Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Outline or Not Outline

Yes, that damn old question again.  And I can't believe I'm asking this question myself.

We all know what the answer is: Do what is right for you.

The problem is, what is right for me isn't always right, and sometimes it's outright wrong.

I'm mostly a pantser: I write by the seat of my pants. I like the way my characters take me places, show me new alternatives, and surprise me. I like how their decisions change the plot, and move it organically. All is good.

But there are times when I'm so frustrated with my characters I want to give up. The detours are getting ridiculous, and a 120K book turns into 180K, because the characters start to tell more stories, taking in more subplots, or moving the plot with more twists and turns than I'd like.

What to do?  It sounds good in theory, but in reality, the writer (that's ME) has to rein it in somehow. A novel shouldn't be a runaway train. Of of these days (and soon) it should end.

Often, I'd try to do a very brief outline, nothing detailed at all, showing how I'd like the plot to go, toward some kind of a goal, or set pieces, or end points. They serve as the guideposts so I don't wander off somewhere and the story doesn't turn into a plotless mash.

I had one such outline written out for the last part of my WIP, and I thought it was pretty good.... until I started writing. Then suddenly the plot I outlined sounded cliched, melodramatic,  and complicated. And my characters started to ask questions: "This doesn't make sense... why would I do that?" or "Where did I get that piece of information?" or "I'm not going to do this big info-dumping dialogue!" My characters are rebelling! And knowing myself, I realized I must listen to my characters, as they come to this point of the story. They know their stories, and they are telling me something.

My characters are telling me, they want this part of the plot more emotional and less dramatic. More resonance with the readers and less extravagant and climactic.  At the very least, it should feel organic and not forced -- to be dramatic for dramatic's sake.

And I started to agree with them and ended up scrapping the outline and 2000 words. Granted, I didn't really like words. Still, that's a few hours of work I just threw out.

I just hope I'm doing the right thing.  There are times when I have absolutely no confidence, especially when it comes to plot. What is too much?  What is not enough?  I have no idea. I can only listen to my characters and hope they are right, and I was wrong.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

If You Build It...

"If you build it, they will come." -- Ray Kinsella, Field of Dreams

That's a famous quote from one of my favorite "guys' movies." What does it mean, anyway?

To me, it means that so often when people do things, they want a certain result. There's much expectation that goes into us "doing things" these days. We can't just "be."  If  you write a book, you expect sales and fans and all that jazz. If you make a movie, you expect long lines. If you're an actor, you expect an audience. If you're a singer, you expect to win American Idol or at least get a huge contract from your YouTube videos like Justin Bieber did.

"If you build it, they will come" is not about that expectation. It may seem that way. "They will come" means you're expecting the result, right? But you'll have to see the movie to understand what that line really means.

To me, it means "Do the work. Don't ask, just do it."  The rest is really out of your control, but if you keep doing good work, sooner or later, people will take notice.  It may take years, or may never before you're dead (Van Gogh could tell you his story), but someday, they will. Van Gogh wouldn't have been VAN GOGH (and a museum just for him) if he hadn't left a huge collection of quality work after his death.

In the movie, Ray Kinsella -- from a crazy idea -- built a baseball field in his corn farm, out of nowhere. His wife questioned him: "Why are you doing this? Who is going to come here and who is going to play?"  But that was not Ray's concern. He built the ballpark for himself. And then strange things start to happened, and it seemed like a few other people had the same idea as Ray did. [I won't spoil the movie if you haven't seen it.]

Over the last few years, I've slowly built my repertoire. I have one novel published by a small press. I have hundreds of movie reviews. I have a few short stories published and a few more written. I have a blog or two, with hundreds of posts. I am close to finishing my second novel.  I have a third ready to be written.

But I don't have a readership. Hardly anyone knows me or my work. Even my friends don't usually show interest in what I do. They'd say, "You have a book out? That's nice" and they go on to talk about their days.

That's fine. I know I'm a nobody as far as being a writer is concerned. I don't have a following. I haven't paid my dues yet. I know people tend to gravitate toward people OTHER people know or revere. :)  No offense, but that's how we humans are. We don't go to see a Harrison Ford movie because we personally know him, but we know his work, and it seems like everyone else does. Ford had been acting for YEARS before he became a star, but we only knew of him after he became a star. How many of us can say we've seen Ford's movies before Star Wars and actually knew who he was? Jeremy Renner is another example. The guy has been an actor's actor for years, quietly doing the grunt work with no apparent fame or fortune to go with it, until the Hurt Locker put him on the map.  Another example is Michael Emerson from Lost... so many examples of "overnight" successes that took 10 or 20 years to achieve.

And my stories don't necessarily scream "popular." No vampire or zombies or teenage mutant turtles. But that doesn't stop me from keeping on doing what I do. Part of it is that I have stories to tell: my to-to-written list is rather long at this point, and I can't wait to work on those ideas. I also understand I may never achieve the kind of recognition I'd hope for. Part of me is like Ray Kinsella's wife, questioning the writer in me: "Why are you writing? Who is going to come and read your work?"   The answer is always, "I don't know. Maybe nobody. But I've got to do what I've got to do. For me."

It's not to say I don't write for an audience. I do. I keep them in mind. "THEM" meaning my potential readers, not anybody specific. Will these potential audience come? Maybe not. But I've got to be prepared when they do.

Kind of like my singer or actor friends. They've spent YEARS working on their craft and they have built up a good repertoire, whether it is a huge song book or plays or monologues or indie short films that no one has ever seen. Even when they're not getting paid, they are WORKING. Why are they doing it?

It's the same thing with athletes... you see Michael Phelps' 8 gold medals and  you wonder "how did he do it?"  Well, the kid didn't start swimming just two years ago. He has done all that work, quietly, anonymously, often without the reward of recognition. Nobody knew who Michael Phelps was 8 years ago. Or even 6 years ago (when people started to pay notice to this wonder boy who won only 1 silver in the 2004 Olympics). Success is not a guarantee. There is no guarantee in life. He could have gone to the 2008 games and not won anything. But that didn't stop him from doing what he did -- or any athletes, for that matter. Not everyone can win medals, but these athletics keep on doing it.

First, they enjoy doing that stuff. They are their passions. They live and breathe music, theater, poetry, sports, etc. It's what they do anyway. Second, when someone does knock on their door, they'll be prepared. I'm constantly amazed by how versatile and prepared my musician friends are, for example. You could tell them the name of a song, and they'd sing it as if they'd sung that song every day. Or they would play it on the piano as if they had practiced for years. They always look professional, even when no one is watching or listening. And when that big moment arrives, they'll shine effortlessly.

But it was never effortless. You just don't see their hard work. Most people don't really care.

Writers who believe they could write just this ONE book and become the next Stephanie Meyer are unrealistic and even delusional, and they are doomed to fail because they have no idea what being a real writer is about. Sure, they may "hit the jackpot" like Meyer did, but chances are they won't. They haven't built it, yet.

For a dream.

And the field of dreams is lush and growing and beautiful and abundant and vast.  You just have to do the work.

I've got to build it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The eBook Saga Continues...

So, after trying to get Lulu to help distribute the eBook edition of The Pacific Between in iBookStore and getting nowhere (those people were rather incompetent, and I sure was not going to BUY their $179 conversion package. What a ripoff), I just found out Apple now accepts applications from individuals and small presses. No longer do we need to go through a third-party company such as Lulu to get our books in iBookStore.

What's even more outstanding is that the new iWork/Pages (which I use anyway) will export to ePub format, which iBooks uses. What's great is that it confirms to ALL of the strict validation criteria of the iBookStore. Apple even gives you a template to use to create your ePub file that will automatically include a Table of Contents and also cover page. Now, that's slick and painless.

I tried it out this morning and it worked. The eBook looks really nice on iBooks. The submission process for iBookStore was rather painless as well, and Apple gives us a free tool called iTunesProducer that helped the submission process. Literally without half an hour I had my ePub file ready to go and submitted to iBookStore. Now, it has to go through the publishing and distribution queue so it will show up in their catalogue, but that's just a bit more waiting. The hard work has been done.

Will let you all know when it is available on iBookStore.

The Kindle edition, by the way, has been available since earlier this year. Here's the link if you're interested:  The Pacific Between (Kindle Edition)

This is the Kindle edition of my short story collection, A Bunch of Stories

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Chinese Edition...

I've been having so much fun these past few days translating the WIP to Chinese. I think I've got the translation bug.

Last night I stayed up until about 2 in the morning translating the first chapter. Google Translate was a great start, even though their translations were full of laughable errors, but at least they filled 80% of the words I needed. The rest of the effort was to rearrange or edit, add and subtract. It's not unlike the editing/rewrite process.

The interesting thing is, through the process of translating between the two vastly different languages (everything from vocabulary to grammar are different), I've gained a better sense of my writing. Obviously, the way I write in English may not translate well into Chinese (or vice versa), and that's fine. But through the process of trying to get the meanings across, I've gained so much insight into the writing and rewriting process -- it's the darnest thing!  I also found that I had to unhinge myself from thinking in English, but think in Chinese instead (and vice versa).  And through that process, I realized there were better ways to write in English, too -- better phrases, or better ways to express the idea, to describe something, to narrate the scene. What worked before suddenly looks painfully dull or tedious. I started to ask myself, "Do I need all that detail? Can I just summarize? There seems to be a lot of unnecessary staging here..." Etc. Etc.   The process was extremely illuminating.

Now, I don't think I can or will translate the whole book to Chinese. It's going to take me another 5 years at this pace. I'd rather get a nice, big contract, sell the Chinese rights, and let the PROFESSIONAL translators have at it. Right now, I'm doing it for fun (and to show some of my work to my Dad, who can't really read English).

It's cool to be bilingual. And I'm loving it.

Unpleasant Memories

The mind is a very interesting thing. This morning, as I was lying in bed wondering if  I should just get up (waking up with only four hours of sleep), my mind started to wander, and it went to some childhood memories that, interestingly, seemed to have been suppressed for a while, and I couldn't recall much of the detail except for the general impressions.

It seems to me that our minds have a way to block unpleasant memories from fully forming or taking hold. Or maybe it's just me. I remember the details of my happy moments -- graduation, vacation, getting a new job, etc. But when it comes to unpleasantness, my memories are incredibly foggy.

For example, this morning I remembered the time when my family was living in a 250 sq. ft. apartment, in a complex near the slums. I could actually see and walk to the slums from our apartment. And one of my parents' friends and his wife actually lived at the slums. I remember visiting them, and being horrified by the awful conditions (if you have seen Slumdog Millionaire, you'd know what I'm talking about): the roaches, the murky water, the dog shit, the wooden sheds that appeared to collapse at any second. And yet, I couldn't recall the details, as if it was a movie and not a real experience. I only had an impression. And it wasn't until this morning did I remember -- it was as if my mind had deliberately blocked out that information for decades.

I also thought of the time when I witnessed a boy falling to his death. Again, in my mind now that seems like only snippets from a movie, but the boy (probably only a year or two older than I was) died only about 20 feet from where I was sitting. I didn't remember much of how it happened, and it happened rather quickly. But I do remember the images of his twisted body, the blood and the brain matters. Again, as I recall the scene now, it seems to have come from a movie and not real-life experience. My mind has a way of playing tricks on me.

[p.s. I think his death -- an apparent suicide after he had failed his exams -- made me and my parents realize there were more important things than making grades, etc. My parents never pressured me to be "top" students, and I knew that even if I failed, it wasn't the end of the world because the alternative, as I witnessed with this boy's death, was unfathomable.]

That's why I think it's highly likely that people tend to block unpleasant and horrific experiences from their memories. We've heard of child-abuse survivors or rape victims not remembering anything, or missing key elements from their testimonies. Prosecutors or defense lawyers know that, and they use that stuff to their advantages. They understand that people repress their memories as a defense mechanism, and it's not even voluntary. It seems, our conscious minds have a way to control what we can/will access and not. To get to these memories, we will have to go deeper into the subconscious mind (and I've done that, through hypnotherapy -- now that's a whole different blog post to discuss).

As a writer, I'm very interested in how the conscious and subconscious minds work, because they affect how people behave and react. They say the subconscious mind is purely emotional, and I believe that. Normally when people get access to their subconsciousness (through hypnosis, for example), they experience and express the same kinds of emotions as if they were experiencing it for the first time. It FELT real. As opposed to what I'm feeling now about these unpleasant memories of mine:  they're really not that unpleasant, since I don't have any emotional attachment to them, as if they were not real. Just movies. Movies of my life. In bits and pieces.

How fascinating!

Monday, August 23, 2010

I'm 18 Again

Okay, sorry for putting that damn George Burn's song in my head...  Your head, I mean...

But anyway, I must be getting old(er). Seeing all these young kids getting ready back to school (college) and after watching Piranhas 3D (and Steve McQueen's grandson is now all grown up?)... I'm really feeling it.  Every time I went past the university, I saw all these young kids... with their future so brightly ahead of them, full of promises and hopes and dreams (*cliches alert* alert *) I really do feel kind of old.

Of course, that's not a rare sentiment. Most of my friends are feeling that burn as well. It seems like it was yesterday when we were talking about our future while burning the midnight oil (what's with me and cliches today?) at college. And now they're talking about their children's college and early retirement. How did the time go so fast?   And there are a slew of  movies coming out with similar ideas: men or women going back to their youths or trying to hold on to whatever little they have left.

Now, I am not defying aging. I think I can grow into it very nicely, thank you very much, and  I kind of am looking forward to having a nice head of salt-and-pepper hair (as long as I don't lose it all before I hit 70, I'll be grateful)... you know, like how men such as George Clooney or Richard Gere or Sean Connery grew into it (not Richard Dreyfuss, though -- the man looked 70 when he was 55).

That also prompted me to wonder: would I want to be 18 again, knowing what I know now?

I think that would be really fun and I would definitely do it.  Bring me the potion, or time machine, or whatever. Why not?  Now, it's not like I hate my life and would like a do-over, but there were certainly a few things I'd like to change. First, I'm definitely going to hit the gym sooner than I did -- 24 was way too old to start this working out thing. :)  Second, I think I'll be more aggressive and sure of myself when it comes to the objects of my obsession... but I'm not that sure. I'm still a rather shy person, but I certainly have acquired a certain swagger over the year, and quite a bit of bravado after I have a few pints to drink. Still, asking someone out, especially one I feel is way out of my league, is a daunting thing. But remember, by then I would have looked like an Adonis (working out, you know), so I should feel like no one is out of my league.

I definitely would pay more attention to my passions and interests, and use what I've learned over the years to get ahead. I mean, seriously, with the stuff I can do now... I'd be a Wonder Boy at age 18; I'd be wiping the floor with Justin Bieber. Of course, back then there was no YouTube or Facebook or the Internet, so it would still be rather hard for a boy from Hong Kong to make it here.  Now, what if I was 18 again in 2010?

Nah, that would be misery. Kids are going through so much more crap now than I did. Back in my days (I really do sound like an old man now), things were actually simpler, believe it or not. I know -- people from the older generations ALWAYS say that, but it is true. When I was 18, things were simpler, easier, and people were nicer. There were no Internet, and thus there was no exposure to mean trolls or racists. I was very well sheltered. Even the mean people back then were less mean than the mean people now, and the world seemed a bit more in harmony. There were no reality TV for people to trash others. There were no news show for politicians to scream at one another. Or maybe age has tinted my memories, and I'm starting to see my past with rosy glasses (Hell, really, something is broken with my cliche-stopper).

In truth, I wouldn't trade my past with anything... it made me who I am now, for better or worse. If anything, I would love to have done some things differently, at least to lessen my degree of regret now, not to completely change my life. I could have done away with some of my insecurities. I would have cared less about what other people thought of me. I would have traveled more, seen the world. I would have enjoyed life a bit more without worrying about my future.

Because from where I am standing now, my "future" looked fantastic!

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Difference is...

I just realized... (yeah, I'm kind of dimwitted, so shut up)... the difference of my mindset between writing the two novels is this:  With The Pacific Between, it's more like "Hey, look at me, I can frigging write! I'm a writer!"  and with The Terrapin's Trail, it's more like "Hmmm, how can I write this amazing story so my readers will enjoy it?"

It sounds really simple, isn't it? And kind of a "duh," too.

It's not like there's not a good story in The Pacific Between. It still like it, and I love the characters. But there are a lot of things I could have done differently had I thought more on the story and less on "being a good writer."

It's understandable, though, and I think a lot of new writers have gone through the same thing. We all have something to prove. We all want the prospective agent or editor or reader to say, "Wow, this person can really write!" The problem is, good writers are still a dime a dozen -- it's actually expected that you can write, if you want to get published. Many authors are damn good writers. So what makes me special? What makes my work special?

All that writing stuff is important -- VERY IMPORTANT. I can't stress that enough. I think it's a mistake for writers to ignore the rules or guidelines or grammar or style or craft. They are all important as part of the writer's toolbox. You can't jump before you learn how to crawl and stand first. And you can't run before you can walk.

Still, what I'm talking about here is not the importance of the craft. Again, it's VERY IMPORTANT, because everything else is built upon that foundation.  What I'm talking about is the mindset, and the focus of fiction writing.

Often, especially for new writers like me or even seasoned writers, the focus is off. We're so hung up on being writerly and the language and all that (especially among literary fiction writers -- you know who you are), and we forget the other side: the readers. So often I hear writer say "I write for myself. I write what I love."  That's really great. But you also write for an audience. Writing is about communication. When you tell a story, what are you doing? You're not telling the story to yourself. You're not telling the story so you can feel better about yourself, and how great a writer you are.

You are telling a story because your readers may want to read that story and enjoy it.

Yes, The Pacific Between got published and received good reviews and all that. But as I look back on my process and the way I wrote it and reread parts of it, I realized how skewed my mindset and process were.  It wasn't until near the last 1/3 of the book did I realize what I wanted to do was to tell a great story.  Sure, my language might have suffered a bit, but damn, the last part of the book turned out well. The plot clipped along. The characters were alive. And the readers were hooked and they kept flipping the pages.

But the first half?  Very nice descriptions, dude, but it was slow. I can now see it painfully, how the first half and the second half differ because of my mindset. The former was all about being writerly, and the latter about telling a good story.

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone...

So, my fellow writers, while it's important to improve your craft and become the best writer you can be, please make sure you don't focus on the wrong thing. Make sure you not only write for yourself because it's your passion, but also because you want to write for your readers. You need to constantly think about them.

Focusing on telling a good story, I now love my writing even more!

Thursday, August 19, 2010


This is really funny.  OK, first, my Chinese has deteriorated  so much over the years. I tried to translate the prologue of my WIP (you heard me, I wrote a prologue. Bwhahaha) from English to Chinese, and it took me over two hours. It's hilarious. But I rather liked the result.

Here's the Chinese version of the opening paragraph:

馬來亞, 一九四三年四月

 男孩死了只近三小時, 屍體已發了臭,蒼蠅在享受漂亮的大餐。另外的一個年青人待着屍體旁邊,啪走面上的蒼蠅。他已慣了腐爛和屎尿的臭味。其他的大漢不是睡着了就是望著黑黑的空間,跟隨貨運列車搖盪。他不知道他們的名字:他們只在兩天前見面的。在這地方及環境,名字是太親切了,他不要跟誰友好。其實,他也不在乎:他不須要再跟那個在彭亨來的農民男孩談話了。

Confused? Don't know Chinese? Here's the English version:

The boy had been dead for three hours, but in the thick heat his body was already reeking, the flies busy partaking in their beautiful meal. The young man hunched over the corpse and swatted the flies from his own face. He had gotten used to the miasma of rot and human waste. The other men were either sleeping or staring blankly at the dark space as they shook with the motion of the freight train. He did not know their names; they had barely met two days ago. Out here, knowing someone's name would become too intimate a gesture, and he needed no attachments. In a way, he was glad he no longer had to talk to the peasant boy from Pahang.

So far so good.... but here's the kicker. I ran the translated Chinese through Google-Translate again, and here's what came out of that:

The boy died only last three hours, the body has made a foul fly in to enjoy a beautiful meal. Another button next to the body of a young, black flies walking surface. He has used the decay and the smell of urine to suppress. The other man is not asleep is looking at the dark space, follow freight trains sway. He did not know their names: they are only two days ago informative. In this place and the environment, the name is too warm, and whom he should not friendship. In fact, he did not care: he does not need to talk to the security of farmers in 100 boys conversation.

Now, that's just funny.

My First Time

...was really special, thank you very much.

No, that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about my first time being a writer. OK, I know, I know, I've been writing since I was a child. My first piece was published when I was 13. But it was always a hobby.

I'm talking about my first time as a serious writer (well serious as in being serious about it and not seriously talented. LOL) and getting paid for my writing. I think that's a very important place where I realized I could do this, for real.

First, a little bit of background. I became serious about writing (fiction, mostly) in 1998 when I was living and working in Atlanta. I started reading fiction again, after years of reading only nonfiction and work-related stuff, and I was hooked. I was always an avid fiction reader when I was a kid (mostly mystery and adventure, with a few James Bond thrown in), but somehow I lost that interest. Reading fiction again sparked my interest of writing fiction myself. I'd been a good writer when I was a kid; I could do this. I started to take classes, including a few courses at UCLA. I wrote some short pieces (for class) and I worked on a "serial" which was published in a community newsletter for about two years. But nothing commercial.

It wasn't until 2001 when I began actually writing anything for real, though. Since 1998 I'd had a few story ideas fermenting in my head, but it wasn't until 2001 when I decided on one and went to work. It helped that a colleague of mine, who and his wife were avid fiction readers, and they showed interest in my story idea and encouraged me to work on it. Their words really struck me as true: "Anyone can talk about it. Can you actually do it?"  To prove myself, I wrote a chapter and sent it to them for critique. Now, before you say, "So what? I've been doing that since I was 5," let me tell you it was the very first time I put my work up for critique (other than peer reviews and writing classes). I was nervous. My friends' comments, though, confirmed that I could do it. One chapter turned into two, then three, then five, then ten (of course, later I realized those were the wrong chapters to write -- I scrapped them from the final draft; but I needed to write them to get me into the right groove).

But anyway, working on the novel gave me tremendous confidence and I started to write other stuff, too. Articles, blog posts, short stories, etc. Then something happened in 2003 when I was about done with the novel, I heard about a local literary magazine called Writers Post Journal. I'd been thinking of getting my feet wet by submitting some of my works for publication. Again, "don't talk the talk; walk the walk." For me, it's another step. Best of all, it was a paying market. I submitted a piece I wrote a few years back and they decided to publish it. I got a shiny $5 and a free copy of their magazine.

You never quite forget your first time.

It was cheap and short and relatively insignificant. But it was mine. And it set the wheel in motion.

And here I am.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Clichés are the darnest things. Try as you may, you can't really completely avoid them. And who says you have to? Many popular stories and genres rely on clichés: Star Wars, Eragon, Harry Potter, The Matrix all have the "farm-boy/orphan who becomes the one" cliché. Genres are choke full of tropes and stereotypes and clichés. In fact, I heard fans of certain genres declaring that clichés are what they're looking for, because they're like comfort food. They like the familiarity and predictability. The "boy meets girl-boy loses girl-boy gets girl" plot arc and Happy Ever After never get old; in fact, they're expected in the romance genre. The rest is just variations and details.

And there's nothing truly original. Everything has been written before. If you think something is new and original, chances are someone else has already done it. "Originality" these days means how well you're able to twist an old theme or plot and combine different plots into something "new." Like cooking. There's nothing new about strawberries or cheese, but you can make something "new" by combining them and add new spices. That's pretty much what "originality" is.  The popularity of the new and original mix-genre novels such as Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is a good testament of that trend.

So why do I have so much trouble with clichés? I try to avoid them at all cost, but end up writing something that I fear is clichéd. No matter what I do, someone has already done it. And if I try to do something different, the result seems forced and awkward, quirky and different just for the sake of being quirky and different.

Granted, clichés and stereotypes exist because there's much truth to them. The prostitute with a heart of gold?  Been there, done that, but you know, it's still a crowd-pleaser because there's certain universal truth to it. Where would Julia Roberts be if she hadn't play such a character in Pretty Woman?  I mean, let's count the clichés and stereotypes in that movie:

- prostitute with a heart of gold... not to mention beautiful
- rich playboy who is lost and has "parent" issue
- playboy's obnoxious and "bad guy" sidekick
- prostitute's sweet but less fortunate BFF
- a Cinderella story (now that itself is a BLINKING cliché that have been done a thousand million times, and will continue to be done)
- boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl, and the BIG BRIGHT HEA.

So, are clichés really that bad? Why was Pretty Woman such a success? Why do we keep watching it and enjoying it?

I think it all comes down to execution, how we can write clichés without people a) knowing they are clichés or b) caring they are clichés because it's just a damn good story.

Let's examine Pretty Woman again. First, you have two very attractive, brilliant characters. It's all about characters, stupid! If you've got three-dimensional, likable, and relatable characters, you'd have won half the battle already. What makes Pretty Woman work is that the characters, at least the main characters (the minor characters are rather flat), are very well drawn and developed. Aided by the excellent performances by Julia Roberts and Richard Gere and their tremendous chemistry together, it just clicks.

Do we ever doubt how the story is going to end? Do we doubt the arcs these characters have to go through to get what they want? Not for a second. But we demand that. It would not have been a satisfying story had Roberts and Gere not fallen in love under the most unlikely situation. It wouldn't have worked had they not ended up in Happily Ever After.

Some stories are escapes. Fantasies. Pretty Woman is a fantasy. So is Harry Potter. It wouldn't have worked if Harry had come from a happy, content, whole family. It wouldn't have worked if Harry was an obnoxious know-it-all brat. It wouldn't have worked if Harry hadn't been surrounded by all his archetypical friends and foes.

And here lies the difference between archetypes and stereotypes. The characters in Harry Potter are all archetypes (Do we not recognize Ron Weasley the comedian/sidekick? And Dumbledore the quintessential wizard/mentor?), but they're not necessarily stereotypical, in that Rowling made sure she developed these characters and made them three-dimensional and with true emotions and real lives. Plus they're not always predictable. Dumbledore has many dark secrets. Snape is probably one of the most unpredictable, thus interesting characters. In fact, ironically, Harry Potter is probably one of the most clichéd and dull characters in the entire series, simply because Harry  Potter is both an archetype and stereotype. But Rowling compensated that flaw with other characters and interesting plots.

So here's the other part of the quagmire. So we've got interesting and three-dimensional characters even though they're archetypes, now what?  How could we make the plot appear less clichéd and predictable?  Again, not everything has to be totally a surprise. Do we not know Harry Potter and his allies are going to triumph over the Dark Lord? We've seen Star Wars a hundred times to know how it's going to end. And Julia Roberts and Richard Gere are going to end up in Happy Happy Land. Duh!

The trick is not whether the ending, or the context of the story (be it romance, horror, mystery, fantasy, etc.) is predictable. In fact, the readers demand that. Seldom do they really want something that is completely out of the left field. Sure, sometimes that works too -- American Psycho comes to mind (and Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho for that matter -- who would have thought what the story was really about!)  Literary fiction has more room for "off the beaten path." But not all stories work that well, and "predictability," as far as the ending is concerned, is not necessarily a bad thing. And even real-life dramas have their shares of clichés because, you know, they happen!  (Take Precious for example -- you've the abusive mother, the incest, the unwanted child, the kind teacher... the list goes on, but it's a riveting story because it's so real!)

What matters, as far as the plot is concerned, is the journey itself. That's where originality and unpredictability can prosper. Give us twists and turns we never expected. Give us detours that are surprisingly and yet satisfying. Give us subplots that are rich and fulfilling. Have the characters make choices that are unorthodox or unexpected. If they're given three choices, pick the least likely one and see where that leads. Have the characters change their minds. Give them internal conflicts, or have them do something out of characters (but plausible).

The point is, make the journey amazing, even if the riders know exactly where they're going to end up. Don't follow the same route that everyone else have followed. That's when your plot becomes clichéd. George Lucas already wrote Star Wars. Even if you set it undersea, and call the character Ameba instead of Luke, it's still already been done. Now, if the readers expect Star Wars but they end up getting Psycho, maybe you're on to something.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

3000 Words

3122, to be exact.

To some of my writer friends, that's a pitiful number. They eat that for breakfast. They do that many words in an hour, when they're still asleep.

For me, it's a triumph. I write so damn slowly, that's why.  In a good week, I average about 4000 words. In a bad one, I average 0.

This week I've written over 7000 words.

The best part of this little triumph is that I've now finished writing Part 2 of The Terrapin's Trail. Considering Part 3 is already partially written, I'm THIS close to getting to the end. I'm already itching for the rewrite, so I can't wait.

I love it when I can't wait to get to work. It's a great feeling. Whatever is clogging is finally free and loose, and it feels great (sorry for the constipation analogy... it's only natural).

I'm still far short of my 500-words-a-day goal, but I'm only happy to get the first draft done by my birthday. And it seems like I may very well accomplish that goal.

What a great feeling.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Comic Con - Part Six

The next day (Saturday) turned out to be a bit of a bust. First, the weather turned hot. Normally I didn't really mind; it was Southern California, anyway. However, I hadn't expected to have to wait in line for hours. The day before I had no problem getting into Hall H.  On Saturday, however, the line was extremely long, winding through the park by the marina behind the convention center. It happened that the first panel was Warner Bros. which included Green Lantern and Harry Potter, and many in line were there to see the latter.  I'd misjudged the line, even though I was there two hours earlier.

After waiting in line for over an hour, I couldn't get into Hall H for the Warner Bros. panel. That was okay; I didn't feel defeated. And from what I heard later during the day, the panel was a FAIL. First, only Ryan Reynolds showed up for  Green Lantern and they did not show any footage. He did give the fans something to look forward to and he was a good sport. Second, only Tom Felton (who plays Draco Malfoy) showed up for the Harry Potter panel. It was a huge letdown for the fans who want to see the entire cast.

A huge Skyline poster on the Marriott Hotel

So, I didn't miss much.

The first panel was Resident Evil: Afterlife, with Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter and Wentworth Miller.  Personally, I'm not a fan of the series, but the effervescent Jovovich kept my interest. The audience was obviously in love with the series and the star, though.

Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Wentworth Miller

The second panel I attended was Let Me In, a remake of the Swedish horror. It's to be the first release of famed Hammer Films in a long time. Hammer, of course, was known for that cheesy, horror B-movies such as Dracula. On the other hand, Let Me In, though a low-budget indie, appeared to be neither cheesy or a B-movie. Directed by Matt Reeves (best known for TV series Felicity), the story is about a vampire in the form of a little girl, Abby, played by Chloe Moretz (best known as Hit-Girl in Kick Ass). Her caregiver is played by wonderful character actor Richard Jenkins. Abby meets young boy Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who has no idea what Abby really is.

Matt Reeves admitted he took out some of the more controversial aspect of the original, including Abby's real gender and the sexuality. Instead, Reeves (who was quite a chatterbox) focused on the atmosphere and tone of the film. In one clip that they showed, he paid homage to Alfred Hitchcock and he told us how the scene was constructed (from the point of view of Richard Jenkins' character) and how, even though we know the character is doing something really bad, we would still root for him. It was always very interesting to hear the filmmaker speak!

Richard Jenkins

Trailer Park followed: they showed about an hour worth of trailers, everything from the sugary Charlie St. Cloud to literary Never Let Me Go to The Expendables and Comic-Con favorite Scott Pilgrim vs the World. Now, why they showed trailers of St. Cloud or Never Let Me Go, I had no idea. Wrong audience! It was actually rather interesting listening to the reaction, and you kind of know which movie would do pretty well and which would tank (e.g. Charlie St. Cloud was met with sniggers and groans, while The Expendables was cheered by the predominantly-male crowd).

The most interesting reaction belonged to Devil. The trailer actually looked really creepy and scary, and the audience was enthralled, until the name of M. Night Shyamalan came on. That alone resulted in hisses and boos from everywhere. I think the poor director has burned all his bridges (the last straw being The Last Airbender). It'd be interesting to see how the movie fares at the boxoffice, because it really did look good (and for once, Shyamalan is giving us a real horror instead of that moody crap).

Now, as we approached 3 PM, the meat of the day was finally here.  The next panel would be Paul. I'd not heard much about the film but knew it was about a couple of nerds attending Comic Con. Of course, that was a crowd-pleaser for the real Comic Con attendees.

And of course, the crowd went wild when the cast was introduced. Almost the entire cast was there.  First, Shaun of the Dead co-stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who played the hapless duo, worked up the crowd. They were closely followed by Bill Hader, Jeffrey Tambor, Seth Rogen, Jason Bateman, and the incomparable Sigourney Weaver.  I was totally starstruck by Ms. Weaver, who looked so friendly and approachable in a red T-shirt.

The cast was amazing and articulate, and they really made us want to see the movie. They also managed to re-create Comic Con in New Mexico (since San Diego didn't allow them to film anything at the real Comic Con).

Sigourney Weaver

Bill Hader, Jason Bateman, Sigourney Weaver, Jeffrey Tambor

Before the next panel, there was a little incident in Hall H that I'm sure you all have heard about. I had been at the press area, and when I returned to my seat, there was pandemonium about six rows behind where I was sitting. I queried and apparently some guy had stabbed another guy in the eye with a pen. Hall H was in lockdown mode (no one could come in or go out) for about 90 minutes. In order to keep the audience entertained and quiet, they rerun the trailers, which were met with more groans. Fortunately, the mess was cleared up soon enough and the panels continued, albeit about two hours behind schedule.

Jon Favreau came out and we knew it was going to be something good. Favreau rallied the crowd before introducing the cast of Cowboys & Aliens -- now that's a cross-genre sci-fi action-adventure hyphenated film I would want to see.

So, 007 himself, the uber-macho Daniel Craig, walked out on stage and the crowd went nuts. Then Olivia Wilde was followed by the groovy Sam Rockwell. Of course, the spotlight belonged to Harrison Ford, who was making his first ever Comic Con appearance. Ford was escorted in handcuffs by two security guards (they were mocking the "nerd-off" incident). It was hilarious. Ford looked like a homeless man, but he also seemed at ease with the huge crowd. So, Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig and Sam Rockwell on the same stage -- talk about man-crush galore.

But the ring-leader award went to Mr. Favreau, who riled up the crowd plenty, especially with a special clip he specifically made for Comic Con (this guy learned so much from the hype he generated for Iron Man when he showed an exclusive clip at Comic Con just three years ago). Let me tell you, it was a hot property. I'm sure you can get access to it somewhere on the Internet and if you do, please watch it. It's wild. First, Mr. Favreau did a great job (as did the stars) recreating a good-old western. The production, the lighting, the sets, the music, the atmosphere were all spot on. But we knew we weren't really watching a "western" when the UFO started showing up. That was just amazing. I can't wait to see this (they're still filming, so it won't be released until 2011).

Jon Favreau

Daniel Craig

Harrison Ford in handcuffs

Sam Rockwell

Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell

Harrison Ford

Marvel practically had the next block monopolized.  First, it was Captain America. A lot of speculation had been circulating around, and finally it was announced that Chris Evans was cast as the superhero. Now, in person, I think Evans looked a bit girlish (all pale and pretty). But he sure was very well-built and with the right lighting and makeup, I think he would make a good Captain America. Now, Hugo Weaver, on the other hand, was just kick-ass. He was in pure Agent Smith mode, giving us his trademarked grin and squint. Perfect.

Chris Evans

Hugo Weaving

Next up was Marvel's Thor, starring Chris Hemsworth of Star Trek) and Natalie Portman, directed by Kenneth Branagh. Now, Mr. Branagh's involvement is a strange one. Needless to say, he was usually associated with more "literary" or high-brow fair such as anything Shakespeare. So the hope is that Mr. Branagh would bring some class and literary pedigree to the production. The casting of Ms. Portman also hints at a more sophisticated, epic, and intelligent product than your everyday superhero movie.

Natalie Portman, of course, is too beautiful for words in person.

Kenneth Branagh

Natalie Portman

Chris Hemsworth

Just as we thought the panels were over, the Marvel's marketing guy came out (I don't remember his name, sorry) and told us they had a surprise for us. OK, given that it was almost eight pee em, we were willing to stay a few more minutes to see what was up.

I have to tell you, the Marvel people knew how to throw a party. One by one, they brought out the newly complete cast of The Avengers, the long-awaited Marvel series starring most of their most bankable superheroes.  So there they were, for the first time together on stage:  Scarlett Johansson (as Black Widow), Chris Hemsworth (as Thor), Chris Evans (as Captain America), Samuel L. Jackson (as Nick Fury), Jeremy Renner (as Hawkeye), Mark Ruffalo (as Bruce Banner -- the voice of the Hulk will be voice by the Hulk, Lou Ferrigno, himself), and of course, Robert Downey Jr. (as Tony Stark/Iron Man).

Now, that's AWESOME.

They got an extended standing ovation as the cast milked every drop of the crowd's enthusiasm. Director Joss Whedon also joined the superstars... I mean, superheroes. This is gonna be a great time for all -- to bad we'll have to wait until 2012 (and hope the world won't end before then).

Robert Downey Jr., Clark Gregg, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Joss Whedon

That's all, folks.  See you next year!


Comic Con - Part Five

By this time of the day, I was pretty beat, for just sitting around!  Will Ferrell to the rescue. That was his second panel at Comic Con this year, and he was on stage now with the radiant Eva Mendes and the very buff Mark Wahlberg to promote their new film, The Other Guys. The panel and the promo were kind of boring, to be honest. Same old same old. But Ferrell, Mendes and Wahlberg were all in great spirit and they had a good rapport with one another.

The funniest moments came when they opened up the floor for Q&As. That was when they let go and just let it rip. They quick wit was much appreciated, and they brought the house down they tried to have some fun with a 14-year-old fanboy. Eva kept flirting with him and telling him he was a bit too young for her, while Wahlberg made a few masturbation jokes. The kid was such good sport... so was his mom, who approached the mike and said, "Hi Eva, I just want you to know, I'm his mother."  Now that shut Wahlberg and Mendes up really quick. But Mom saved the day by adding, "And I have to say, you look beautiful, Eva, and I'm a big fan." Whew!  Awkward moment averted.

Will Ferrell

Will Ferrell, Adam McKay (director), Eva Mendes, Mark Wahlberg

The last panel of the day was the Green Hornet. Honestly, I've had my doubt about the whole thing since I heard Seth Rogen was going to be the Green Hornet himself. Rogen dropped over 50 pounds to play Britt Reid/Green Hornet, but he still looked too goofy. Don't get me wrong, Rogen is very personable and likable, and has an endearing, self-deprecating comedic style. I just wasn't sure about the comedy angle, and having a comedian playing the leading role. I just wasn't impressed. I was hoping director Michel Condry (the famed director of Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind) would do wonder to the material.

They did show a trailer and some clips, and I have to say, Jay Chou looked awesome as Kato. Is he a match to the legendary Bruce Lee? Nobody would dare say that. But I think Chou holds his own very well. He looks the part, his bad accented English actually an asset. And can that guy move and kick!  I predict that even if The Green Hornet bombed at the box office, the world will take notice of Chou.

Another surprise was that Christoph Waltz, fresh off his Oscar win, plays a villain in the movie. In person, Waltz is so serious and uptight -- maybe he just didn't like to be in the spotlight (many actors are like that in real life, ironically). He answered the questions directed to him tersely, and he lacked a sense of humor, which was an odd juxtaposition to Rogen's loosey-goosey style.

Seth Rogen

Michel Condry, Christoph Waltz

After the events at Hall H were over (we didn't stay for Kevin Smith -- I heard him talk last year and wasn't too impressed), I got to finally walk around the exhibition hall. Like Christoph Waltz said at the panel, I'm not really a comic book fan, but I enjoyed looking at the memorabilia, merchandize, and artwork. I also enjoyed the large-scaled statues and displays; they were too cool.

Bumblebee (Transformers)

TRON: Legacy

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Comic Con - Part Four

I got to sleep in the next day (Friday) because the first panel wouldn't start until 11:30 a.m. and there was nothing else I wanted to attended before then.

When I got there there was literally no line -- a first for Hall H at Comic Con, on a Friday, no less.  The first panel was for the Drive Angry 3D panel with Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard and William Fichtner. I saw Cage two years ago at the Knowing panel. He was talkative, trying to talk up the film, but I thought it looked dreadful. I think Cage should stop making action-adventure. His peak has definitely passed. Amber Heard, however, was stunning. She reminded me of Megan Fox without the brooding glamour.

Nic Cage, Amber Heard, William Fichtner

Following that was the Skyline panel. It's a "low budget" movie shot by two brothers. who run a special effect company, mostly at one of the guys' condo in downtown LA. Granted, it's not really low budget since basically the writer-producers are footing the bill themselves, but still, it's very much an "independent movie." Colin and Greg Strause talked about how they'd got the film started, how they'd decided to make a film on their own since they'd all the equipment, software, cameras, etc. So they gathered a team of good friends and industry colleagues and some up-and-coming actors including Scrubs's Donald Faison and Six Feet Under's Eric Balfour.

They showed a long trailer and some clips and the special effects looked great, considering it's a "low budget" movie. However, I couldn't help but feel the story was recycled: it was like the Body Snatcher meets War of the Worlds, with Cloverfield thrown in. I think that's the problem with you have special effects guys making a movie: they focus so much on what they know -- which is special effects -- and neglect the story and originality. I'm looking forward to seeing the film simply because I listened to these folks speak at the panel, but I'm not sure if it's something the general public would want...

Well, who am I kidding?  Give them aliens, monsters, explosions and lot of running around and people getting killed by aliens, the fanboys and fangirls will be in line.

Greg Strause, Eric Balfour, Donald Faison, Scottie Thompson

When Rainn Wilson came on stage to plug his new film Super, I didn't know what to expect. Wilson is a rather offbeat person (I listened to him at the Office panel a couple of years ago).  The idea of Super seems odd and, well, just like Kick-Ass: an ordinary guy decides to become a superhero.

Wilson was joined by director James Gunn, costars Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, Nathan Fillion, and Michael Rooker. Page was very down to Earth, and Liv Tyler was giggly and effervescent, while Fillion was witty and Rooker was hilariously droll. Gunn and the cast gave me hope that the film could be something better than I thought, and it was. They showed a few clips and the trailer and they were really dark and funny. Really dark. I like dark humor and that was just up my alley. They answered a lot of questions. It had to be the big "pleasant surprise" for me.

At one point, an audience member asked them who would win a fight between Dwight and Captain Hammer. Fillion and Wilson went into a mock fight and it was hilarious. Meanwhile, Liv Tyler continued to giggle her way through the panel -- she was adorable. In the film, Tyler plays Wilson's wife (yeah, like I'd believe that) who later becomes a junkie and leaves Wilson. He decides to become a super hero and Page is his friend who wants to help. Anyway, don't ask me about the plot. I just know the movie is going to be dark and funny.

Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler

James Gunn, Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, Nathan Fillion, Michael Rooker

Guillermo Del Toro got on stage to talk about a new horror film he produced: a remake of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. The guy was just so funny and unpretentious, you know.  He even gave out his public email address and tell any aspiring artists and storytellers to send him artwork or short stories (except 'pitches" -- he won't take them). The five-minute clip he showed was creepy, disturbing and scary. If  you like horror films, you'd love this.

Next up was Priest, a graphic-novel fantasy about a war between vampires and a group of vampire slayers called Priests.  * YAWN *   OK, it looked really cool if you were into fantasies or graphic novels. Personally I'm tired of all that washed-out look, the stylized action, etc. 300 was so 2007.

The panel was boring, too. The only thing I remembered was Maggie Q talking about training for the film, and Paul Bettany he only got his ripped body for the movie -- one month after the shoot he was back to his "reader's body."  I found that amusing: oh, what actors have to do for their art!

Paul Bettany, Maggie Q, Karl Urban

Karl Urban, Stephen Moyer, Cam Gigandet

... more later....

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Comic Con 2010 - Part Three

After the fun panel that was RED, we had a break and the next panel was the "Visionaries." Last year they had James Cameron and Peter Jackson, and it was very interesting. This year the roster included JJ Abrams and Joss Whedon. I like them a lot but they're no Cameron or Jackson.

However, I was surprised. They were both very candid and informative, and their stories of how they got started and their insights on the business were refreshing. Abrams was a bit uptight and serious, but Whedon was a hoot. I didn't realize the man was so funny. He had the audience in stitches with his witty remarks and self-deprecating humor. He also revealed (perhaps a bit immaturely) that he would be directing The Avenger. Now that's a coveted job! Abrams is, of course, shooting Star Trek 2 now, but somehow he didn't want to talk too much on the production. Confidentiality clauses be damned!

JJ Abrams, Joss Whedon

The next panel would prove to put every male in the audience to shame. Moderator Harry Knowles came on stage in his wheelchair and proceeded to say the cast of The Expendables would make him look like a cream puff.  Sure enough, Terry Crew came out and ripped his shirt off, revealing his He-Man muscles. Following him was wrestler/actor Steve Austin, who was humungous. It was nice to see Dolph Lundgren after all these years and he looked the same (at least from a distance): tall, blonde, chiseled. Then wrestler/actor Randy Couture followed and he was surprisingly soft-spoken compared to the other He-Men. Jet Li and Jason Statham couldn't make it, but the star and producer and director Sylvester Stallone did.

I was honestly a bit starstruck. I've grown up watching Stallone since the first Rocky, and of course Rambo. Not really my idol, but it was still a bit surreal to see him right up there. The guys were funny and they bickered like the best of friends. The way they described the movie and the shoot made me wonder if they all had death wishes. Or was it just testosterone speaking;  and the stage was overflowing with that stuff for sure. Sly kept jabbing at Austin for breaking his neck, and he wasn't joking -- during a shoot Austin accidentally broke part of Stallone's neck, who had a metal pin to prove it.  Sly also told the story that 20 years ago he asked Dolph Lundgren to really hit him (for realism) while shooting Rocky IV, and Stallone ended up in an ICU for four days.

I loved this kind of anecdotes, and they remind me that moviemaking is not all glamour. There's a lot of hard work -- VERY hard work, long hours, and dangerous stunts. Actors get hurt all the time. Terry Crew and Steve Austin told the audience a story of how they almost got killed in a fire set off by a prematurely detonated bomb on the set. It sounded really scary, even as the actors joked about it.

The movie looked stupid (what can you expect?) but kick-ass, if you're an action hero fan. You won't be disappointed as you not only get one, but like five or six super-sized heroes for the price of one.

Then Bruce Willis made a surprise appearance and he chatted with the cast a bit. Willis has a cameo in the film (as does the Governator). These guys seemed like genuinely good friends. Stallone also told us how down and out he was, even though he had money and everything. He thought his career was long over but he wanted to finish the Rocky series right -- he admitted that Rocky V was crap and it was a bad way to end it. So he decided to put everything he had into making Rocky Balboa. It worked, and he said, "Then I got greedy." And that was how he started to get ready for The Expendables.

Before the panel was over, the Guinness World Record presented Stallone and Lundgren with two plaques: Rocky has been recognized as the most successful sports movie and franchise in history.

Terry Crew

Terry Crew, Steve Austin

Dolph Lundgren

Sylvester Stallone

Stallone, Bruce Willis, Lundgren

Harry Knowles, Terry Crew, Steve Austin, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture

Stallone and Lundgren accepting the Guinness World Record

The last panel of the day (Thursday) was the much-anticipated Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The advance buzz was amazing and judging from the crowd's reaction, I knew it would be really fun. The comic book was created by Brian Lee O'Malley, and he's Asian. No wonder one of Scott's love interests is an Asian girl (played by Ellen Wong). The cast who showed up included Kieran Culkin, Alison Pill, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, and Wong. They said Chris Evans couldn't attend because he was filming Captain America.  The star, Michael Cera, showed up in a Captain America costume and told the crowd he, too, was up for the part but lost out to Evans. It was all a joke, of course.

Aubrey Plaza, Kieran Culkin

Mae Whitman, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman

Michael Cera

With the end of the panel came the end of the day (at least for Hall H).

San Diego Convention Center

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Comic Con 2010 - Part Two

Next up... the moment every reporter has been waiting for!  Angelina Jolie's first appearance at Comic Con (plugging Salt). It was hailed as the most exciting thing since... well, Megan Fox's appearance last year. But to be honest, Ms. Jolie could wipe the floor with Megan Fox.

First, it was always good to see Liev Schrieber but come on, the guy looked like he was constipated the whole time. Perhaps he knew everyone was there to see Angelina and he was getting a bit irritated. But anyway, Jolie's entrance did cause a stir, and she looked stunning in a leather outfit that made her look very Comic Con-worthy. Was she trying to convince Christopher Nolan to cast her as the next Catwoman?  She sure looked the part.

Jolie was in full MOVIE STAR mode. She was poised, elegant, refined and gorgeous. She smiled a lot and looked directly to the audience when she answered questions. She was extraordinarily professional. And did I say she was gorgeous? The movie may look kind of dumb, but the stars were very smart on stage and they did their part hyping the movie. There had to be like 100 photographers at the press area and it was extremely hard for me to get a shot of her. Fortunately, I got a really good center seat and was able to take some wonderful shot.

Angelina Jolie

Liev Schreiber

Angelina Jolie, Kurt Wimmer (writer), Liev Schreiber, Philip Noyce (director)

After that, Aaron Eckhart came out, followed by the director Jonathan Liebsman and co-star Michelle Rodriguez. They were plugging their new movie, Battle: Los Angeles, which had just started shooting. I never heard of the movie and apparently it was based on a popular video game. It's a War of the World-type alien invasion story, but told entirely from the point of view of a military team (think embedded journalism). They showed a few clips and they were INTENSE, probably some of the most intense battle scenes I've seen, but with aliens. The movie looked really good.

Aaron Eckhart

Michelle Rodriguez, Jonathan Liebesman, Aaron Eckhart

After they left the stage, Karl Urban came out and the crowd went wild (I suppose there were a lot of Trek fans in the crowd, even though Star Trek was hardly represented at Comic Con).  It turns out he was there with Mary Louise-Parker, Helen Mirren, and Bruce Willis as part of the RED panel. Now, I love Helen Mirren and in person she was simply lovely and radiant, looking years younger than her real age. How does she do it?  The cast bickered among themselves and Bruce Willis was in great form, great sense of humor. He and Mirren were great. MLP seemed out of place and terrified of Comic Con, but Karl Urban was the compete opposite. He was very at ease and he cracked tons of jokes. They showed the trailer of RED, about a bunch of retired CIA agents.  It was a hoot!  I can't wait to see it.

Karl Urban

Helen Mirren

Karl Urban, Mary Louise-Parker, Helen Mirren, Bruce Willis

Helen Mirren, Bruce Willis

... to be continued...