created by dragonrider56.
Epic dragon is epic. This image was created by dragonrider56.

 

Doctor, We Have a Problem

We watch Matt Smith now. Matt Smith is cool.

The British Sci-Fi show “Doctor Who” has been one of my favorite TV shows for years. I grew up with it…long before Slitheen, Rose Tyler,  and the Silence, I was enthralled to watch Tom Baker’s be-scarfed 4th Doctor munching on jellybabies while travelling with Sarah Jane, Sylvester McCoy’s dark and mysterious 7th Doctor teach Ace to enjoy the wonders of the universe without blowing everything up, and Jon Pertwee’s Edwardian 3rd Doctor stroll around Earth in his velvet smoking jacket. I spent many hours learning to be a “witty little knitter” so that I could make a scarf like the 4th Doctor’s, writing stories in which I was the companion of the Doctor, and pretending to be the beautiful Time Lord/Lady Romana. Yes, the special effects were cheesy, but I didn’t care. It was magic. So a few years ago, when I heard the news that Doctor Who was being brought back to life, I was absolutely ecstatic. I couldn’t wait to get wrapped up in the magic again and let myself be taken to other times and places that I could have never dreamed of. Now, almost 6 years later, I must admit to being somewhat disappointed. There are a lot of things the show gets very, very right (hello, Weeping Angels *shudders*), but I find it to be rather lacking in a great deal of the creativity that enthralled me in the “classic series.”

My first issue: why in the name of Gallifrey do we keep coming back to Earth? The show is about a man who can travel

Ah, Gallifrey. I wish to see more of you.

ANYWHERE in time and space. That implies that he’s not going to be tethered to one little planet in one galaxy for the next few centuries. Yes, he’s rather fond of it and I get that. But in a show that has 13-14 episodes per season, setting 4-5 episodes or more on Earth is rather annoying. I want to see other worlds, not be told about them (the episode “Boom Town” was guilty of this – they mentioned at least 4 different planets and we never got to see a glimpse of any of them). For example, look at season 1 with the 9th Doctor: only 3 out of 10 episodes take place off Earth. Of those 3, 1 watches the destruction of Earth and the other 2 involve a space station orbiting Earth. The classic series did spend a great deal of time on Earth, but nowhere near as much as the current season does (before you bring up Jon Pertwee’s tenure as the Doctor, let me mention that they stuck him on Earth because of budget constraints – current Who doesn’t have those pressing restrictions). Look at the Key to Time story arc during the tenure of Tom Baker: 6 stories, each with 4 or more episodes. Only one of those stories took place on Earth. Throughout classic Who, we visited Skaro, Gallifrey, Ribos, the Planet of the Spiders, Varos, and so many other worlds. I miss them. Every time the TARDIS doors open onto the same old landscapes of Earth, I sigh with disappointment. I want to use my imagination and let it go elsewhere, not be stuck on a world I already know. The most recent season of Doctor Who has gotten a little bit better, but still far too much about Earth. Steven Moffat, I’m begging you: take us somewhere else!

Sutekh, my favorite classic Who villian.

My second big issue: the villians. I don’t know about y’all, but I’m sick and tired of the Daleks and the Cybermen. They’ve lost whatever menace they originally had. It started with the episode “Dalek,” what with giving the Dalek human emotions and all that, but at least they got something right: Daleks aren’t capable of feeling emotion, they’re not supposed to feel emotion. When that one Dalek was forcibly given emotions, it confused it and pushed it to the point of self-destruction because feelings and emotions defeat the very purpose of Daleks. They can’t feel, they don’t feel, and they don’t want to. That’s what made them scary in the classic series: millions and millions of these creatures who had no emotion at all – you couldn’t reason with them, parlay with them, or convince them to leave you alone. Their only purpose was to exterminate every non-Dalek in the entire universe, and your only recourse was to destroy one if you saw it. That’s what made them terrifying, to me. Now they’re jokes. Everytime they come on screen, I roll my eyes, moan, and say “Oh Rassilon, not again.” They’ve been watered down with the whole Cult of Skaro thing, plus the Emperor (“Worship him” – how ridiculous)…I can’t take them seriously. They show up over and over again, and they’re stale. Same with the Cybermen – the writers keep making them capable of showing human emotions (such Yvonne overriding her programming in “Doomsday”), and they keep bringing them back to the show in episode after episode to the point that I hate them as much as the Daleks, and not in the intended way. They were brilliant in the Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel two-parter, but now they’re dull. Some of the best villians/monsters from the classic series were just that because they were used sparingly and they were never demeaned. Sutekh (from Pyramids of Mars), Eldrad (from the Hand of Fear), and the Rani (female counterpart to the Master) all come to mind…well written, scary villians, and not overdone. New Who has some really awesome monsters, such as the Silence, but I really wish they’d use them instead of going back to the same old same old. Daleks, blah, blah, Cybermen, blah, blah. It’s boring.

So anyway, that’s my rant for today. I greatly appreciate the rejuvenation (or even regeneration) of Doctor Who, I just

Someone please “exterminate” these guys.

really wish they’d be more creative with it. Infuse it with some new life…take us to worlds we’ve never heard of, create villians and monsters that we couldn’t even imagine. Make it new, make it different. You have all of time and space to choose from…make use of it. That is, after all, part of what makes Doctor Who so incredible and enduring in the first place.

A Review of the new Doctor Who: Season 1

Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper as The Doctor and Rose

Doctor Who has been a beloved British television show for a very long time.  The series originally aired in 1963, and is listed in Guinness World Records as the longest running and most successful Science Fiction television show in history.  This being said, I believe that it is necessary to note that I have not seen the vast majority of these earlier episodes, and that my experience with Doctor Who essentially begins with the 2005 series featuring Christopher Eccleston as the ninth Doctor and Billie Piper as Rose.  For those of you not familiar with the overarching concept of Doctor Who the show features a series of actors as The Doctor, a time traveling alien who has adventures throughout the past and the future.  While this may not have been the case at the shows inception, the 2005 series portrays The Doctor as the last of the Time Lords, an ancient alien race who once policed all of time and space, but was lost in the Last Great Time War which saw the end of both the Time Lord and Dalek races.  This casts The Doctor as a tragic figure, alone in the universe.  Throughout the series the viewer receives many revelations about The Doctor’s past, and future.

Overall: 8/10

Overall this season is a fair start to an excellent series.  Doctor Who relies heavily on combining themes of tragedy, heroism, and insanity.  However, it does so masterfully, often portraying the Doctor as part heroic warrior, part mad scientist, part bleeding heart, and part tragic loner.  This complex character, while difficult to portray, lends the show both a reality, and an entertainment factor that not only draws in the viewer, but keeps him/her interested, and allows a deep connection to the characters.  The overarching plots of the show range from the odd to the ridiculous (but given the premise what do you really expect), however the confidence and reality of the actors, combined with the depth of the characters make them believable.  In general the first season is the weakest of the current series, in part because of a lack of funds (due to insecurity about the shows future), in part because it is (in its essence) an attempt to revive a show that has been dead for fifteen years, and in part because Christopher Eccleston never seems completely comfortable in his role as the Doctor.

Writing and Production: 9.0/10

For a revivification of a dead show the writing and production values in the 2005 season of Doctor Who are great.  However, when compared with later seasons, they are questionable.

2005 Season Boxed Set

Characters and Acting: 8/10

While I am fond of Billie Piper’s portrayal of Rose, Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor is, in my opinion, the weakest element of the 2005 season.  While Eccleston appears as an edgier, more dangerous Doctor (in fact he is the only Doctor that, form appearance alone, I can see carrying a gun), this is not believable in his acting.  While Eccleston is not a bad doctor, he does not master any of the intrinsic complexities of the character, and this leads to a Doctor that feels half-formed and often forced.  While still enjoyable, Eccleston’s Doctor feels distant from the audience, and is difficult to connect with.

World: 9.5/10

The term worlds might be better used here.  The sheer variety of times and worlds that The Doctor visit may be a difficult pill for many viewers to swallow and, admittedly, the show requires a good does of general acceptance.  However, if the general premise of the show can be accepted, then the times and worlds that are visited become quite believable.  The settings are both well depicted and well-thought out, and the sheer variety is enough to keep a viewer interested.

Plot and Content: 9/10

The new Doctor Who is more episodic in nature than the older series, and while the season still has an overarching story, each episode generally stands alone in terms of plot.  Those plots are generally strong although some, “Father’s Day” in particular, seem forced and not entirely considered.

Pacing: 9.5/10

For the most part Doctor Who is a fast paced show.  Most episodes move at break neck pace, dragging the viewer along for the ride, and generally this is well done.  However, for some viewers, this will make the slower episodes difficult to watch.

Commentary: 6/10

Doctor Who was originally intended as an educational show, and this influence can still be seen.  The show focuses heavily on themes of tragedy, loss, survival, and the enduring nature of mankind.  It also includes, from time to time, tidbits of history or science of which the audience may not be aware.

Conclusion:

While Doctor Who,  in general, is a very strong series (and this season is definitely worth watching), the 2005 season is far from being the best of the new Doctor.  This season is worth watching, even if just to get the whole Rose Tyler story line, but later seasons are much better.