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? 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.

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.

Friday, February 17, 2017

What's Up With the Crazy Emotions I Feel Watching Early Supernatural Episodes?

Not the Intended Emotions

I'm not talking about those moments when the show "hits me in the feels". I know what that's all about. I've even blogged about my emotional reactions to television shows here, here, and here. No, I'd say I understand those feelings fairly well. What I'm talking about is this weird feeling of nostalgia I get when I watch the first two seasons of Supernatural. Nostalgia for what, exactly? I honestly have no idea.

Not My Personal Experience

There is something about the eerie locations of the first two seasons that make me long for some unnamed event in my past, but for the life of me I can't figure out what I experienced that I'm recalling so fondly. The show is filmed in the environs of Vancouver. I've never been to Vancouver. The closest I've come is the one trip my husband and I took to San Francisco sixteen years ago. Not exactly the damp, foggy expanse of fir and spruce trees which provides the backdrop for all Supernatural episodes.

Not only have I never been to the places where the episodes were filmed, I also have nothing in my past which relates to the shows concept. I mean, you know, I don't hunt demons for a living. Duh. But I've also never lived the nomadic existence of the Winchesters. I've never traveled the country in a classic car with classic rock blaring on the radio, eating greasy food and sleeping in crappy motels. I mean, sure, I've eaten greasy food a few times and I've stayed in a few less than stellar lodging establishments, but I wouldn't say that experience sums up my childhood in any way. So what the heck?

And a really weird thing? The show makes me think of duck hunting. hunting, of all the far-fetched things. I've never been duck hunting! I've never been any kind of hunting. Okay, so I grew up in rural Georgia, where lots of people like to hunt, but I've never joined them. Maybe I'm reliving memories of being a kid and hearing the older men in my life telling tales of being out in the woods, but if I were it would most likely be deer hunting. I rarely remember hearing anyone talk about hunting duck. I'm sure I know people who do, but deer is definitely the game of choice around here. So why the heck do I think about duck hunting when I watch Supernatural, when neither I, nor Sam, nor Dean, have ever shot a duck? Well, I guess there could be something in Sam and Dean's backstory about duck hunting. I mean, they had this whole history together before the events of the first season took place, but...well, I'm pretty much grasping at straws now.

What I Have Experienced

So we've established that I've never lived a lifestyle even remotely similar to that depicted on the show. But I still feel nostalgic when I watch it. Why? Well, there are some memories it could be bringing up.

My grandparents lived in a huge log house that sat on over a hundred acres of mostly wooded property. They even had a lake. My dad raised horses when I was a kid and we kept them over at my grandparents' house. So I have no memories that relate to hunting, but I did spend a lot of time outdoors. Either riding horses or just exploring the vast wooded area that constituted my grandparents' backyard. Along with these memories are the memories of driving the ten or so miles along country roads from our house to theirs. I didn't ride in the backseat of a '67 Impala, but I rode in my dad's red pickup truck. That's close enough, right? And my parents did listen to classic rock, so the soundtrack of Supernatural is also kind of the soundtrack of my childhood. But somehow all that doesn't quite seem a close enough parallel.

On the duck hunting front, there were a couple of paintings hanging on my grandparents' walls depicting hunting dogs, with ducks on the wing in the distant sky. So maybe there's one connection. (shrug)

I've also been a horror movie buff my entire life. By that, I mean to say that I saw Poltergeist when I was four, A Nightmare on Elm Street when I was five, and The Exorcist when I was eight. My parents were pretty lax when it came to my television viewing, so I basically watched whatever I wanted. So maybe some of the inside jokes and hidden tributes to classic horror embedded in the writing of Supernatural is taking me back to the days when I was still discovering the genre. I don't know. It still doesn't seem like I've hit on it yet.

My last possible explanation is that the show brings back warm memories of staying up late to watch Twin Peaks with my parents. That show was probably my first glimpse of the Pacific Northwest, and similarity of scenery between it and Supernatural just might be what's bringing up these odd feelings. And I do have one really cool memory of spending the night at my grandparents' house (the log cabin, remember?) and watching Twin Peaks there. If you've never experienced watching Twin Peaks in a log cabin in the middle of the woods, I highly recommend it. While you're at it, watch The Evil Dead as well. It's a cool experience. But surely one night of sitting up late in a log cabin watching a creepy show that prominently features fir trees is not the memory I'm harking back to. Is it?

Still Something There

There's still something about that show. I don't know. There are scenes where the characters are standing in a wooded area, or sometimes a field, and it's almost like I can remember standing there myself. Which is of course impossible. Unless I've had past lives, but I don't really believe in that so I'm not going to jump to that conclusion.

Am I the only person going through this crazy thing? If not, I would love to hear about it. So if you've ever had some vague, unformed memory sparked by something seemingly unrelated, please tell me in a comment.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Yes, Even Fiction Books Have To Be Realistic. Here's Why.

Should I drop an f-bomb?

This is a question which arose just the other day as I was writing a particularly intense scene in my latest book. There's one character who is this little ball of angry energy, and I needed her reaction to the situation to be authentic. I needed it to be believable, to fit her personality. And in expressing her emotional response verbally, she would not use a polite or a cutesy word; she would totally throw out the granddaddy of all curse words. So I, for the very first time in my writing, used the "f" word. I worried and I fretted. I  wondered if it was too much of a break from my typical writing style. Would it pull the readers out of the narrative and make them focus on the word itself rather than the emotion it was meant to convey? In the end I concluded that, no, using that word would not come off as odd. What would be odd would be substituting something more polite. It would not be appropriate for that character and therefore would not be realistic.

A Common Question

If you are part of the indie community, you likely follow IABB Confessions on Facebook. The question of realism in fiction is one that pops up again and again, mainly from authors complaining that a reviewer has labeled their book "unrealistic". And the response is always the same: "It's fiction! It's not supposed to be real!" Well...of course we know it's not real. But it still has to be believable.

This issue confused the ever-loving mess out of me when I was in school. It was often a question that was asked in literature class. Sometimes it turned up on a test. Sometimes we were asked to comment on the issue in our book reports. But the question was always the same: "Is the story believable?" I was at a total loss. I read sci-fi. I read horror. I loved ghost stories and stories about aliens and travel to distant planets. Believable? Hell no! The books I liked most were pure fantasy. No realism whatsoever. Or so I thought at the time.

Are my own books realistic?

My most recent published novel, Primogénito: The Fuentes Legacy, has only gotten a few reviews so far, but general consensus seems to be that the book is very realistic. One reviewer wrote, "I definitely think the ending was well done, and realistic." And another said, "I did enjoy the ending, the realistic side of it and there is definitely quite a dark side to this story, especially when talking death and gore."

So...Primogénito is realistic. That's interesting, considering the events in the book could never happen in the real world. It is an urban fantasy about a family who has spent centuries studying alchemy and blood rituals in the pursuit of the secret to real magic. The ending, of course, is when the protagonists finally defeat the villains by stripping them of their supernatural powers. And, naturally, a certain amount of magic is required to undo all the other magic. And yet reviewers have called it realistic. Why?

While I was writing the book I vented my frustration with the particular challenges this story presented in a couple of blog posts, one dealing with the difficulties of writing fantasy, the other with the complexities of writing a decent backstory. Both blog posts deal with world-building. Since my book is an urban fantasy, meaning it takes place in this world, the actual world-building is minimal, but it is there nonetheless. I had to figure out how the magic works, how the family acquired it, and how it could be defeated. In creating all of that, I had to create a world which functioned according to certain rules. And since I was making up the rules as I went, I was in constant danger of breaking one without knowing it. When an author does that, it's called a plot hole. Those pesky story problems can arise in any book, but authors writing about magic or building an extensive backstory are, I think, in more danger of falling into them than authors writing other types of fiction. One cardinal rule is you can't just invent a new kind of magic when you need to rescue your characters from a tricky situation. They actually have to use their brains and find a way out which utilizes the rules already laid down. I suppose I did an okay job with that, because I've gotten two reviews so far which say my book is "realistic".

Have I written anything that's not realistic?

I got called out on this recently in a review for Amelia's Children. I knew it was coming eventually. I could see it even while I was still writing the book. The problem is the romance between Sarah and David. What I knew while I was writing it was that Sarah's infatuation with the mysterious stranger who walks into her life one hot summer night would be the thing that pulls her into the story and sets the ball rolling for her to solve the mystery. I wanted that in there because I wanted to audience to see David as this incredibly handsome, charming man, so I told the story from the point of view of a woman who falls madly in love with him.

Well, a few chapters in I completely shifted focus. The main mystery takes over and the love story takes a back seat. And it stays in the back seat for most of the book. Every now and then, while writing, I would remember, "Oh, yeah! David and Sarah are supposed to be falling in love." So I would throw in a kiss or an affectionate touch of hands or something like that. But then it would be over and they'd be back to investigating Amelia Davis's murder. And one reviewer, quite rightly, complained. I think she read my book expecting a paranormal romance. Yeah, it's kind of a romance, but it's primarily a murder mystery. Add to that the fact that I'd never written romance before and I barely read the genre and you've got a whole bunch of telling and very little showing in regard to Sarah and David's relationship.

That's not to say Amelia's Children sucks. People who have read it expecting a mystery have been quite pleased with it. But it's not a romance, no matter how hard it pretends to be, especially in the first five or so chapters. So that aspect of the book falls a little short of the realism which is vital to a good story.

What I've Learned

I've learned that, in building fictional relationships, you absolutely have to follow the "show, don't tell" rule. If it's a romance, you need hearts hammering in chests and hands which are strong, but gentle. You need kisses which send ripples of warmth through the character's body. You need deep conversations which show the audience that these two people understand each other on a level that goes far beyond mere friendship. I achieved this with Damian and Jenn in Primogénito, but not so much with Sarah and David in Amelia's Children.

You also have to listen to your characters. Just like the woman in my new book who would totally say the "f" word but would not be caught dead saying something more polite, you have to let your characters be who they want to be. Forcing them into some other mold will make your writing unrealistic.

And you have to follow the rules. Yeah, when you're the one doing the world-building you have some freedom to make the rules be whatever you want them to be. But once you know what they are, they can't be changed unless you want to go back and rewrite your entire book. You can't just pull a deus ex machina out of your hat without setting up some expectation earlier in the story that this is what will eventually happen to save the day.

So books can be fictional. They can be magical. They can be creepy and suspenseful. They can be over the top with the violence and the gore. But they have to be realistic.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Indie Book of the Month: February 2017

Something Entirely Different

Last month I reviewed a romance. This month's book is sci-fi. I must admit, that's more in line with what I typically like to read, but it is nonetheless as full 180 degree turn from my last indie book of the month. I like that. I want variety on my website.

My Reasons For Choosing This Book

The motivations behind my choice were also different. Last month I was determined not to review a romance, and I really tried not to like Under Winter Lights, but all the rich detail kept pulling me in. It was a book I truly did not want to put down.

This month my reason was different. Not that I didn't enjoy the book on a subjective level. I absolutely did. But I chose this book because I finally found what I have been looking for in the indie publishing world: A book that plays by the rules. A book by an author who actually understands English grammar. A book with relatively few typos (though I did find a few). A book where words are used correctly (though I think I did find one misused homophone, but that could have just been a typo). The only newbie "mistake" I saw in the book was a considerable amount of head-hopping, but that's something I can easily forgive. After all, there is head-hopping in The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling, and I don't think anyone could call her a "newbie author". So while head-hopping can be distracting, especially if it's not clear whose head you're currently in, I'm generally not too quick to call it a "mistake". I think it's quite often done on purpose. Was it intentional in this book? I don't know, but it didn't diminish the book's quality in my eyes.

The Book

Milijun by Clayton Graham. This is a sci-fi novel about humanity's first contact with an alien race. The switching POVs allow the reader to see the discovery of the aliens from a multitude of perspectives. We have a miner working on the moon. We have military officials concerned with the possible threat the discovery poses to earth and its inhabitants. Then we have a mother and son who are inadvertently drawn into the center of it all. There is also a mysterious compound in the desert where secret experiments are being performed that may or may not have some connection to the aliens. Kind of creepy. I like creepy.

The world-building is often what pulls me into the books I read. Even the contemporary romance I reviewed last month was rich with...well...maybe world-building, exactly, but certainly vivid descriptions of the world in which it takes place. This book is no different. It's one of the things I love most about sci-fi, especially futuristic sci-fi: finding out the author's vision of where our world is heading. And then you bring aliens into the mix and you've got their world to build, and I love every minute of it.

One thing about this book that I liked was that it takes place in Australia. We Americans are of course surrounded by American movies, television shows, and books. A vast quantity of us are also shameless anglophiles, importing juicy stories from our mother country across the pond. Downton Abbey, anyone? A thing that has frustrated me for years, however, is that most of us remain ignorant of the amazing things coming out of Australia and Canada. To the point that many Americans don't even know their favorite Australian actors are, in fact, Australian. Think of how many people got their start on Home and Away before coming here to begin their career in Hollywood. Then go out and ask a typical American if he has even heard of Home and Away. Chances are good the answer will be "no". So I am very exciting to be featuring a high-quality indie book from Australia on my blog this month. There's some amazing talent over there, and I want to help bring that talent to the world.

Of course, the Australia in this book is not the Australia of today, but that just increased my interest. I wanted to know more about the war that is mentioned over and over in the book. I wanted to know what life was like in Northern Australia. The characters keep talking about it, but they never actually go there, so I'm still curious. I believe this book is part of a series (correct me if I've got that wrong), so maybe I'll find out some of those things in future installments. I hope so. It sounds fascinating.

The Buy Links

If you like futuristic sci-fi which deals with human/alien interaction, go out and buy this book. Definitely worth your time.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Understanding My Life-long Fear of Materialism

An Eerie Disquiet

I don't remember how old I was the first time I felt it. Maybe eight or so? Maybe a little older. I was in a video store with my parents. This was in the early days of movie rentals. You know, DVDs did not exist, so the shelves were lined with VHS cases, but only the cases, so you could easily see what movie you were grabbing. The actual cassette was in a black plastic case with the video store's name written on the front. These cassettes were kept behind the counter to prevent people from stealing them. And video rentals were for one night only. It was the one night rental that made the experience so poignant.

I saw a little girl, maybe four years old, trailing behind her mother. The mother was holding a stack of movie cases, more movies than anyone could possible watch in a single day (this was before binge-watching was a thing), then turned to her daughter and said, "So you want to get all of these?" The little girl nodded and I felt like my world was collapsing around me.

Why? I didn't figure that out until just a few years ago. At the time I explained it away by saying, "I really don't like greed." I didn't know of any other way to say it.

Feelings of Disgust

The reaction was even stronger when I watched the movie Labyrinth for the first time. Well, really every time I've ever watched Labyrinth I've felt it. The scene in question is right after Sarah eats the cursed fruit and forgets that she is looking for her baby brother. She stumbles into a junkyard where she meets a woman who hands her her favorite teddy bear and says, "Is this what you're looking for?" Sarah nods. Then the woman takes her to a room that looks like her bedroom and starts handing her all of her favorite childhood toys. Sarah sits, saying nothing, as the woman piles more and more stuff into her lap. Finally she begins to remember, and says she has to go, but the woman says, "Everything you've ever cared about is right here." I have always hated that scene, and it is still a hard one for me to watch. I just feel so...I don't know...gross whenever I watch it.

Again, I didn't figure out why until much later.

Moved to Tears

I always hated westerns as a kid. The first one I saw that I actually liked was Young Guns II. You should know that I was eleven when that movie came out and probably on the cusp of being sexually aware, so I think it was all the attractive men that made me like it so much. I became absolutely obsessed. It was odd that I felt that way because when the first one came out just a couple of years before I wouldn't even watch it. It was a western. And it had the world "guns" in the title for crying out loud! It was not a kids movie and certainly not a girl movie, so I just dismissed it off-hand. Then my mom talked me into watching it one day and I had to admit it was every bit as good as its sequel. But there was one scene that really bothered me.

The scene is near the end. It's when they have gone to their friend Alex's house to warn them of an impending assault, but it turns out to be a trap. So now they are all in the house, along with Alex and his wife, fighting for their lives. Alex decides he has to get his wife to safety, so he starts to pull her toward the door, but she has been filling her arms up with a collection of dishes, and protests when her husband suggests she leave them behind. As she is struggling with him, she keeps saying over and over, "I want my dishes!"

Oh my goodness...that was always the worst scene in that movie for me. Actually used to make me cry. But I wasn't crying for the poor woman whose life was falling apart. I was crying because, while her life was falling apart, she only wanted her dishes.

What It All Means

It took me years to figure this out. Like I said, it didn't come together in my mind until fairly recently. What I've realized is that I am profoundly disturbed when I see someone using material things to fill a deep emotional need. The mom in the video store was probably trying to ward off tantrums and buy herself a few peaceful hours in her home. Sarah felt deprived of her father's love and clung to her toys as a way to ease the pain. Alex's wife (I'm sure she had a name, but I don't remember it) was watching her world crumble. Her very life was in danger, as was the life of her husband. She was hanging on to her dishes as the one thing from the life they had built together that she could take with her.

Apparently I knew at a very young age, even if it was only on a subconscious level, that material possessions do not fill emotional needs. They do not make the pain go away. They just clutter up our lives with useless junk, which only adds to our stress.

I think I also see in these situations a warning. I am an introvert. I like to be alone. There are times when I would rather be with a book than with other people. But I have to be with people. I have to come out of the books some time, otherwise I'm using a material thing (a book) to fill one of my needs (companionship). And some small part of me knew this when I was as young as eight years old.