Thursday, October 19, 2017

Remember When I Said I Made a Movie?

I've lamented about my misadventures with cameras in a couple of posts recently. Last week I discussed my latest experience trying to upload a movie I made to my blog. Well, today I actually succeeded in uploading it and I'm very excited, as well as a little terrified, to share it with you.

Some disclaimers before you watch it:

1. I've learned a heck of a lot about lighting and camera settings since I made this movie. Basically all I knew how to do on the camera at the time was change the f-stop. I'm much more knowledgeable now, so if I ever try again (and I hope to eventually, if I ever get a new video camera), the cinematography will be much better.

2. I'm aware that the plot is clichéd at best and nonexistent at worst. I wasn't writing to win an Academy Award. I was writing to create a script which could be easily made into a movie with only two actors who also happened to double as the director and the sound guy.

3. Yes, I'm faking an accent in this movie. I like learning how to do accents, and this particular one was a recently acquired skill that I was dying to try out. I'm open to critiques as long as they are limited to tips on how to improve my pronunciation, but if you make fun of me on my own website, I will be deleting the comment. What can I say? I'm sensitive about these things. We all have our limits, right?

Okay, here's the movie. It's a horror movie, so I figured a couple of weeks before Halloween would be an appropriate time to share.




video

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Remember When I Said Cameras Hate Me?


Rather than recount all the many, many details of this journey, I will refer you to my previous post, entitled Why Do Cameras Hate Me? if you are interested in learning the rest of this story. Today I only want to talk (complain?) about my adventures with computer software.

The World's Worst Computer Virus

Yeah, I left this little detail out of that earlier post. After I made that movie, the one I called "my first real movie", I lost all the digital files I had saved on my computer to Cryptowall. If you've not heard of Cryptowall, it's the granddaddy of computer viruses. Basically it infects your computer and encrypts all of your files so that even the most sophisticated decryption software would not be able to open them. Then you receive a message that you have a certain amount of time to pay money to the creators of the virus so that they can give you the code to unlock your files. Well, I didn't pay the money, so I lost all my files. The good news is, it was a new computer, so I hadn't saved much on it yet. But I did lose my movie.

Well, lose my movie is a bit of an exaggeration.  I lost the files on my computer, but I had, thankfully, burned it onto a dvd. Unfortunately, that was all I had done with it. I never backed up the file on a flash drive or on another computer.

The Problem With Dvds

So I have the movie on dvd, which is great because that means I can watch it whenever I want (I don't watch it very often), but if I want to put it back onto my computer, that means I need dvd-ripping software. No worries. Handbrake is a free and trustworthy dvd-ripper. So I downloaded Handbrake. Problem solved, right? Not so fast, mister.

I had decided that I was...finally...ready to share my little movie with the world, so I made plans to embed it in a post right here on this blog. I loaded the dvd into my computer, opened the file in Handbrake, and started ripping. Success! My movie was saved on my hard drive. Now I could upload it to my blog, right? Again I say, not so fast, mister.

The Problem With Video Files

I tried uploading it and Blogger told me the file was too big. Well, I'm nothing if not tenacious, so I looked up how to shrink a video file in Handbrake. And what did I find? A webpage telling me how to do it. So I followed the directions, saved the movie on my hard drive a second time, and tried uploading it to Blogger again. Again, the file was too big. So I looked up more information on video compression. I found another, more detailed, page explaining a slightly longer process with quite a few more steps. Surely this was it. I was on the cusp! I was going to share my movie with the world. So I followed the directions and began the ripping process and for some reason, my computer shut down in the middle of it. Thinking it was a fluke, I rebooted my computer and tried again. Again, the stupid computer shut down before it finished compressing my video. Why? Not being a computer expert, I have no idea. But it resulted in me not having any file of my movie that I can share on Blogger.

Maybe God is trying to tell me that my filmmaking skills are not ready for public consumption? Or that I'm just not supposed to be a filmmaker? Or maybe these obstacles are there to test my resolve so if I ever succeed at this I'll know I did it because I really wanted it. Who knows? At the moment it's darn frustrating. 


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Indie Book of the Month: October 2017



Forbidden by F. Stone

I put off reviewing this book for a long time because I knew Islam played a large part in the story and I was worried about promoting a book that could potentially have controversial content. I finally was able to put aside my fears in that regard when I read some of the reviews and discovered that this book deals with the religion in a very fair manner, so I decided to take the plunge.

The story is engaging and the pace is well-balanced. Fast enough to hold the reader's interest but slow enough to give you time to get to know the characters. The romance is believable and the suspense is palpable. I applaud the author for pulling off both of these things.

However, this book will unfortunately be another four star read for me. The main issue is the typos. I've said in the past that I can often look past these, but when there are so many that they start to distract from the story, I can't ignore them. This book had at least a couple of typos per chapter, and I can't write an honest review without mentioning them. 

I was also left hungry for a little more detail. Considering that this book takes place in a part of the world I have never visited, within a culture I know very little about, I was hoping to be taken on a beautiful journey into another world. I wanted more vivid descriptions, more explanations of Muslim teachings, more history of the area. I wanted to feel like I was right there with the characters, and I didn't feel that reading this book. 

That being said, I did enjoy it and would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for an exciting, suspenseful read. Check it out on Amazon.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A Literary Analysis of My Own Book, Part 3

For the past few weeks I've been analyzing conflict in my books. Last week I looked at Primogénito and the week before I examined Amelia's Children.

This week we'll look at conflict in Road to Yesterday.



Man vs. Man
Road to Yesterday is different from my other books in that there is no villain. So the Man vs. Man conflict primarily happens between the siblings themselves. Put simply, pretty much everyone experiences conflict with Vi. 

Vi is Kim's older sister and goes through life with a down to earth, practical, take charge attitude. When balanced with a little flexibility, this can be a virtue, but in Vi it is not balanced with anything. She wants what she wants and she gets what she wants and she's unwilling to listen to anyone else's side of the story. So, naturally, she gets into it with the other characters more than a few times.

First with Kim because Kim is her younger sister and Vi feels she has the right to boss her around as she sees fit. Kim doesn't like it, but she goes along with it because she knows arguing with Vi is an exercise in futility. 

Vi also has some deep-seated resentment for her brother Alex, so when he shows up unannounced and ends up taking a road trip with her and Kim, the tension becomes nearly unbearable. These two definitely have some issues to work out.

Then there's Kyle. The oldest brother. Having roughly the same personality as Vi, the two of them butt heads more than a few times over the course of the story. And Kyle harbors the same resentment toward Alex that Vi does (as a result of a misunderstanding going back ten years which ultimately gets resolved by the end of the book), so those two argue a good bit as well.

Man vs. Nature
I suppose time would be considered a force of nature with which the characters in this book must contend. Time is an issue for them both because the main story involves time travel, but also because there's the sense that time is running out. Alex has been transported ten years into the future only to find that his older self is dying. The story that follows is his attempt, along with his sisters and his older brother, to figure out what's happening to him and how he can be saved. The characters don't know if he's going to die, and they don't know how long they have, but they do know that his body is steadily shutting down and anything done must be done soon. 

Man vs. Self
Alex struggles a lot in this book. Not only does he have to grapple with the fact that he may be dying, but he also struggles with his role in the family. Remember that misunderstanding I mentioned? Well, that has made the others view him as something of a black sheep, and Alex feels an overwhelming need to prove them wrong. 

Man vs. Society
I don't think this comes into play here. Not really. I'm racking my brain trying to think of some societal issue these characters face, and can't come up with one. Yes, they've dealt with their fair share of hardships, but it's more a matter of life throwing them curve balls than society forcing ideals upon them.

Maybe Kyle's attitude toward church fits the mold, but that's barely a plot point in the book. It gets mentioned once, very close to the end, and does not really affect the story. It's in there more as a way give a little insight into Kyle's personality than to make any kind of social statement. But who knows? Maybe it counts. 

Thank you for joining me these past few weeks as I walked through the inner workings of my books. I'm all done now, so next week I'll be switching gears and bringing you another book of the month post.



Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Literary Analysis of My Own Book, Part 2

In last week's post I discussed conflict in literature and took a look at Amelia's Children through that analytical lens. This week I'll be analyzing the various conflicts in Primogénito: The Fuentes Legacy.


I won't recap the four types of conflict I'll be discussing, since I already laid all that out last week. Let's just get directly into the book.

Man vs. Man
Just like in Amelia's Children, the majority of the Man vs. Man conflict in Primogénito comes toward the end of the story. Again, I won't give away any spoilers, but the whole book is about Damian trying to free himself and the people he cares about from the dark magic wielded by his grandfather and uncles. So, naturally, there's a big showdown at the end where he faces off against the bad guys. Jenn, his wife, and Ashley, his best friend's wife, get in on this action too, as does his father, Leo. It's a big, long, violent sequence of scenes involving lots of fighting and more than a little bloodshed. 

Man vs. Nature
I still have the same question as last week: Do the natural workings of one's own body qualify as nature? If so, then Jenn's pregnancy fits into this category. It gives the story a sense of urgency since everything must be accomplished before the baby arrives (because the baby is one of the people Damian is trying to save). 

The cold plays a fairly large role in this book. Not to the degree that it alters the course of events, but in the sense that it provides an obstacle which the protagonists must overcome. 

Man vs. Self
What character doesn't face this conflict in Primogénito? First there's Damian, who's survived a traumatic event in his past and has worked hard to move on and find his "new normal". When Ashley shows up at his door begging him to help her save her husband, Nick, from and illness she believes is the result of the magic Damian's family practices, it sends Damian down a very dark road. He has to confront his worst memories, his sense of himself, his feelings about his wife, and his feelings about his family, all while working himself to exhaustion trying to help his friend. 

Next we have Ashley. She struggles with the same traumatic memories as Damian, but while Damian was the victim of what happened to them in the past, Ashley was merely a witness. So she feels unable to seek support and comfort because Damian deserves those things and, in her mind, she doesn't. What she suffers is a form of survivor's guilt. Though Damian did not die, still he bore the brunt of the traumatic experience while Ashley walked away relative unscathed. Physically at least. 

Ashley is also discovering she harbors romantic feelings for Damian. These feelings cause her unspeakable guilt and torment because she's happily married to Nick and Damian is happily married to Jenn. She doesn't want to do anything to destroy the lives the four of them have built for themselves, but nonetheless the feelings are there.

Then we have Jenn. As Damian's wife, her primary conflict stems from her love for Damian and her fear that if he gets involved with his family again after so many years away he will end up hurt. She's also at least somewhat aware of Ashley's feelings for Damian, so some jealousy comes into play. Then Jenn gets pregnant and she is consumed with fear of what will happen if Damian's grandfather finds out about the baby.

Leo is not a POV character in this book, but he is probably the most tragic. As Damian's father, he grew up in the Fuentes family, but tried to leave as a young man. Things did not work out so well for him, but through it all his one goal has been to protect his son. Leo feels everything Damian suffers, almost as though he were going through it himself. And on top of that, he feels unbearable guilt for not saving Damian from the clutches of his family. 

Man vs. Society
Not a lot of this in Primogénito. With this book I set out to write an intense character-driven drama with one heck of a creepy mystery thrown in for fun. I was not thinking to make a social statement. Then one reviewer pointed out that Damian's struggle to reclaim his virility and not be defined by his victim status is an example of him trying to live up to society's definition of manhood. I was not thinking that when I wrote it. I felt that the high ideals to which Damian holds himself are self-inflicted and not something being imposed upon him from the outside. But hey, maybe he feels that way because his worldview, including his idea of what it means to be a man, has been influenced by the world in which he grew up. It's a new way of looking at things. I didn't mean to put it in there, but I kind of like it.

Okay, so I've now analyzed conflict in two of my books. I'm having so much fun, I think I'll continue, so stay tuned for next week's look at Road to Yesterday.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Literary Analysis of My Own Book

Not sure where I got the idea to do this, but I thought it would be fun. So here goes.

Conflict in Literature

We've all taken college English classes, right? Or if we haven't been to college, we've at least taken high school English. At some point we've discussed conflict in literature, and we've learned that there are several types. Here are the four generally accepted types of conflict we find in stories:

Man vs. Man
Man vs. Nature
Man vs. Self
Man vs. Society

Other conflicts are sometimes tacked onto this list, including Man vs. Machine and Man vs. God. The point, however, is that in all stories, there is conflict. Without conflict, there is no story. No one wants to read this account of the mother who is preparing lunch for her children: All the dishes she needs are clean. All the ingredients she needs are readily available. The children come when called and eat without complaining. They even offer to help wash up afterward. Sure, we'd all like to live through that situation, but we don't want to read about it. Or, if we do read about it, we hope that maybe right after that idyllic scene the Christmas tree will catch on fire or the nearest city will be wiped out by an atomic bomb. Something. Give us something. Without conflict, fiction is, let's face it, boring.

I thought it would be fun to analyze the various conflicts in my own books. 

Conflict in Amelia's Children



Man vs. Man
David is the character who primarily experiences this. I can't say much about it, though, because Amelia's Children is a murder mystery and the majority of the Man vs. Man conflict occurs during the final showdown between David and the killer, who shall not be identified on this website. Sorry. No spoilers here.

Man vs. Nature
Not a heck of a lot of this conflict in Amelia's Children. In fact, looking at my writing as a whole, I've not really made nature an adversary in any of my books. At least not to the degree where it has any real impact on the story. I suppose Amelia bleeding to death in the woods during the prologue might fit, because bleeding is a natural process? Hmm...not sure about that one.

Darkness plays a fairly active role in the book, though. The most climactic scenes all take place in the country at night. So darkness is sometimes a hindrance to characters as they try to accomplish the tasks that must be done. But most often the darkness just serves to make them afraid, which is more in line with...

Man vs. Self
Sarah is the main one who lets her fear get the better of her, and the darkness of the countryside at night feeds that fear in several scenes. 

Since Sarah is the narrator, she's the one whose internal monologue we see as we read the book. So we know every difficult choice, every question, every doubt she experiences. And she has a lot of doubt. Doubt about her future, now that she's failed to make a career as an actress. Doubt about her relationship with David, since he's going home to Atlanta at some point and she's stuck in Laurel Hill. Doubt about how to handle herself in the face of a traumatic situation. 

In the opening chapters, Sarah is overcome with curiosity about David and his possible connection to Amelia Davis's murder. She wants to get closer to him. She wants to learn more. But as she begins to learn more, things start to get more and more dangerous and she questions whether she wants to continue. In the end her curiosity, and the conviction that helping David is the right thing to do, wins out over her fears.

David also deals with some Man vs. Self conflict as he questions whether he will ever have the answers he seeks. More than once he thinks about giving up, but Sarah persuades him to keep going.

Man vs. Society
I suppose Sarah experiences some Man vs. Society conflict. First in her struggles to become an actress and her inability to live up to the expectations of the film industry. Then her disagreements with her parents about career, religion, etc. Her feelings of being out of place in her hometown. All of these could be examples of Sarah's struggle against the society in which she lives. Of course, because all of these struggles are primarily internal, they could also be examples of Man vs. Self. Who knows? Maybe they're both.

So there it is. A little analysis of my book, Amelia's Children. I may go on to analyze my other books in coming weeks, so stay tuned. 



Friday, September 8, 2017

Indie Book of the Month: September 2017



Penny White and the Temptation of Dragons by Chrys Cymri. 

Take a cozy mystery, add a few dragons and other mythical creatures, then throw in lots of Doctor Who references, and you have this book. 

At first glance the premise seems too over-the-top to be believed. And it is. It's over-the-top. But it's also grounded enough in theology and, as I said above, great Doctor Who references to make it a believable read. 

Penny White is a vicar who has lived her entire life in our regular, mundane world. For all she knows, that's all that exists. But she also has a very open mind, so when she discovers that things like dragons and gryphons and even unicorns are real, she accepts it all without batting an eyelid. Again, that seems like a plot twist which would be hard to digest, but the way Penny's character is established, I had no problem believing that she would accept these incredible facts without the least amount of skepticism. 

When she discovers that a series of unexplained, and possibly related, deaths have occurred, she finds herself involved in a murder mystery that spans two worlds. The main story of this book is the investigation into the murders, but there's much more to it than that. 

I mentioned that this book contains a good bit of theology and a good bit of Doctor Who. I loved that the author was not afraid to reach deep into both subjects to find the little details that make this book what it is. Even if you're not a priest or a Doctor Who fan, these details nevertheless add a richness to the narrative that draws the reader in and makes this world, fantastical as it may seem, feel very real. 

This is the second cozy mystery I've reviewed this year, and I'm really beginning to open up more to this genre. I'm anxious to read other cozy mysteries, with or without dragons.

Please take a chance on this book. Even if dragons aren't your thing, this is still a great read and well worth your time.