The Witcher Bewitches, Sort Of.

Okay.  Like a whole lotta people I binge-watched The Witcher last week.

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Hawt From Any Angle!

Filmed in Hungary, Poland, and Spain (I can almost hear the production location scouts saying stuff like, “Just give me a list of locations that are creepy AF!”) Netflix’s sword & sorcery offering does its level best to fill the hole left in some of us following GoT’s exit.

The Witcher manages to check all the right boxes for a fantasy series.

  • Amazingly convoluted story dependent on a backstory that spawns generations?  Check!
  • Huge cast of characters that takes us at least 3 episodes to actually learn their names?  Check!
  • Amorphous world-building resulting in a continent large enough for several Earth-sized planets?  Check!
  • Ancient dynasties with barely explained rivalries?  Check!
  • Strange mystic castes?  Check!
  • Dragons?  Oh, Check!
  • A special child with frightening powers who everyone wants to control?  Check!
  • Physical violence with a keen eye to hacking?  Check!
  • Magical violence that blows the CGI budget into the stratosphere?  Check!
  • Lots of horses?  Check!
  • A Super Hot Hero and Villainess Who Really Wants to Be A Heroine?  Check and CHECK!
  • Potentially Epic Romance?  Check!
  • And of course, Scary Bad Guy?  Ummm…Check, I guess.

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What’s not to love?

Okay, the writing.  Almost every episode is penned by a different scribe, but I’ll put this one on creator Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, who provided the scripts for the first and final episodes.  The writing isn’t bad, but the story structure is a tad cumbersome.  Those of us unfamiliar with Andrzej Sapkowski‘s book series of the same name, spend the first handful of episodes playing catch-up until we realize that we’re being told three different overlapping stories that aren’t happening at the same time.  Once that mischief is managed, however, it’s pretty much smooth sailing into pure escapism.  Cue the hacking!

EVERYONE is swooning over British actor Henry Cavill, who lucked into the titular role of the series.  There’s a reason for that.  Dude is hot as hell AND he can act.  He also looks amazing in black leather.  If you’re missing Viggo or Kit, Henry just might make you forget your pain for a bit.

But there are other standouts in this sprawling cast.

Anya Chalotra (who also looks amazing in black leather) is riveting as the very complex Yennefer.  MyAnna Buring goes the extra mile as an actress and then some in her ardent portrayal of Trissaia, the cruel-to-be-kind headmistress of Aretuza, and Jodhi May totally brings it as the powerful but tragically prideful Queen Calanthe.  There’s a lot of delightfully diverse woman-power in the cast, which I can only hope serves to light a fire under everyone else’s asses.

 

The Witcher’s production values range from “eh” to “wow!”  The costumes absolutely fall into the latter category.  British costume designer Tim Aslam did a magnificent job clothing his cast, and all I can say is that Anya Chlotra must be particularly pleased.  The CGI budget (saved mostly for the last two episodes) was well spent, and delivered bang for buck, for the most part.  Sonya Belousova’s score is fine.  And no one will ever complain about any episode in this season being underlit.

Of particular note is the creation of The Witcher’s own school for Witchcraft and Wizardry…well, just witchcraft, I guess: Aretuza.  A cruel and frightening place where you either succeed, or your life essence is taken and used to power the joint.  Survival of the fittest at its scariest.  Production Designer Andrew Laws and team got Aretuza just right, and it is, in my opinion, the most striking setting in the series.

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Welcome to School!

A lot of what goes on in The Witcher borders on the nonsensical, but oddly, that only seems to add to the overall derring-do of the project.  The epic gravitas of tales like LoTR and GoT is definitely missing here, but there is something unique about each character in The Witcher, which provides some internalized gravitas for the viewer.

The story is compelling, the acting is solid, the visuals are solid…its FUN, damnit, FUN.

So, if the dark nights of winter seem darker for want of a rollicking fantasy yarn with most of the bells and whistles you’ve come to love, give The Witcher a try.  It sucked me right in, and I hate everything.

 

2019 – You Sucked Balls. #byefelicia

It’s the last day of one of the WORST years I can remember.  Let me see if I’ve got this all straight:

Australia’s on FIRE.

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As of this morning an estimate 500 MILLION animals have died, and the Koala population has been decimated.

“Death to America” is trending this morning on Twitter.

Unknown-14Be honest, do these look like “protestors” to you?

Our impeached POTUS Is chillin’ at Mar-a-Lago while US Embassy workers in Baghdad watch Twitter videos of the “protestors” outside vow not to “spare anyone” when they breach the embassy.  But it’s okay, because Sec. Pompeo has promised to save the day.

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No words…

Small children and infants remain in US “Custody” at the border, forced to endure conditions that no one I know would accept for their own children.  

My dog died.

It’s become cool to egregiously mock 16 year-old young women with Asperger’s who only want us to grow the fuck up and save the planet so she and our grandchildren aren’t forced to live some terrifying version of the Mad Max franchise.

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“Can” is an operative word, peeps!

Somehow THIS happened:

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Again, no words…

Literally too many mass shootings to count.

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What the literal FUCK?

And “Arrow” is calling it quits.

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I may never recover.

I suppose things legit can’t get worse this year, since there are only a few hours left…

So here’s to 2020, which will hopefully usher in a push towards a more compassionate shared reality in which we all do whatever we can to help whom or whatever we can, even if it’s a koala.  It’s time we started acting like evolved versions of ourselves and work TOGETHER.

TO quote Bill Nye: “The planet’s on fucking fire!”

Safety glasses OFF motherfuckers, and have a fabulous 2020!

 

Domo Arigato, Mr. Robot

I just watched the finale of one of the most audacious feats of cinematic story-telling ever.  And now I’m verklempt.

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Elliot Alderson, as created by Sam Esmail and brought to life by Rami Malek will remain, for me, the most intriguing character I’ve encountered on page or screen…or even in real life.

When Mr. Esmail dropped his denouement on my head last night, I felt like it was 1975 and I’d just smoked a joint before parking my ass in Introduction to 20th Century Philosophy with a brand new notebook.  Everything in our home seemed alive and burning with the endless possibilities this life can offer.  Outside the stars glittered in the night sky, singing their siren song of the “what ifs” of quantum mechanics.  I haven’t listen to that music in a long time, but the finale of Mr. Robot blew open all those doors in my brain.

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(Psyched for the new sequel, don’t tell anyone I said that, please.)

Until last night I thought I’d been watching four seasons of a show about a brilliant and exquisitely damaged hacker determined to right our world’s singular wrong: greed.  But last night, oh, Mr. Esmail, you totally got me.  The breadcrumbs were there, but I ignored them.  My bad…or my good?

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I’m sure there are plenty of fans who are sitting smugly in coffee shops saying, “Oh, I totally saw that coming.”  Hmm.  With respect, I doubt it.  We ALL thought we were watching one show – being told one story – when we were, in fact, being told another, completely different story.  I’m sure Esmail’s ending will prove to be controversial, but I thought it was perfect.

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Mr. Robot has the distinction of having one hellaciously outstanding cast.  They’re all knockouts, but for me, the final season will be forever defined by the jaw-dropping performances of  Elliot Villar, B. D. Wong, and Martin Wallström – whose final scene made me weep.

 

So to Mr. Esmail: for the love of all that’s holy, keep telling stories!  Keep taking artistic risks.  Keep blowing minds, because those of us who actually give a shit about the state of the world need to be reminded, from time to time, that the universe is a strange and miraculous place.

And Rami Malek and Christian Slater: You both freaking ROCK.

 

Skin and Bone

When my daughter, Blythe Beard-Kitowski, was graduated from SCAD a couple of years ago and moved to NYC, I honestly had no idea how she was filling the hours between auditions and obtaining her Graduate Certificate in Producing at NYU.

Much to my delighted surprise, our Beast Childe was using that time to write several BRILLIANT short horror screenplays!

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One in particular literally took my breath away when she finally allowed me to read it.  Then known as “Untitled Screenplay,” it gave me an intoxicating peek into the fascinating  depths of this mind that Kevin and I helped to create.  I’ve been writing/storytelling all my life, and was literally blown away to be easily smoked by my own child’s short tale of something terrifying stalking a woman in the OLD WEST!  Western Horror!  Brilliant!

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As previously admitted, I’m addicted to all things horror…but so is my child.  Who do you think is sitting right next to me on the couch when the Ghost Bros Show is playing?

I could slip into a long rumination on the horror genre, but this entry is about Blythe, and her now titled screenplay, Skin and Bone.  She’s submitted it to several festivals, where it’s now an official finalist in the short screenplay category.  I think she’s most excited about being selected by the HorrorHaus Film Festival in LA, where Skin and Bone is an: IMG_2214

Brava, my darling Beast Childe!  Good on you for tuning into the organic relationship between horror and the American Old West, which was fairly horrifying, and creating a short film that I would dearly love to see.  Keep gathering Crying Monkeys – and for the love of all that’s holy, DON’T STOP WRITING!

Nice title, by the way…..

 

 

Too Many Words!

I’ve been writing a fantasy series for Young Adult/NewAdult readers for several years.  What a long strange trip it’s been to date.

Making the switch from playwriting to prose was easy…or so I thought.  When I write a play, I overwrite the hell out of it.  It’s so much easier to prune than it is to encourage growth from soil that may well be fallow.  And so, I overwrote the hell out of the first book in my series, The Seven Tears.

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When I finally – and tearfully – typed “The End” and instructed Word to provide me with a word count, I literally screamed.  I knew it was a behemoth, but I had no idea that I had created a beast nearing 165K words.

And so the pruning began.  This is where playwriting and fiction writing go their separate ways.  Cutting a script down to fighting weight is fun, and generally easy.  It’s like the puzzle app that you love to play but don’t tell anyone about because it was designed for kids.  You just clear the extraneous dialogue and make a clear road for the story.  Sooner or later, Bam!  90 pages.  Still more work, but polishing is fun, too.

But a 165k word long YA fantasy?

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For comparison’s sake, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince weighs in at nearly 169K words.  Imagine the work that JK and her editors had to do to get it down to a mere 169k words!

But here’s the deal:  first time authors, like me, don’t get the luxury of presenting huge books to agents/publishers.  When JK was an unknown, random Scottish woman hawking her hand-scribbled story of a young wizard, she was allowed 77K words for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  The next installment in Harry’s story was allowed another 10K words or so, and then the money came in and JK’s gloves came off.  Order of the Phoenix is over 250k words.

So we earn our word count with sales.  Cool…cool.

The story of The Seven Tears took me 165K words to tell.  Figuring out how to legitimately tell my story without sacrificing character development, plot elements, or darlings that I’m simply unwilling to kill, has been a bitch.  I’ve gone to writing conferences, talked to agents, editors, and manuscript “evaluators.”  I’ve forced friends and family to read it.  I’m a member of a great writer’s community, The Hudson Writers Group, who have listened to me read huge swathes of it.  I’ve begged teacher friends to ask their age-appropriate students to read it.

And…I’ve spent a LOT of time just staring at page 1 of the ms. on my computer.

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Copyright (c) 2019 by Jocelyn Beard, All Rights Reserved

Since I really want my story to go out into the world and find a life of its own, I listened to all the advice I’ve received, rolled up my sleeves and killed my darlings.  The Seven Tears now weighs in at a somewhat more appropriate 124K words.  It’s as sleek as I can make it.

This process is exhausting and emotionally draining for every writer, no matter which rung of the ladder you occupy.  But for first timers, the next step is to seek representation, or find an indie publisher who will consider an un-agented submission.

Which brings us to: THE QUERY LETTER.

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The best query letter I’ve seen.  Really.

In a single page, you are instructed to entice and amaze.  You’ve got to generate excitement, dazzle, and dare the reader (some poor intern) not to request the first chapter.  You’ve got to make yourself sound like a potential rockstar with more social media savvy than Yvette Nicole Brown.  Worst of all, in a couple of lines, you have to present your yarn in an easy to swallow capsule.  

I have several query letters that I’ve sweated over creating for The Seven Tears.  They all pretty much suck, as I imagine most do.

You can take entire courses on writing the “perfect” query letter.  There are literally thousands of people on-line who will help, for a price, of course.  As the storyteller, however, I feel that it’s a little above my pay grade to jump right in and slap the query letter reader in the face on Monday with a perfectly branded…thing, that can be turned right around and appear on every Kindle by Thursday.  That kind of manufactured excitement is beyond me because I’m still in the process.  I’m 45K words into the sequel.

What I do have to say is pretty simple:

Dear Poor, Undervalued Intern:

Here’s the deal, I’ve written a lot of plays that have done pretty well for themselves and for me.  I’ve turned my storytelling talents to a genre I love: YA Fantasy, and have created an incredibly cool series that will be loved by young women, 15-25 (and probably older) who love the work of Cassandra Clare, Sarah J. Maas, and Leigh Bardugo.

 

My heroine is snarky and smart, my heroes are dark and light, and the world I’ve built is huge and wondrous.  I’d be ever so pleased if you’d consider taking a look at my first chapter.

Sincerely,

Me

PS:  Yes, I’m on Twitter.  Yes, I blog.  Yes, I understand the hellacious amount of on the ground work that will be expected of me, should someone somewhere say, “Yes!”

PPS:  IT’S NOT A FUCKING MERMAID STORY.

Literally every response I’ve gotten to date has said: “Love your writing, but we’re not looking for a mermaid story right now.”  The Seven Tears has ZERO mermaids.  I’ve gone over my query letters in a forensic frenzy, and cannot for the life of me see why anyone’s takeaway would be, “mermaid story.”

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I’ve considered adding this graphic to future query letters.

So to all writers out there who are struggling to navigate through these waters, I salute you.  Now, go back to work!  Whether it knows it or not, the world needs storytellers now more than ever.

As for me, I’m off to attend a meeting of the Hudson Writers Group, where they know the difference between Finfolk and mermaids.  Mermaids have TAILS, for chrissakes!

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