Saturday, April 15, 2017

Recovering My Sense of Direction

All Mapped Out

For years I prided myself on the fact that I had everything figured out by the time I was seventeen. While many girls my age were drifting aimlessly through life, I already knew who I was going to marry, where I was going to college, what I was going to study in college, and what my five, ten, and thirty year plans were with regard to a career after college. I even had an idea of how many kids I wanted.

What I learned, the hard way, is that no one has everything figured out at seventeen. You may think you do, but you don't. One huge problem is that you don't really know who you are at that age. Yeah, you may have a huge chunk of your identity figured out by the time you graduate from high school, but until you've experienced being out in the world trying to actually live that identity, you can't know for sure if the one you've chosen is really yours.

The other issue with having your future mapped out at a young age is that life can throw you more than a few curve balls. If you've only considered one path for your life, a derailment can be devastating.

My Own Derailment

As I said, by the time I finished high school I already knew who I was going to marry. No, that is not the area where my derailment occurred. I did marry my high school sweetheart, and we are still very happy together. But finding the love of my life at such an early age set me to dreaming about a life centered around hearth and home. I chose "stay-at-home mom" as my identity long before I ever started having kids. It wasn't until I lived it that I realized how important it was for me to have a career. Unfortunately, it was the career that got derailed.

At seventeen I was dating the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I was also preparing to go to college and major in Music Education. My long-term plan after graduation was to spend a couple of years teaching music in a school, then quit that job and have kids. I did want to keep my music career going after the kids came along, so I set my sights on a part-time job directing church choir. I had to wait a few years to make the dream a reality, but when I was twenty-six, the opportunity finally came along.

I could not have been happier. I had everything I thought I wanted. No. It was more than that. I had everything I did want. I was content with my life, which is a rare thing in this world. I had arrived. I was set. Then I discovered the hidden danger in thinking you've arrived anywhere.

Two years after taking the job, I lost the job. The decision was made as a part of a broader effort to expand church programs. The music program was a part of that expansion. Because I was only part-time, and because I had no experience in some of the areas into which the church was looking to grow, I was let go from my job.

There's no way I can explain how I felt when that happened, but I did write about it a few months back in my post, Do People Grieve After a Job Loss. That post sums up my feelings pretty well.

So I lost the job, and with it my sense of direction for my life. It's been ten years, and I'm just now starting to get things figured out again.

A Period of Wandering

My life spiraled in so many different directions after losing that job. Everything I tried boiled down to me needing a new creative outlet. I spent a few years performing in community theatre. I took dance lessons. I bought a camera and made a couple of short films. I recorded an album. I wrote books. All of these things brought me some fulfillment, but I still had the feeling that I was stumbling around blind. I knew what I was doing, but I didn't know where I was going. I was trying everything, just to see if I could get anything to stick.

A New Plan

It hit me today. I finally have a new plan. All those various experiences have lined up before me and have taken the shape of a path. A new path which I have now determined to follow.

Writing was the catalyst, though I didn't know that when I began publishing my books two years ago. I just knew I had to write, and once I'd written something I had to get my work out there. I had no idea it could lead to anything else.

Here's what's happening. Because I'm an indie author, I have to do a lot of the legwork myself in terms of getting my books into the world. One thing which that entails is book cover design. I've made three book covers now, and that experience has renewed an old interest in photography which has been on my back burner for a lot of years. I wrote about my journey as a photographer last week.

Now three of my paths--writing, photography, and filmmaking--have converged into one, and I can see with clarity, for the first time in years, certain milestones looming ahead of me. I want to keep writing, but I also want to explore those other creative outlets. Through my book cover design, I've been learning a lot about cameras, lighting, and photo editing, which I can use to develop my knowledge of photography to the point that I can consider going professional, which will in turn benefit my writing career as I learn to make better and better book covers. I can also use what I'm learning about still photography to begin exploring filmmaking again. None of this is going to happen overnight, but that's fine. It's a long-term goal, which is what has been missing from my life for far too long.

A Dose of Reality

So I have a new plan for my life. Will it unfold the way I foresee it? I hope so, but my previous experiences have taught me never to assume I'll end up where I think I'm going. Life could throw me another curve ball. Or I could discover that I would rather be doing something else. The most important thing I've learned in all this is to remain open, because there's no telling where I'll end up.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Why I'm Still Embroiled in the Film vs. Digital Debate

My journey as a photographer consists of a long series of starts and stops, with important lessons learned at each stage. Rather than a learning curve, I've experienced a learning staircase. And an irregular one at that.

Phase One: Subject Matter

I hit this phase when I was about ten years old. I became obsessed with taking my little 35mm point and shoot camera with me everywhere and taking pictures of the oddest things. I remember my mom fussing at me because I was wasting film, but in my mind I was creating art. Pretty crappy art, if I'm honest, but we've gotta start somewhere.

My only concern at this stage was what I was photographing. I didn't think about camera angles or lighting or any of that. That stage would come later.

Phase Two: Color

This phase hit when I was in high school. I still had that same point and shoot camera, but I decided I was going to get more sophisticated with my photography. So I loaded a roll of black and white film into my camera, and I was off to the races.

This roll of film was going to revolutionize my photography. My pictures were going to look just like those old pictures I had seen of my grandparents when they were young. They were going to look like the headshots of famous actors from the thirties and forties.

Of course, my pictures didn't look like that. I still had a lot to learn before I could really take a picture that looked just like I wanted it to.

Phase Three: Composition

This phase came in college. I wasn't majoring in photography, but I was still interested, and an awareness of composition was a huge leap for me. I finally realized the importance of camera angles. I realized that pictures of people look better if you get closer to them. I began to understand the rule of thirds.

It was at this time that my parents bought me my first SLR, a Minolta Maxxum QTsi. Now I had a zoom lens! Perfect timing, considering the learning curve (learning step?) I was on. If I couldn't stand as close to my subject as I wanted, I could zoom in. Yay!

Phase Four: Studio Lighting

This occurred right after college, and grew out of the composition phase. Every time I took pictures of people, I wanted to play around with posing them. This led to an interest in portraiture.

To take portraits, I needed studio lighting, so I bought a Novatron Fun Kit, which is one of the cheapest lighting sets you can find. I also had to have a new camera, because I discovered that my entry-level SLR did not have enough manual controls to be used with studio lighting.

My upgraded camera was a Minolta Maxxum 5. I stayed with Minolta for the obvious reason. Lens compatibility. I didn't know at the time that Minolta would be going out of business in just a few short years, which meant I was basically digging myself into a hole with my brand loyalty.

Phase Five: Natural Lighting

This is where I am now. After struggling for a few years after college to get a portrait business off the ground, I gradually gave up on the idea and my cameras have sat idle ever since. But now the interest has been renewed, and what I'm suddenly noticing is sunlight. This started a couple of years ago when I wanted to take a new profile picture for my Facebook page, so I dragged my husband out of the house at seven in the morning to take backlit images of me at sunrise. Here's one picture that resulted from that venture:


My profile picture on this page is another.

That was it. I was in love. Backlighting, or at the least diffused side lighting, was the key to a beautiful photo. Since that picture was taken, I've designed three book covers, two of which required a photograph. Here are the results of that:



The top photo was just a landscape, and I knew I was going to be heavily manipulating the colors, so lighting was not a huge issue, but the bottom photo required a little more care. Yes, it's another backlit shot taken at sunrise. And I think I can safely say that once you've experienced lying on your belly in dewy grass on the side of the road at 7:30 in the morning taking a picture of a hat, you can officially call yourself a photographer. Congratulations! You've arrived.

Phase Six: Media

All of the above photos were taken on my Minolta Maxxum 5 on Fujicolor Superia 400 speed film. That's right, I'm still shooting film, and I'm not even using a professional grade. I'm buying the stuff from Walmart of all places. But I'm gradually becoming aware of the importance of professional film if you want to take a professional photo. I'm considering playing around with some different types.

So Why Film?

Why film indeed? Okay, so if we're talking making a movie, I can see a lot of reasons for continuing to use film. Not that I think it's of superior quality to digital. Today's digital cameras are actually surpassing film when it comes to that. But film does have a distinctive look, and if you like that look and you've got the money, why not use film to shoot your movie?

Still photography is a different story. Especially if you want to get into the portrait business, there are very few good reasons to continue to use film. Black and white photography, used primarily for artistic purposes and not so much commercial, is a different story. But color portraits? Yeah...you seriously need a digital camera.

And yet I'm still using film. Why? It really boils down to one fundamental reason. Cameras are expensive. The DSLR I want costs around $1500 dollars, and I just don't have that much money to drop on something that is, at the moment, only a hobby. Yes, I know that continuing to use film accrues its own expenses, which means that if I do get into professional portraiture, a digital camera will basically pay for itself in a couple of years. It's still a lot of money for me to spend all at once. And because my old camera is a Minolta, I won't even be able to use my lenses without an adapter.

Ah, the joys of pursuing our passions. I'm still not sure where this is going, but for now I'm stuck doing things the old-fashioned way. Which is okay for what I'm doing now, but if I decide to move forward with this, I've got some major decisions to make.  



Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Indie Book of the Month: April 2017

The book I chose this month is Undertow by Christina Morgan.


Okay...this one's going to be a little hard for me. The truth is, I liked this book, but I didn't love it. In fact, I had several issues with it.

What I liked

I liked the pacing. I liked the introduction of little details in the beginning which turned out to be significant later. I'm also a sucker for a good mystery, so I felt compelled to keep reading and find out what, exactly, really did happen to Marissa Taylor. Overall I found it to be an enjoyable read which kept my interest from beginning to end.

The Problems I Had

1st: There are quite a few typos. This is something I'm normally willing to look past because, lord knows, I understand how easy it is to miss those things, especially when you've proofread your book so many times it doesn't even look like words anymore. But this book has a heck of a lot of them. It just needs a couple more read-throughs with the editing glasses on before it's really ready for public consumption.

2nd: There is a recurring grammatical error. I'm always careful to differentiate between typos and errors. To me a typo signifies that the author knows better, but just missed something. An error is an indication that the author does not know what is correct. I only found one major error, but still it bugged me. The author repeatedly used "drug" for the past tense of "drag" instead of the correct "dragged." A small detail, but one that stuck with me nonetheless.

3rd: The book takes place in North Carolina on the Outer Banks. This is, of course, on the East coast, but there are two moments in the book where the narrator describes watching the sunset over the ocean. The sun does not set over the ocean on the East coast. Since it is the Outer Banks, it's possible that the character was actually watching the sunset over Pamlico Sound, but if so that should have been specified.

4th: I questioned the believability of the ending. I won't give out any spoilers, but it just made me scratch my head and wonder, "Is that what would really happen?" I wish it had gone into more detail about the investigation and the trail so I would maybe see some of the evidence and courtroom arguments that would have led to the end result.

Nonetheless, I'm glad I read this book and would definitely recommend it to others. I just felt I needed to point out the above so people will know exactly what they're getting with this book.

Undertow can be purchased on Amazon here.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The X Files Spin-Off That Totally Needs to Happen

I mentioned in last week's post that I recently re-watched the 2008 X Files film I Want to Believe. Well, that whetted my appetite for more of what was once my favorite show, so my husband and I decided to revisit last year's new season. And as I watched it, I had an idea.

A major theme of this latest season is Scully's grief over giving up her son, William, for adoption. Though it doesn't look as though 2017 will give us a season 11, season 10 strongly implied that the story would go on with the search for William playing a central role, much as Mulder's search for his sister was central to the original show. I hope we will see another season and that we will find out what happened to William. But, like I said, all of this has given me an idea. And it's a pretty awesome idea, if I do say so myself.

Wouldn't it be cool if, in conjunction with new X Files episodes featuring Mulder and Scully looking for their long-lost son, we also had a spin-off that was all about William. But--here's the important thing--the audience wouldn't know the show was about William. The audience wouldn't know there was any tie to The X Files at all.

Here's what it would look like: there's this teenage boy, whose name is not William because, naturally, his adoptive parents wanted to give him a new name, who has discovered that he has psychic powers (remember that baby William had special powers on the original show). These powers frighten him, so he asks his parents about them. They refuse to tell him anything, and order him to never, ever use his abilities. But he's a teenage boy, so of course he doesn't obey. Then he becomes obsessed with finding his birth parents. His adoptive parents at first resist this, but as the boy's abilities become more and more frightening, they eventually give in, being as desperate for answers as their son is.

We follow William, or whatever his name is now, for...I don't know...five or six seasons, at the end of which his true identity is revealed. There will be multiple clues along the way. Naturally, The X Files will be airing new seasons concurrently with this new show, and minor characters will make appearances on both. It will be very subtle, but once the truth is revealed it will be so obvious you'll wonder why you didn't see it before. Think of the first time you saw The Sixth Sense, before you knew that...sorry, no spoilers on that one. Not that there are still people in the world who don't know how that movie ends, but still. Anyway, this X Files spin-off will be kind of like that. Anyone who is really paying close attention will pick up on the hints. There will be lots of fan theories that the boy from this show is actually William from The X Files, but no confirmation from the producers until the finale airs. And this show and The X Files will have a joint finale, so there's no doubt as to what's going on. And some people will throw their hands in the air and shout, "Oh my God!" while others clap their friends on the back and say, "I knew it!"

Okay, so maybe I'm a nerd who spends way too much time analyzing my favorite TV shows.

Or maybe the producers of The X Files are reading this blog post as we speak and I'm about to become a millionaire.

It's also possible that it's already happening, I just don't know about it because...well...everything I said in this post.

You have to admit, though, it would be a pretty cool thing to see.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Did You See Samantha Mulder in The X Files: I Want to Believe (2008 Movie)?

I Want to Believe is sort of the X Files' fans' red-headed stepchild. I wouldn't go as far as to call it the Star Trek V of the X Files franchise. It's not a bad movie. It's just not really an X Files movie. It has nothing to do with aliens or UFOs, and therefore does nothing to move the overall plot forward. I guess by the time it was made the producers thought that story had come to its official end, so why keep beating a dead horse. Of course we know now, with the advent of last year's new season that the horse never died. It's, in fact, alive and well, which makes I Want to Believe even more irrelevant than it already was, with the exception of the fact that we get to see how Mulder and Scully's lives have moved on after the finale of the original show.

My husband and I recently re-watched The X Files, including the first movie installment from 1998. But we put off watching the second movie for over a year because we figured: what's the point? Well, we finally got around to watching it last night, and I noticed something really cool.

I thought I was crazy when I first saw it. Didn't even say anything to my husband because I was sure I was wrong. But watch this video, and tell me you don't see what I see:

The X Files: I Want to Believe on YouTube

Sorry I couldn't embed the video in this post. I tried multiple times and it just wasn't working. Don't know why.

I also couldn't find a clip of just the scene I needed, so this is the entire film. But scroll in about nine minutes. Watch closely at 9:34 and tell me what you see. Here's the link again, in its original form in case you're one of those people who is suspicious of clicking on random links you find on people's web pages, just because I really, really want you to see it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycGBZzYX9UQ&t=576s

So? Did you see it? Did the female FBI agent who passes Mulder and Scully in the hallway look familiar to you? Did you wonder why they were looking at her like they recognized her?

Could it maybe be because she's Samantha Mulder?


Okay, not Samantha herself. Just the actress who played her in the early season flashbacks. I did some Googling, and this is what I found:


So it looks like I was right. I even found this picture to prove it:


Pretty cool, huh?

And while we're on the subject of odd things involving X Files actors, isn't it a little ironic that Mulder's sister was played by an actress whose last name was Morley? Only diehard fans will understand that, but I'm scratching my head over here.

Okay, that's all. Just thought I'd share. It's the perfect time of year for finding Easter Eggs, after all.






Sunday, March 12, 2017

TV Viewing Habits: Me Versus My Husband

Couple Bonding

My husband and I watch television together all the time, and while I do have "my" shows and he has "his" shows, still we watch them as a couple. And often discuss them after we watch them. Our discussions can be frustrating for both of us because I generally have all these opinions I want to throw at him, and I expect him to have an equal number of opinions to throw back at me. He usually doesn't, which leads to me going away disappointed and him going away annoyed.

When I Love a Show

If I really love a television show, I'll watch it over and over. My husband likes to do that with movies, but not so much TV shows. It's an odd difference between us.

Because I'm watching my favorite shows numerous times, I generally get a deeper understanding of the characters and the plot than I would otherwise. This leads to some of those opinions I like to throw at my husband. But because he hasn't watched the shows as much as I have, he hasn't had the time to generate many opinions of his own.

A Recent Discussion About One of My Favorite Shows

For those of you who frequent my blog, it's no secret that I love Supernatural. And if you've been a really faithful reader, you may know that seasons one and two are my favorites. The show just went off in odd directions after those early years, and it's never quite been the same. But of the first two seasons, the second is by far the better. And my favorite episode from season two is, in my opinion, one of the bests episodes of any TV show ever.

The episode is "Heart". It aired late in the second season and follows Sam and Dean as they investigate a series of what look like werewolf attacks. They interview the woman who found one of the victims, only to find out that *spoiler alert* she's the werewolf, but has no memory of what she's done. By this point she and Sam have developed a mutual attraction for each other and have entered into a tentative relationship. When they realize what's happening, Sam is the one who has to kill her.

I recently watched this episode for the fourth time. What? I told you I like to re-watch my favorite TV shows. Well, anyway, I watched it for the fourth time in the midst of taking my husband through his second viewing of seasons one and two. Why am I doing that? Because we still watch the new episodes together, and I wanted to show him how much the show has changed since the early days. So we're making our way through the season and we're nearing this episode and I'm going on and on about how it's the best Supernatural episode ever. The best episode of anything ever. Then we finally watch it together.

After it was over, he asked me why I think it's so good. Before launching into my explanation, I asked him if he knew the first rule of good writing (yeah, Supernatural used to be a well-written show before it started contradicting itself every other week). I don't remember his answer, but I think it may have had something to do with grammar or punctuation. I told him no. The first rule of good writing is "show, don't tell". All writers are familiar with that one. It pretty much makes or breaks a story.

Season two of Supernatural is a prime example of "show, don't tell". While in later episodes the bonding moments between Sam and Dean have come off as forced and overly sappy, in season two they were genuine and highly effective. Why? Because we'd been on the journey with them and felt everything they felt along the way.

The season begins with the death of their father. This sparks a role reversal between the brothers, with Sam now being the one who wants to make Dad proud and Dean wanting to say "to hell with it" and go off and find a normal life somewhere. Trying to force a character arc like that can be awkward as all get out, but if it follows naturally from early events, it's quite effective. In this case it followed naturally. Never once did I feel Sam and Dean were stepping out of character. The way they each dealt with John's death was believable to me.

It's eventually revealed that the reason Dean is so fed up with hunting is because John told him something disturbing right before he died. He told him if he couldn't save Sam, he'd have to kill him. Dean carries that burden all through the season. We see him struggle with it. We see his fear that he won't be able to save Sam. We see that he's still really chasing after his father's approval, but with John gone, the only family he has to cling to is Sam, and he clings to him tenaciously. And it's all very believable because we understand everything he's been through up to that point.

We also watch Sam struggling with the concept that he could turn into something evil. That when he was a baby a demon chose him for some sinister purpose and while he has no idea what that purpose is, he's sure he wants no part of it. Again, we suffer with him along the way.

Then we get close to the end of the season, and we have "Heart". Okay, so maybe doing an episode where Sam's love interest turns into something evil, thereby mirroring what Sam fears is going to happen to him, was a little forced. But you know what? This was before Supernatural started doing those kinds of episodes every dadgum week, so it worked back then. The writing leading up to it made us ripe for the emotional roller coaster of that episode.

"Heart" begins light, then gets more and more intense as the story progresses. Because we know what Sam and Dean are going through, we know just how hard this case is for them. Because instead of Sam having to kill Madison because of what she's become, it could very well be Dean having to kill Sam because of what's he's become. And while Sam has a harder time with the case itself, since he's the one who's become intimate with Madison, Dean's the one who wrestles the most with the broader implications of what they have to do. That's why the camera stays fixed on Dean when Sam goes to do what must be done. Because the audience knows, from everything that's come before, exactly what Dean is thinking. He's sad that Sam has to kill someone he cares about, but he's also imagining the day he'll have to do the same thing to Sam. It's also strongly implied that he has a certain admiration for Sam for making what must have been one of the hardest decisions of his life. He knows he won't be able to make the same decision when the time comes. It marks another shift in Dean's character. Things had always been cut and dried for him, as far as the ethics of monster hunting was concerned. Now he's questioning everything.

My Husband's Response

So I finished telling my husband all that, and he said, "I just thought Sam was sad that he had to kill his girlfriend."

"Seriously!" I wailed in response. "You couldn't see all that other crap they were carrying with them as they wrestled with that case?"

He shrugged. "I don't watch television shows and memorize everything the characters have ever thought, said, or felt."

Then I asked, "How do you enjoy watching television if you don't think about all that stuff?"

And my husband said, "How do you enjoy life if you are constantly thinking about that stuff?"

I had to think about that one for a while. When I finally came up with a response, I said, "I spend a lot of time alone thinking about the emotions I'm feeling and what factors in my life may have caused me to feel that way."

To which he replied, "Well, I don't do that. I'm a man."



Sunday, March 5, 2017

Indie Book of the Month: March 2017

A Cozy Mystery

Another departure from my usual reading habits. Don't get me wrong, now. I adore mysteries. I just don't typically go for the cozy variety. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I tend to steer clear of fiction that is too formulaic. If there are certain events which have to happen (for example, discovering the dead body of a prominent member of society) and it has to happen at a certain time, and there are certain events that must come next in order to be true to the genre, I generally won't enjoy the read.

I also like to stay away from books that are too light. When I read (or watch a movie or television show) I want to be dragged on an emotional rollercoaster so intense it leaves me breathless at the end. If I'm not pulled deep enough into the characters' minds, if I don't feel their pain and their joy, if the pathos of the story does not give me that fluttery feeling deep down in my gut, I won't experience the catharsis I was seeking and won't enjoy the book (or the movie or the television show).

So imagine my surprise when I found myself totally engrossed in a toe-tinglingly cozy mystery in my quest to find my next Book of the Month.

The Book


Smugglers & Scones by Morgan C. Talbot. What a fun book! Really, I should revamp my criteria for a good read. Just because it doesn't leave me weeping by the end doesn't mean I can't enjoy it. And I really did. I loved this book.

I said in last month's post that it is often the world-building that draws me into a book. That was certainly true of this one. I loved the description of the old house, the detailed backstory about the famous author, the quaint seaside town, the quirky cast of characters, and the food. All of it. I loved all of it.

I totally want to spend the night in the Moorehaven Bed and Breakfast Inn. The only people who are allowed to stay there are mystery authors, but that shouldn't be a problem for me. I've written one mystery novel, so that counts, right? I hope so. Ms. Talbot, can you please give me Pippa Winterbourne's number? Or does the B&B have a website I can look up? A vacation in the Pacific Northwest sounds like just what I need right now.

I also craved scones the whole time I was reading this book. I craved them for about three days before I finally realized there are recipes at the end of the book. Yeah, you heard me. Scone recipes right there in the book! And, yep, I baked them. And they were delicious. I'd rather be eating them in the dining room of a historic bed and breakfast which was once the home of a famous author, but eating them in my own kitchen wasn't a terrible experience. Again, Ms. Talbot, that phone number, please? I need to book a room at this hotel. Now.

Okay, so the house is gorgeous and the food is delicious. What about story? Does it deliver? Absolutely! But it's the world-building that makes it so fantastic. I think that's often true of fiction that falls into one of these limited genres. You know the mystery is going to play out in a fairly predictable pattern. What makes it unique is the setting, the characters, and the backstory. And all those things came together nicely by the end. Things which were mentioned casually in early chapters became significant later on, rewarding the reader for paying attention at the beginning. And though the progression of events was predictable enough to qualify the book as a cozy mystery, the actual details of the mystery managed to take me by surprise.

If you're a cozy mystery fan, you should definitely check this book out. Even if you're not (remember, I don't often read cozies) you should still give it a chance. It won't disappoint.