Thursday, August 17, 2017

Coming to Terms With Social Anxiety

You're five years old and it's difficult to look people in the eye. Everyone says, "Look at me when I'm talking to you," and you wonder if you'll ever be able to do what everyone else can do. But then someone tells you, "Relax. You're just a baby. It's a phase. You'll grow out of it."

And lo and behold you do. Now you're ten years old and looking people in the eye is a piece of cake. But it's hard to speak above a whisper when in the presence of someone you don't know very well. Everyone says, "Speak up," and you wonder if you'll ever be able to do what everyone else can do. But then someone tells you, "Relax. You're just a kid. It's a phase. You'll grow out of it."

And lo and behold you do. Now you're fifteen years old and you're not afraid to be loud and proud. But showing emotion is the most frightening thing you can imagine because letting someone into your head gives them power over you and you're not comfortable letting another person have that much power over you. Everyone says, "Would it kill you to smile now and then?" and you wonder if you'll ever be able to do what everyone else can do. But then someone tells you, "Relax. You're just a teenager. It's a phase. You'll grow out of it."

And lo and behold you do. Now you're twenty years old and you've found your smile. You've even learned to exaggerate your reactions for the benefit of friends and family. But picking up the phone and ordering a pizza sends your body into fight or flight. Everyone says, "Just get over yourself. You want the pizza, just order the darn pizza," and you wonder if you'll ever be able to do what everyone else can do. But then someone tells you, "Relax. You're young and this adulting thing can be scary when you're just starting out. But it's really just a phase. You'll grow out of it."

And lo and behold you do. But fast forward a few years. Now you're thirty-eight years old and your kid has a birthday coming up and it's your job to call your kid's friends' parents and invite them to the party. But the mere thought of it makes you sick to your stomach. In fact, it makes you want to crawl into bed, curl up in the fetal position, pull the quilt over your head, and not come out until even your kid has forgotten about the birthday. And because you are no longer a baby, you are no longer a kid, you are no longer a teenager, and you are no longer a young adult, there is no wise mentor to help you get through it. There is no one to tell you it's just a phase. Because it's not just a phase. At thirty-eight years old you have outgrown everything you're going to outgrow and what you're left with is simply who you are. And that thought turns your blood to ice water because you know those birthdays are going to keep coming and your responsibility for planning the parties is not going to go away and for the rest of your life you're going to feel this way because it's just who you are. And somehow you have to accept that.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Bullies, Serial Killers, and the Only David Lynch Movie My Husband Will Watch

No, Hubs, I'm Not a Serial Killer

It was my husband who suggested Dexter as the next show we should watch together. It was also my husband who decided to become alarmed when I actually liked the show. Okay, so maybe the word "like" doesn't fully encapsulate my feelings. I didn't just like Dexter. I became completely obsessed with it.

What caused my husband's alarm was the fact that he knows what it means when I fall so fully into a TV show. It means I'm strongly identifying with one of the characters. And in the case of Dexter, I was identifying with a serial killer. One conversation I had with my husband went something like this:

"Why are you so obsessed with that show?"

"Because...I feel like Dexter is me."

(with one eyebrow raised) "So you're a serial killer?"

(sigh) "You just don't get it!"

What Dexter is Really About

At its heart, Dexter is not a show about a serial killer. That bit is just the unique twist thrown in to attract an audience. But Dexter's character represents more than just someone with an unquenchable urge to kill. He represents anyone who feels the need to hide who they are out of fear that if they ever let anyone see their true selves, they'd be rejected. Yes, Dexter is a serial killer. That is the thing he's hiding. But he could also be:

The regular church goer who loves God, loves worship, loves the feeling of community found in the tight-knit church family, but who also believes in evolution and is opposed to the death penalty and feels the need to keep those opinions quiet for fear of being labeled ungodly.

The teen who is terrified of what will happen if the other members of his basketball team find out he's gay (yeah, I stole that from American Crime).

The popular girl who doesn't want her friends to find out she regularly watches Star Trek.

Or maybe just an intensely private person who doesn't like showing emotion publically because it's uncomfortable to let other people into his inner world.

Dexter, under the guise of being a show about a serial killer, really represents all of those groups to such a degree that I find nothing alarming whatsoever about a person identifying with its bloodthirsty protagonist. It took a while for me to get my husband to see it this way, though.

The Kinds of Stories My Husband Finds Moving

Desperately needing to make him understand, I asked the hubs if he'd ever so strongly identified with a fictional character he felt the story could have been written about him. He nodded and went on to explain how he wept bitterly the first time he saw The Elephant Man (the ongoing debate in our household about David Lynch's merits as a filmmaker could fill another blog post by itself, but suffice it to say that my husband pretty much abhors David Lynch...with the exception of The Elephant Man).

Okay. The Elephant Man. Now we were getting somewhere. I knew why he liked that movie. It was for some of the same reasons I liked Dexter. My husband and I were both picked on when we were in school. So I latched onto that. Surely we would find some common ground here. Surely that Aha! moment was within our reach.

After a few minutes of conversation, a fundamental difference between me and my husband emerged. Yes, we were both picked on in school, but for different reasons. My husband was picked on by wealthy kids who made fun of his bargain store clothes. Then in middle school he put on a little weight and was picked on for that. By high school he had developed an acute case of low self-esteem which typically manifested itself whenever he tried talking to girls.

I, on the other hand, had a different school experience. In elementary school I was teased relentlessly because someone saw me eating a booger in first grade (I was six...don't judge me). In middle school, in the early nineties, I made the mistake of telling someone I mistook for a friend that I liked the Beatles. This "friend" started calling me on the phone in the evenings just so she could sing "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" at the top of her lungs while laughing hysterically. By high school I was a book nerd and a sci-fi fan, two things that were perfectly acceptable within certain social circles, but not something mainstream teens would have understood.

In Conclusion

So there it was. The crux of our problem. Yes, we were both teased in school, but the reasons for the teasing were quite different. My husband was teased for who he was on the outside, so he came to value the philosophy of not judging a book by its cover. Of taking the time to get to know someone first, because it's what's on the inside that counts.

In my case, it was precisely what was on the inside that caused all my problems. Any time I tried to let someone trust someone enough to show my true backfired. I would be teased. Ridiculed. Rejected. So I developed the philosophy that the only way to survive in the world is to take who you really are and tuck it deep down, so far out of sight that no one can ever see it, because otherwise everyone will reject you. And for that reason, I identified with Dexter.

So you see, hubs, I'm not a serial killer after all. Just a nerd. And I'm learning to be okay with that.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Indie Book of the Month: August 2017

Home to Roost by Chauncey Rogers.

I don't know where to start with this book. First I suppose I should say that this is probably the most well-written indie book I've read since I started doing these reviews. I think I found two typos in the entire book (I've read traditionally published books with more than that) and no grammatical errors whatsoever. There may have been a couple of instances of head-hopping, but only when the narrative stepped back from deep 3rd POV to a slightly more omniscient POV, and it was pulled off effectively so as not to come across as a newbie mistake. The author does an excellent job of "show, don't tell", pulling the reader deep into the psyches of the characters, particularly that of Brad the rooster.

But I'd be short-changing this book if I said it was the most well-written indie book I've read and left it there. Really, this is one of the most well-written books I've read period. Because the quality of the writing goes far beyond just style. This is an amazing story. A dark story. A frightening one. One that pulls you in deep and doesn't let you go. So much happens in this book, and the reader is left wondering, along with the character upon whom the final scene closes, "Why?" Why did it all happen? What went wrong.

The events of this story have layers upon layers of meaning. I wonder what the author's goal was in writing it. Is it a critique of society, using the social structure of the henhouse as a metaphor for our own lives. Is it therefore a warning against becoming so set in our ways that we can't accept new ideas? Or are we supposed to see it from the opposite point of view? Are we to blame Brad and his rebellious nature for the bad things that happen? Or perhaps the thing in the woods is meant to be the devil or some other equally ominous entity and the author's intent was to make us wonder whether evil originates in our own hearts or somewhere else. Do we let it in, or is in us from the beginning?

This is one of the most thought-provoking books I've read in a while, and it's a refreshing change from the lighter sorts of stories I've been reading of late. I highly recommend this book.

Please grab a copy of this book and read it. You'll really be missing something great if you don't:

Thursday, July 27, 2017

What I Learned When I Got My Photography Studio Up and Running Again

Completely Obsessed

I've written about photography a lot lately. It's not a new interest. When I graduated from college back in 2001 with a degree in Music Education, I was seriously considering abandoning my music career and applying for a job as an assistant to a local photographer, from whom I hoped to gradually learn the ins and outs of the trade and then branch out on my own somewhere down the road. Well, life had some other ideas in mind, but a considerable amount of photography has nonetheless been a part of whatever phase of life I've found myself in.

I'm finally getting serious about it now. Okay...yeah...I was serious about it back in my early twenties too, but at that time there was a heck of a lot I didn't know. And, more importantly, I didn't know I didn't know it. When you don't know something, you can learn. When you don't know you don't know something, you're stuck in one place. In my twenties I was stuck. Now, I'm able to move forward.

Trapped in the Last Century

If you've read my previous photography posts, you know I'm trying to save up the money for a digital camera. For the time being, I'm still shooting on 35mm. While I crave the versatility that digital photography will give me, still I'm grateful for the lessons learned while shooting film. Because if you can learn to consistently take good pictures on a film camera, you can take good pictures on any camera. And in my most recent experiment with studio photography, I learned a good deal.

Some Things I Learned

First of all, I learned that if your husband has a big gray beard and carries around a little extra weight, and you try to achieve a "film noir" look with your lighting setup, all your friends will think you're married to Orson Welles:

Also, if you're trying to emulate film noir and you want to get that cool hat brim shadow over the eyes, you need a hat with a bigger brim than the one we had:

Some lighting effects require three lamps. If you only have two, an accessory hot shoe flash pointed directly at your subject can provide an effective fill light:

I also threw my husband behind the camera so I could step out front for a while. The things you learn when you look at pictures of yourself are quite different from the things you learn photographing someone else. For instance:

Hard lighting (we were going for "film noir", remember) brings out every crease and wrinkle on your face:

Diffused lighting, on the other hand, does a lovely job of smoothing out unflattering lines:

When you're doing self-portraits, you can't see yourself, so make sure you ask the guy behind the camera (aka, the husband) to check your teeth for lipstick stains:

If you want a backlit image, be careful where you position your lights. If they are too close to the subject, it could have disastrous consequences. Oh...and wrinkles...yeesh! I swear it's just the lighting; I don't usually look like this. Really, I don't.

And finally, if you are a blue-eyed redhead and you put on loads of makeup (again, film noir) then open your eyes really wide for the camera:

You find you bear a startling resemblance to Lucille Ball:

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Does Every Story Have to Make a Social Statement?

Getting My Feathers Ruffled

I'll go ahead and be completely honest. This blog post is in reaction to a new review for Primogénito that came rolling in this week. The reviewer praised me for my realistic and sensitive depiction of PTSD, but went on to suggest that Damian's drive to overcome his victim status by trying to be the strong one and the protector in his marriage perpetuates long-held stereotypes of what men are supposed to be in our society. Hmm...more on that later.

An Opinionated Blogger

I've read over some of the other posts on that particular website, and the reviewer seems to be highly sensitive to gender stereotypes, kindly--and sometimes not so kindly--pointing them out wherever they can be found. Okay. Fair enough. Everyone's entitled to their opinion, and everyone has certain things they want to see in a story. But does every story have to live up to that standard? Let's talk for a minute.

How My Background Colors My Stories

I admit, my first two books were written from the perspective of the traditional nuclear family. It's natural that I would write them this way. After all, it's what I've lived. I grew up in a stable home with two parents who never got divorced. My husband grew up in a stable home with two parents who never got divorced. Now, with our own kids, we are that stable home with two parents who have been married for 18 years and have no intention of getting divorced. So that model features prominently in a lot of what I write. Not that I'm trying to make that into a social statement. It's just the world I know, and we're all supposed to write what we know, right?

At the same time, though, I'm not married (pun intended) to the idea of writing about happy nuclear families. After all, Road to Yesterday is a story of four siblings whose parents have a long history of adultery and drug addiction, to the point that the two younger children end up being raised by their oldest brother. And of the four siblings, only one really has any goals involving a wife and kids and a cute house in the suburbs. So I am capable of stepping outside my own bubble and writing about something else. And since Road to Yesterday has gotten some nice reviews, I can conclude that I did an okay job writing outside the realm of my own personal experience.

Back to Primogénito to the idea that Damian's character perpetuates gender stereotypes. I have several thoughts on this.

First, I don't believe the reviewer's assessment was entirely accurate. One statement in the review was, "While I understood that he was trying to overcome his victim status and not let that define him, I wish these ideas could’ve been pushed further to avoid the typical stereotypes of what a man must be." The thing is, Damian does work through those emotions. At the beginning of the book, the biggest issue in his and Jenn's relationship is that he's never opened up to her about what happened to him. He's always suppressed his feelings on the subject around her, which has left her feeling excluded from a huge portion of his life. Then, half-way through the book, he finally opens up and tells her everything. And at the end we see him crying in her arms, allowing her to comfort him while he reveals his vulnerable side. If that isn't him learning to shed his preconceived notions of what a man should be, I don't know what is. This is just my own opinion, but it seems that "pushing further", as the reviewer suggested, would take these scenes from poignant to sappy, and no one wants to see that.

At the same time, though, I'm tempted to ask: So what if Damian carries around stereotypical notions of what it means to be a man? Can't that just be an aspect of who he is? After all, a lot of men go through life believing they are supposed to be the providers and the protectors. That they are supposed to be in control of their emotions. Some take it to an unhealthy extreme, but they are nevertheless a very real part of the world we live in. And maybe they do need to learn to let go of some of those preconceived notions, but the question I'm posing today is this: Does a story have to address those issues? After all, stories imitate life, and there are a lot of people in real life who never work through their issues. And a lot of people are happy just the way they are, whether they be stereotypical or atypical. Can't those things sometimes be presented in a story, even if the deeper issues involved are never probed?

Yes, if the main purpose of the story is to shake our worldview and make us look at things in a different way, then all issues must be explored. But I write paranormal fiction. My stories are about the mystery, the action, and the hint (or sometimes more than a hint) of creep factor. I'm not trying to change the world. I just want to provide entertainment.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

My Thoughts on Twin Peaks: The Return

Everybody's Got an Opinion

If you follow the online discussion of the new Twin Peaks, you know it can turn nasty in a heartbeat. Mainly it's the staunch fans of the new show complaining about those who dare to comment that they're not impressed. I thought I'd try to offer up a slightly more objective review.

Who's Loving The Return?

Twin Peaks: The Return is the David Lynch fan's dream come true. Every week a new hour of stunning Lynch cinematography and frightening Lynch strangeness. The more "normal" episodes--the ones featuring a cohesive story that actually makes sense in a conventional way--are reminiscent of Blue Velvet. These are usually followed by episodes which have something more of an Eraserhead feel to them. Then there are episodes that fall somewhere in between. I guess I'd call these the Mullholland Drive episodes.

It's the Eraserhead-esque installments which spark the most controversy amongst fans. Hard-core David Lynch fans think they're the best thing they've ever seen on the small screen. Fans who loved the original Twin Peaks but could basically pass on anything else Lynch ever put out into the world come to the end of these episodes with a general feeling of, "What the $@&# did I just watch?" And then both groups of fans head to the internet to battle it out.

My Thoughts

Since I have a mild interest in filmmaking, I do enjoy the more artsy episodes simply from a cinematography perspective. And as for the more mainstream episodes, well I'm certainly glad to finally know what happened to Agent Cooper. But that doesn't mean I think the new Twin Peaks is perfect.

Basically, Twin Peaks: The Return is not Twin Peaks. Not really. What was the original show about? The town of Twin Peaks, of course. It was a show about a quaint little town with a bunch of quirky residents doing some very odd things. The new show does have its fair share of quirky characters, but the majority of the action has been taken out of the town of Twin Peaks. This is certainly not what fans were expecting when their favorite show returned after a nearly thirty year hiatus.

Twin Peaks was about trees. It was about spooky things happening in the woods and owls which were not what they seemed. Where are the trees and the woods and the owls in the new Twin Peaks?

Twin Peaks was a soap opera. Remember on the original show how everyone was always sitting at home watching the same daytime soap which happened to correlate pretty well with what was actually going on in the town? This was a concept which originally appeared in Blue Velvet. Jeffrey's mother and aunt are always shown sitting in their perfect suburban house watching a movie which showcases the dark underbelly of society. Meanwhile, Jeffrey is out discovering that same dark underbelly in the real world. In Blue Velvet it was some film noir flick that was always on the TV because what was happening just out of sight was a real-life version of film noir. On Twin Peaks it was a soap opera because that was what everyone's lives had become. Everyone was married, but having an affair with someone else. There were the two rich families, the Packards and the Hornes, who between the two of them owned pretty much the whole town. Soap fans will recognize this plot device. Remember the Lewises and the Spauldings on Guiding Light? The Newmans and the Abbots on The Young and the Restless? That concept was applied to the original Twin Peaks, but is missing from The Return.

Finally, Twin Peaks was about coffee and donuts and cherry pie. I think I've seen one donut on The Return, I can't remember anyone eating pie, and Agent Cooper is the only person who drinks coffee. Yes, these are minor details, but they are minor details which played a pretty big role on the original show, and I miss them.

In Conclusion

By all means watch the new Twin Peaks, but watch it expecting something completely new and original. Don't expect a continuation of your favorite nineties prime-time drama, because that's not what it is.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Indie Book of the Month: July 2017

Under Midnight Lights by Bree M. Lewandowski. It should come as no surprise that I chose this one. It is the sequel to Under Winter Lights, which was my pick for my first ever Indie Book of the Month back in January. I knew I wanted to read the second installment, and I hoped Ms. Lewandowski would return to submit it so I could feature it as another book of the month, so when she did my choice was obvious.

The first book in this series took me by surprise by making me love a romance novel. It was able to do that by being much more than just a sweet love story. It's also the story of a young dancer fighting for her career. As it did in the first installment, ballet takes center stage in this book. I loved reading all the details about rehearsals and performances. I even enjoyed reading about the costume fittings. Having started ballet lessons late in life (my mid-thirties) I have a rudimentary understanding of the art form. Just enough to be fascinated by all the detailed descriptions in this series. While the first book focused on The Nutcracker, a ballet I think we're all familiar with, this one mentioned ballets I'd never heard of before, and I'm not ashamed to say I looked a few of them up on YouTube.

As for the romance itself, that part of it was also wrapped up in the dance aspects of the story. Should Martina follow her dreams or follow her heart? Or is it possible to do both? Does a relationship with Maraav mean having to leave her first love, ballet, behind? She struggles with this question all through the book, and without giving away too much, I can say that I found the ending quite satisfying.

Again, I can't recommend these books heartily enough, and can't wait to see what's next for this author.

The book is available on Amazon.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Finding Inspiration In the Oddest Places

Not Really a New Thing

Fiction has always inspired me. Books. Movies. TV shows. And I don't just mean it inspires me to write my own stories. It inspires me in my daily life. Delving deep into the lives of a cluster of fictional characters awakens in me a desire to make my own life, and the lives of those around me, a little better.

This has always been the case. In fact, in the past I've gone out of my way to read books and watch TV shows which I thought would spur me on to greater contentment in my life. What I've discovered is that this kind of thing can't be forced. I can't go looking for inspiration. It has to find me. And sometimes it finds me in the most surprising places.

The Inspiration I Never Saw Coming

I've recently been watching Six Feet Under. Talk about a show that should not have inspired me to do anything! I mean, the whole premise of the show centers around a seriously messed up family full of messed up people living messed up lives. These characters go through some truly awful crap, and they don't usually do the best job of handling their responses to all the awful crap they have to go through. What about these characters could possibly inspire me?

The answer is that, while the characters' lives are significantly more complicated than the average person's life, they're all going through things that, on a certain level, I can identify with. And while their reactions are often far from saintly, sometimes they see the light and they do the right thing. Or at least they want to do the right thing, whether it works out for them in the end or not. And this constant struggle to figure out the complexities of life makes me want to get my own affairs in order so that maybe I won't have to go through all the strife the people on this show experience.

Finding the Best In Everyone

I don't really have a favorite character on Six Feet Under, which is odd for me. Normally at the top of my list of criteria for liking a show is finding a character I just can't get enough of. Okay...normally it means finding an attractive male character I can fangirl. Don't judge me.

This show is different. I'm involved in all of their stories. And while they all make decisions which have tragic consequences that I can see coming from a mile away, still I can sympathize and identify with each and every character. It's like my personality has been shattered, and the fractured pieces fell into this show, each one showing up as a different character. There seems to be a little bit of me in each of them, so when they struggle to find meaning in their lives, it mirrors my own struggles.

Brenda: I probably identify with her the least, but I can understand her feelings of unworthiness. I understand what she's feeling when she wonders whether she deserves to be happy. Seeing her finally take control of her life in the final seasons gives me hope. If she can do it, anyone can.

Nate: Another character I don't strongly identify with, but still he inspires me. He goes from being completely lost to finding satisfaction in the day to day tasks of being a father and a husband. Again, if he can do it, anyone can.

Lisa: What a beautiful character. She is not so much a reflection of who I am as she is a reflection of who I want to be. She has a quiet strength to her that I can only hope to aspire to. She knows who she is and she lives her life in accordance with her own convictions.

Ruth: Ruth suffers an identity crisis after her husband's death, and her quest to find herself is something I think a lot of people have experienced. What inspires me about her is that through it all she hangs on to the belief that the most important things in her life are the people she loves.

David: Boy howdy, do I ever identify with this character. His lack of self-confidence, his fear of speaking up for himself, his worry that he'll never be truly loved for who he is mirrors my own struggles to accept myself and establish my place in the world. He inspires me by holding onto his faith in God throughout all the suffering he endures on the show.

Claire: Claire is the other character I can relate to the most. If David represents the outward part of me, Claire represents the part that I hold inside, afraid to show to the world. I share her creative spirit and her desire to live her life in search of beauty. But while Claire openly embraces her artist identity, I have a tendency to hide mine away. Art is such a personal thing, it's hard to put it out in the world for all to see. Claire has no qualms about putting herself out there, and she inspires me to do the same.

What Have I Been Inspired to Do?

Ruth has inspired me to spend more quality time with my husband and children. Lisa has inspired me to pursue a healthier lifestyle. Claire has inspired me to see beauty in everything, and to make sure I capture some of that beauty in an artistic way. I don't know that the other characters have motivated me to any specific action, but they have all taught me to keep pressing forward. To look for the good even when life seems to be showing me the bad.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Do People Mistrust Introverts?

A Common Perception?

My husband and I have been binge-watching Dexter lately. We have made it to the fourth season, and Dexter is now married to Rita. A huge chunk of Dexter's time in season four is devoted to finding some precious alone-time in the midst of an overwhelming amount of marital bliss. The implication, of course, is that serial killers are all loners and since Dexter is a serial killer he needs to spend an unusual amount of time alone.

Hitting a Little Too Close to Home

It seems to be a common stereotype: that there's something unhealthy or even creepy about spending too much time alone. There's that whole "it's the quiet ones you have to watch out for" mentality that seems to be, well, everywhere. You see it a lot on TV. The guy who lives alone and keeps to himself turns out to have a freezer full of human entrails which he plans to cook and serve at the restaurant where he works. There's also the "crazy cat lady" stereotype. You know, the woman who was too nuts to be able to keep a husband, so now she lives alone in her cat-pee soaked house and knits all day. Oh yeah, and when one of her cats dies she has it stuffed so she can put it beside her bed and look at it while she falls asleep at night. There are other "loner" stereotypes out there, but I won't name them all. I'm sure your mind will be able to fill in the blanks on its own.

What bothers me about this is that I'm one of those loners. I was the kid who was always in my room playing by myself. So much so that my mom and my grandma would sit together and speak in hushed tones about how unhealthy it was for me to always be by myself in my room with the door closed. I think it was the closed door that raised the most red flags with my family. Not that I was doing anything my parents wouldn't have approved of. I was really a pretty well-behaved child. But they assumed I must be up to no good if I needed to hide what I was doing from everybody else.

The truth is I was just an incredibly private person. I didn't want my parents to see me dancing in front of my mirror to my favorite song. I didn't want them to catch me re-reading a favorite chapter from one of my favorite books for the hundredth time. I didn't want an audience while I experimented for hours on end with new hairstyles. I wanted to do all that stuff far away from the prying eyes of my family and anyone else who might be looking.

An Introvert For Life

I still value that level of privacy. I usually try to be the first one up in the my house in the morning so I can enjoy an hour or so of blessed alone time. What do I do with this alone time? Sometimes I check my Facebook feed. Sometimes I watch television. I might read. Or write. Or squeeze in a little exercise. It doesn't matter what I'm doing. The point is I want to do it alone. I need to do it alone. If I can't have at least a little bit of time in the day to be alone, it makes me feel crazy.

Society's Reaction

Have you ever been in a group of people that included an introvert? Chances are you have. They're everywhere, after all. Have you ever seen that introvert go off and sit in some quiet place all alone? Again, chances are you have. What is your initial reaction when that happens? Do you assume the person is upset or angry with you? Do you feel an obligation to go talk to that person because obviously no one actually wants to sit alone when there's comradery to be had?

Don't get me wrong...sometimes people do excuse themselves from a group because they are feeling sad, or because someone said something they found offensive. Sometimes the person sitting alone actually is hoping you'll come over and try to talk it out. But, speaking as an introvert, I can tell you right now that most if the time if I'm sitting by myself I'm just enjoying the beautiful surroundings and taking a moment to get lost in my own thoughts. And, for me personally, if I really were upset you wouldn't see me sitting by myself because I'd probably be locked in a bathroom or tucked out of sight in some other safe place where no one could see me cry. Because, again, I'm a private person and I don't want the world watching all of that.

What do you think? Does society view introverts with suspicion, or am I just overreacting to something I saw on TV?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Overused Trope I Just Can't Get Enough Of

Not Everyone Will Agree With Me

One of the few scathing reviews I've read of the Harry Potter books slammed them for basically telling a "chosen one" story, claiming that that particular plot device has been used so many times no one wants to read about it anymore. I, and quite a few other Harry Potter fans, beg to differ. If done well, the chosen one trope can make for some pretty good entertainment.

I loved Harry Potter. Okay, so those books have a good deal more to recommend them than just the fact that they involve a "chosen one". World-building being at the top of that list. But I still like the chosen one aspect of the story. I also liked that aspect of The Matrix, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Ender's Game, and the list goes on.

Figuring Out an Ongoing Mystery

I've written multiple times that seasons 1 and 2 are my favorite seasons of Supernatural. Now I think I'm finally figuring out the primary reason why. It's because in the first two seasons of the show, Sam is the chosen one. Everything bad that's happening to the brothers is all about Sam. He was born with an important destiny. Okay, so the same idea was used throughout seasons 4 and 5 as well, but it was different. It wasn't just Sam who had the great destiny. It was Dean as well. It was like the writers felt sorry for Dean because Sam got so much attention in the first two seasons, so they gave him some great important task to complete so he wouldn't get jealous. Well it didn't work for me. There can only be one chosen one. After season 2, Sam was no longer the only one who was special, and I didn't care for that.

A Lifelong Attraction to the Trope

Maybe it's my Christian upbringing. After all, I've spent my life going to church once a week to celebrate the world's most famous chosen one. And Jesus is not the only story in the Bible of someone who was destined for greatness from the day he was born. There's also David. And Moses. Samuel. Isaac. Again, the list goes on and on. So maybe my love of these types of stories comes from my belief that God has a plan. That he calls us to do great things in the world.

I could also be wishing that I had some important destiny awaiting me, so when I see that destiny achieved, by someone who in the beginning is just an average guy, in a book or movie, I get to live vicariously through that character and that feels good. Who knows. I just know I like it.

My Own Version of It

I think this comes out to some degree in my own writing. Though I've never written the "reluctant hero saves the world" trope, still the heroes in my stories are the only people who are able to resolve the conflict. David in Amelia's Children is the only one who can solve the murder mystery because he has a psychic connection to the killer. Damian has to be the one who defeats the bad guys in Primogénito because he is the firstborn son of a firstborn son, and that is how the magic is passed down in his family. Road to Yesterday may deviate from this format a bit, but still there's the idea that the entire purpose of Alex's life is to save the life of his brother in the wake of a devastating car accident. Of course, the ending goes off in a slightly different direction, but the hint of the chosen one trope is still there.

So there you have it. My dark little literary secret. Do you have one of your own? I'd love to read about it in a comment.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

What Made 70s Movies Look So 70s? Part 2: Some Answers!

Years of Wondering

I encourage you to read the previous post I wrote on this topic, where I discussed everything I already knew about 70s movies, but lamented that there was this whole set of information out there that I had been unable to find. Basically, my lingering questions revolved around the use of cameras and film. Was there something different about the shooting process in the 70s that gave the movies their distinctive look? I had done numerous Google searches which had all turned up nothing. Then I finally stumbled upon some real answers.

Finding the Correct Search Words

I had googled every conceivable combination of words related to 70s cinema. Or at least I thought I had. But then one day I decided to type in "70s cinematography", something I hadn't thought to search before. One of the first links which showed up was this one. I'm linking to it because it contains a lot more detail than I'm ready to provide here. After all, I'm not an expert on the subject, and I don't want to put wrong information out there. Just follow the link, then scroll down to the response by David Mullen, and there you will find information about 70s movies that you never knew you wanted to know.

It Was the Film After All

No, it wasn't just the film that gave 70s movies their "look". If you read that earlier post, you'll know about some other trends that were popular in the cinematography world during that decade. But, as I stated in that article, those trends did not explain everything I was noticing about 70s movies. There was more going on, and most of it related to the film stock itself. Here are just a few things I've found.

The Death of Technicolor

Do you know what Technicolor was? Or were you like me? Did you grow up hearing that word, and seeing it in the credits of old movies, but never had a clue what it actually meant? If you already know this information, just ignore me while I show off my previous ignorance. For those of you who are just like me, keep reading. It's pretty fascinating.

Technicolor was not just a fancy term filmmakers applied to movies shot in color. It was a very specific process for making a movie. Here's an interesting link to some basic information about what Technicolor was. My understanding, and true film nerds can correct me if I get any of this wrong, is that the process employed special cameras which recorded three different light beams, one red, one blue, and one green, onto three different reels of black and white film. Then the three films were processed and made into three black and white prints. Then the prints were colored with dye which corresponded with the color light they recorded. Finally the three different color films were layered on top of each other to create a color movie.

My mind was blown. They were making color movies on black and white film? How did I never know that? How many other people out there never knew that? Does anyone who is not a filmmaker or a colossal nerd know that? Anyway, it's just about the coolest thing I've ever read. Even surpassing my amazement when I finally found out how filmmakers synced the soundtrack to the film reel, and that blew my mind too, I must say.

So Technicolor had a certain look to it. It is often referred to as "glorious Technicolor" because of the vivid hues the process was able to produce on a movie screen. But Technicolor, it seems, was crazy expensive and a royal pain in the butt. So when Kodak started putting out color film stock which looked just as good, or almost as good, as Technicolor, the process was gradually abandoned, much as shooting movies on actual film has gradually been abandoned in the past fifteen years. A big difference is that real film (or reel film, if you like cheesy puns!) has a huge entourage comprised of people who are determined not to let it die. Technicolor had no such following, and so the process was discontinued in the mid-seventies.

So my new theory, and I could be wrong because I have not had time to watch all the movies I think may be examples of this, is that the 70s movies which have that "look" I'm talking about were shot on the new color film stock, and therefore were not Technicolor. I have plans to investigate this further, but it takes time to watch all those movies, and then research which film stock and what kind of camera was used. So stay tuned. I may have more information on this topic later.

Lower Lighting

Remember that discussion thread I linked to at the top of the post? It goes into quite a bit of detail about the lighting conditions a lot of filmmakers were experimenting with in the seventies. Not that low key lighting was a new thing. Film noir had been playing around with light and shadow for decades, but 70s movies were not film noir. They were just dark. And part of that has to do with the fact that people were shooting in lower lighting than was recommended for the type of film they were using. Basically, what you see in a lot of movies from this decade is underexposed film. I had suspected this for years, but could not find confirmation of my suspicions until my serendipitous Google search a couple of weeks ago.

The Evolution of Color Film

Before the seventies, most color movies were shot in Technicolor, which made color film stock a relatively new trend. So 70s movies looked different from 60s movies primarily for that reason. But the companies that made the film stock were constantly perfecting the process and putting out new products, each of which had their own look. So by the time the eighties rolled around, color cinematography had come a long way and the movies had a different look than those which had come out just a few years before.

Still Learning

So this is my best understanding of 70s cinema. If I've gotten anything wrong, or if I've left out any important details (because I'm not aware of those details), please leave a comment and let me know. I'm always open to learning more about this fascinating topic.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Indie Book of the Month: June 2017

What reviewing indie books has taught me again and again is the need to put aside my preconceived notions of what I like to read and to open my mind to something new. The first book I reviewed on this blog was a romance. I was happily reveling in my identity as Someone Who Does Not Like Romance when a little book about a ballerina took me by surprise. Then a couple of months later I fell head-over-heels in love with a cozy mystery, a genre I had always considered too light and formulaic for my taste. Over and over again these indie books have made me revise my concept of What I Like to Read.

This time it was an urban fantasy with...gulp...vampires and werewolves. I almost rejected it outright just from reading the blurb, but my submission policy clearly states that I will at least read the sample chapters before making a decision. I wasn't expecting much. So many people have come along, in the aftermath of Twilight, trying to write the vampire/werewolf story, that I was sure nothing original could come out of the genre, but I was wrong. This month's book proved me wrong.

The Book:

Once Lost Lords by Stephan Morse.

I've stated in the past that it is often the world-building that draws me into a story. This book established its world in the very first paragraph. The very first sentence, actually, with the mention of elves and their tendency to form addictions. So while I was skeptical about reading a book featuring mythical humanoid beings, I knew from the start that this one had something different to offer.

Characters are the second thing that will hook me on a book, and I admit I liked Jay from the start. It was weird. I don't normally fall for the rugged, rough around the edges type, but there was something about him that caught my attention. It made me want to keep reading. To find out more. What's his backstory? What makes him tick? And what were the details of the frightening situation with his vampire ex-girlfriend that made him leave town and stay away for four years? I needed to know, so I read on and was not disappointed with where that line of questioning took me.

I'm also a sucker for a good mystery, so Jay's quest to find out who or what he is became my quest as well. I was a little disappointed that those answers were not fully explained in this book, but it just makes me curious to read the next installment.

So if you're looking for an urban fantasy that contains everything that made Twilight so popular, without relying on the worn-out tropes that made us all sick of Twilight after just a couple of years, check out this book. It is available on Amazon.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

What I Learned From My 1st (Semi) Professional Portrait Session in Over 10 Years

I wrote in a previous post about my life-long love of photography. It's an art form I've pursued on an off over the years, often not going deep enough to learn all that I need to learn if I really want to be good. I think that's changing now. My understanding of things like composition, ISO, and color temperature has matured to the level that I might really be able to start accomplishing some great things. At least I hope so. Images like this one, captured this weekend at a portrait session I did for a friend, seem to promise good things:

But, amazing as that photo is, there were quite a few I'd rather forget. But I'm not going to forget, but it's the bad ones, rather than the good ones, that taught me valuable lessons about being a photographer. Here are a few of those lessons.

One: I Need a Digital Camera

If you read that earlier post, you know I'm still working with film at the moment. That is more by necessity (a new camera would be expensive) than by choice. Though I am adamantly opposed to the idea that we should just let film go the way of the dinosaur, and would love to be one of those artists out there on the front lines fighting for the survival of the medium, if I ever want to make money taking pictures, I need a digital camera. It's not just that digital photography is more cost-efficient, since there is no need to purchase film or pay for processing. There are other reasons for using digital. A photographer with a digital camera in her hands has complete control over her photo. The sun dips behind a cloud? Just change the camera settings and you're ready to shoot with lower lighting. If that happens with film, you're still obligated to finish the roll, and I found out the hard way this weekend that it can be quite the challenge trying to get that camera to behave. If you're shooting for your own pleasure, that's not an issue, but if you've got someone paying you to make them look good, full control over the final image is a good thing.

Two: Everyone Needs to Spend Time Working With Film

Did I just contradict myself? I don't think so. Just because I covet the versatility of a digital camera, that doesn't mean I can't see the value of doing things the old-fashioned way. And pretty much every serious photographer and filmmaker agrees that the lessons learned from shooting on real film are invaluable. When you're shooting film, you're basically shooting blind. You don't have that nifty little display screen on the back of your camera to tell you if the image is going to be too dark or too washed out. All you have is a view-finder, and, beyond composition and focal length, that doesn't tell you much. So if you're using film, you have to know your camera. You have to have an almost intuitive understanding of lighting and color temperature so you can make the adjustments necessary to getting a great shot, because what you see when you look through the lens isn't going to be the full picture.

Three: Don't Be Afraid to Override Your Camera's Automatic Controls

Cameras come with automated settings because sometimes they know more about taking a great picture than you do. Especially if you don't have an ambient light meter (which I don't) those auto controls can be a great asset. But sometimes your camera will make weird decisions. This weekend I was shooting in lower lighting than I'd anticipated because a dark cloud rolled in just as I was arriving on the scene and did not roll away again for the remainder of the evening. I was also using a different brand of film than I was accustomed to, and my camera was screaming in protest. Its auto controls were telling it that I needed to use a slow shutter speed to let in enough light to capture a decent image. Because of that, the first few pictures I took came out like this:

This one was a big disappointment because, composition-wise, it's probably the best shot I got of my three subjects. But, of course, good photography is about a heck of a lot more than just composition.

The fact is, there was plenty of light. I could have manually set the shutter speed and ended up with an awesome picture, but I trusted my camera instead. Lesson learned. The camera isn't always right.

Four: Always Be Prepared

So, as it turns out there was more than enough light for my photo shoot, and if I had just trusted my instincts instead of letting my camera make decisions for me, I would not have had to suffer the embarrassment of having the blurry image you see above. But what if you're shooting with an old-fashioned film camera and the lighting shifts significantly? You've just loaded a roll of 200 speed film, but suddenly what you need is 800. I could easily have adapted to that situation, if only I'd thought ahead a little better. The truth is, I own two cameras. So why the heck didn't I bring two rolls of film, at two different speeds, load one roll into one camera and one roll into the other? That way I would have been prepared for whatever the sun and the clouds decided to throw at me. I'm sure the experienced photographers reading this are shaking their heads right now and thinking, "Well, duh!" But the truth is you don't know how to anticipate a situation until you've been in the situation, so I didn't do that. Of course, if my camera had been digital, it would have been a moot point anyway.

Five: Part of Me Would Love to Try Traditional Black and White Photography

You saw the picture at the top of the page, right? Well, that wasn't the original image. This is what initially came out of my camera:

Still a nice picture, but there's just something about the high-contrast black and white version that speaks to some deep part of my soul. What I did was load the original color image into my editing software, reduce the light, increase the contrast, and add a vignette. Those are all things that have been done in the black and white darkroom for years. Doing it on my computer somehow felt like cheating.

Six: Part of Me Never Ever Wants to Try Traditional Black and White Photography

In that previous post I linked to at the top, I said that I've never set foot in a darkroom. However, I have read extensively about the process. I know the kinds of things that would be involved in getting an image like the one at the beginning of this post. I can't say I know how time consuming it is, because I really can't fathom it, but I know that it took me all of five minutes to get the picture looking the way I wanted it on my computer. In a darkroom it would take much, much longer. And that doesn't even factor in the time for cleanup afterward. So while I feel somehow cheap and dirty for taking the easy way out and manipulating my photo digitally, I still don't know if I want to actually get down and dirty in a darkroom. My stress level is going up right now just thinking about it.

Seven: Learning From a Book Is Not the Same as Actual Experience

I thought I knew everything I needed to know about lighting and ISO and shutter speed and f-stops because I'd read about them in books. Even experimented to some degree with my camera. But until you have that moment out in the field where your camera decides to go all screwy, you really have no idea what any of it even means. There are some things that can only be learned through trial and error, and I certainly experienced some trials and made a few errors this weekend. But that's okay because next time I'll know the proper way to respond.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Will Elsa Ever Stop Singing?

Elsa has been singing in my head lately. We all know what she's singing. She's singing that song the world went crazy over a few years ago but was absolutely sick of six months later. Well, I never got sick of that song. It became an anthem of sorts for me, and even a year later, after the rest of the world moved on, or wished they could move on, I was still happily listening to Elsa sing. But just the same, there are moments when I wish she would shut up, because when she gets going on letting it go, it's a signal that my mind is going in some painful directions. So I spend my life in constant pursuit of ways to keep her from opening her big frozen mouth.

My Life's Soundtrack

I've always used songs to express feelings I couldn't quite work through on my own. This began when I was a child and continues to this day. Elsa is just the latest manifestation of the little voice that speaks to me during troubling times and helps me find my way.

My First Midlife Crisis

I spent my teen years wondering if I would die at twenty because I had a midlife crisis when I was ten. Okay, I didn't seriously think I was dying, but I did think ten was awfully young for a midlife crisis. What I know now is that most kids go through something similar to what I experienced. We can all look back on that moment when we realized that the world is not as stable as we thought it was and things are not as permanent as we thought they were. It happened for me when I was ten. The trigger was my parents' decision to remodel our house.

This rocked my whole little world. All my life, the kitchen had been one color. There had always been the same carpet on my bedroom floor. The same wallpaper in the living room. Those things formed the foundation upon which my life was built. It never occurred to me that they might one day change. Then all of a sudden my parents are looking at paint colors and talking about restoring the hardwood floor which lurked under the dirty brown carpet. It was my first realization that with the passage of time comes change and that we can neither stop change nor stop time. It was my first realization that there was no way I could stop myself from getting old and dying. And there was a song that played in my mind on a constant loop whenever I pondered these possibilities. Fly Like an Eagle by The Steve Miller Band. The line that I couldn't get out of my head, no matter how hard I tried, was "Time keeps on slippin' into the future." Creeped me out like you wouldn't believe.

My First Broken Heart

At fourteen I liked a boy who did not reciprocate my feelings. In fact, he went through a phase where he pretended I didn't even exist. This time it was John Mellencamp who sang to me. "Life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone."

The Defining Moment of My Life

We all have that experience that changes the course of our lives and changes us at the same time. That moment we can look back on and point to and say, "There. That's when everything changed." Sometimes it's a good experience, but I think a lot of times it's something bad. Something we have to fight our way back from. For me, it was the loss of a job. I've blogged about it a couple of times in the past. If you're interested, you can read about it here and here. A lot of songs reverberated in my head after that happened.

In the immediate aftermath of my shameful dismissal from my dream job, I desperately needed a new creative outlet, so I fled into community theatre. I immediately got a small part in a local production of the musical Blood Brothers. There were two parts of this musical that seemed to speak directly to my situation. Because I found out in October that I was losing my job, I couldn't stop repeating the lines from Blood Brothers that say, "It was one day in October when the sun began to fade, and winter broke the promise that summer had just made. It was one day in October when the rain came falling down, and someone said the bogey man was seen around the town."

I was also dealing the fact that I was the mother of two small children. My job had been part-time, which I considered the perfect arrangement. I could be a stay-at-home mom and have an identity outside of the home at the same time. When the job was gone, so was my sense of who I was. So another segment of Blood Brothers refused to let me go. "There's a girl inside the woman who's trying to get free. She's washed a million dishes. She's always making tea. They think she's just a mother with nothing left inside, who swapped her dreams for drudgery the day she was a bride. But the dreams were not forgotten, just wrapped and packed away, with the hope that she would take them out and dust them off one day." I cried a good many tears over that one, I can tell you.

Enter Elsa

It's taken a long time to get past losing that job. It's been ten years and I'm still not completely over it. I teared up just now writing about it, and I'm still trying to figure out who I am in its absence. So I've tried a little of this and  little of that in an effort to reclaim my lost identity. I was at a particularly low point when I saw Frozen for the first time, and when she sang Let It Go I almost lost it. Right there in front of my husband and kids. And I never lose it in front of my husband and kids. So I kept it together for the remainder of the movie, then went to the back of the house where I locked myself in the bathroom and cried for fifteen minutes or so.

I sang Let It Go nearly every day for a year. And I probably ugly cried every single time I sang it. Any time I found myself alone in the house I would look up the karaoke video on YouTube so I could sing it to actual music. I learned to play it on piano. I was obsessed. But the obsession was not healthy. The song affected me the way it did because it spoke to a deep longing inside of me. A longing to be noticed in the world. To be respected. To be someone. When I'm feeling fulfilled in my life, Elsa stops singing. I don't need her any more. She's been relatively quiet lately, but just the other day I got to thinking about all the things I wish I could do with my life if only I had the time and the money and the connections. And she started up again. The singing is relatively quiet right now. Really, more like humming in the background. But if I don't find an outlet for this energy she'll start belting it out and, much as I love the song, I don't want to take my heart to the place where it goes when Elsa tells me to let it go. It's not a pleasant place for my heart to be.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Annual Birthday Buzzkill

We all have birthdays. There's no avoiding them. When we're kids we look forward to them, not only for the party and the presents, but for the added prestige of being a year older. After all, when we're kids, being older is cool. And it brings with it certain exciting milestones. Starting school. Entering the double digits. Becoming a teenager. Going to high school. Getting a driver's license. Becoming a legal adult. Purchasing adult beverages without putting the seller in danger of being shut down for selling alcohol to an underage person.

Once we hit our twenties, some of the excitement begins to diminish. We do look forward to the day people will take us seriously in our careers, and that doesn't often happen until we get closer to thirty, but for the most part the age-dependent milestones are over. Yes, we can get married and have kids, but we can do that pretty much any time, so our birthdays have no affect on it.

Then we hit thirty, and instead of bringing us prestige and respect, our birthdays just bring us one step closer to being middle-aged. Then we hit our mid thirties and the big four-oh looms on the horizon. Then all of a sudden and with no apparent warning, we go from our mid thirties to our late thirties. That happened to me yesterday. I turned thirty-eight.

As if that is not enough of a buzzkill, once we become adults, our birthdays bring with them certain responsibilities. Car tags expire every year on our birthdays. So every year we rush down to the tag office and pay a fee to avoid getting slapped with a big fat "Happy Belated Birthday" traffic ticket. I'm depressed already.

But...speaking of cars...did you know that our driver's licenses expire every five years or so? On our birthdays? So we've just paid our tag fee, and now we have to go pay another fee so we can legally drive the car we've just gotten updated papers on. And this fee buys us a not-so-glamorous photo shoot. Seriously, what do they do to driver's license photos to make them look so darn crappy? And to add insult to injury, most of us gain weight as we age, so we have to be reminded of that as we're filling out the physical description section of the renewal form.

So we reach the end of our big day feeling exhausted, fat, and old. But then our husbands let us binge-watch the TV series of our choice and things begin to look up. Just as long as they don't bring us a birthday cake. Because we're feeling fat and cake won't help us.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Indie Book of the Month: May 2017

Limiting Myself

A case of literary snobbery almost made me pass on this book. Though I blog all the time about how it's sometimes okay to ignore the rules and write the story you want to write, still when I evaluate other people's work, I tend to evaluate according to those very same rules. And I almost missed out on reading this book because of it.

In my attempts to perfect my own craft, one of the things I've been studying rigorously is Deep POV. I've read countless books and articles on the topic, and have spent my writing time asking myself, "Am I telling the audience things the POV character wouldn't know?" Or, "Am I far enough into my character's head to make the reader feel the emotions the same way the character does?" I've ruthlessly edited my own work in a desperate attempt to deepen the POV.

The book I chose for this month's feature employs a rather shallow POV. Even an omniscient POV in some places. When I first read the free sample on Amazon, I interpreted this shallow POV as one of those dreaded "newbie errors" we all hear so much about. And, as I said before, I almost passed on the book. But then my deadline for announcing my selection loomed on the horizon, and I decided to give this book one more chance. And I'm glad I did.

The Book:

The Seer of Possibilities by Thomas O. Once I really started reading it, what had at first come across as a newbie mistake suddenly appeared instead to be a deliberate choice. After all, is there anything fundamentally wrong with using an omniscient POV? Just because it's not in style at the moment doesn't make it bad. In fact, it lends a sort of old-timey feel to the writing, because shallow and omniscient points of view were once very common. Many of what we call the classics were written in this way, so how can we condemn it? And really, once I really started to get interested in the stories, the writing style seemed to add to the creepy atmosphere.

This book is a collection of short stories. I must say I thoroughly enjoyed each one. Reading this book took me right back to my childhood when I used to go to the library in search of ghost story anthologies. The stories in this book aren't ghost stories, but they have the same feel to them as those stories I read as a kid. And, in reading them, I felt all the same emotions I felt when I was a child peaking around the corner into the realm of the spooky.

Each story in this collection begins with some mundane occurrence. Then little hints are dropped here and there that something sinister might be happening, but the reader doesn't know what, exactly, is happening until the end. And each story culminates in a creepy, Flannery O'Connor-style twist.

A twist ending is not an easy thing to pull off. Those kinds of stories have their own set of rules. The twist can't be too predictable. If the reader can see it coming from a mile away, he's going to walk away disappointed. But just the same, the twist has to follow logically on what has come before so that when you look back over the story you think to yourself, "Of course!" If the author throws some new twist in right at the end without at least a little foreshadowing, the reader is left thinking, "Um...what was that supposed to be?" Thomas O. pulls off a twist ending not once but six times in this book. And each one was surprising yet believable. In fact, getting to the final twist in the first story is what made me want to continue on and finish the book. I kept reading with the hope that all the stories would have equally satisfying endings. I was not disappointed.

If you like creepy stories, please do yourself a favor and buy this book. You will be glad you did. The book can be found on Amazon.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

What Made 70s Movies Look So...Well...70s?

An Ongoing Question

I don't remember when I first noticed the distinctive look of a 70s movie. I know it was long before I knew anything at all about the filmmaking process. The things I've learned in the past ten years or so have answered a great many of my questions, but not all.

I've tried doing Google searches to find the answers which still elude me, but cannot seem to find any articles, blog posts, or discussion threads that can tell me what I want to know. So I'm putting this out on my own blog. I'll start with what I've already figured out, then present the questions which still linger. If anyone who knows their way around film stock happens to drop by, please take a moment to leave a comment. It will be much appreciated.

What I Know

I know that the seventies represented a shift toward realism in film. The trend actually began much earlier. In the Heat of the Night (1967) and Midnight Cowboy (1969) are two prime examples from the late sixties. You can even see some aspects of this gritty realism as far back as 1954 in On the Waterfront. But for the most part, films from those two decades and earlier were dressed up to look anything but real. Ladies had perfect clothing and hairstyles no average woman would ever be able to pull off on her own. They were also made up to the same degree one would expect from a big Broadway musical. Filmmakers apparently didn't realize that a camera ten feet from an actress would pick up facial features much better than an audience member on the back row of a large theatre. Sets were lavish and the lighting was a work of art in its own right. It all worked together to create an illusion of life which in actuality had nothing to do with real life at all.

Fast forward to the seventies, and you've got movies about people who look like they could be your next-door neighbors. Sure, actors still wore make-up, but more often than not care was taken to make them look like they weren't wearing make-up. Scenes took place in rooms that looked like they could be in your own house.

Coinciding with this emphasis on realism was a shift in hair and clothing styles in the world at large. Things in the seventies became much more casual than they had ever been before. For the first time women were just as likely to be wearing pants as dresses. And when they wore pants, those pants were just as likely as not to be jeans. These fashion trends are reflected in the movies of the time.

Another trend, specifically related to filmmaking, that occurred in the seventies was the use of the zoom lens. It was so popular that its presence will often immediately date a movie. This is another thing that began gaining popularity before the seventies. I can't think of any specific examples right now (sorry) but I know I've seen a great deal of 60s movies which employ heavy use of zoom lenses. But, still, in my mind they scream seventies, which means if I ever wanted to make a movie, and make it look like it was shot in the seventies, I would be employing a considerable amount of zoom.

What I Don't Know

Okay, this is the question I've been unable to answer. I want to know if there was something different about the mechanical process of filming that set 70s movies apart from other decades. Because they have a different look to them which goes beyond just hair, makeup, and costumes.

I've done numerous Google searches on this question, and have found no satisfactory answers. Most people who try to answer it usually bring up the fact that 70s movies are...well...getting on in years and film deteriorates over time. But the seventies occurred between the sixties and the eighties (duh), and even compared to those two decades, 70s movies have a certain look. If that look is caused by the deterioration of film, wouldn't 60s movies have even more of that look than 70s movies do? They don't, so it must be caused by something else.

If you've read my post, Why I'm Still Embroiled in the Film Vs. Digital Debate, then you know I've dabbled in still photography quite a bit, and that my experience with that art form has been limited to actual film (because I can't afford a good digital camera at the moment). So I know some things about film, but I'm still an amateur and there are many things I know from books (and Google searches) which I've never witnessed firsthand. I don't have much experience bracketing, I've never played around with pushing film, and I've never seen the inside of a dark room. But I have a rudimentary understanding of the kinds of effects those practices can have on a photograph. If still photography can be manipulated in those ways, surely motion picture photography can too. So was there something different about the camera settings which were used in the seventies which marked a change from what was done in the sixties? Were people experimenting with lower lighting, which created a darker, grittier look than what had been seen previously? Were they using different film stock which resulted in a distinctive look? Was there something different about the way film was processed in the seventies which contributed to the appearance of the finished movie?

Maybe this makes me a colossal nerd (a title I wear proudly), but I think about these questions all the time. So if anyone knows any answers beyond the ones I've already provided in this article, please leave a comment. You will have my undying gratitude. 

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.