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.

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.



Sunday, February 26, 2017

Why It's--Sometimes--Okay to Ditch the Rules and Just Write

Rules, Rules, and More Rules

When you're first starting out, unless you're the Mozart of the writing world, you're going to make some mistakes. You're going to write clunky sentences. Your prose is going to be too wordy. Or too flowery (substitute the word "purple" here). You may mix up verb tenses or employ head-hopping in your narrative. You may burden your readers with the dreaded info dump. Learning how to avoid those things will be one of your biggest challenges as a writer.

You Must Learn the Rules

Wait! Why are you entreating me to learn the rules? I thought this post was about the fact that it's okay to ditch the rules. Well, yes it is, but before you can effectively ditch them, you have to learn them. Knowing them and ditching them versus not knowing them at all is what differentiates between personal style and poor writing. So learn them. Learn all of them. Then figure out which ones you can effectively break. The key word here is effectively.

Why Would You Want to Break the Rules?

Did you read what I just said about personal style? You have to have your own style when you're writing, otherwise you'll sound just like everyone else and no one will notice you at all. You don't want that, do you? Well, to avoid that you sometimes have to bend the rules. Maybe not throw them out altogether (so perhaps the language of my title is a little too strong), but find your own unique way of getting around them. And it's okay to do that, because that's what will make you stand out from everyone else.

Again, you have to learn the rules first. That's the only way you'll be able to tell if your personal choice of words in a specific passage is effective or just plain bad. But once you learn them, you don't have to feel bound by them.

The thing is, all readers are different. Some people will dismiss your book offhand if you deviate one millimeter from the accepted norm. But others will actually enjoy it, and some may enjoy it a whole heck of a lot. It's okay to write for those people rather than the college-professor types who make it their goal to point out all the imperfections in your work.

My Personal Experience With This

I'm discovering that I love backstory. I guess I've known this pretty much forever, but in the last couple of years I've begun looking at it from a writer's perspective, which is putting a whole new spin on things.

Regardless of what the rules may say, backstory is essential to your book. It's what gives the characters their depth and makes them feel like real people. It's what makes readers feel they've truly entered the world you're building for them. You have to have a backstory, the more extensive the better. The trick is how to weave the backstory into your narrative.

I've seen data dumps done badly. I've read books that spend the entire first chapter catching the reader up on what's gone before, and only then jumping into the actual action. Don't do that. It's not fun to read.

But the people who think they know about such things will tell you not to employ info dumps at all. That they interrupt the action and take the reader out of the character's head. Well, yeah, they do, but what I've found recently is that I actually like that in a book. As long as it's only a couple of paragraphs. As long as it's related to what's going on in the scene. And as long as we don't break POV by giving out information the point of view character couldn't possibly know. If all those rules are followed, then, yeah, I like info dumps. I like to hear the history of a certain building. I like to know that the recipe the main character's mom is cooking was passed down from her great-grandmother and has been given to every female member of the family on her twenty-first birthday for the past fifty years. I like being told upfront that the reason everyone is nervous around Weird Uncle Bob is because he just spent twelve years locked in a psych ward because he had some kind of breakdown one day and chased his wife down the street with a pool skimmer. I want to know those things, and I don't mind if the action is put on hold for a little while so the author can fill me in on all the juicy details.

Make Restraint Your Guiding Principle

Like I said before, you don't want to get carried away. Limit it to a couple of paragraphs. Three at the most. Make sure it's related to what's already happening in the story. In other words, don't tell me about Weird Uncle Bob until he actually shows up at a family gathering. And please don't break POV. Tell me what your characters already know, and nothing else. If you only have one POV character, you will be very limited in what you can reveal. Stay within those limits.

And it bears repeating...always, always learn the rules before you try to break them.