It’s that time of the year again–New Years Resolutions. Let’s see how I did in 2011 first.
Here were the resolutions I made for 2011, and how I fared:
1) Continue to focus on music when I have the time and elevate the quality of my work to the next level and replace pretty much everything that’s currently on my site with better, newer, improved tracks. Also redesign the music page on my site so it’s more streamlined.
I actually didn’t get to spend much time on music in 2011, and only finished one track. I’ve been focusing on writing novels instead. I had built up a good momentum and I didn’t want to interrupt it. Novel-writing is an arduous endeavor, and it’s not easy to keep a momentum going, so when things are going well, you’d best not stop for anything.
I will definitely still work on my music, but for now, my writing is placed at higher priority.
2) Create a new workshop since the current one has run its course (after repeated runs). I have a list of topics I’d want to focus on, and it’ll be hard narrowing it down to just one. Also, I’m very meticulous and a perfectionist, so it’ll likely take a while to create. The current workshop took me over a year and half to create, so this is really serious hard work.
Turned out Becoming A Better Artist has not run its course and is still going strong. The latest run I’m teaching was only one vacancy short of selling out, and after two years of running almost back-to-back nonstop, that’s pretty remarkable. So it looks like I’ll continue to improve/evolve the workshop and I’ll go on teaching it, until one day it does run its course.
Recently, the alumni students forum I’ve been wanting to create finally became a reality, and now all of my past students get to hangout together in a private forum dedicated to them, where they can support and help each other, and I’ll continue to mentor them there for as long as they feel they still need my help. The access to the alumni students’ lounge is permanent, so it’s a really good place to build a community. They’ll also always have access to the latest versions and updates of the course material as I evolve/expand it. So basically, my workshop is unlike any other out there–it’s sort of like a gift that keeps on giving.
3) I’ve gotten some good writing done in 2010–stuff that actually reads back satisfyingly, as opposed to making me cringe. I think this is a sign that I’ve matured and grown as a writer, and I suspect it’s getting close to that time where I concentrate on finishing a novel or screenplay and send it out there to meet publishers/studios.
I was right in my forecast, and all throughout 2011, I wrote nonstop, and my writing effort has upped its seriousness level to DEFCON 3. In the past, it’s always been just DEFCON 5, or maybe 4. Does the rating seem kind of abstract? Well, I sort of see it like this:
DEFCON 5 – Strategy on paper but no action taken. Have some cool ideas and will jot them down, but will not actually take action to pursue them.
DEFCON 4 – Locked and loaded, and shots fired. Actually writing, but without a sense of grim determination and urgency to see it through as finished works ready to be submitted to agents. There may be long stretches between writing anything–it’s really more like a hobby fueled by inspiration rather than discipline.
DEFCON 3 – Heated battles raging. Determined and focused, and writing regularly as part of a daily routine (whenever possible), and it’s only a matter of time before the work is completed and sent out to agents.
DEFCON 2 – Missiles launched and heading for targets. Manuscripts have been sent out and dealing with rejections or negotiations.
DEFCON 1 – Targets destroyed, and all out global destruction imminent. Agent signed, book deal signed, and dealing with pre-publishing details like cover art, font choices, marketing strategies, and so on.
I wrote roughly 41,000 words in 2011, and while that’s not a lot by some people’s standards, I’m the type to write/revise/edit as I go, instead of banging out a first draft and then do revisions and edits later. If I just forged ahead on first drafts, I’d easily have at least double that in a year. I’m hoping to pick up the pace in 2012, but ultimately, it’s the quality of the writing that counts.
So just what the hell have I been writing? Those of you who have been followed my blog probably already know, but here’s a recap of what I’ve working on:
Promise – A bitter sweet, dark, modern fairy tale about love, faith, and sacrifice. This is the story I’ve been working on in different forms since 1998. It started as an idea for a graphic novel, then was written as a short story, then went into development as an animated short film (but funding fell through), then was planned as a multimedia novel, and now finally, being written as a novel. This is currently the main project I’m working on, and I want to finish this one first, since I sort of see it as the “defining work” due to it having been in development for thirteen years already, and a story I feel compelled to tell.
Silent Storm – A psychological supernatural thriller that examines the relationship between obsession, illusions, and happiness. I’ve been working on this one off and on for more than ten years.
Oceanica – A sci-fi novel about a teenage girl’s involvement in a galactic conspiracy. This one has been in various stages of development for probably twenty years now.
Undead Souls – A post-apocalyptic zombie novel that investigates whether it’s possible to rebuild society after a total collapse, and how to avoid all the major mistakes of previous civilizations.
In 2012, I’d like to push even harder and finish at least one of these books and get it in a state that’s ready for agent hunting.
4) I’d love to spend more time working out, but every single year I fail at this. Will 2011 be any different?
Hahaha. I failed again, and I suspect I’ll continue to fail at this. I just don’t enjoy working out for the sake of working out, and all the physical activities I used to enjoy when I lived in the States aren’t suitable or popular in China.
I’ve always been more disciplined when it comes to mental challenges than physical ones though. It no wonder all my passions are mental ones and not physical ones (well, music involves physical challenges too, but they are minor compared to endeavors that are really physically draining).
Anyway, I’m never going to make any resolutions about working out again from now on. If I do it, great, if not, so be it.
5) If I happen to finish my current batch of music before 2011 ends, I might change my focus the multimedia novel project again.
Nope. The multimedia novel project is put on hold indefinitely as I’m now totally focused on writing novels, and I’d like to see how far I can take that.
So, besides continuing the resolutions from the previous year, do I have any new ones for 2012? Not really. The ones carrying over from the previous year are all long-term goals, and they are the main things I’m focusing on in my life currently, so I’ll just keep up the momentum and hopefully push a bit harder.
I just had another Seagate Barracuda 1.5TB hard drive acting up on me, and lost hundreds of gigabytes of data. Thankfully, most of it was backed up regularly. It’s only about a year old too, and not even used much. I had another Seagate Barracuda 1.5TB hard drive malfunctioning on me several months ago, and that one was also barely used. A few months before that, a 200GB Barracuda also acted up and had to be replaced.
That’s three Seagate Barracuda hard drives that’s failed on me in the last couple of years, and because of this, I have now sworn to never buy Seagate ever again.
I’ve ordered a Hitachi Deckstar 3TB, and I hope that one will last much longer. I still have a bunch of Seagate Barracuda hard drives in my computers, and that makes me kind of nervous. I hope the three that’s failed so far are just a coincidence, and the rest will be fine.
I did check the firmware for the failed drives and some didn’t have any new firmware to update to, and some did, but having updated the firmware doesn’t seem to solve the problems. I’ll keep trying to salvage those drives, but in general, since a hard drive becomes unstable, you can no longer trust it again, and should only use it for unimportant stuff that you don’t mind losing.
I recently finished reading The Binding Chair: or, A Visit from the Foot Emancipation Society, by Kathryn Harrison. I have read two previous books by her (The Kiss, and Exposure), and I loved the beauty of the prose in a Mother’s Day essay she wrote over ten years ago, titled Supplicant.
The Binder chair is written in third-person, and lacks the kind of emotional intimacy that Harrison is capable of expressing when she writes in first person point-of-view. That would have been fine if the book was compelling anyway, but in the end, I was disappointed by the book. It is guilty of all the things that genre fiction writers and readers can’t stand about literary fiction, such as the meandering, plotless story, the fragmented structure and slow pacing, the willful vagueness, and characters that you just don’t care about. The only times when the book became interesting was when the story was told in a straightforward manner instead of with all the literary pretensions. And I’m saying this as someone who likes and writes literary fiction.
Harrison shapes the main character in ways that feels inauthentic, and at times, even ludicrous. She doesn’t seem to really understand the psychic landscape of the Chinese people, and for all the research she did and the stories her grandmother (who lived in Shanghai) told her, Harrison never actually reached into the heart of culture. There was one particular scene that almost made me want to throw the book across the room–it was when May, the main character, burned paper money to mark the death of her previous self so she could begin a new life. That is such a western way of thinking, and it is completely unfathomable to any Chinese person who has grown up in China–not only during that era, but even now in the 21st century. Has Harrison ever actually had in-depth discussions with anyone who had grown up in China before? If she had actually talked to anyone who’s from China, Taiwan, or Hong Kong, she would have learned how ridiculous of an idea that is–that no Chinese person would ever do such a thing.
When authors write about the inner world of characters in a foreign culture, they really should research by actually asking people from that culture whether such thoughts and ways of thinking was even possible. Researching history, geography, economics, politics, and traditions is not enough–you need to research the psychic landscape of the people of that culture and understand what kind of ideas would be considered so outlandish that it would never even cross their minds.
Maybe only people who has lived the culture can spot the inauthentic aspects of stories written by those who are not part of the culture, and to everyone else, it doesn’t bother them at all. After all, if cultural authenticity is a factor for success, Amy Tan would never have become successful. If Amy Tan, someone who’s Chinese American and have Chinese relatives to draw inspiration from and do research with, produces what most Chinese people who grew up in Asia considers inauthentic portrayal of Chinese culture, then how could someone like Harrison possibly get it right?
Cultural authenticity aside, the book just didn’t do anything for me. I had to force myself to finish it, and there were several times when I was very tempted to just drop it and move on to another book (it’s not like I don’t have a gigantic list of books I’d like to read in this lifetime already). Nothing that happened in the book moved me or kept me interested, and the few interesting nuggets were never fully explored (such as the gifted pianist younger brother who had his hands crushed by his own father). The relationships between the main characters had no substance, being built on inexplicable and obtuse fascinations or selfish possessiveness, and the inner turmoil of the characters were always portrayed through a veil or from a distance. There were very few scenes where characters connected in a genuine manner, and maybe that’s what Harrison intended.
It’s disappointing that an author who once inspired me with the beauty of her prose has written something that turned out to be a chore to read through. Yes, the words themselves are very good–that is Harrison’s strength, but as a storyteller, she didn’t capture or keep my interest with this book, and it saddened me to read a book that proves the genre fiction readers and writers right–that some literary fiction books really are an unsatisfying and meandering bore.
Quickie movie reviews:
Enter The Void – I had to see this because I really enjoyed Irreversible, the previous film by Gaspar Noé. I liked certain aspects of this film, but I think it was a bit pretentious and repetitive, with a lot of unnecessary gimmicky cinematography. I respect the director for doing something different, and I hope he continues to do challenging work, but maybe reign it in a notch and focus on the storytelling more and less on the gimmickry.
Red – A predictable and safe spy comedy about retired operatives. The premise was more of a gimmick than actually having something to say about retired spies.
Kung Fu Panda 2 – I thought the first one was overrated, and I think the same of this sequel. The characters and the stories just don’t resonate with me. I enjoyed the score by John Powell though (he’s one of the best among the current popular Hollywood composers).
Unthinkable - A pretty good thriller, although it felt a bit forced at times, with a contrived setup for moral debates that ultimately don’t feel convincing.
Thor – A great popcorn flick, and not much to complain about. These comic book movies are getting better all the time. If only the same would happen for video game movies. To date, we haven’t had a single really good video game movie yet.
Drumline - I found out about this movie through an interview with the Korean girl pop group After School, where they talked about this movie being the inspiration for one of their songs (where they learned to play the marching snare drum and dressed in sexy versions of the marching band outfit).
This is an unusual movie because it’s not exactly the kind of topic most people would be interested in, but that’s why I like movies about esoteric endeavors–it sort of servers as a showcase, education and entertainment all at the same time. Nick Cannon is a terrible actor, but he was tolerable in this movie. Zoe Saldana was smoking hot. The way she danced in that cheerleading outfit was just…WOW.
30 Minutes Or Less – Another bromance comedy. It was pretty fun, and the villains were surprisingly likable. Aziz Ansari isn’t a good actor though. He may be a good comedian and does well in minor supporting roles where he just mouths off and cusses, but he can’t seem to handle anything that requires more dramatic weight. As soon as he’s required to emote beyond looking annoyed, he turns into a stiff robot. Dilshad Vadsaria was a cutie–I hope to see more of her in the future.