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Brian J. W. Lee is a writer. When he's not writing, he's plotting to plunge the world in a deep chasm of terror, darkness and screams. Sorry, did I get carried away?

Friday, 18 August 2017

Brian Reviews #4: The Dark Tower

I'm a big Stephen King fan. I've been a Stephen King fan for as long as I can remember, and I can't remember when I started reading his books. That's a sign that it's a long, long time.

So naturally, when they talked about The Dark Tower as a movie, I was stoked. I remember that I hadn't read The Dark Tower series, and I was massively guilty that I didn't. It took me seeing that the premiere date wasn't far for me to finally get around to it, because I was reading some other Stephen King novel. I had finished 'UR' on the kindle I think (not his best work) and I was half-done with 'The Tommyknockers', had to rest from it, and so I picked up 'The Gunslinger'.

Let's just say that the book and the movie are very different:

It's an hour and a half long, that's one difference...

Rating:
4.0/5.0

Yes, you see that right. I gave it 4 out of 5, despite the abysmally low reviews The Dark Tower has accrued on Rotten Tomatoes or any other sites. While many people have numerous complaints about it, I see the issue they have with the movie as petty - more on that below.

There will be spoilers by the way, because this is a movie and I feel like it.

So, the basic premise is the following: the bad guy, called the man in black (not those Men in Black) portrayed by Matthew McConaughey, wants to destroy the titular dark tower with the screams of children and let in all manners of demons into the multiverse The Dark Tower is set in (somehow, the mind of children can do that). Roland, played by Idris Elba, is just looking to put a bullet between his eyes because the man in black destroyed Gilead and his father before the plot of the movie. A boy, Jake Chambers (played by Tom Taylor) became the centre of this as he wields the power to fully topple the Dark Tower. It's Roland's job to prevent that from happening.

The story and plot is noticeably different from the first book, or from what I've heard, any of the books of The Dark Tower book series. It can be a hit or miss thing. Some fans feel that it's a let down because the movie detracted from the books, or that there's a lot of missing potential. Non-fans, on hearing this, or who read the first book on hearing about the movie, cry about the same thing. Personally, I feel that there's nothing wrong. A brief scene from the movie hinted that this is all after the events of the series and - !SECOND SPOILER ALERT! - since Roland is spirited right back to the start of his journey when he reached the titular dark tower, and has done so many times.

Yep, there you have it. There could be 20 sequels to the first movie and all of them won't actually be parting ways from the novel series at all.

I guess my only complaint, like everyone else's, is that the movie's way too short, like they've butchered it or something. I guess that alone is responsible for sniping out that one star. There's so much more that they can do - fleshing out Roland and Jake's changing relationship, putting Roland in Jake's world for a longer time (since it was so entertaining), and perhaps exploring Roland's world a little longer. For now, what I've seen of Roland's world is only a fraction of what even the first book offers, not to mention the entire series. I've read The Wind Through the Keyhole too - that one short (by Stephen King standards) book has far more material than this movie, multiplied by ten.

But since it's my only complaint, you know what it means... Everything else is done well enough. I like the whole multiverse idea for the backstory, I like the rivalry between the man in black and Roland, I like how Roland and Jake's relationship evolved (though I wish it didn't evolve so quickly like a Pokemon).

Now, moving on... The cinematography is awesome. I like the colour palettes, I like the action. Another darned thing the fans say they hate is that the books never really focused on Roland's skill as a gunslinger, and that the movies did. While some of it defies belief, I believe there's nothing wrong with us getting some action from Roland showing his chops. I think it's a matter of a transition from one medium to another. I don't see anyone complaining about Mad Max when the next movie in the franchise is always one-upping the previous one. The action sequences of The Dark Tower movie is even more justifiable here. In the books, we access the story with words. In the movie, we access it with visuals. Of course we're going to see him in action!

Other than that, I love the costumes, I love the CGI, the effects, the sets. Acting's awesome. Nothing wrong there.

All in all, I enjoyed the movie. It wasn't quite enough to distract me entirely from my food and drinks though (the best movies would always cause me to forget my bottle of Coke Zero), but it did keep me chomping clumsily and eagerly on my popcorn. I can't wait for the TV series and the sequels.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Project Shadolure

Hi guys,

I would like to just take some time to put my thoughts on this cyber page for a minute. Things have been going well for a while... With everything, actually - so much so that I'm a little suspicious of what life has in store for me. See, things had never gone this well for me for a very long time. Whenever something good happened in the past, there's always a catch. But now, it seems that life is just good - My job as a tutor has reached maturity, and I could be pulling in $2,400  by next month. This is accomplished with not even half the amount of time I'm putting into my previous job.

Anyway, let's talk about Project Shadolure. It's the very next thing I'm working on. It's an interquel to The Keeper of Pulau Purba, one that will join an ever-expanding shelf full of it: Parade Day in Through the Abyssal Gates and His Model Son (formerly A Model Son).

I haven't even named the new novella yet. Project Shadolure is just a working title. The plan though is that it's going to be offered as the loss-leader of the franchise. It will be available for free on Amazon.

However, this is where I stumble. Admittedly, I'm unsure if the story I've planned is good enough. This time, the story concerns a pair of Full-Time National Servicemen, conscripts who are made security troopers and transferred to Pulau Purba after they graduated from their vocational course.

The story begins on the night just before the ill-fated parade when the nightmare begins proper, and half of it will be told in flashbacks before they have their own run-in with the darkness that plagues the titular island.

So far, the only concrete thing I've worked out are the co-protagonists. One of them is a brainy, if frail, academically-inclined young man who just wants to get out of the army to take his place in a university, while the other is more into the martial pursuits, have a rich family background stretching back hundreds of years, and is deciding between a career between the army and police.

I will be avoiding stereotypes though - the former may be brainy, but that doesn't mean he's going to be a push-over. It's very hard to be a push-over when your life's on the line and you have so much to live for. Similarly, the latter fellow isn't going to be stupid just because he's strong and athletic and wants to be a soldier or police officer. He's actually going to be streetwise in his own way, complex in personality and motivations, and his patriotism does have limits.

My hope is that this dynamic between them, plus a slightly more ambitious story structure (it won't be so linear this time) that's developed on top of the lore I have already developed for the universe, will carry the day this time.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

DIY Book Covers

Recently, I've been dabbling with creating my own book covers. The transition from relying on dedicated graphic artists specialising in book covers to doing them up myself is a little tough. Just like how it is with writing and managing my own books, the uneasy feeling of uncertainty descended upon me at every step of the way. This is what I came up with so far. These are just concepts though - there are watermarks in there because I haven't purchased the images yet:
Argh... Far from finished.

Neither is this anywhere near done, despite this guy here being version 2 of the concept.

As you can see, I'm still working on it. There's a lot of things wrong with the covers - and if I can tell, then something major is wrong with the covers. But that's also a good thing, because if my sensibilities exceed the merits of my design, it means I can improve on my work.

I've been seeking out feedback from my fellow authors, and they told me as much about how to improve the designs. A unified author font, for example. But personally, I think the book title for My Model Son looks home-made. With cookies and cream, that's a good thing. But here, not so much. Something about My Model Son's centre piece feels really odd as well. I'll have to explore my options, and I have one month to do it and polish it off.

Oh, and I believe I've just given away a hint of what's to come after my anthology short story (Tentatively named My Model Son). 😏

If I can pull my book covers off, it's going to save me a fortune! At the cheapest price, one book cover could cost me US$50, so if I can produce book covers adequately for my current and next batch of books, it's going to save me something around the region of US$250. Now, if I want to guarantee the quality of my book covers, I would have to shell out US$100 - US$200 for the average horror cover, which would set me back by US$500 - US$1,000! For a little perspective, the ceiling of that is above my entire expenditure of my current books!

Anyway, I've delayed the ending of this blog post for too long. Moral of the story? It's awesome to put the I and INDIE in indie authors and indie books. See ya'll!

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Tutoring: The Ideal Life of a Writer?

Hi guys, as you know, I was out of my telco job on the 19th of June. Normally, that is where average Singaporeans start to panic. With no safety net, not even so much as a goody bag to weather the storm of unemployment, having zero income in an expensive city is about as dangerous as being stuck in the middle of the ocean.

Not for me. It seems that something's going my way for once. It's nearly the one-month anniversary of my exit from the corporate world. I've since turned my secondary income into my primary income, and I used to teach tuition for pocket money, working in an office or not. Within this month alone, my tuition income has shot up from $210/month to something around the region of $1,300/month, and it's still climbing. In other words, I've managed to secure my basic survival needs, even with my university debt factored in.

That's with 6 students, a 10.5 hours per week obligation (which doesn't feel like work at all as I'm happy to pave the way for the next generation) spread over 5 days. It wouldn't be much of an increase of workload if I double that to 12 students and a 21 hours work week, hopefully spread over a maximum of 6 days. That would mean out-earning my previous job even with CPF (social security) thrown in

Now, how is this related to writing? Well, this frees up a ton of time and energy on my end to work on my book. Yesterday, I was able to edit 6,000 words in 2 hours, and get a bunch of promotional admin work relating to my second book out of the way. That's more than 3 times the output I was able to muster while I was slaving away in a telco office. I was consistently editing 4,000 words a day, and only occasionally the usual 2,000 words a day.

I have no doubt that I'll be able to consistently write 2,000 words a day once I get my short story done for the anthology.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Through the Abyssal Gates Release Imminent

Time flies, and so did my book tunnel through time.

Hey peops,

Just to let you guys know, Through the Abyssal Gates' release is imminent! In 9 days, it will receive a soft launch, which is when the book will be available! In the meantime, it will be $0.99 (or equivalent in your Amazon region). There's no telling how long it will remain $0.99 after launch, so grab it while it's hot!

I know, I know. I said that it could release early in my previous post, but then again, there's never such a thing as too much polishing when it comes to editing.

Here's the link (US): STEP THROUGH A GATE

Enjoy!

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Let's Talk Writing: A Quickie On Bad Reviews

So as some of you may know, my book has been getting a number of bad reviews. It's not all that bad, though I may be dulled to the effects of bad reviews, but even on Goodreads, where people tend to be more honest, the ratings seem to be quite balanced. My book's divisive though, that's confirmed - You either love it, sit on the fence or hate it. It's quite pronounced, especially considering that there are no 4-star reviews on Amazon where there are 3 5-stars.

Darn, even my book cover's crying because of it.

It's no doubt painful to get some bad reviews, but even those one and two-stars aren't all that bad (once you get past the depression and suicidal thoughts). Here are some reasons why:
  1. Some of them are actually constructive critiques. My book has improved in quality, I believe, after I edited it based on some of the feedbacks. The first act has been shortened by about 2,000 words - and even I, as the author, have a problem with a first act that's too long.
  2. They 'balance' out the ratings chart. You won't know what's a genuine good review until you've seen the bad. Lots of books out there have 90%-100% 5-stars. Would you believe that? Neither do I. Sure, while there are more bad reviews than I would like, at least it makes all the 5-star and even 3-star reviews all the more valuable and honest.
  3. It's basically a 'Welcome to the Club' letter. All authors get them. There were some authors who were downright hated in their time, or ignored, like Edgar Allan Poe, but eventually people got around to liking them. The world changes much faster these days due to technology, so I believe I'll start seeing fans before I die. I already have, I believe. Thanks guys!
  4. It inoculates me against bad decisions when it comes to marketing and writing. Sure, it hurts like a bitch, and it's okay to cry, groan and moan about it, but at the end of the day, it's going to bring you some insights on what to do when it comes to self-publishing. Now, I don't think my book's rubbish, but these bad reviews had given me these insights:
  • Heightened publicity brings naysayers. It's normal.
  • Bookbub brings naysayers. It's normal.
  • I haven't found my niche audience yet.
  • I've actually gone ahead and put my book where it could shine, like in World Literature > Asian and Literary on Amazon.
  • People won't take long books from newbies like me.
  • Crossing genres and mashing them together is best done after you've written more conventional books and gained enough fans.
  • Plus all of the above and things I might have momentarily forgotten about because I'm rushing to get this out before I leave for the gym.
So things are fine - I'm not going to die in my sleep over some bad reviews. In fact, I think my second book might be released sooner than I expected! Formatting's nearly done. I just have one or two stories left to add chapters to and format, the back matter and possibly re-arranging the stories but otherwise, it's good to go.

See ya'll and thanks for reading!

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Taking a Different Path

Hi guys,

I realise that I haven't posted for quite a while, but it's for good reason. Work, some serious action related to my books, my friends and writing circle, etc.

But I would like to talk about something that's been on the back of my mind for a while, and it's that my plans for my career in writing has taken a slight tilt.

Originally, I envisoned myself working on a sequel straight after my short story collection. That was up to late last year, I think.

But a lot had happened, is still happening, and things have changed. Recently, my novel had gained much attention. It was featured on Bookbub, and so gained almost 20,000 free eyeballs, a substantial amount of eyeballs who paid for my book, and unfortunately, some bad reviews for one problem or another.

The last bit had disheartened me a little, but it reinforced something that's been clear to me for more than half a year - I'm not ready to write the sequel to The Keeper of Pulau Purba just yet.

My second book has a flash fiction set in the same world as TKoPP, and a TKoPP short story will be featured in an anthology. The next natural step, I believe, are novellas. A good number of them.

The reason why I feel that I'm not ready for The Keeper of Pulau Purba sequel is not just the anxiety to do better, but that my universe hasn't been fleshed out very well yet. By the end of The Keeper of Pulau Purba, here's only 3 major characters left, one of whom is the main character. A few minor characters might be lucky enough to survive on Pulau Purba by the skin of their teeth, but that's it.

The world before and after the events of TKoPP, and outside the titular island itself hasn't even been explored. A lot of things are up in the air. Therefore, here's my re-adjusted plan:

Short Story Collection: Through the Abyssal Gates (Launch Date: 15 July 2017)

A Model Son: A Pulau Purba Short Story (Launch Date: 31 October 2017)

Pulau Purba Prequel (So yes, I'll be working on a prequel to The Keeper of Pulau Purba, a novella that will centre around a pair of marine conscripts. It will be set just before everything turns dark. It will be permanently free, possibly on multiple platforms) (Est. Launch Date: 15 January 2018)

Pulau Purba Interquels x3 (This part is major. I will be writing a series of 3 novellas set during and directly after the events of the original novel. They will all be told from wildly different perspectives. One is already set in stone: it will be told from the angle of a prepubescent Christian girl, and her path will come really close to those of some of the characters in TKoPP. I'm still deciding on the other two) (Est. Launch Date: 4-5 months intervals, so something lik 15 May/June '18,  15 September/October '18  and 15 January/February '19 respectively.)

So there you have it! As you can see, the timeframe for the development of these novels is a far cry from the estimated 18 months cycle of my original novel! Exciting things are going to happen!

But then again, you never know how things will change. My productivity has been up recently, and it can only go up even further as I quit my job for a career in freelance tutoring. You might end up seeing the Prequel by December this year, and all of the Interquels long before 2018 is over...

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Through the Abyssal Gates Is Now on Pre-Order!

Hi guys,

I am proud to announce that my second book, a short story collection consisting of 8 short stories and 8 flash fictions, is now on Pre-Order.

It has been quite a journey, since I started writing it somewhere in September 2016. It is slated for launch on 15 July 2017. That makes about 11 months in development time, whew!

Anyway, here's how the cover looks like:
How about a little vacation?

Here's a little blurb to go along with the picture:
From the author of The Keeper of Pulau Purba, sixteen new dimensions of horror emerges.

You stand before a series of dark portals, each of which will take you to a reality worse than the next.

Step into the shoes of a modern day technician, who discovers a strange hatch in a rarely-used and secluded toilet.

Cower with a teenager who's all grown up, as a strange new neighbour moves in next to him, bringing along strange barrels of vinegar and mannerisms.

Join a woman and her boyfriend as they run an ultra-marathon, only to discover that something has been pursuing them.

Wake up to find yourself on an island city as overpopulated as it is futuristic, where a waitress clings on to her traditions even as everything is grasping to take it away.

Or enter a world rife with ancient artifacts and deadly creatures, where a young man must risk all to save his father.

Many more worlds await, and once you enter the abyssal gate, there is no turning back.

A collection of eight short stories and eight flash fictions, there's always a little something for everyone beyond the threshold.

Oh, and watch your head.

Those are just five of the sixteen worlds you will tour if you choose to take that journey with me. I will leave the rest of them as a surprise for when you do. In the meantime, here's a link to the store page: Through the Abyssal Gates

Oh, and by the way, to celebrate the pre-order of my second book, I've made my first book free for the next five days. Enjoy: The Keeper of Pulau Purba

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Let's Talk Writing: The Four Horsemen

As it is right now, I believe this period of time to be the most stressful for me where writing, publishing and my literary career is concerned. Every factor that could impede my progress seemed to have appeared, swarming me from all corners of the world.

I call them the Four Horsemen.

Not the kind of guests you'd want to bring home for dinner...

We all know the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Pestilence, War, Famine, Death. Those were pretty much the bane of human civilisation.

Now I assert that writers have their own Four Horsemen to fear, and they will usher in a dark age of no-writing if they succumb to them. These are what I am currently fighting against now, and my only weapon is my laptop, which lags sometimes when I play videos on Youtube or even open up LibreOffice:

The First Horseman: People

Astride a many-coloured horse with seven heads, People, the many-faced, many-limbed horseman of a writer's doom will watch you, follow you wherever you go, playing tricks on you rather than running you down outright.

While it might sound anti-social, yes, people do become a liability when it comes to writing sometimes, and it can get really bad if several of them decided to pile on top of you, knowingly or unknowingly. Bosses could hate you for the codes you live by, and berate you if you're not a robot but a human being who needs a break every now and then, and you happen to use it to put down a few sentences. Family and friends might discourage you from even attempting to write professionally. They might distract you, not recognising the writing space you need.

Then there's all that bullying and harassing and rapey and hurty and murdery things a select few of them loves to engage in. You certainly won't be penning down some words when you're stuck in some madman's dungeon.

You're not even safe from other writers. They will have their own agendas. Some might be over-competitive jerks who want to bring down the competition (read: YOU), while others will unknowingly destroy you with bad attitude when they thought they are helping when you wouldn't follow their prescribed path to success. In fact, writers are the worst of them if they choose to destroy you, as they will turn their mastery of the language against you, making sure that their words will cause maximum harm while the intention will be too well hidden from those not in the know.

Avoiding people entirely and becoming a monk on a mountain is not the answer, however. You'd have to use your discretion to avoid the People Horseman, while bringing those who are not affiliated with it into your circle.

The Second Horseman: Establishment

Clopping heavily to the forefront, man and horse completely encased in chain-mail and plates with crossbows and swords and lances at its disposal, Establishment looks on from a distance, waiting for you to wince or show any other signs of weakness. It will charge when you do.

It is a known fact that most governments, if not all, will never let anything that seeks to criticise it, or poke at it in any way, fly. But while the few hundred governmental bodies of the world are popular targets when it comes to accusations of censorship, they are by no means the only thing standing between the writer and his art.

Society itself has conventions, some right and there for a good reason. Others, well, not so much. And some of them don't like your kind snooping around their barns. The mere fact that your country may be inclined towards certain genres may be a problem enough, as it means you would have to write to that market or risk failure. But complementing these everyday folks, artistic conventions could easily limit writers just as much. Genres are as limiting as they are liberating - in my research, I see Christian Fiction as suffering the worst of it, but that's another story altogether, best exemplified by this article: 8 Problems in the Christian Fiction Genre (And How to Fix Them)

The point is, any establishment larger than any one person could spell trouble for the writer, especially when they are actively trying to stick their nose in your affairs when they know no better.

That said, an isolationist measure against the Establishment Horseman is not out of the question, and if you must write about the Establishment, the use of analogies, metaphors, ambiguous language, or being neutral are some of the best weapons you can have to stave off any attacks from them. Guerilla tactics in an asymmetrical theatre of war works for a good reason.

The Third Horseman: Poverty

Floating on impossibly thin legs, a starved horse came forward, bearing an equally skeletal-looking rider, gazing at you hungrily with eyes sunken deep and shriveled up, willing for you to join it. The ground moves forever towards it, and you have to fight to move away from it. Forever, and ever, and ever.

Poverty, or even the effort to avoid poverty, has never been buddies with writing, or anything resembling art and science for that matter. It's a story as old as humanity itself. When your stomach is rumbling and your mouth parched, all you'll be able to think about is food and water. When the day that you'll begin starving is just around the corner, you'll feel just as threatened. There's no denying it; this is how we're programmed, and we're animals first and humans second.

Heck, by the end of my tenure in my telco company, I'll probably have around $2,400 saved up. That's not a lot, not by a long shot, but it does allow me to survive for 4 months if I stretch the money a little.

In the modern world, this is complicated. For me, I've still got my educational debt to worry about. I've got the economy to worry about, and I have to keep hoping that it won't cut off my income stream from whatever day job I've chosen. In pursuing writing, I'm spending money too. I have to read and consume as much, if not more than anyone, and that costs money. Being a self-publisher, I have to spend hundreds, thousands in the long run, to have even the remotest chance of success.  And there are people worse off than me - the fact that they could write and self-publish despite suffering such colossal headaches is admirable.

It is still not enough to stave off the lingering, animal feeling of survival first, thinking later. Writers will have to fight this all the time, and avoid the temptation of giving it all up for a stable, if uncompromisingly anti-art job. And there are people worse off than me.

The best advice I can give is to identify the best job that will give you maximum salary for minimal participation in terms of time. This is not to say that you should slack - no, hard work and smart work is a must. For me, I will be embarking on a career in tutoring and freelancing in T-minus 3 weeks, which will reduce time spent on work by nearly twice, or at least 33% if counting in commuting time. I targeted tutoring because the hourly rate is high, and I seem to be good at it.

Financial management is an important tool too. Minimise your spending. Don't buy unnecessary things. Don't be one of those guys who would spend nearly all of his paycheck per month. On my side, my monthly expenditure is around $800 at most, against a monthly income of about $1800 after deducting social security. That leaves much for investing into my books, amongst other personal things.

The Fourth Horseman: Self

A sickeningly beautiful and dazzling steed meandered on a bend of the road towards you, carrying a person in silver armour. His face is obscured by a great helm that he wore, an ambiguous metal face halved by comedy and tragedy where his true face was. Riding right up to you, he dismounted, and lifted the mask, showing a face truly terrible.

Your own.

He pulled his sword out of its scabbard, but you are unwilling to draw yours.

In the end, your greatest enemy is yourself. It is a common saying, and I fancy that it is as old as dirt. Save for the gravest and terrible of dangers in the flesh, you will ultimately be responsible for some of the pits you fall into, and the biggest problem is... Well, you can't run away from yourself. You can cut off your limbs, shave off your skin and remove all your organs, but even if you're just a brain in a jar, you'll still be with yourself.

See, there are so many things you can do to yourself that would hinder your writing. A moment of laziness at night while you're supposed to be writing could lull you to sleep. A moment of overconfidence could breed a whole slew of mistakes, and they will crawl all over your books like worms and flies and other unpleasant pests and parasites. Dismiss a mistake or a flaw, and it could snowball into a bad review, which would then snowball into poor sales, and then a failed book - which could end your career. A slippery slope, I know, but even a tiny chance of career ruin should have deterred you from any moments of weakness - except it just doesn't happen away sometimes, because we are flawed human beings.

People could let us down, countries could fail us, and the economy could crap on us, but when you give up because of one thing or the other, you'd have stuck the final nail in the coffin yourself.

Discipline, discipline, discpline. That's the main tool you've got against yourself. Be a bit masochistic. Hell, strip yourself naked in an air-conditioned room and write while you're standing if that's what it takes. Ernest Hemingway did that, and it works for him.

Develop a routine that's hard to break. Psyche yourself up everyday, remind yourself of what's at stake. At this, I've gone a bit too far, as I promised myself that I'd kill myself if I've run out of money and couldn't make anymore. That's a great motivation for writing, I guess. Yeah, maybe I'll go see a psychiatrist.

---

So there you have it - I've been running from four Horsemen who've been chasing me around everywhere I go, and it's been especially pronounced for these past few weeks.

I'll have some important news after a few days.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Brian Reviews #3: Alien: Covenant

Disclaimer: I'm going to spoil everything I can, and you can't stop me! Muah hahaha!

It was Vesak day when I finally decided to go to the movies. The last time I'd done that was when Life came out for a week or two. That was at least a couple months ago, I think. Why have I been depriving myself? Well, I guess that's how it is when you're a working adult with two jobs (three, if you count writing).

So, when I go to the movies, I wouldn't do so lightly. And as a man aspiring to master horror, it would definitely be to watch horror movies. Previously, it was Life. More recently, just three days ago, it's Alien: Covenant. Here's the trailer in case you missed the movie:


Couldn't get blogger to list the official trailer for some reason, so here's the second best thing.

Rating: 3.0 / 5.0

So the plot of the movie is simple: Crew is on a colonisation mission, they pick up a signal, changes course to a planet on the wayside, discovers odd things on said planet, encounters alien stuff, then actually encounters the titular Alien and things go bad. Sounds familiar? You bet it is.

Yep, the plot is very similar to the very first Alien movie back in 1979, in which... Crew is on a cargo mission, they pick up a signal, changes course to a planet on the wayside, discovers odd things on said planet, encounters alien stuff, then actually encounters the titular Alien and things go bad. Oh my!

But here's the surprise: I'm not bothered by this. The Alien franchise has been switching up its general plot structure every other movie, that I think it's time we go back to the original formula again, the formula that made Alien as big as it (still) is now.

In Aliens (1986), our intrepid space marines doesn't so much as 'stumble' upon the Aliens unprepared, quite the opposite. They go to LV-426 as prepared as they can be, in full knowledge that they are going to encounter something.

In Alien 3 (1992), Ripley is marooned on a prison planet with the Alien with only prisoners and guards for company.

In Alien Resurrection (1997), Ripley IS an Alien. LOL (Sorry, can't help it). But the rest of the plot has humanity trying to weaponise the Aliens and it all goes south. It bears elements of the previous two incarnations in that most of the characters are prepared for trouble when they come in, and Ripley is trapped in a location with Aliens.

Prometheus (2012) is like Aliens (1986) without the space marines nor the aliens.

I believe the plot is sound, and I was very much interested in it from the start to the end. I love how they bridged the gap between Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, and I love how there's this evolution subplot that concludes what is started in Prometheus, how the bioweapon evolves from little more than deadlier snakes to Neomorphs and finally, the Xenomorph.

What I dislike is the execution. First of all, there's this obsession with guns that recent filmmakers seem to have. Aliens (1986) have tonnes of it, which is fine, since it's a military horror sci-fi. It all started with Alien Resurrection, I guess, but Prometheus is where it gets out of hand. Apparently, people are expecting to shoot a lot of things when they explore an apparently lifeless universe. In Prometheus, we have a science mission while Alien: Covenant is a colonisation mission. Yet, people are bringing lots of guns into space!

I mean, sure, you might want something in case of the odd dangerous wildlife, but assault rifles? Seriously? This takes away most of the horror, I feel.

Your characters won't be as helpless. Me being a writer, I have the benefit of being experienced in this matter. At the very least, I have the decency to completely deprive my characters of ammo until the halfway point, leaving them with only rifle butts and bayonets, and even when they've been furnished with ammunition, they don't get a full magazine of rifle rounds and maybe two clips for their pistols - try going up against supernatural creatures that simply can't die with those, hah!

But besides that, there's this whole subplot with the androids. David wants to create, and destroy while Walter wants to protect to protect the crew. I think they've taken David a little too far - he's essentially a one-man civilisation machine! Apparently, he has no trouble doing everything every genius artist, engineer and scientist could achieve despite being one of the earliest model of androids in the Alien universe. The whole Skynet-will-destroy-us-all idea feels like it's been shoved in for no reason.

And then there's the idea of the Alien's origin. I don't quite like how it's done. First, there's the fact that it's merely been glossed over. It's basically just been explained that it was David who bred them in the first place. Second, there's what it meant. It means that we're back to the whole Frankenstein kind of plot, just slightly less direct this time. Man creates Androids and a particular Android creates Aliens. We've committed a hubris and we pay for it. Too much has been explained and as it turns out, humanity brought it on themselves.

I kind of liked the whole 'alien' aspect better, you know, like how the Alien is named? You crack open the door too wide on the monster, and soon enough, you'll notice the zipper running down its back. I prefer it when the origin of the Alien isn't explained too much.

But the whole zipper thing leads me to another point about the movie. The special effects. The Alien feels a bit wrong. There is a lot of shots where the Alien is in full view, lots of action action showing it off. And it is far too obvious that it's CGI. The Alien works better indoors and around tight corners - if you don't show too much of the creature, you won't see the zipper running down its back (it's a saying by Stephen King, by the way). That's how the first Alien movie became so convincing and thus scary.

Then there's something else that I feel is missing, and it began with Prometheus. The whole retro feel is gone. I like the whole 80s kind of feel, and I find that that's what helped define the Alien franchise. It's connected to the whole debacle about the guns. When everything is so shiny and convenient and ergonomic, you don't feel afraid, because it subtly hints that everything would be so convenient and ergonomic for the characters. There's no element of danger in the environment.

When everything is clunky and blasting off steam, you do get a sense of vulnerability, because it conveys a sense that things could just stop working at any moment, much to the advantage of the Alien. It's sad that it took a videogame to do this right after the original Alien (1979) movie. Yeah, I'm talking about Alien: Isolation. Check it out if you haven't.

There's still a lot of details that don't quite sit well with me. The plants from Earth aren't very well explained - how did they get there? No one knows. How on Earth do you bio-engineer Xenomorphs into being with little more than classical antiquity equipment? God knows! Why are there still Engineers running around in robes after millions of years, shouldn't they have ascended or evolved or something? I don't think even God knows. Apparently, they have no orbital defense systems nor control over their own airspace despite having a space station floating as if with anti-gravity just hundreds of metres from the centre of their city.

That said, there's still some redeeming factor to this movie, well, other than how I'm fine with the overall plot structure.

I absolutely love the ending, even if I could spot the twist from a click away. Good guys don't get to win all the time, and I'd say that the way the good guys lose this time is shocking to good effect and awesomeness - second to Life's ending. From here, I love to speculate how we can get to Alien (1979) with just one more movie. (My idea? Those colonists are material for the eggs somehow found on LV-426.)

I think the characters are pretty well done, even if I can't remember most of their names. They are human enough, and I can empathise with their situation and losses, their decisions and mistakes. That said, I still think that more could have been done - not all of them are memorable enough the way the crew of the Nostromo are.

All in all, I think this movie is watchable, and even enjoyable, but it's not going to be a classic or a hit. It's something I might rewatch once or twice, but never over and over throughout the next few decades.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

An Except of 'A Model Son', Interquel to 'The Keeper of Pulau Purba'

Disclaimer: Brian J. W. Lee will not be responsible for any injuries, loss of sleep, limbs or sanity as a result of the following story except.

Also, the following is just draft 1 and does not represent the final product. Have fun:

A form, grey and barely human at first because nearly no light could reach it. For a split second, he took him to be one of his lost colleagues, but that perspective didn't last very long, for the form from the shadows came closer.

And he could make out a helmet, tank goggles, and an armour vest otherwise known as an LBV. From grey, colour filled it as more white light bounced off of the marine. He became green, and black, and mud brown as he should be. And he had a rifle in hand, holding it by the muzzle, dragging the SAR-21's butt on the ground.

Details unheard of from before darkness fell came into the picture. The lenses, no, windshields more appropriately, of the marine's tank goggles had shattered some time ago, leaving sharp edges around the frame. This… Thing that used to be a soldier blinked with shredded eyes. Boon Teck could see glass shards sticking out of its eye regions, its eyeballs a mess of blood, cuts, and glass. Blood that pooled in the water-tight space between windshield and flesh had overflowed long ago and the remainder dried out.

Boon Teck froze, for some reason hoping, despite all that he saw, that there had to be some mistake, that there were no monsters coming out of the absolute dark, that this marine was just a wounded man in need of medical attention.

But then Goggles-Marine pulled his gun up. The technician's eyes widened at the gesture. In the bright gaze of Will's L-torch, he could see through the magazine's shell, which was made of translucent polymer. Years upon years of experience flowed through him from mind to eyes, and he saw: there were bullets in the magazine.

Without thinking, Boon Teck gave a shout, more frightened than brave, and charged forward with his own gun up.

Goggles-Marine had meant it, he was pointing his SAR-21 at him. With just mere metres between them, and this soldier slowed for some reason, Boon Teck was able to cover the distance and-
Explosions cut into his ears, deeper into his left than right. He could feel his body shake from the shockwave alone.

But the old man had swept the changed marine's gun aside with his left forearm, and on summoning perhaps what remained of his strength from his youthful days, drove his bayonet one-handed into the kidney of Goggles-Marine.

Silence, dreadful silence; Boon Teck's ears had gone deaf, where he had thought he couldn't be anymore hearing-impaired. The hostile marine had ran out of ammunition, Boon Teck knew this for sure. The magazine was nearly empty before he unloaded, from the explosions he heard, everything he'd got.

The technician kept pushing, driving his bayonet deeper in. The rot-eyed soldier wasn't discouraged, quite the opposite. He'd squirmed, tried to push him away with his elbows, and yet was fighting to maintain a grip on his emptied rifle. With the way Boon Teck had wrapped his right arm around the rifle, with it going underneath his armpits, there was no way the changed marine could wring his gun free.

But Boon Teck's grip and strength were failing. He knew this, and so he drew back his bayonet. With a shout, his voice broken and wavering between high and low, he thrust his rifle upwards, through that sweet spot between chin and neck. With no stab-resistant material to go through, the blade had plunged deep, all the way to the point of the muzzle of his gun pressing into the pale flesh of his opponent.

He's supposed to die. He's supposed to fucking die! Boon Teck could not help but to curse inside, with a swear word of the ang-mohs he hated, when Goggles-Marine would not stop.
The soldier, a conscript from his age, continued squirming. The only thing letting up was his attempt to elbow him in the chest and solar plexus, to gain back control of his rifle. In fact, his arms had become useless, flopping sticks of flesh.

For how long they had stayed in that position, Boon Teck did not know; with him pushing his rifle upwards and deep, twisting and thrusting his blade and maintaining his advantage, while Goggles-Marine was trying with futility, with pitiful stubbornness even, to retake even a shade of the power it had when it used to have five bullets more than the old man.

Both their strength diminished, but the marine more so. There was little room for Goggles-Marine to get free, especially with that spike of a bayonet buried into his lower jaw. His head had been tilted upward, he couldn't even see what was happening. Seconds passed, each feeling like a minute, and the changed marine could only jerk against the bayonet in him.

Soon, the soldier went limp, and even then, it took a further few eternity-seconds for Boon Teck to withdraw his blade, and let his body fall backwards.

The old man stepped back, still gasping for breath, his entire body feeling weaker as adrenaline left him. Taking a look at the fallen soldier, he thought that he looked somewhat like Stefan, might even actually be Stefan. Thinking back, he had been about the same height, towering over him, half a head taller. The chin was round, lips soft. Limbs toned but not too muscular. Shades of femininity, which Boon Teck hated.

The corpse had looked too much like Stefan. Boon Teck's eyes remained fixed on the face; he thought it to be uncanny. If only I can see his face… he thought, and that thought was quickly translated into action.

Getting down on his knees, the aging technician laid down his rifle, had to pause for a time. He had come up close to the Goggles-Marine (or his son) before, and he didn't really want to do it again. The smell of death, of rancid rot and dried blood wafting up to his nose while they struggled against each other wasn't pleasant, and there was something else. Something Boon Teck could not quite put. He thought that the marine was a revenant, a Ziangshi that would keep rising up; he'd appeared before him all wounded, and what was supposed to be an instantly fatal stab took far too long to put him down…

But I have to know…

Stefan…

Boon Teck reached for the fallen marine's goggles.

Took hold of one side of the frame. In his obsession with the identity of the marine, he'd slit his finger upon the broken glass. But he wasn't going to be distracted.

With a quick tug, Boon Teck pulled the tank goggles off.

Monday, 24 April 2017

What's Been Going On With Me

So basically, I've dropped off the radar for a while - but I've a good explanation for that, if my previous posts weren't. I've been adjusting to a new lifestyle of increased workload in addition to increased working hours, not just 42 hours a week at the office, but another 4.5 hours tutoring outside, all these not counting travel time. The rest of my time had been eaten up by writing, not to mention more mundane but necessary activities (such as exercising and socialising with friends).

However, that's not what I'm here to talk about, as I'm sure you guys are bored to tears by now of hearing about how I'm trying to cope :D (Sorry...). I'm here to talk about what progress I've made in my writing life.

Let's get the basics down on paper first:

- Draft 2 of my short stories collection is basically done. Now, I'm just going to throw in a few more last minute changes before I put it in the hands of an editor - whoever that may be.

- Draft 1 of my Keeper of Pulau Purba interquel short story for a horror anthology is nearing completion, now at 18,621 words. The goal is at least 25,000 words, though chances are high, as is usual with me, that I will overrun and turn out something longer, maybe up to 30,000 words.

And then, there's my progress personally as a writer. This experience of both editing one project and writing another has driven me to a greater height of productivity. At my best, for example, I could be looking at 1,000 words written and then 2,000 words edited in a single day, rather than one or the other. It'd worked remarkably well for me, as I suppose I'm using different parts of my noggins' in different activities.

And then, there's this amazing writer's group I've met up with just today. It's called the Self-Published and Aspiring Author's Group (Hmm did I get the name right?), based in Singapore. It's basically a group of writers hanging out to exchange tips and reviews.

I went there expecting myself to be the unwashed newbie of the group...

Only to be told that I'm actually one of the most experienced (new) member of the group...

And why? Well, for publishing my debut novel.

But despite this, I've gained a lot of useful insights from them - these people had done a lot of research and work in preparation for what I myself have done a mere 8 months ago.

Furthermore, there's something about teaching that could help the teacher just as much. By stating the facts - What I've learnt in my writer's journey, I'm reinforcing it, so that I won't forget, so that I'll practice what I preach. So that I will build off of what I've learnt so far.

Only good things can come out of it.

And only good things will come from now on.

I'm thinking that I should show an excerpt of what I've been working on here. Stay tuned!

Thursday, 30 March 2017

A Return to Pulau Purba

It has been set in stone, etched carefully in it. A sow was sacrificed on said stone, and the blood of a hundred virgins splashed upon it. I am writing an interquel to The Keeper of Pulau Purba (to the right over there, as you can see, and don't trip on the borders, my website is a little dark).

The interquel will be exclusively available on an anthology put together by a fellow horror writer. It will be accompanied, shoulder-to-shoulder, by 19 other stories written with claw marks and gashes.

Tentatively, the story will be set on the titular island itself, and it will revolve around all-new characters - though who knows? Characters from the original novel might just wander in or something. We'll see. My characters have a habit of doing that.

I'll leave the big picture out as a surprise.

Will let you guys know. See ya! :)

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Making Do

In my last two posts, I talked about the winds of change, how things can seem to be on the climb at one moment, then take a tumble again. Well, the storm has blown over, and in its wake, there's rebuilding to be done.

As I settled into my new routine and seat in the telco company, I think to myself that I can survive it all. I have done it before, I will do it again. In fact, it had been worse before. I'd gone through 24 months of military service, which I despised, and I was still able to nurture my interest in writing in that time. Although I didn't even come close to being as productive as I am now, I'd still done something.

Which leads into my next point. Looking back at who I am 8 years ago, and who I am now, there's a stark difference. I'd gone from doing nothing but practicing writing with fan fictions to throwing out at least 1,000 words a day of writing or 2,000 to 4,000 words of editing a day. And I plan to do even more than that.

Right now, the editing of my second book has been coming together swimmingly, and it is my hope that I can do both editing and writing in a single day.

By day, I guess I'll do my job. I'll even try to do it well. But the telco company will get what they paid for. If they want a wage-slave or an indentured servant, then that's what they'll get, nothing more. It's perhaps my revenge that I can earn half of the spending money they're paying me (excluding CPF or in American terms, 'social security') with just 4.5 hours a week as a tutor. It's laughable, considering that I work 42 hours a week for them.

By night, like Batman with a pen, I'll do my real job.

I have evolved furthermore. I believe I have less need for entertainment, as it seems enough that I read on the train and derive it from my writings and teaching tuition. The weekends are there for the raw stuff, I suppose - like computer games and movies. Still, they are still important, considering that they can inspire.

Anyway, I have rambled enough for now. Off to start a new short story!

Thursday, 23 March 2017

The Hurricane of Change

Yesterday, I talked about how my life has been changing, from bad to good to excellent, how I might soon be experiencing a true freelancer's life, with an emphasis on the 'free' bit - which would be a huge, huge boon to my writing career.

Turns out, the one time I've been so optimistic, I turned out to be dead wrong. I'm bound by contract to work for at least three months in a telco company, and I had to let go of my opportunities for a life as a tutor-of-fortune.

I had thought the terms binding me wouldn't be enforced. My experiences thus far had lead me to that conclusion - and this is the first time the recruitment agency outsourcing me happened to be serious about the $1,000 processing fee. I wanted to say 'fuck you' to everyone's face, but I seriously don't know if I would end up saying that all the way to a judge in court.

One thing led to another, and everything led to the worst day of my life... At least this year, right after my birthday. It's a case of the butterfly and the tornado, folks. Being an expressive person, I talked about yours truly entertaining to leave for a life of tutoring to a new friend there. He talked to my trainer and my trainer talked to my manager. I got shut down and shot down hard at work. I had to cancel my plans to take on a new tuition assignment, and I got shot down on the phone with the tuition coordinator.

And now I'm here, writing a lengthy rant post instead of editing my book. I'll get to it in a minute before my brain shuts down for maintenance till the next day.

I guess my next point is this: no matter what people say, no matter how the people of the office talk about how they have embraced an open environment with no judgement and all the good things, cue the milk and honey rivers roaring past the aisles, the corporate life is still absolute SHIT.

I mean fine, for most people (or half, conservatively), it's good enough. But put a damn writer in the office... and hoo boy! Time for the drama to unfold! Here, have a look at what a writers in office can't do:

- A writer can't be self-expressive. Any tiny bit of information leaked through that could be used to harm you will be used to harm you whether your colleagues intend it or not.

- He can't feed his imagination, more so when it's in a place where even frickin' music is banned.

- He can't write, obviously, or have to sneak it under the radar it might not be worth the effort.

- He is disadvantaged when it comes to making friends and connections, unless he's a manipulative asshole. Certain places will draw certain types of characters. I don't think the office is filled with the creative types, do you?

- He can't excel even at the job because he ticks differently, and requires a different environment to function. See above for details. Sure, he can try and may produce results, but don't expect anything excellent.

- And more.

---

But whatever. I've been through this before and I can do it again. Basically, my editing/writing will continue to be slower, although I might try to make up for it during the weekends. At least that hasn't been taking away from me this time.

The editing of my short story collection has been going at a steady pace despite.

But I plan to start work on my anthology short story soon. That's right, I'll be featured in another collected works book! More details in the future.

Well, it's time to go back to my favourite activity. Sweet sleep will take me for just below 7 hours, then it's back to the grindstone.

At least tomorrow would be Friday.