Storyville: Top 10 Things for Writers to See, Do and Buy this Holiday Season
This holiday season, take a few moments from your busy schedule to hang out with family and friends. Here are some idea of what you can do. Have fun!
1) Get Caught Up On Star Wars
For me, Star Wars was one of those childhood movies that changed everything—the special effects, the drama, the imagination. It was a seminal moment in my youth, and it expanded my mind in so many ways. So why not take some time this year to go back and watch the original three (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi). They hold up really well (especially in Blu-ray or 4K). I just did this with the family and we had a great time. As far as the prequels, well, that’s up to you. They weren’t nearly as bad as I remember, but they are definitely the weaker films in this epic journey (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith). Definitely see the NEW movies as well! The Force Awakens and Rogue One are a lot of fun, and The Last Jedi is currently playing in theaters. (We’re going Christmas Eve!) Really, I can’t think of a better series to watch.
2) Revisit Your Favorite Author
So, I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time, but I’m a huge Stephen King fan, and he’s published over sixty books. That’s a lot of reading. What I realized the other day is that I haven’t read SOME of these books in twenty or thrity years. Some of these books I read when I was in high school or college and never re-read. So that means going back to read Carrie or Night Shift or Salem’s Lot almost as if I’d never read them before. And so much of King’s early work is his BEST work, IMO. So, look at the author that shaped your life as a writer, creative, or just as a human being, and spend some time re-reading their body of work. Whether it’s running through King or maybe just The Dark Tower, the Harry Potter series, or maybe dipping back into the work of George R. R. Martin, Ursula K. Le Guin, or Clive Barker—why not hit those favorites once again?
3) New Board Games!
Oh my God are there a ton of new games out. I’ve never seen so many board and card games. Whether it’s getting the entire family together over Christmas, that long school break, or maybe just a group of friends, there is no time like the present to play a fun game with a handful of your best friends. We recently picked up Catan and have had a blast. It’s kind of an updated version of Risk, but more complicated (especially if you pick up the extension packs, which we did—Cities and Knights, and recently, Seafarers). Other popular titles include Ticket to Ride, Pandemic, and Codenames. And if you want to get into CARD games, wow, there are a lot of those too—everything from Exploding Kittens to Cards Against Humanity. I’m sensing a theme of nostalgia this year, so why not pull out your old Dungeons & Dragons game, too, and see how much fun that is—time to run a new campaign, right?
4) Daytrips and Staycations
So I don’t know about you, but this was a long, rough, exciting, exhausting year. And I need to get my head out of the computer, and my ass out of this chair. I need to get out into the world, and remember that things aren’t nearly as bad as it seems. We live in the northern suburbs of Chicago, so we’re practically in Wisconsin. One idea I had for this Christmas break was to figure out a 100-mile radius of where we live, and then throw a dart at the map, and head out. What are we going to find in Brodhead, Wisconsin? No idea. What’s in-between my house and here? We’ll find out! No matter where you live, why not take a day and just hop in the car and head in one direction? Likewise, if you live just outside a major city, in the suburbs, why not stay local and see all of the cool things that are around you! We just went into Chicago to do some Christmas shopping (my daughter loves Lush) and we hit up our favorite tapas restaurant, Café Ba-ba-reeba, and had a blast. We went down to Michigan Avenue to see the lights, and hit Christkindlmarket to indulge in some sausages, Glühwein, strudel, and crafts. So whether you’re hopping in the car to go see House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin, or just heading to your nearest downtown center for a bite to eat and a little holiday shopping, have fun and get out there, people!
5) Finally Read That Book on How To Write
So, if you’re a writer (and I know many of you are), why not take a minute to read a book on writing, to try and see if you can’t pick up a few tips and improve your craft? There are four books that I think are very important, and extremely valuable, ones that I’ve read many times, and pick up constantly. They are: On Writing by Stephen King, a nice mix of memoir and advice; Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer, a fantastic illustrated guide to speculative fiction; Writing 21st Century Fiction by super-agent Donald Maass, a fun, contemporary read that is FULL of excellent advice; and Thrill Me!, the most recent of the four, by one of my favorite authors, Benjamin Percy, blending the best of genre and literary fiction into a fascinating read. All four of these books are worth the time, and cover different ground as well. There is a little bit of overlap, but I think those repetitions only help to remind us what’s important, and what subjects and techniques these successful authors agree on, right? Dip in and enjoy.
So, man, I’m so excited about this game. In the first two weeks of the release, it sold over one million copies worldwide. From the Wiki: “Cuphead is a run and gun game with role-playing elements, which features a branching level sequence and is based around continuous boss fights.” This doesn’t even begin to describe the nostalgia, the aesthetic, and the difficulty of this game! It looks like an old Mickey Mouse cartoon, a retro-feeling (1930’s), paired with contemporary gameplay. Cuphead won the IGN Best Xbox One game at E3 award in 2015. It was also nominated as Best Independent Game at the E3 2016 Game Critics Awards. And talk about a challenging game! But paired with a fantastic jazz soundtrack, it is both rewarding and original. It’s on sale everywhere right now, so pick up your copy.
(Microsoft and Xbox One, only, for now.)
7) Stranger Things
If somehow you missed out on the first season, now is the time to jump in, as the SECOND season has been released. This is one of those journeys that I just loved, spending time with the kids, first, and then later roping the wife in, even hosting a release party for the second season. If you like Stephen King’s The Body (which became the movie, Stand by Me) and have a love of 1980’s nostalgia, this is the show for you. I mean, the music alone makes it worth watching. The kids are amazing, such a great cast. We even saw Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven) speak at a local Chicago ComiCon, and she was awesome. So, hop on over to Netflix and dial up both seasons, and settle in. It’s a fun ride, with excellent visuals, and stellar acting (love Winona Ryder).
8) Black Mirror
So, this is probably my favorite television show running. While we are currently all caught up, the next season is set to launch this month (December 29th). If you were a fan of anthology shows like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, or Night Gallery—this is the show for you. From the Wiki: “Featuring stand-alone dramas—sharp, suspenseful, satirical tales that explore techno-paranoia—Black Mirror is a contemporary reworking of The Twilight Zone with stories that tap into the collective unease about the modern world.” This is some dark stuff, but wow, the emotion, the drama, and the impact. It’s not just about the twists (though those are often very powerful), it’s about the fear, the technology, and the characters! If you’re an author, you should study how they get us to care about these people, and the way they show the many shades of gray that is humanity. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be shocked, you’ll be stunned—it’s so well done. It’s pretty dark, the first episode alone was fairly intense, but there’s always some kind of redemption, even if that comes in the form of justice or vengeance. It’s satisfying, for sure. Hop in now, and get ready for season four.
(Also on Netflix.)
9) Best of the Year Anthologies
I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again—if you are not reading the best of the year anthologies in your genre, and you’re an author, then you are severely handicapping yourself. If you write horror, you should be reading The Best Horror of the Year (Ellen Datlow, editor) and The Best Dark Fantasy and Horror (Paula Guran, editor) at a MINIMUM. There are several best of the year anthologies for fantasy and science fiction, but the one I’m teaching in my classes is The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy (John Joseph Adams, series editor). And of course, there are the other best American books—Best American Short Stories (which I’m also teaching in my workshop) as well as Best American Mystery Stories (which definitely covers more than “mystery” IMO). Not to mention Year’s Best Weird Fiction (Michael Kelly, series editor). So, whatever genre you’re in—read that anthology. BUT, also strongly consider reading outside your main genre, there is a lot to learn. This past year, I’d say that in the anthologies I taught, there were exemplary stories that really blew me away in all three books—about 10/21 in horror, 8/20 in f/sf, and 8/20 in best American. That may sound low to you, but those are the stories I rated 8/10 or higher. So, jump in, people.Don't miss out on a wide range of excellent fiction from the top magazines and publishers working today.
10) Mental Health
So, this last item may seem a little weird to you, but give me a moment. You may have noticed that my suggestions have some similar themes. Nostalgia is a big part of this list, as well as taking time away from work and stress to have fun with friends and family. So, this holiday season, take a step back and breathe. Now, more than ever, it’s important for us to remember the people in our lives, and to actually spend time with them! It’s also crucial to take care of ourselves, right? There is a lot of uncertainty in the United States right now, and of course we need to deal with all of the sexual harassment, government deception, misogyny, and hatred that is overflowing in various parts of the country, but it’s also important to fill up the creative and emotional well now and then. We have to reboot. We need to recharge. So take a moment to have a glass of wine or a cold beer or a nice stiff drink. Take a moment to get that massage, to sleep in, to light a candle and snuggle up next to the one you love. Clear your head, take a break, have some fun, and relax. Whatever you’re into—do it! Binge that show, finally read that book, go see that movie, head out to that new restaurant down the street, hang with friends, listen to music, take a hike in the woods—and heal the wounds that have been created or re-opened. Know that I believe in you, and I’m not the only one.
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