The Return of Stargate and the Prequel Trend

Hi everyone!

If you haven’t heard yet, Stargate is finally making a comeback!  And I’m not talking about a reboot of the movie franchise, which has either been fully cancelled or at least postponed.  Rather, this is the next ‘chapter’ in the SG-1 Universe.

…Except, it isn’t.  Announced only a few days ago, it’s called Stargate Origins (click here to check the announcement on Gateworld.net.)  It takes place…sometime before SG-1, though we don’t know when yet.  And reportedly follows an adventure of young Catherine Langford as she defends Earth against an unimaginable darkness…  More on why this is a problem for me further down.

Sci-Fi and the Prequel Trend

Image Source – http://www.techtimes.com

Back in 1999, George Lucas released the first Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace.  At the time, I was extraordinarily excited about it, I’d always wanted to see those first three episodes, to see the origin story of Darth Vader, and, well, I was excited to see more Star Wars on screen.

What I didn’t know was the trend that it would begin…and that is a trend in Sci Fi that has endured for nearly 20 years.

Prequels.  Though I don’t believe Phantom Menace was the first ever prequel, it was the biggest hit I’m aware of.  Since then, here’s what we’ve seen…

  • Star Trek Enterprise (followed by the 2009 Star Trek reboot, and now Star Trek Discovery.
  • X-Men Origins and X-Men First Class
  • Prometheus (prequel to Alien)
  • The Thing
  • Caprica
  • Oz The Great and Powerful

And that’s just a small list of well-knowns.  Now with Stargate Origins coming out, I find myself crying out “NOOOOO!”  I for one have grown tired of prequels.  Especially in Sci-Fi universes that are supposed to be about exploration and moving forward (Star Trek and Stargate both being examples.)

But why?  Why is this continuing?  Especially…well, do an experiment with me.  Go to google.com and type in the search parameter “Why are prequels so popular?”  I know that Google can tailor search results based on past browsing habits, but for me, the first 10 results talk about why the Star Wars prequels are so hated.

So if the first major prequel of a franchise was so horrible, once again, I have to ask…why is this trend continuing??

Theories of the Trend

One of the most common opinions I get when I ask people this question is “Hollywood can’t come up with anymore original ideas.”  An interesting theory, but I wonder how true it actually is.

Image Source – http://www.irishnews.com

In fact, until recently, I didn’t really have a response except “maybe that’s true.”  Until…Bright.  The name of an upcoming, Netflix-produced movie, Bright is about modern-day Earth, with elves and orcs and faeries living side by side with us.  Will Smith’s character is a police officer partnered with what appears to be a young orc.  This is radically different from any major sci-fi/fantasy movie I’ve seen in recent years.

But it’s Netflix.  It’s not a major motion picture studio, it’s a relatively brand new production studio.  And I think this is a key point.  Netflix broke the mold with movie rentals, and now is breaking the mold by producing it’s own TV shows and, now, movies.  Like Amazon, Netflix seems to be all about trying new things, innovating, and moving its company in an unexpected direction.  And it’s succeeding at it.

Major motion picture studios, however…it’s like an unknown author sending a manuscript to an agent or publisher.  You’re a big, big risk.  They are highly reticent to invest time and money into you, no matter how good your product is.  So more likely than not, you’ll be rejected.

I think the same can be said about major motion picture studios and TV production studios.  They want to invest money into something that has a proven history of making money.  And even as reviled as the Star Wars prequels are, they made a ton of money.  So prequels make money.

This, I think, is why we keep getting prequels and, for that matter, sequels, rather than truly original content.

This is also why I am becoming a big proponent of Netflix, and of self-publishing.  It allows those with innovative or new ideas to get their ideas out there.  They may not always succeed, but at least they can try.

Parting Thoughts on Stargate Origins

Image Source – http://stargate.wikia.com

I’m really really sad about the direction they are taking to try to revive Stargate.  I really want more Stargate, but a prequel?  A prequel that, at least at first glance, blatantly ignores established timeline?  For those who aren’t as familiar with it, before the Stargate was opened by Daniel Jackson in the motion picture, the Stargate was only opened one other time after it was unburied in Giza, with disastrous results.  It was subsequently shut down for decades.

Yet this premise seems to indicate that Catherine travels through the Stargate, either before or after Ernest is stranded off-world, to confront some darkness that, apparently, SG-1 and the SGC are never made aware of.

In essence, it’s making the same mistake Star Trek and Star Wars made in their prequels: ignoring continuity.

Worse still, the series is being released as 10 episodes…each episode 10 minutes long.  I can’t imagine why anyone thought this was a good idea…but then again…I’m kind of eating my own words now.  I released 10 short stories which will later be compiled into an anthology (The Orc War Campaigns.)  So…maybe this is a result of the trend of online and subscription based TV shows?

Anyway, I hope I’m wrong about Origins, but I really think this effort is going to fall flat on its face, and Stargate will once again be thrown into proverbial mothballs.  :(

What are your thoughts about all of this?

Thanks for reading!
-Jon Wasik

The Star Wars Sin – Is It Okay To Change Direction?

Hi everyone!

I’ve touched on the subject of 2nd editions and how reviled George Lucas has become due to his revisions of Star Wars.  However, I wanted to touch on another aspect of that topic.

When is it okay to change the direction of a series, and when is it not?  This specific question came up a couple of weeks ago while chatting with Wayne from Show X about Star Wars.

Image Source – http://www.craveonline.com

In fact, Star Wars is a very good example to use in this case, because it has made changes in two ways.  The first is what was mentioned in previous blogs, how he took the original trilogy and modified it, much to the anger and angst of many.

However, what about the prequel trilogy?  There seems to be a sharp divide regarding whether or not the prequels are good or not, some stating that they are not part of the Star Wars saga at all, others who loved them.  It seems that there are few who, like me, like some of the prequels and their elements, but certainly not all (Episode 2…)

What came as a great surprise to me lately is that many of those who hate the prequels often say, “Had Lucas kept to his original plan for the prequels, it might have actually been enjoyable.”

Image Source – starwars.com

When reading and hearing this from others, somewhere in my head something clicked, and I do recall that the prequels didn’t seem to follow the original plan.  Furthermore, some other things didn’t make sense, so I started reading up on the development and production of The Force Awakens.

Sure enough, my vague memories turned out to be right: Lucas had outwardly stated in the early ’80’s that he had planned out both the prequel trilogy and a sequel trilogy.  And based on the quotes, it was in no uncertain terms that he had these plotted out, and he even made statements about what those stories would be about.

And yet…later on, Lucas started stating that he never had any plans for a sequel trilogy, just a vague idea of ‘wouldn’t it be cool.’  These statements directly contradict his earlier statements.

Image Source – http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page

This is just an example.  There are other examples where Lucas had to give a back story during Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi to production staff, and apparently he was very clear about the origins of Vader and the nature of the Force.

All of which was contradicted in the prequels.  For instance, the much-reviled idea of midichlorians being what grants people the power of the Force.  Or the fact that only some people can use the Force (Lucas was once quoted as saying anyone can use it, some are stronger than others, but it’s only the Jedi who train and dedicate to become powerful in it…a statement Lucas later denied ever saying.)

Where’s He Going With All Of This?

The thing is, Lucas said all of these things about the nature of the Force and Vader long before he ever created the prequels.  The stories weren’t actually created yet, the movies weren’t even in development, and nothing was ‘official.’  Yet people held Lucas to these statements as if they were gospel.  And have since crucified him, so to speak, for changing that direction.

Why?  Why is what he did so bad?  Is it because the prequels really were as bad as people claim, or is it because people wanted the story Lucas had mentioned in off-hand comments, and were disappointed for not getting that story?

As a writer, this is a very important question I’ve been asking myself lately.  Because, let’s face it, I change the direction of my stories all the time.  I come up with better ideas as I develop or write a novel or a series of novels.

In fact, from what I can tell with all story creators (whether novels or movies or plays or video games), this is very common.  As long as you don’t contradict what was explicitly stated or made known as fact in a previous story, because continuity IS important.

So at what point does it become a sin to change the course of your story from what you originally planned?  Other than breaking established continuity, anyway.

The answer became somewhat apparent in my discussion with Wayne: when you’ve promised your consumers one thing but then delivered something else entirely.  ESPECIALLY when it is something that has entered the hearts and minds of millions and is so important to so many people.

Cover by Christian Michael

This, of course, makes me reticent to ever post any plans or ideas for future Sword of Dragons stories.  I don’t want people to expect me to take the series in one direction, only to find I actually take it in another.  The progression of the series has already changed considerably from my original plans (I had intended for Cardin and Sira to have a child at one point, but I’ve completely scrapped that idea, for many, many reasons.)

It may be a little less important for a series that isn’t yet well-known like Sword of Dragons, but it still is a good idea to avoid spoilers and promises.  At least, I think so.

The Mass Effect Sin

I won’t go into too many details here, because I don’t want to spoil the story of the Mass Effect trilogy for my fiancee, but there’s another example of when changing things is a sin.  And that’s the original ending for Mass Effect 3.

Those who are curious can find and read copious articles of how hated the original ending was.  There even was an attempted class-action law suit over it.  Personally, I think this was taking it too far.

However, it does make one good point: stay true to your stories, to the spirit of your stories and its characters.  Mass Effect 3’s original ending did not in any way take into account your choices throughout the entire trilogy.  Considering this was one of the key mechanics of the trilogy, that every decision, even small ones, come to bear later on, sometimes in very unexpected ways, to not include that mechanic in the ending was kind of a slap in the face to fans.

Another, less recent example: Willow and it’s “sequel” novels.  I’ve not personally read the novels yet, I didn’t know they existed until recently, but they were pretty well panned by readers, and one of the many complaints was that the character of Willow was nothing like the character from the movie.

What do you all think?  Am I right on the ball or way off the mark with my assertions?

Thanks for reading!
-Jon Wasik

Copyright Registration – More Important Than You Realize

Hey all,

Back when I first started writing blogs here, one of the earliest articles I wrote was on copyright protection for your novels.  And actually, everything I wrote back then was true.

However, I’ve since become aware of some additional truths to copyright and court appearances, thanks largely to this article.  I’ll try to summarize as best I can.

First and foremost, yes, the intellectual copyright law means that the moment you create something, it is copyrighted to you.  And yes, it is still important to have some means of proving that you created the work when you did.  If it should go to court in contention with another written work, this is extremely important.

However, and this is the big point that I didn’t know: as far as a court of law is concerned, it is possible for two people to create the same thing without ever being aware of each other or each other’s creations.

Let’s say someone wrote a book that is very close to identical to The Sword of Dragons and published it today.  I have proof that I published The Sword of Dragons in 2015, and that I first wrote it before then (and even have proof of initial development going back over a decade.)

However, unless I can prove that this person was aware of my work, a judge will most likely rule in favor of “mutual co-creation” and neither person will owe the other anything.  The only exception would be if it is an exact or near-exact recreation (IE: it was obvious they copied rather than came up with it on their own.)

This is where filing for a copyright comes into play…

Giving Yourself The Best Protection

When you go to copyright.gov and file an official copyright for your novel (or work of art or song), you are essentially giving notice to the world: this is my story.  I wrote it, I published it on this date, and therefore it belongs to me.

As far as the law is concerned, that is the most important part: giving notice.  It doesn’t matter if that other author knew of my book’s existence or not.  It doesn’t even matter if they checked the copyright office before hand or not.  If they publish their work after I copyright mine, I automatically would win a court case.  The judge would simply say to them, “It’s your job to check the copyright office for notice, and you failed to do so.”  In most cases (there’s always exceptions) I would win the case.

My Advice to Writers

If you are publishing your work, whether online for free or on Kindle or as a print book, pay the $35 and go through the process of getting a copyright.  Should your story do well, this is a solid way of protecting you and your intellectual property.

Note that you CAN submit an unpublished, electronic document.  But once your novel is published and has a physical copy, you need to go through the process of sending them a physical copy to obtain a copyright on your physical product.

I hope this helps my fellow authors!  Let me know if you have any advice, or for that matter, questions on this subject :)

Thanks for reading,
-Jon Wasik

Self Publishing Success – The Martian

Hi everyone, welcome back to A Writer At Heart!  After a short hiatus, I’m back for more writerly goodness!  Please note that starting today, the posting schedule will be once a week every Sunday.  This will give me Friday night and Saturday’s to write new content for you all :)  And now, on to today’s post!

The Martian

Movie Poster for The Martian

In recent years, the movie The Martian has garnered considerable attention.  Based on a novel by Andy Weir, the producers and director of The Martian went to great lengths to ensure (mostly) scientific accuracy, working with NASA on an unprecedented scale, and creating what some critics call one of Ridley Scott’s best movies.

The novel itself was becoming a success before the options for the movie rights were sold in 2013.  However…what if I told you The Martian was self-published?

And not even self-published in the ‘traditional’ way, but in a rather unique way.

Chapter by Chapter – For Free

When Weir started working on the idea for The Martian, he had already been rejected by traditional publishers for other works, and decided to go a different route.  He published The Martian, for free, chapter by chapter on his website.

The Martian hardback novel

It was only when his growing number of fans asked him to publish the novel on Amazon Kindle that he started charging, at only 99 cents (the cheapest KDP allows authors to publish their novels.)  Within three months, he’d sold 35,000 copies!  In 2013, an audiobook publisher and a print publisher both bought rights to The Martian.

So how did he go from an unknown, posting his story for free on the internet, to making hundreds of thousands of dollars, and getting a multi-million dollar movie adaptation?

I’ve not actually read The Martian myself, but a part of it I think has to do with the quality of the story (based on reviews.)  Weir went to great lengths to make his novel scientifically accurate, and from some articles I’ve read online (including, yes, Wikipedia) he listened to what readers of his chapters said when they corrected scientific inaccuracies and had suggestions about characters.

Perhaps this is part of it, too.  Not only does he have a compelling topic in his novel, one which is growing in everyone’s mind as NASA prepares to send humans to Mars in 2030, but he listened to and engaged with his readers.  He didn’t dismiss them.  He didn’t belittle them.

To quote a character from Stargate SG-1, “Never underestimate your audience. They’re usually sensitive, intelligent people, who will respond positively to quality entertainment.”

What do you all think?  What was the secret to Weir’s success?  Is there another element that took him from an unknown to a best-selling author through self-publishing?  Curious minds want to know :)

Thanks for reading!
-Jon Wasik

Blogging Hiatus

Hi everyone!

There’s just no way around this at this point, I’m afraid I have to announce that I’m going to take a short hiatus from blogging :(  I’ve done so before (though never announced it ahead of time,) and I know that I lose a lot of readers every time I disappear from the blogging community.

But the fact is, I can’t focus on it, and I often don’t have time to think up new blogs, let alone write them.  Between work, a cert I need to renew for work, and wedding planning, it’s time to temporarily take a break.

My plan is to return by the end of June this year, though I’ll be sure to let everyone know if that plan changes.  I hope you all can understand and will come back when I return.  Maybe I’ll even take this opportunity to revamp the look of A Writer At Heart or re-brand it like I was thinking :)

If none of you return to read in the future, I want to thank you all right now for keeping up with me as long as you have.  You all rock!  :D

Thanks for reading,
-Jon Wasik

Can A Writer Live Off Of Writing?

Hi everyone!

In just a couple of months, this blog, A Writer At Heart, turns 3!  I’m excited that I’ve kept this going for all of that time!  There’s been ups and downs, and I know I haven’t always been able to keep up on posts, but it’s been an enjoyable medium to write in.

I know I’ve talked about this before, but one of my goals that I wanted to work towards when I started writing this blog was that I was going to make a living off of writing within 2 years.  3 years later, I’m nowhere close to achieving that goal.

Despite that apparent failure, my attempt to achieve that goal is why I worked so hard and was able to self-publish 2 novels in 2 years, and finish writing The Orc War Campaigns within a year (even if barely).

I may not be raking in the cash, but I am so much more accomplished as a writer than ever before!

Still, I’ve wondered lately, is it even possible to make a living off of writing?  Can only the big names make it, the ones who make the top sellers lists and make millions?  Was it a lofty, unobtainable dream of mine?  Should I let that dream go?

The Market Has Changed

With this question in mind, I decided to do a little digging and research.  Just going to google and typing in the question “Can writers make a living off of writing” yields apparently mixed results, or so I thought at first…

There were a lot of articles that enthusiastically said “Yes!” and a lot that unequivocally said “NO!  It’s a pipe dream!”  Who was right?

But the content of the articles, as well as their dates, is what started getting me to wondering about it.  You see, most of the ones that said it was a one in a million occurrence for a writer to live off of writing were either, A: 7 years old or older, or B: were talking about traditional publication only.

The ones that said it was possible?  They pointed out the change in the market.  Everything began to change as the internet grew and took on new characteristics.  eBooks changed the market, because suddenly you didn’t have to do a huge print run.  Self-publishing was a rare and very risky thing, and cost a lot of money up-front before eBooks.

Furthermore, as things continue to evolve, print-on-demand suddenly is no longer prohibitively expensive, and in fact is at a point where it can compete with traditional print runs.

Suddenly there are all of these avenues, and just about anyone can get published with little or no up-front cost!

Does This Mean Lower-Quality?

I want to state something important before I continue: I am neither bashing nor supporting either method (traditional or self-publishing) above the other.  In fact, even being a self-published author, it is still my dream to get picked up by an agency and publishing house.

Having said that, I’ve been scoffed at by some traditionally published authors in the past.  They think of self-publishing as an evil, and the most common reason behind it: “Anyone can get published without even trying, so a lot of garbage makes it onto the bookshelves.”

I respectfully disagree, this is something that hasn’t changed.  Before the internet, eBooks, and Print-on-Demand, there were a lot of good books that were published, true…but there were also plenty of bad.  No, I’m not going to cite examples, but I’m willing to bet you can think of a few on your own.

Despite the risk publishers took doing print runs, and therefore despite how careful they were in who they published and the content of their publications, not everyone in the world agrees on what is a quality piece of work.  And many trade publishers followed the market.  One of the articles I found while researching this topic said it right: a lot of bad books were published for this reason, and a lot of quality books were overlooked for any number of reasons, such as not being right for the market at the time.

So now that it is easier than ever to self-publish, what does that mean?  It just means more of both – the good and the bad.  Lots more.

Market Saturation?

So is this bad, then?  Does this market saturation mean readers are more picky, because there’s too much, and therefore it is harder for all writers to live off of writing?

Strangely enough, it seems like the answer is no.  I’m not an expert, but I have a lot of theories as to why things are better than ever, rather than worse, and the biggest one is: audience.

If you get published by a trade publisher, your book goes out to stores.  Depending on how much your publisher likes your work, it may just be your local market, or it might be out to a handful of countries, depending on what international deals they have setup.

But now?  Well, I’ve had people from all over the world read my books!  I only know this because of how Kindle Direct Publishing tracks sales and royalty currencies.  I’ve seen Canadians, Australians, Brits, and a few others buy my eBooks and even some print copies.

Suddenly it’s not just specific locations.  It’s whoever has an internet connection and the means to the right kind of currency.  Suddenly there are billions of potential readers rather than millions.

On top of that, people who are voracious readers don’t have to worry about physical books taking up space or waiting for them to be delivered.  Most people I’ve talked to outside of friends and family have read my first book in a single sitting.

Voracious readers are, if you’ll pardon the pun, eating up the increased volume of works to be read!

The Bottom Line?

The bottom line is that it is possible to make a living off of writing, more than ever!  However…that does not change the fact that it requires hard work.  A LOT of hard work.  You don’t have to have that one best-seller anymore like you used to, but from what I’m reading, those who DO live off of it, write a great volume of stories.

And that is no guarantee, either.  That’s an important thing to remember about writing: it doesn’t matter how good you are, you are not guaranteed to succeed.  In fact, Picard once said it perfectly in Star Trek The Next Generation:

Image source – fanpop.com

“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose.  That is not a weakness, that is life!”

So what should you do?

It all boils down to one thing: do you love to write?  Is it your passion?  Your calling?

If you can answer yes to that, then my advice is the same advice I’m giving myself: don’t give up.  Don’t stop.  Keep going.  Never stop.

Believe.

Inhabiting Your Characters – Cosplay

Hey everyone!

If you keep up with my fiancee’s blog, you’ll have read that we recently attended Anomaly Con, a Steampunk convention in the Denver, CO area.  And as part of our time there, we were in costume!

Tinker and L3GEND. Photo by Death’s House Productions. Makeup by Beck Stewart.

Specifically, on Saturday Beck painted us up to be like robots!  In fact, if you’ve never heard of them before, we were specifically ‘fan bots’ from the Steam Powered Giraffe music group and their fictional universe.

And I’ll say this…it was a unique experience for me, for many reasons.  A couple of weeks before, Beck did a test run of my bot’s makeup on me, and it was a surreal experience when the makeup was done and I looked in the mirror.

I was someone else.

That’s how it felt.  Like, for a moment, I seriously felt like I was the fictional character we had made up together, named L3GEND.  And then interviews with characters from sci-fi and fantasy movies started playing through my head, about how they felt the same when they first got into the full makeup and costume from their characters.

In fact, we just went to the Denver Art Museum’s Star Wars Costumes exhibit, which is part of why I’m a day late on this weekend’s post.  While waiting in line, they showed videos about the costumes, including Natalie Portman talking about how she felt donning Padme Amidala’s costumes, and it sounded like she had a similar experience.

And it got me to thinking something for writers…

Inhabiting Your Characters in Cosplay

I’ve toyed with the idea in the past, and Wayne Adams has even mentioned trying to find cosplayers to portray my characters at conventions when I have a booth.

Photo by PixieGoddess Cosplay and Art. Wig styled by Beck Stewart.

But what if I worked on creating costumes for some of my characters, and actually wore them?  Would this allow me to ‘get into their heads’ so to speak?  More than I already am, any way?

In and of itself, that might not be enough reason to, but then there are the reasons of being ‘in character’ at cons when I have tables, not to mention, if the costume is impressive enough, it might garner more interest in the novels.

But I want to go back to the original point: inhabiting my characters.

Maybe doing so would give me ideas about different directions I could take their characters.  Maybe even totally change the story direction, as has happened more than once already.

I can’t do this for all of my characters, but maybe the primary protagonists.  Cardin Kataar being the most immediate character I’m thinking.  But which costume?  His tattered rags and worn out, mismatched armor from The Sword of Dragons?  Or his newer armor from Burning Skies?

Cover by Christian Michael

To be honest, that matters a little less than the actual prop itself, the Sword of Dragons…how in the world could I construct such a large weapon?  Especially to make it acceptable to take to places like conventions, where they have very strict rules on what they will allow for prop weapons?

And then the armor itself…thanks to an artist I hired last year to start doing character sketches, I actually have a sketch of Cardin Kataar I could go off of for the armor.  Could I learn to make the leather pieces myself?

It’s an exciting idea, but also a time-consuming one.  I am intrigued enough at the idea that I might at least do some preliminary research into it.

What do you all think?  An intriguing idea?  Any authors out there ever do this before?

Thanks for reading! :)
-Jon Wasik

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