Your First Published Novel: Part 19

Death by Cliché
By Bob Defendi

One day more. Cue Jean Valjean.

Tomorrow is my release date. I'm strangely zen about it.

I'm going to call this a "soft release," because I have no idea what's going to actually be available for purchase tomorrow. Let me outline the state of things and then I'll explain why I'm not upset about it.

The Kindle version is available for preorder. The paperback isn't yet. The Audible version is undergoing the approval process, but we got them the audio files kinda late, so I can't blame them.

The ARC (Advanced Readers' Copy) of the book might or might not be finalized. The last note I heard on the matter was that I'd hear back Friday, but I didn't.

The categories on the book in Amazon look a little strange. I've asked the publisher if they are intentional (It's not in humor, for instance), but I haven't heard back.

Most of these questions I posed to them Friday morning, which was the last working day before release, since the book releases on a holiday. My base assumption is that they were too busy Friday to respond to me. That's okay.

So today, while paused in the recording of the Hold 322 podcast, one or more of my co-podcasters may have come to my defense, angry that at this moment, it looks like the paperback might not be available tomorrow.

Let me tell you why I'm not angry:

In the long run, who really cares? Seriously. What does one day mean over the other?

CQ actually gave me the option of moving the release date when I realized it was on Memorial Day. I thought about what that might entail and went through all the possible implications. I decided not to bother moving it. This is my first released novel. Not many people are waiting for it. While the people who are waiting for it specifically wait for the paperback version, I don't have a large fan base who will be enraged if it's a day late. Let's do the math.

I had about 5,000 listeners to the podcast audiobook. The conversion rate to sales is probably about 1-5 percent. Since the book was free and many of the listeners picked it up when Howard Tayler asked them to break my server, 1 percent is far more likely than five. So that translates to about 50 people who were waiting for a physical copy to go with their digital audio one.

But that was eight years ago, and the while the interest was high. At one point during the podcast, we missed a month. During the month I went from more than 5000 listeners to almost none. I had to completely rebuild my listener base. And that was just a month. Eight years? Most of those 50 don't even remember they wanted to buy the book in the first place.

There are about five left. I know because they message me regularly about various things.

So Monday is an arbitrary date. I'm not even going to start my marketing push that day, because I don't want to waste my primary shares on a day where most people are doing family barbeques. I'll put out my general announcement tomorrow, and I'll probably get five to ten sales out of that, but I won't be concerned if it's zero. Tomorrow isn't the day.

Tuesday, if everything is ready, I put out my big post. This is the one where I tag all the people quoted in the book and hope for a huge number of shares and retweets. The next day I'm on the Scalzi's Big Idea blog on Whatever. Monday and Tuesday, I'll probably be mentioned on the Left Show and on Hold 322, and as podcasts, the listeners will hear those throughout the week.

A week from Saturday, I have my book release party. But those sales aren't added to any list, so they are just for me.

I'm happy. I'm excited. I'm ready to buckle down and get to work. But I've been doing this too long to have expectations of overwhelming results. This is just the next thing that happens. After that there will be podcast tours and marketing pushes and maybe ad buys.

The real work starts this week.

P.S. I also turned in Death by Cliche 2 at about 4 am this morning. So there's that.

Your First Published Novel: Part 18

Eight days. The book releases in eight days.

So no we're in our final push. Honestly, we're probably handling stuff we should have handled earlier, but you know how schedules are. I think one of the big hold-ups is the cover, and I think for that we're waiting on the designer.

Monday we received two covers to evaluate. My art chops aren't the best, and my writer's group has four artists in it (and the rest just have great taste.) So I bounced it off them. They all liked the same cover (which was the same one I liked) and they gave me back great notes, which I passed on to Curiosity Quills.

Through this, I'm working on the 3rd draft of Death by Cliché 2. The first five chapters took days to finish, so I'm a little behind where I'd like to be and I need to finish five chapters a day to turn in by the 30th. That's coming along, but it's a fair amount of work.

Then on Thursday, they sent me a "dirty ARC" for notes. This close to release, I asked for a deadline and they told me Monday, so I needed to do a quarter of the book a day. That's 8-16 hours at the rate I proofread.

Also, my article for Scalzi's Big Idea blog is due soon, so I had to turn it in to my Writer's Group. It was terrible, so I've had to do three drafts since then.

But most everything is behind me, now. I've turned in my notes on the Arc. I have the 3rd draft of the Big Idea in for notes. I have almost finished this blog, and I've done my pass on my five chapters for today. All I have left is to put in some critique notes and then I can tackle some ad stuff for my game company.

So things are coming along nicely. It's good to be busy in this last week before release.

Second Novel and Trips to the Vet

I'd scheduled the end of last week and the beginning of this week to begin the revision of my second novel. I promised to turn it in at the end of the month. I expected to have some delays, notably from the fact that I don't have much time on Thursdays and Fridays and Saturday and Sunday were booked solid.

And the week before, another problem emerged. My cat, 11-12 years old, has been steadily declining in health. He seems miserable all the time and he has gone from trouble jumping to trouble walking. So we booked a vet appointment and it was scheduled Tuesday.

The cat, Azrael, did not handle this well. He peed on everything, the cat carrier, the people at the vet. Everything. This was compounded by the fact that the vet took one look at him and said, "That's not arthritis. That's complications from diabetes." Diabetes tests require urine. The cat didn't have any urine left. Because you pee a lot when you have diabetes.

So I took him back the next morning and we left him there all day. They took blood and urine, he peed on everything again, and we brought him home.

So Thursday we got the official confirmation he had diabetes. Friday I went in before work and they taught me how to give insulin shots. I bought a lot of expensive food, insulin and a big supply of needles. My game cancelled that night, so I was able to give him his first shot.

The difference was like night and day. The cat changed entirely. Like pod people. I call him Pod Cat now. Within an hour, he went from being lethargic and near crippled to hurling a box of pizza to the floor so he could attack the bits of feta cheese that flew out. Spunky. Mischievious. Pod Cat.

But back to the book. The night before Pod Cat's miraculous turnaround, I finally got to work on the novel. And Friday night I continued it. The biggest complaint I received was that it took too long ramping up, so I reorganized and cut more than a thousand words. I turned seven chapters into five, because all the scene changes were hurting my pacing instead of helping it.

It took three days, but I finally finished those opening chapters. Now I can push forward with the rest of the book. I'm behind schedule, but I set my schedule with some extra time in mind, so there's no need to panic. The moment I post this, I'll be back to the grind.

And for those following along at home, my experiment of using Black Desert Online as a brain hack is going fine so far.

 

Your First Published Novel: Part 17

This week, things are starting to move again.

First of all, I received word that John Scalzi accepted Death by Cliché for his Big Idea blogs. He does a fair number of those yearly, so I don't know how tough the competition is, but I was flattered. And delighted, of course. The  marketing people at my publisher seemed pleased as well. So this week I'm going to be reading through the last three or four months of Big Ideas to get a better feel for them.

I also set into motion the other final steps for the book release. I contacted the stand-up comics for my release party. Looks like the final count will be three. I've asked them for final details for the poster advertising the event.

I also started to process of getting the final date for my Book Bomb. It's occurred to me that I need to take that day off.

Now, the rest of the time to release should move smoothly. Mainly because I'll be busy. I promised my publisher book 2 at the end of the month, and I gave myself until my birthday to goof off. Tonight is the first night I have free since my birthday, so I'll need to hit the project hard.

My normal process for edits is that I start them at night after everyone is asleep, when I can really dig into my rewrite. The next day, when people are awake and I'm more likely to be disturbed, I go through other people's notes. Then that night, after everyone's asleep again, I start the process over with the next day's work, and my deep rewrite.

So that starts tonight. I also need to set up ads for my game company and design a tournament for a local game store charity event. Then I need to convert the next bit of The Echoes of Heaven for playtest. And somewhere in there I need prep my weakly game for the next few Saturdays.

So the time until release on the 30th should fly by.

5 Tips for Public Readings

In my years of working conventions, I've seen a lot of readings. I've only seen some good ones. Readings are difficult, and not everyone had a long, embarrassing history in theater to give them a firm foundation in public readings. So I thought I'd put together some of my best tips here to help you with your next public reading.

  1. Prepare. Prep is the key to a good reading, especially for your first few. I know you wrote it, but you've never had to read it in public before. Read it now. And then read it again. And again. Read it out loud. See what you're doing with your hands. Your body, your shoulders. Hear your voice. Make sure none of these things distract you on the day of the reading. Your goal here is to almost memorize the piece. During a reading a lot of things will conspire to make you stumble over words. Your nose will run. You'll sneeze. Your eyes will water. You want to be able to keep reading even when you briefly lose track of the text on the page.
  2. Excercise. My audio guy also runs political campaigns. He makes his candidates read Fox in Sox every day. I think he has them read it multiple times. When I need to get my diction in shape for a reading, say for an audio book, I do it at least once every morning and once every evening. You can probably just do it a few times the day or two before the reading, unless for some reason they are recording you.
  3. Fill the Room. Besides vocal hesitation and diction problems, the biggest problem I hear from people is their volume. If projection doesn't come naturally to you, practice speaking from the diaphragm. This might be the hardest thing for new readers. You don't shout. You project. You bounce your voice off the back wall. Try sitting up straight. Speak from the belly button. When you get it right, your whole rib cage should resonate with your words. In a good room, you'll the words bounce back to you.
  4. Seek a Conversational Tone. The last big mistake I hear is a stilted and artificial tone. This might be the hardest to teach, and it's worse if what you're reading has an arch tone to begin with. I have it easy here because my book has such a conversational tone that they are vocal stumbles written into the text. After my reading Friday, I had a person come up and tell me they couldn't tell when I was improvising and when I was reading the text on the page. Unless you write like I do, you don't want to go that far, but you want this to be active storytelling, not near-passive reading. Tell the audience what you mean, don't just read what's on the page. Vary your sentences. Feel free to gesture. Lean forward in the exciting parts. Lean back when things get casual. Try to let your character inhabit you. Remember that your narrator is one of those characters. The hardest thing about a reading is this: you have to be intimately familiar with the text, and yet you need to sound like you're inventing it for the first time. This takes practice, and if you haven't done it before, you aren't going to get it your first try.
  5. Relax. I know that all this can be overwhelming, but remember, this is supposed to be fun. This is just a conversation between you and your readers. If you have a way to go before you get good at this, don't worry. You aren't going to get all of this the first time. That's okay. People don't expect great readings from you unless they already know you as a great speaker. Your job here is to surprise them and do better each time than the time before. Start by being familiar with your text and reading your Fox in Sox (I wasn't kidding about that one). Do the others, but concentrate on those two the first time. When you have that down, worry about your projection. Once that's second nature, worry about your performance.

Here's the dirty little secret. Unless you have an extremely unusual circumstance, no one cares about your first readings. They are almost always populated by the people who love you and the writers who have the room after you. Give yourself permission to be bad, and then work to be better each time you read. Know that you will always hate your own performance, even when everyone else loves it. Just have fun. When people start giving you compliments after a reading, accept them graciously and thank them for coming. Try to connect with your people before and after the reading, and remember: this is your moment.

Enjoy it.

My Schedule for World Horror

Thursday

2:00-3:00 PM
Horrific Fantasy: A Touch of the Macabre. Dark fantasy as a subgenre that often dances across the line between fantasy and horror.  Is there a line, and how can you effectively cross it?
Darren Shan
Steve Diamond
Robert J Defendi
Jason King (M)
Christopher Husberg
David J. West

3:15-4:15 PM
Writing Action Scenes
Michaelbrent Collings
Amber Fallon
Eric Swedin
John L. Campbell (M)
Robert J Defendi

Friday

11:30 AM-12:30 PM
Short Fiction vs Novels.  Short fnaction and long fiction take different talents and different foci, but if you know what you’re doing, it can be fun ty do both.
Brian Keene
Jack Ketchum
Cody Langille
Robert J Defendi
Dave Butler (M)

2:00-3:00 PM
Readings (30 min. each): Steve Diamond & Robert J Defendi

Sunday

12:45 – 1:45 PM
Horror-Themed Tabletop Games.  With the growing trend in horror films and books, it’s only natural that tabletop games are following behind.  What’s out there and what you should be playing.
Dan Wells
Nick Fowler
Jessica Fowler
David Boop
Robert J Defendi (M)

Your First Published Novel: Part 16

It's just a hair longer than a month before Death by Cliché releases. About seven weeks until the book release party. I'm not prone to anxiety, but the pressure is starting to get to me. The problem is the tremendous level of powerlessness I'm feeling right now.

At this point, the cover isn't finished (to my knowledge.) The audiobook files aren't all in. I don't start the third draft of book two for another week or two. I can work on book three, but if I get too far ahead of my writer's group, then I just end up with the time pushed off later. Also, there are only a couple hours in the day where I can write, so working on that during all my free time isn't really practical unless I want to burn down the relationships in my personal life.

So I wait. It's been a long time since one of my books was in someone else's hands temporarily. With my game company, I'm frantically working on the book right up until the last moment. Writing books for other game companies, I turn in my finals and I'm mostly done except for the occasional con work. But the marketing of this book still falls mostly on my shoulders. I have a team to advise and set things up, but the actual public work is all me, and that's all still out there. So my emotional ability to move on from a book doesn't apply here. I can't move on. My role here isn't over yet.

Here's my strategy. There is an MMO that recently released in the US called Black Desert Online. It's fun enough. Some of my friends love it, although the gameplay isn't exactly my thing. Here's the advantage the game does have.

It has a rich AFK life. And trade empires. Trade empires that require a rich AFK life.

AFK stand for Away From Keyboard.

The most profitable thing I can do, right now in the game, it actively sleeping in a bed for an hour and a half to build up energy I can convert into cash through hard bargaining. But that's not all. There are trade routes that take 20 minutes or more to run, with a minute or two of buying and selling at either end. You can AFK fish and make solid money.

The last three and a half months almost killed me because I was working 80 hours or more a week. I had no recreation. Black Desert is a game where during a four-hour writing session, I could utilize all four hours in the game with only about fifteen minutes of real attention. My plan is to build my trade empire in that game over this next week or so to the point where, when I have to start drafting again in May and my time just goes away, I'll still feel like I'm playing a game. I'll still be working 80 hours a week. I'll just be playing 30 hours at the same time. Not actively playing, but I think I can trick my brain into thinking that's really goofing off.

And so much of the productivity in our lives is just hacking our brains into doing our bidding, isn't it?

That's my plan, at any rate. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Hardcore Henry

My good friend Howard Tayler asked me to review Hardcore Henry for him, so this will be a crosspost between robertjdefendi.com, schlockmercenary.com, and curiosityquills.com. I'll break it into two sections, the review and an analysis from a more writerly standpoint. The analysis will likely have more spoilers but just a few. Read the sections that are right for you.

The Review

Hardcore Henry is, without out doubt, the most terrible movie I've ever loved without reservation. It's fast-paced. It's a riot. It is a popcorn movie in it's purest sense. Unless you see it in D-Box like I did, and then the seats will fling your popcorn onto the row in front of you. So be warned.

Hardcore Henry is, in essence, the twitch.tv stream of the virtual reality first person shooter that's coming out in ten years or so. Told from the point of view of Henry, a mute protagonist who is brutally murdered during the opening credits (and I mean brutally), the movie begins with the cybernetic rebuilding of his body, the introduction of his wife, the attack of the antagonist, and a blast into the non-stop action of the film. This is a movie where every punch it literal blow to the camera and every stunt is entirely from the point of view of the stuntman. It takes the criticisms of "shaky cam" movies (which I generally hate), embraces them and takes them out to dinnerand dancing. It owns every glorious flaw.

And there are flaws. My my God, are their flaws. From interviews I've heard with Sharlto Copley (Powers, District 9), they embraced these flaws. If these interviews are correct, Copley saved this movie, because the filmmakers wanted to make a serious film, and Copley seemed to understand that if they tried to make a serious film, what they got would be terrible, but if terrible was their goal, then what they got might just be genius. So this movie embraces its warts. The villain is hackneyed and terrible and has inexplicable powers (because technology!). The conceit that explains Copley's character is more the pretense of an explanation than an explanation itself, and the climax involves a solution that seems to be making fun of action movies, video games, and Legolas all at the same time.

And here we come to the caveat of the film. This was, for me, the second funniest movie of the year. I rarely laugh out loud at a film and I burst out laughing at least four or five times during Henry. However about half the jokes are totally straight plays of action tropes. The other half are video game tropes. If you don't get into either of these, you will lose at least half the humor. If it's video games you aren't into, it's probably more than half (the movie literally has a silent protagonist and at one points goes into full tooltip-style quest tutorial).

If these facts sound appealing to you, you will likely love this movie. If you didn't understand half of that last paragraph, you might want to skip it. It aims at a certain few groups of viewers with a laser focus. It ignores the rest, and that's okay. It's pretty clear from the trailer that this movie knows what it is and makes no qualms about it.

But if you get motion sick, maybe watch it from the back half of the theater. Or take motion sickness pills before you go.

The Analysis

The genius of this film it's a paradoxical two-fold stance. Most movies that approach this level of absurdity feel like they need to wink at the audience and prove that we are all in on the joke. Hardcore Henry embraces this absurdity, but it never wavers in its viewpoint. It never blinks. It play its tropes with a perfect poke face, and if I can mix metaphors, doubles down. Its rare you see a film display this amount of courage. It knows what it is, and it never blinks. It plays the entire thing entirely straight.

The first time I laughed out loud, Henry was trying to escape in underground tunnels, a subway I believe. He darts down a side tunnel only to see it filled with cops, looking for him. He turns and runs down another tunnel, and for the briefest moment you see not one, but two...two...women pushing baby carriages, blocking the way. Two. I burst out laughing at the movie's own self aware ridiculous moment, but what won me in the scene is that the camera barely registers the two mothers. Henry takes them in and immediately Jackie Chan's his way up the wall. I'm not sure if I was the only person laughing because I was the only person who got the joke, or if I was the only person who saw the joke. I really wonder how much I missed. That other viewers got.

Technically, this movie is very challenging. It is not natural for a stunt man to do the things he has to do in this movie as Henry. A stuntman enters a zen state to do his work. In one scene, a scene pointed out by Copley in interviews, the stuntman playing Henry doesn't just get set on fire and have to hit his mark. He has to be set on fire. Then jump through a window. Then hit his mark. Then catch the appropriate images on camera on the other side. Then perfectly time turning back to catch the other two stuntmen also on fire. The stuntman part is probably old hat. The cameraman stuff is probably pretty old hat too. But doing them both at the same time? It's like trying to chew and cry on camera, two mechanically exclusive actions that can happen naturally but are very difficult to manufacture at the same time.

And as for the special effects, I'm sure there's some CGI cable replacement and non-stunt CGI, but the stunts themselves are spot on and live, and there's a visceral power to knowing that you're seeing what the man himself sees. The moment in the trailer where he drops a grenade in a van, speeding down the road, and the van explodes, hurling him into the air, and he lands perfectly on the back of a motorcycle? There's no CGI in that. No cuts. That scene was filmed live and presented as is. They used a crane, sure, but how hard is that shot even with a crane? I can't imagine getting it in just a few takes, and this movie was too low budget to afford a lot of tries. And that is mentioning all the stuff that's just improved. "Hey, you think we can shoot a running chase scene right up the girders of that bridge?"

Usually I analyze plot and character. This movie has no plot and character. The plot and character are so bad that this almost has to be intentional. The villain's final monologue is only one step above, "Evil plan, evil plan, this is my evil plan, mwah ha ha ha ha ha!" And it's only that so they could play it straight. The movie hits a bare minimum of plot points and twists and then it moves on. It doesn't pretend you're there for anything else.

Hardcore Henry is a prime example of knowing your goals, making your promises, and then fulfilling them with the deftest hand you can manage.

And I can't believe I'm saying this, but it succeeds.

Decompressing

In the middle of January, Wizards of the Coast released an OGL for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition. Being a man with a game company that has products waiting to go the 5th edition, I dropped everything. I had one of the products mostly done, so we went into full on panic mode.

Here is a small list of the things that came due between then and now:

I agreed to help with some editorial work on the Planet Mercenary RPG.

My story for Redneck Eldritch came due. I might have written it in that period too.

A long novelette for another, unannounced anthology needed to be drafted. I definitely wrote that one in there.

It came time to draft the sequel to DbC.

I promised a map to my good friend Amber Argyle (I do all her cartography).

Various edits came back on various stories.

Two conventions came and went.

I needed to keep up on this blog.

I needed to stat the fifth adventure in my Echoes of Heaven setting to 5th edition for playtest.

There are probably several huge items I missed. The entire period, I thought I had about a month of work left, but as I'd finish one item, I'd realize the dealing on another would come up behind it.

The offshoot is I've been working 16 hour days for three months straight. So this week I played XCOM 2, which I preordered, but hadn't been able to play. Next, I'm going to play another game, until the end of April. Then DbC 2 will be due, and I'll need to do a third draft.

So. There it is. I'm keeping this short. My brain is a bit like pudding.

And, uh, down with Wymore! Or something.

Fan X 2016

Salt Lake City Comic Con 2016 is over. It was a blast. I was in about seven panels. Three of them were giant Star Wars extravaganzas. The green room was friendly and welcoming. I enjoyed myself. I really did.

I've written about the green room before, about how my favorite moments of most cons are in the green room, with my fellow writers, swapping stories and just being with people who have the same shared experiences. This con was no different.

I ate lunch with Larry Correia, Robison Wells, Tracy Hickman and Claudia Gray. Secured my cover quote for Death by Cliché from Larry. Hung out with a lot of fellow podcasters. Listened to Howard Tayler and Kevin J Anderson have a casual conversation that turned out to be a master's class in business.

I did it all with a certain melancholy joy. You see, it was my last scheduled con before my book release. My last chance to hang out in the green room without worrying about whether I should be on the floor, selling books. In a way, it was like a bachelor party. But without the strippers. Wymore wasn't there.

The last hurrah of freedom before responsibilities kick in.

It was perfect. It was special. I will cherish it always.

It was too soon. I've just signed up for World Horror.

 

Your First Published Novel: Part 15

This week I discovered that I have deeply and emotionally scarred Wymore, changing the entire course of  his career. I don't have the heart to mock him anymore. You're a special snowflake, Wymore. You really are.

I just got out of Salt Lake Comic Con FanX, and I feel like I have a post in me about that. But not this week. My thoughts haven't jelled yet. They'll probably firm up at about the same rate as the bones in my feet. So maybe next week.

So what I will talk about was how FanX plays into the release of Death by Cliché. I actually did very little of what you'd probably expect. In the seven panels I was on, I only once mentioned the book, because on that one panel, it seemed particularly relevant (it was a storytelling in RPGs panel and I was establishing my bona fides.)

Otherwise, I mainly just spoke of it when asked. Here's my thinking: nothing I do to push the BOOK can do anything but backfire two months out. No one who isn't already following me is going to remember the book in two months. Unless I push it too hard and leave a bad taste in their mouths.

So what I did instead was just sell myself as a product. I've picked up five or six new followers. Hopefully, they will convert to sales. If not, at least I didn't turn anyone off.

In the green room, I got a lot more done. I nailed down Larry Correia on getting me a cover quote. Hopefully, that will be coming in tonight. Larry is a good friend. I didn't hard sell him. Most of the time we spent reminiscing, trying to remember where and when we first met. Unable to. It just feels like we've known each other forever. That's the kind of relationships I try to form at these conventions. The kind that feel timeless.

I caught Kerry Jackson from the Geekshow podcast. Asked him if they did author interviews (I listen to a LOT of podcasts and I can't always remember who does what kind of content.) He said they did, so we agreed to get in touch to schedule an appearance.

I also got in touch with the Big Shiny Robot guys. They too do author interviews. They too thought I should be on the podcast. They gave me some advice on the length of my audio samples I hadn't thought of as well (having a small sample they can fold into an interview so that the listener doesn't just delete it.) It's that kind of practical advice that's invaluable.

There's one podcast I've asked the marketing team to set up. Other than that, these two were the last big gets on my podcast tour.

So that's it. It's been a good con. Next week, I should have my thoughts in order on FanX in general.

Until then.

Fan X

Greetings!

This weekend I'll be speaking at Salt Lake Comic Con Fan Experience. You can see the address in the sidebar. Here's my schedule.

Thursday March 24th
1:00 pm Who is Kylo Ren?
5:00 pm Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Post-Mortem

Friday March 25th
1:00 pm Looking Ahead to Star Wars Episode VIII and IX
2:00 pm One Season Wonders: Gone Too Soon

Saturday March 26th
12:00 pm All Things Tolkien
7:00 pm Supergirl: The Panel

Your First Audiobook Part 5

Two weeks ago, JM Bell, the head of Defenestrate Media studios, presented me with a list of pickups to do for the Death by Cliche audiobook. I called off my normal Saturday night plans so I could get to the studio by 9:30. We record the Hold 322 Podcast at 11:30 these days, and I wanted to give us some room for everything to go wrong. Recording had been cancelled just the week before due to an adobe update of the studio computers.

I got there and we fumbled through more computer configuration problems until a little after 10. Then we discovered that we'd already rerecorded the first chapter. If I'd reviewed part 4 of this series before driving, I probably would have remembered that.

We fixed the credits readings and rerecorded a chapter. I think we did a pickup on another section or two. Then we were done.

Done.

That should be the last real work I do on Death by Cliche until release. Bell still has some final work to do. Assuming Audible answers his last support question on formatting in a timely manner, I should start getting the files Wednesday night.

I don't know how I feel about this. It's something of a relief to be done, but a little sad too. I've been working on this project hard for so many months now. It's like standing in an empty house as you're done loading the moving van, going from room to room. Turning out the lights.

If I didn't need to draft all of Death by Cliche 2 in about ten days, I wouldn't know what to do with myself.

Next week is FanX. Semi-coherent post-Comic-Con notes will probably begin next Sunday.

Your First Published Novel: Part 14

Death by Cliché.

It's been September since I updated you on my first novel, mainly because not a lot has happened. The time between turning in the final edit and the release of the book has a fairly broad dead spot at the begning of it. There is general whining and pestering of course. Maybe some crying. But you don't need to hear about Wymore's personal life.

But now we're almost two months out from release, so things are moving again.

About a month ago we recieved the first concept pieces for the cover. Overall, I liked the direction they were heading. They asked me my opinion and told me their favorite. I was my favorite as well. I had some notes on the general look and feel, concerns based on just how unfinished the concepts were and how finished they were supposed to be (I haven't approved concepts quite like this before, so I wasn't sure how crude they were SUPPOSED to look.) I turned those in and the people at CQ assured me that they had the same notes.

Meanwhile, it's time to start marketing. We decided some time ago that a podcast tour might be better than a blog tour. I know a fair amount of podcasters, so most of those I'm just going to set up myself, but there are a couple places I'd like to appear that I thought could use a little legitamacy to set me apart from the self publishing crowd. So I turned those two names in to the marketing team so they can approach the sites as a publisher rather than an author pushing is own work. I think that will work out.

I've also started thinking about my book release party. Here's the thing. For my first book, anyone who's likely to come to my book release party is either going to buy my book anyway, or will never buy it under any circumstances (that is, friends and family). :) Just having a traditional book release really only serves the purpose of giving me practice at holding a traditional book release. If I sold one additional copy from it, I'd be pleasantly surprised.

So I decided that I wanted to do something different. I know a fair number of comedians in Utah, so I pinged them on Facebook and asked if they'd like to perform at a book release party. Four said yes and another person agreed to MC. I bounced this off the CQ people and they liked the idea but thought that it might not go over well at a Barnes and Noble. Nikki at CQ suggested that I try a comic book store. I adjusted that idea slightly and decided to approach Hatur's Games and Comics

They seemed ammenible so we set a date. Then I contacted the commedians and discovered that date was right in the middle of Phoenix Comic Con. Which I knew, dammit. So I called by and rearranged. The book release party is about a week and a half after the book's actual release, but that shouldn't matter much with a first book. On later releases, it might be more important.

I expect the commedians will bring in new blood. People will only come to my release party for my first book because they already know about my book. People will come to see the commedians, howerver, who have never heard of me. 

So thats where things stand. The book releases on May 30th. The book release party is June 11th. My mad scramble escalates steadily from now until then.

The Hero's Journey, Spoilerific Star Wars: The Force Awakens Continues. Part 3: The Return

Blah blah blah, joke about not making a joke about Wymore. Blah blah blah.

So we left Rey complete, a whole and fulfilled character, standing over the body or Kylo Ren, about to die.

Refusal of the Return

Often, once the hero has completed the quest, they do not want to return to the real world to bestow their boon upon humanity. That isn't really a thing in the Force Awakens, as the world is currently blowing up around Rey.

The Magic Flight and Rescue from Without

Typically two separate steps, these neatly combine in the Force Awakens. In the Magic Flight, the hero returns, often sustained by all the powers they've earned in their adventures. In Rescue from Without, the hero often needs to be retrieved to return to the world. In the Force Awakens, as Rey cries over the dying form of Finn, both of these moments are realized as the Falcon rises into shot, Chewbacca at the helm.

The Crossing of the Return Threshold

The hero must return to the world, somehow retaining the wisdom they've gained. This moment is most notable for Rey when she leaves the Falcon and meets Leia for the first time. They embrace, and Rey is back to the grounded person she once was in this simple human moment. She also experiences, according to the screenplay, "A mother's embrace."

Master of Two Worlds

Rey has returned, but we need to see that she retains her mastery of both worlds. And so after R2 awakens with the rest of the map, she says goodbye to Finn and sets out again. This time to finally find the lost Jedi master, Luke Skywalker. We see her land on the island, knowing that this is place Ren mentioned from her dreams. She has always been the master of two worlds. And now she knows it.

Freedom to Live

At the end, our hero lives free from fear of death. Free to live in the moment. existing in the present. Unconcerned with the future or the past. Does this sound like any philosophy we know?

And so we see Rey climb the steps of the island, invoking the images of temples and monasteries throughout history. And at the top, we find Luke Skywalker. And he turns. And she holds out the lightsaber.

And there is nothing in the world more important than this moment.

The Hero's Journey, Spoilerific Star Wars: The Force Awakens Continues. Part 2: Initiation

Wymore gave me edits back, so until everything is approved, we'll keep doing Star Wars and not spreading the truth about his horrible depravities.

Last week we followed Rey from her introduction to her first real trial, the escape in the Millennium Falcon and we finished with her being swallowed by Han's ship. So let's begin the initiation section of the hero's journey.

The Road of Trials

In the hero's journey, the road of trials is a series of tests that show the character's mettle. They also break down the hero, so she knows just how difficult her path will be. Rey's road of trials probably began when the Falcon started falling apart and they were all going to die of poisonous gas, but I liked the image of the Falcon being swallowed so I lumped those in with Belly of the Whale.

Now Rey is in Solo's freighter and the freighter gets boarded. Her and Finn end up under the flooring (more belly of the whale imagery). 

Now, the hero often fails one of these trials, because the hero isn't perfect. So it isn't a surprise that Rey accidently releases the Rathar and almost get's Finn killed. She saves him though and humbly doesn't mention that it was her, just saying, "That was lucky!"

They escape in the Falcon, Rey knocking down one challenge after the other to help Han get the old girl flying again. They escape to hyperspace.

The Meeting with the Goddess

In this stage, the hero experiences the perfect-almost divine love of a mother to an infant. This love is transformative, and Rey's experience is not any different.

There haven't been many Meeting with the Goddess scenes better than the one with Moz. She is interesting, quirky, wise. She seems to pick out Rey's unique status (and parentage?) instantly, "Who's the girl?" Is it the lightsaber that calls Rey to the basement, or is it really Moz? I suspect that it's the latter, that while the lightsaber triggers her visions, it's Moz that senses the potential connection and gives her a little push.

Rey finds Luke's Lightsaber. We've talked about her vision, and how Kylo seems to save her during it. The entire thing is very disconcerting, but Rey's first brush with complete acceptance and love comes after, when she meets Moz in the hall and is told that her family is behind her, what she seeks it before her. Moz's confidence in Rey is powerful, touching. Han started this ball rolling when he told her the Jedi were real, but this is the moment of truth when Moz gives Rey the seeds of faith and knowledge that will play out through the rest of the movie.

Woman as Temptress

Here the hero is tempted, often with pleasures of the flesh. The Woman in this case, is Kylo Ren, during the interrogation of Rey. I'm not just saying this because he has fabulous hair. I'm not saying it because the gender roles are reversed. I don't think she's actually attracted to him.

But Kylo, when violating her mind, outlines her deepest wishes. Her loneliness. The island in the ocean she dreams of at night. Most of all, Han Solo as a father figure. He really bungles this scene, as temptresses go, but he lays it out there. There is an implication that things would go better for her if she stopped fighting.

This is one of the weakest bit of her journey so far (as the monomyth goes) because Kylo misplays his hand very badly, but she rejects any idea of compliance when she tells him his own fear and rattles him.

Atonement with the Father

In atonement with Father, our hero must be initiated by whatever holds the ultimate power in her life. For Rey, I think this comes in two steps. First, she embraces the force for the first time, using the Jedi mind trick on James Bond in stormtrooper garb. The more direct image comes a bit after that when Han and Finn show up to rescue her. That second one is probably more to show a literal image than to actually satisfy the hero's journey. The ultimate power in Rey's life is the force. And the real father in this moment is probably her birth father, who passed the bloodline, strong in the force.

Apotheosis

When the hero dies a physical or spiritual death, they are reborn into a more divine state of bliss and joy, they have their apotheosis. Rey's comes when Kylo "kills" her by smashing her into the tree. And then she is alive and takes Luke's lightsaber for her own, and Rey becomes the Rey we've been waiting for the entire movie.

The Ultimate Boon

The Ultimate Boon is when the Hero achieves the quest. Here, Kylo offers to be her teacher, but Rey realizes that the only teacher she needs in that moment is the force. She becomes the fledgling Jedi and defeats Kylo Ren. She has her moment, teetering on the dark side, but then she doesn't strike out of anger.

Rey, standing over Kylo Ren, has finally and completely, become the next hero of the Star Wars Universe. She has, whether literally or symbolically, shown herself to be the scion of the Skywalkers and our hope for the future.

Too bad she appears to be about to die.

Tune in next week for the final section of the Hero's Journey, The Return.

The Hero's Journey, Spoilerific Star Wars: The Force Awakens Continues. Part 1: Departure

We're back to Star Wars, so Wymore is still in the clear. Which is good because I had so many cutting insults. Just so, so many. Honest.

I've been talking about tackling the Hero's Journey in my final analysis of The Force Awakens for some time now. I may even have mentioned it in the blog. Well this week we tackle that. Or the first third of that. Or whatever I finish before dinner.

In 1949, Joseph Campbell defined a template for a hero who goes on an adventure, meets a crisis, has a victory, and returns home. Called the Monomyth or the Hero's Journey, this template was famously applied to the original Star Wars. Not every heroes journey hits every step, but the Force Awakens looks adhere's well, so let's dig in!

For another great movie analysis of the Hero's Journey, see God Has Videotape and it's analysis of the Matrix.

The Call to Adventure

The Hero's Journey starts with the status quo, then something enters the hero's life, some new bit of information that acts as a call to adventure.

In The Force Awakens, the call comes in the form of BB-8. We begin with Rey as a scavenger. We see her scrimping to live on Jakku. We see her on the verge of starvation, but we see something more. We see the rebel pilot doll in her things. We watch her eating dinner with the pilot's helmet on, and it's clear that she's dreaming of other places of better things. This is a person meant for adventure. That is clear to us. It just might not be clear to herself.

And then she hears BB-8's call for help. A literal call. She rushes to the cute little guy's aid and she rescues him. It's obvious he asks her for help.

Refusal of the Call

And she says no. Of course she says no. It's obvious to everyone that this little guy is part of something bigger. Helping him will pull her out of her comfortable little life.

Campbell tells us that the hero often refuses the call, through feelings of inadequacy or insecurity, perhaps. The refusal is important, because if the hero accepts the call immediately, they will seem eager. Full of themselves. We can't relate to a hero just happily says, "Save the world? I'm your gal!" That person is too full of themselves. We like our heroes reluctant and full of self-doubt.

Rey spends a lot of time refusing calls, because there are two different stories here, the overarching story of the trilogy and the immediate story of this movie. We're dealing with just this movie and so the call in question is the call to help the resistance. We'll look at the call to the force in other films. It may be relevant in our analysis of Episode VIII, but we might also have to wait until the entire trilogy is done.

So she tells BB-8 that he can only stay with her one night. We know that won't stand, but it's touching when Unkar tries to buy the droid off her. Here's her moment. She can have everything she wants, and she's already told the droid she won't help him. She has all the food in her arms when she realizes that she can't do it. While saving the droid might be beyond her and her humble life, letting the droid fall into nefarious hands is even further beyond her.

Supernatural Aid

Once our hero has accepted her call, she needs a supernatural helper. In Rey's story, this helper falls from the stars, not a fallen angel, but a fallen devil, a creature who represents evil and oppression, searching for his own redemption. We are talking, of course, of Finn.

Of course in our modern age, the supernatural aid can't be an old wizard carrying a lightsaber. She barely accepts the aid "stop taking my hand!" But it's there. Finn is a somewhat bumbling helper, but that's okay, because Rey is there to help him right back.

Crossing the Threshold

Crossing the threshold occurs when our hero first crosses the field of adventure. This is beautifully depicted after the stormtoopers attack, when Rey and Finn sprint across the desert and decide to take the Millenium Falcon. They climb inside and have their first major adventure, their running fight with the Tie Fighters. At the end of this, we see our hero for who she is. Powerful. Competent. Childlike. Eager. Endearing. If we haven't fallen in love with Rey yet, we're in love with her by the time we see her practically jumping up and down with delight and excitement and a little disbelief over what she and Finn just accomplished together.

Belly of the Whale

The belly of the whale shows that the character has entered into the adventure willingly. This is when we discover she is capable of metamorphosis.

For Rey, this probably begins during the Tie Fighter battle, but it continues, thematically, to the Falcon being taken into the belly of Han's new cargo ship. Now she is literally in the belly, and her crucible has truly begun.

Tune in next week and we'll explore Rey's Initiation. Same bat time. Same bat channel.

Charisma Is Not a Dump Stat

James Wymore is a cheese-eating, pizza-loving, milk-shake-drinking, cookie-making... Dammit. I still don't have it back. Those things are all still awesome.

You know what else are awesome? Conventions. (In the "business" we call that a segue.) I've been doing conventions since Writers of the Future, about 12 years. In that 12 years I've built up a nice little network of professional friends.

THIS IS GOING TO SOUND LIKE A BRAGGING POST. I actually feel really weird posting it. I mention people in blogs, but usually it's so they will see their names, not so that you will see their names. Except for Wymore. The world must be warned about Wymore.

[Start Name Dropping] I went to worldcon with Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells. I've eaten many meals with Larry Correia (and once I gave him an L5R map I made). Kevin J. Anderson happily shouts insults at me when he passes me in the Comic Con green room. I ate dinner with Adrian Paul once. Howard Tayler once had his readers break my web page (and downloaded something like ten thousand copies of my audiobook in the process). It is impossible for me to walk to the bathroom at a Utah Convention without a strategy and my game face. I have four stand-up comedians volunteering to perform at my book release. I found out last year I have fans that are only fans for me doing one specific type of game panel that Wymore does.[/End Name Dropping]

Now whether I convert these in sales is a whole other matter, and we'll see how well I do in May. But even if I fail at closing, it's hard to argue I haven't done better than average at the setup. So how do you do it?

I don't know for sure, but I can tell you this: Howard Tayler used to run panels, I was on at least one, called Charisma Is Not a Dump Stat. The point was that being likable among fans was every bit as important as being good at your job.

And often, that's all about the conventions. People who come to you events already like you. At conventions, you meet new people. I feel like whatever my skills as a writer, I've gotten pretty good at conventions. People were lying to get into my Plot a Novel in an Hour Friday at the Life the Universe and Everything academic symposium. The woman in charge of programming came up to me to tell me that she'd given me a good spot at the book signing because she assumed I was going to have a large line. I had to break it to her that my book wasn't out yet.

I was thinking a lot about this at LTUE. This is the last time I do this Symposium without a book released, and I have only one other convention on my schedule before the release date. So I paid close attention to the things that I've come to do without thinking.

Some of it might not fit your personality and you don't want to ape me  on everything, but some of it, (the tipping for instance) is just a good public service lesson.

So here we go:

Remember one telling detail about everyone you meet. If you can even pull out "How's the self-publishing business going for you?" they won't even ask if you know their name, they will feel special, and they will remember you fondly.

Try to make sure everyone who's name you DO know hear that name called out in joy at least once. Once a day, if possible. I greet people starting about thirty feet away. Having someone greet you warmly is good. Hearing your name shouted from a crowd is better.

Feed people. Invite people to eat. Communal eating brings us together as humans.

Try to find at least one person who is too shy to start a conversation. get them to talk about what they love. This isn't because that person might one day be famous. This is just about paying it forward. I once realized that Roberta Pournelle (Jerry Pournelle's wife) singles out the shyest writer at the Writer's of the Future BBQ and makes them talk about themselves. I want to be that good of a person. So do you.

Take moderating seriously. I've posted about it before. Here's a summary from this LTUE:

If you are on par with the fame of the other panelists, try to keep your remarks to a minimum. You are a moderator, so they should speak more than you, but you're important too, so contributing your own thoughts from time to time is okay. Try to make sure everyone gets more time than you and that their time is about equal to each other.

If you have one panelist more famous than all the others, try to make sure everyone gets time to shine, but know that the audience is there to see the celebrity.

If there are a couple superstars on the panel, make sure people get to speak, but be as unobtrusive as possible. If possible, try to stay out of sight lines. I usually don't sit at the table and I wander to the corner. My job is to make the whole audience forget that I exist, except when I'm asking questions. All the while, I'm watching body language to see if any of the panelists want to speak but afraid to interrupt a big star. When I see that, I say something, like, "Jim, what do you think?" and begin hiding again. (About fifteen people tracked me down to compliment me on my moderating the Writing Action Scene's panels. Usually you only get complimented for moderating by other panelists and by random people stuck talking to you while waiting to speak to other panelists.)

If you are the most famous or have the best credentials at the table, just to the best you can.

And step up. Always be ready to moderate if the moderator is unavailable or unassigned. If you spot a moderation problem, (such as Larry Correia being assigned to moderate a panel where he should be the superstar) volunteer. The most famous person at the table shouldn't have to be worried about whether the least famous person gets to speak. The most famous person at the table should be able to concentrate on giving the audience what they came to see. The moderator can worry about everyone getting a chance to shine.

I moderated between 7-9 panels, I think. I was scheduled to moderate 3.

If a panel is dead get the energy up. In general, get people cheering before you start. If a panel has been dead despite your efforts, try to end on a high note. If a panel has an energy-sucking panelist, God help you, just do the best you can and don't be insulting.

Fights can be good. Fights can be bad. A great CIVIL fight can be the best panel at a con. If you think a fight is getting acrimonious, try laughing joyously and complimenting the other person. Make jokes about "how bad" the fight is. It will keep the mood light.

If two people are arguing in the green room and you are the type of person to automatically exclaim, "Oh my goodness!" every time you stand up, try to time that better than I did.

Overtip the wait staff. There will likely be a time during the con where you need a server to go above and beyond. I once overtipped a waitress at a hotel restaurant and then lost my voice. The next morning, at breakfast, she heard me talk and immediately made me her mother's special voice remedy (no charge). It became a breakfast tradition for the rest of the con. Aside from that, you will probably have a time where you need to eat fast to make a panel. Cultivate good relationships.

Bring mints. If you forget mints, bum mints from other people. I won't mention showering to you, because if you're reading this, you're way beyond that advice.

Be friendly and respectful to people more famous to you. Be more so to people less famous than you.

Hug those who will be hugged. Warmly greet those who won't. Know the difference. Love everyone.

If you shout "Hi" while walking in a determined fashion, people won't be offended if you don't stop. "I've got to pee!" will also get you out of a multitude of potentially rude situations, especially if you say it in a comedically panicked voice.

When going out to dinner with large groups of writers and fans, don't be afraid to overtip in advance. Just be aware that no one within two people of you at the table will get service after you do that (the wait staff will skip straight to you when they get close, ask if you need anything and leave when you answer, it's human nature). Let everyone around you know how that works and take their orders for them ("I'm fine, but Randy needs a refill and Sandra could use some more fries.")

laugh a lot.

If necessary, take over the counter pain meds. They don't call them "Ranger Candy" for nothing. You need to get through the Con. It's okay if you can't go dancing the last night.

Wear comfortable shoes.

And finally, be handsome. No, handsomer than that. Still not handsome enough... There you go.

On Character Power and Story Obstacles

I have a rule that I try not to insult Wymore on days when I talk about Star Wars. That's really starting to hurt, so I'm taking a week off star wars to call Wymore a doodie head. A poo-flinging butt monkey? A charming fellow! Dammit. I seem to have lost my touch.

Howard Tayler, when writing his story for Space Eldritch II, lamented that he needed to come with a way to make the competent main character incompetent to heighten the feeling of helplessness. Mary Robinette Kowal told him he was wrong. He needed to make her completely competent. He just needed to make it so that none of that competence mattered.

(Let's try this again: James Wymore is a rice-eating icecream jockey! Dammit. All of those things are awesome.)

Back to the post. This matter of competence has been on my mind as I write a story for an upcoming anthology. It's a cyberpunk samurai story about a professional duelist. The hitch is that said duelist is also a Buddhist pacifist.

This has been very liberating. One of the problems with making a character a professional duelist--under the employ of one of the most powerful men in the land--is exactly that matter of competence. He has to be spectacular at his job to hold that position. But how do you challenge one of the greatest living duelists in the land?

(Wymore loves children and puppies! Still not there.)

The answer became evident as I was writing the first scene. In it, the main character must duel a 17-year-old kid who wants to kill his boss, the head of the security division of a mega-corporation. He faces off against this kid while a dozen security officers stand around, looking for the opportunity to save their boss and get a promotion. Beating this kid is not a problem. It's effortless. The problem is that the kid is distraught. He isn't going to calmly bow out at first blood. The kids father is dead because of my character's boss and this kid is a sobbing mess of grief, surrounded by armed people with itchy trigger fingers. The question is: "How do I save this kid?"

It's made for an interesting dynamic. I have a character who would be a master at being the action-driven character in the story. Instead, his moral code drives him to be the manipulation character. This is compounded by the fact that his ethical code (in this case his sense of honor) is demanding that he properly serve his lord. And this is a samurai story, which means that duty, status, and face are all placing demands on the character.

It's helped crystallize several aspects of characterization that I've never been able to vocalize before. It's liberating to be able to make the character as skilled as I need, without mitigating the conflict of the story. It isn't quite a fish-out-of=water story since he didn't just become a pacifist. He wouldn't have gotten to the position without being good at doing his job without killing, but being a pacifist who's job description involves ritualized murder makes for an interesting dynamic and all sorts of inherent conflict.

(Also, Wymore loves help children and old people! <Sigh> I'll just need to keep trying.)

Spoilerific Analysis of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Part 5: Han Solo, and His Four Movie Arc

People send me emails asking when Wymore and I are just going to kiss. Wymore loves me, of course. And of course, I know.

So I saved Han for last because I've been on this journey with Han since I was a small child. Vader was always my favorite, but when we played as kids, all the other kids wanted to be Luke. I wanted to be Han. Han Solo was cool, and he was skilled, and he was funny. I wanted to grow up to be Han. That's why I always shoot first. Be warned, Wymore.

So let's look at Han. Everyone's talking about the end of Han's story, but I think most people are missing the end of his arc, which coincides with Finn's to a great extent. This isn't surprising because saving the cat is what Finn's arch is all about and saving the cat was Han's epic moment at the end of Episode IV.

We meet Han in a "wretched hive of scum and villainy." We're set up from the beginning to expect the people with meet in the cantina are bad news, and this is backed up by the bartender's prejudice vs. droids (the first time we see that in Star Wars) and the assault and "disarming" of Walrusman. (Yes, all my Star Wars names come from the '70s Kenner action figure line.) Han is charming, a braggart, and a bit confrontational, but Kenobi singles him out of all the people in the cantina. Why?

I don't think it would be far to go to say that the Force is guiding him, but Kenobi doesn't seem very impressed with Han either. However, I would point out that Kenobi doesn't find Han in the cantina. Kenobi finds Chewie. Han is the hero in the making, but Chewie is something more important. Chewie is Han's moral center.

Of course, then we have the scene with Greedo and Han shooting first. (BTW, notice that Greedo waits for Chewie to leave before confronting Han? That's because Greedo has a working sapient brain.)

Of course, we know Han had to have a bit of a heart because he rescued Chewie from slavery at some point before this, but I'm not sure when that idea was first introduced. It looks like it was assembled over time, Brian Daley introduced the concept of the Wookiee Life Debt in the Han Solo Adventures and someone else the slavers in The Wookiee Storybook, but they might not have been combined until the Han Solo Trilogy. So we'll take the Life Debt as writ, but for the sake of Han's starting point, we'll look at the movies. They are our entrance into this story.

Let's talk a moment about Han shooting Greedo. The reason, I think, so many people object to the changes Lucas made in the Special Edition is that this scene shows Han's real starting place. While it's probably self-defense, and he might get off the hook in a trial, it's still a form a murder. Han doesn't have a choice, but he got himself into the position where he has to kill people to buy himself another day. This instance isn't exactly his fault, but him being in this situation in the first place? That's all on him. Han Solo is at the end of a long fall in this scene. He's hit rock bottom.

We learn of Han's debt from Greedo, and it's backed up by the meeting with Jabba in the Special Edition (I believe that scene appeared in the Novelization and maybe the Storybook too, I remember being aware of it before the Special Editions released). These scenes set Han's starting state nicely. He's done shady things for shady people, and now he's in trouble. I will point out that despite shooting first shenanigans, this all sets up the fact that Han has little moral compass at the beginning (or he has the compass but never checks it). If they wanted us to believe Han was a good guy from the beginning, they wouldn't have been stacking financial pressures on his shoulders to justify him rescuing Leia. A good person wouldn't need a huge and terrifying crime lord making him to the right thing.

Then we have a thrilling escape to show Han as a competent pilot and smuggler, just so that we don't think he's a total bozo. This is followed by the scene with Luke practicing against the remote, where we discover that Han doesn't believe in the Force.

I want to address something here. I've heard a lot of people complaining about things becoming legends after 20 years. Let's look at that honestly a moment. Twenty years ago was 1996. The new age movement was on the decline, but many people were still fully committed to it at the time. Now, we look back at it, and most people think its silly. I have a heard time finding a solid new age believer anymore (outside my family at least). And that was a movement that everyone in the 90s had probably encountered directly. The Jedi were an order of hundreds in a galaxy of quadrillions or quintillions of sapients (the Star Wars universe seems sparsely populated). The odds of a person meeting anyone who had ever even met a Jedi were astronomical. The odds of meeting a charlatan much better. Maybe even likely. It's no wonder that 20 years later everyone's reaction would be, "Wow, those folks were pretty gullible back then, huh?"

So they get captured, but again, Han's smuggling chops get them through. Our heroes find out about the princess. Han refuses to help until Luke dangles the idea of a reward. Now Han can't resist. His need for money is crippling. They rescue the princess.

Han, for the most part, is a complete scoundrel throughout, but we do get one glimpse of his true self when he charges the stormtroopers to save the party. What we do when we have time to think shows us who our experience has made us. What we do when we have to react on instinct shows who we are, deep down. This is an important scene, because while we want Han to come through in the end, we haven't been given a single bit of evidence he could.

So they get out. People try to shame Han into doing what's right, but he takes his money and leaves. It's not until Luke is really in trouble that Han flies back into the battle, kills Vader's wingman, and saves the day. (With accompanying lens flare).

I like to think that Chewie didn't say anything on their flight out. In my mind, he just sat in the copilot's chair, quietly watching Han as the smuggler became increasingly uncomfortable. Just a big, silent, furry pile of judgment.

In Empire, Han is a new man. The Empire Strike Back Han claims he's still a scoundrel, but we don't believe it. He's riding mounted Taun Taun patrols for the Rebellion. He has free access to the Command Center. He's on casual speaking terms with the General. It's obvious that Han is part of the Rebellion. He claims he isn't, but everyone just lets him have his personal fiction.

Of course, then Like goes missing, and Han goes out into weather everyone says a flat-out death sentence. Here we see a glimpse of the old Han, refusing to take orders and doing his own thing, but he's doing his own thing to save another, instead of himself. Then, when everything falls apart, he saves the princess too.

Now, this Han isn't a moral member of the Rebellion. We still have no real indication that he cares at all about fighting the Empire. All three times he's done what's right, he's done it to save a friend. If these friends weren't in the Rebellion, I think Han would be much happier. But they are, and Han doesn't even seem to begrudge it. It's just his life. His life has always kind of sucked.

BTW, this plays into my statements about Chewie being his conscience. Chewie doesn't care about causes nearly as much as people and interpersonal responsibilities. It isn't surprising that when Han learns morality, it looks a lot more like a Wookiee's Life Debt than it does a Human's noble cause.

Han doesn't even get a real chance to be noble at the end of Empire. Yes, he goes to his fate with dignity, but he doesn't have any decisions to make. As he says, they don't even ask him any questions during the torture. He is just betrayed by Lando and stuck. He does get to talk Chewie down, and in the retcons, extends Chewie's Life Debt to include Leia, because that's all he can do for his friends in his final moments. Leia tells him she loves him. He tells her he knows. And Han exits the movie.

In Jedi, we see what we think is the end of his journey. They rescue him from Jabba, and he still seems to be mostly the same old Han. He doesn't believe that Luke is a Jedi Knight, even when Luke is saving him. He still makes cracks about the dying, and he fumbles along, and he relies on the fact that fortune loves a fool.

But when they get to the end, and they are looking for volunteers to lead the ground team, It's Han who steps up. This time, his friends join him, not the other way around. And we hear he's a general. Finally, Han is the one who has taken up the cause, and it's everyone else's turn to be loyal to him.

Even when he thinks Luke and Leia are an item, he doesn't act the way we expect. He just steps aside, but instead of exploding into drama and false conflict like every other movie character we've seen. He just sort of waits there uncomfortably, hoping they'll tell him he's wrong. It's endearing, really. He even consoles Leia when he thinks she's having problems with the man she chose over him. He juslly t does the perfect thing every time.

At the end of Jedi, we think we have a satisfying conclusion to Han.

So at the beginning of Force Awakens, it looks like a big backslide. Han has left the Republic and gone back to being a smuggler. He's left his family and his wife's cause. He's even lost his ship. So it looks like we're getting a lazy reset.

And then we see the map, and he hears Luke's name, and we realize that things are far more complicated. The man that didn't admit to believing in the Jedi, even while a Jedi was saving him from Jabba, now gives this speech:

"I used to wonder that myself. Thought it was a bunch of mumbo-jumbo -- magical power holding together good, evil, the dark side and the light. 'Crazy thing is, it's true. The Force, the  Jedi, all of it. It's all true."

This isn't a reset to the beginning of Episode IV. This isn't the character we left at the end of VI. This is the character 30 years later. He's had more pain. More loss. His son turned against his best friend. His best friend abandoned the galaxy. He feels like his wife blames him (even though she doesn't). This is a man who's mostly broken and just doing what he's good at, but he has dropped the pretense. This man is too old and too damaged to pretend that he doesn't believe anymore. He does believe, and believing is a little worse because his son has fallen over those beliefs

Let's look at that. Ben Solo was to be a Jedi. He followed in the steps of Han's best friend. How proud do you think that made Han? He couldn't follow in Han's steps because Han is a reformed criminal. Ben started from a place of purity and privilege, so following in Han's footsteps means he has to fall. So he chose the person that Han dedicated his life to saving and protecting. He devotes his youth to studying the teachings of the man who saved and was saved by his father. For a guy like Han, there is no better end.

But Ben does follow in Han's footsteps. Just like Han fell from grace so many years ago, going from a respectable officer to a scoundrel, now his son falls, going from a respectable Jedi to the leader of the Knights of Ren. (I know it was more complicated than that for Han. I suspect that it is more complicated than that for Ben.)

Is it a wonder he assumes his wife blames him? Ben has become his father's son, but Ben doesn't have anyone to rescue him like Luke and Leia rescued Han through friendship and love. Ben is out of his reach, in a viper's nest. There's no chance of him finding that redemptive friendship. He is lost.

Han says there's too much Vader in him, but I think he's lying. I think Han believes Ben fell because there was too much Han in him.

So this is the Han Solo in the Force Awakens. Adrift. Shattered. Believing in the system that seems to have destroyed his son. He takes up the quest to find Luke, because what else does he have? He's lost.

Is it a wonder he immediately takes to Rey? Here is a lost and broken child who needs a father. Here is a chance to try again. If Ben followed his father's path, he had to fall. Rey, while moral, is already at rock bottom, but she hasn't lost her moral compass. Here is a daughter that isn't going to fall. If she follows in Han's footsteps, she just becomes the person Han wishes he still was. The path of fall and (and hopefully redemption) has ruined his son, but Rey's fall wasn't his fault. Only good can come of the relationship. In Rey, Han can live out his redemption again.

But Rey turns him down.

This is the Han that meets his son on the catwalk in the end. This is the Han, who is asked by Ben to help him do what comes next. Han looks hopeful when Ben offers him the lightsaber, but I don't think he's hopeful when he tells Ben he'll do anything to help. I think at that moment, he expects the worst because Han always expects the worst. I think that when Han gives Ben permission to kill him, he does so knowing those could be his last words.

And when Ben does, and Han reaches us and gently touches his face, it isn't because he's spending his last moment with his son. It's because he has looked into his son's eyes and seen that the boy really has become him. But more, he knows that at this moment, he son has hit rock bottom, and Han has sat there, in that cantina, and murdered a person preemptively so that he can live just one more day. Han knows that hitting rock bottom is the first step of redemption, and so he looks at his son, sees himself, and forgives it all. He forgives Ben, and through that he forgives himself.

But that wasn't the end of his arc. That was the epilog. Han didn't have any choices there, either, not really. It's just like Bespin. He'd already become the man he needed to be and is just watching it all play out, completely out of his control. Sure he could have said no to Ben, but that wouldn't have changed anything. That scene showed us our final image of Han, but it's Han's final image because his arc has already really been closed. That scene was Ben's. It's Han's dismissal from the story, but by that point there's nothing left to say about Han, so it's his turn to exit the story. Just like at Bespin. Unlike Bespin, though, this exit is for good.

The end of his arc comes a scene or two before.

Han comes full circle when Finn tricks him into launching a rescue mission for Rey. Here we see Episode IV all over again. Luke used Han's life-threatening debt to force Han into rescuing Leia. Finn tricked Han into rescuing Rey by giving him a new ground mission to destroy a new Death Star. Han didn't come on the mission to save Rey willingly.

And so while we have the scene earlier where the eternal skeptic has declared the Force true, now we have a scene with Phasma and Finn in the shield control room. Their mission is finished. It's time to leave. Finn, obviously in a panic, says:

"Solo, if this works, we're not going to have a lot of time to find Rey."

And we see the scene coming. Han wouldn't rescue Leia all those years ago, even when presented the ultimate male fantasy, the rescue of the beautiful princess. We know that this where Finn's lying, and deceit comes back to haunt him. Remember, Finn has been trying to save the cat this entire movie, and now he's facing his final hurdle, the living legend who he lied and tricked to get what he wants. This is when the old scoundrel is supposed to make the boy pay for doing the wrong thing. And what does Han say?

"Don't worry kid, we won't leave here without her."

He doesn't blink. He doesn't hesitate. It doesn't even seem to have occurred to him that they wouldn't rescue Rey. He's given his final choice between the man he is versus the man he was, and we see the real Han Solo.

Because Han doesn't realize that he had a choice. Han Solo thinks he never has a choice. Han Solo doesn't every really understand Han Solo.

That is the moment Han Solo has finished his arc. That is the reason he had to die. In that single line Han Solo, as a character, is complete.

Most people cry when he dies, and I probably did too. But I really cry when he turns to the frightened boy, and he shows him what it means to be a man. I cry because Han Solo think he needs to be redeemed, but he doesn't. Han Solo is now the beacon that shows the others the path back to the light.

And he'll never know it.